Teaching & Learning

The process of Teaching and Learning at St Denys is one that is underpinned by research into metacognition (the awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes). It is vital for all staff to understand how children learn using this knowledge to underpin our daily practice enabling our pupils to reach their potential.

Teaching and Learning at St Denys aims to develop our young people into confident and knowledgeable pupils who draw on their experiences, and those of others, to build a well-informed understanding of the world around them.

To achieve the above, we believe that teaching and learning encompasses a range of interlinked activities and processes, namely:

  • Pedagogy: How we teach
  • The curriculum: What is taught: knowledge and skills
  • Assessment: How we know what has been understood and retained – impact

How they are linked together can be summarised as follows:

Learning Environment

St Denys creates and maintains a learning environment that will support pupils to achieve their full potential. Teachers are responsible for ensuring their classrooms and other learning areas provide opportunities to maximise and enhance learning. Teachers ensure that learning spaces are used flexibly to facilitate different activities.
Seating arrangements will be made in order to maximise pupils’ learning experiences. Arrangements will be changed to suit different activities and to allow pupils to work independently and in groups.
Classroom displays will be changed on a regular basis and will be geared towards aiding learning, not providing distraction.

Each classroom will contain the following:

  • Visual Timetable
  • Maths working wall with up-to-date relevant vocabulary
  • Writing working wall
  • Phonics/Reading wall
  • Curriculum working wall
  • History timeline (large)
  • School values poster
  • British values posters

Cognitive Science: – Working Memory and Long-Term Memory:

The human brain’s Working Memory (WM) is the part that processes information in the present moment. It is very limited. It can only process a small amount of new information at one time.
However, it can work much better if it is able to retrieve relevant knowledge (facts/skills/concepts) stored in the brain’s Long-Term Memory (LTM). We organise information into schemata. Typically, new information is only stored if we can connect it to knowledge that we already have. As a result, prior knowledge is a major factor in our capacity to learn new information.

Schema theory states that all knowledge is organised into ‘units’. A schema is therefore a conceptual system for understanding knowledge. A subject schema is a way of organising knowledge in a meaningful way; it is an appreciation of how facts are connected and the ways in which they are connected.
A schema is distinct information, which is just isolated facts that have no organisational basis or inks. The diagram below shows the difference between information and a schema.

The St Denys curriculum identifies subject ‘concepts’ at the onset of each ‘unit’ of work. Links are made to when the concept was last studied, helping to make ‘connections’.

Concepts, Components and Composites:

St Denys has worked hard to define disciplinary and substantive knowledge within our subjects and subject leaders ensure that all pupils and teachers have clarity around these terms. Pupils understand what it means to be a ‘historian’, a ‘scientist’, an ‘artist’, a ‘designer’ etc.
Concepts (Big Ideas):
Are shared in lessons, on knowledge organisers (for subjects that use them) and in low stakes quizzes and similar activities in retrieval practice, to ensure that our pupils are constantly discussing and recalling key knowledge and concepts.
The building blocks of knowledge or sub-skills that a pupil needs to understand, store and recall from long-term memory in order to be successful in a complex task.
The more complex knowledge which can be acquired or more complex tasks which can be undertaken when prior knowledge components are secure in a pupil’s memory. A practical science activity is a composite task.

Through collaboration with subject leaders, each subject has identified key concepts (big ideas). These key concepts are the skills and knowledge essential to pupils achieving and exceeding expected standards in that specific subject.

Key concepts are subject specific and build progressively as pupils move through the school. When pupils encounter a key concept, they will revisit other topics where they learnt about the same concept to enable them to make connections between different learning and build the schema they need. In addition to key concepts, some subject leaders have identified subject specific second order concepts. Second order concepts are fundamental knowledge and skills which are transferable across a range of curriculum subjects. For example, we introduce pupils to the concept of ‘similarity and difference’ early in their education, developing the observational skills and language needed to make comparisons. This is developed and applied as pupils move through the school so they can confidently apply this in all areas of the curriculum by the end of Key Stage One.

Lesson Planning and Preparation

Teachers plan effectively and appropriately to ensure all pupils are given the opportunity to reach their full potential. They are provided with appropriate preparation, planning and assessment (PPA) time.

In line with expectations set across the whole school, lesson plans will:

  • Be clearly linked to the curriculum.
  • Be differentiated, to clearly show how pupils of all abilities are catered for.
  • Have clearly identified learning objectives and success criteria, showing continuity from one lesson to the next.
  • Highlight the strategies for learning designed to achieve the learning objectives.
  • Clearly state the activities that will be undertaken.
  • Explain how pupils will be grouped.
  • Show how support staff will be utilised to enhance learning.
  • Contain a list of resources to be used during the lesson and how these resources will complement teaching.
  • Highlight any opportunities for assessment and evaluation.

Lesson Design and Delivery

At St Denys, the key role of all adults is to facilitate high-quality learning opportunities according to the principles outlined above. Our lesson design and delivery are based on ‘The Principles of Instruction’ by Barak Rosenshine. Depending on the objective and focus for the lesson, some children may be assessed to start their learning straight away and focus more on application and consolidation and / or showing greater understanding of depth.

When a new concept is being introduced, lessons begin with a short review of previous learning to enable children to connect their new learning onto schema that they have already converted into long-term memory. Retrieval exercises may be used at this point.

Teacher input during the lesson lasts for around 15 minutes. Learning outcomes are separated into small steps, each of which is modelled using dual coding followed by deliberate practice. Scaffolds, such as manipulatives and writing frames, are used to support children during deliberate practice where needed, however, the aim is to remove these once a child has mastered a step. Teachers follow the model, ‘I do, we do, you do’.

Carefully planned, targeted questions (hinge questions) are asked frequently to elicit children’s understanding and allow for timely intervention from the teacher or Learning Support Assistant. At this point pupils are ready to start their independent learning.

During independent practice, children are focused on the deliberate practice of the task they have been set, overlearning the skill. Adults in the room will move around to give quality verbal feedback to pupils and intervene where misconceptions are being demonstrated. If the adult in the room assesses that a number of children share a misconception or that a group of children have not understood the steps to success, they will work with the identified children to model the step in a different way or model the use of a scaffold to enable them to achieve the learning outcome.

Within books, there will be evidence of a high success rate for pupils. Mastery tasks allow children who have demonstrated competency to consolidate their learning by: reflecting on the challenges they have faced in acquiring the skill; applying the skill to a different context; or correcting misconceptions or erroneous examples related to the task they have been given. Emphasis is placed on thinking hard when learning. The question of ‘have you understood?’ is reframed to ‘what have you understood?’. Children are expected to be able to reflect and articulate their learning at the end of the lesson.