you're reading...
Teaching and Learning

10 Silver Arrows: Ideas to penetrate the armour of ingrained practice


One arrow, aimed at the right place…..that’s all it takes.

Silver Arrows?

It’s very hard to change your practice.  We’re all so busy, very often it is difficult to create space to fully explore a set of ideas and to deliberately adapt our teaching routines to absorb something new.  At the same time, we’re often bombarded with initiatives and issues to address.  It can be overwhelming.  I’ve been thinking about the possibility of stripping down each initiative or development area to something very simple; one idea that captures the spirit of a wider set of strategies.  This would be the thing where you could say if you do just one thing, do this.  A Silver Arrow is one that you allow to penetrate your armour; it changes what you routinely do.

There isn’t a definitive research-informed list; I’m presenting a set of ideas that I think make good Silver Arrow contenders based on my own teaching.   You will have your own set of arrows that carry that message: if you do just one thing, do this.  Here is mine:

1. Behaviour Management: Signal. Pause. Insist. 

Effective classroom management is multi-faceted but if you can do this, you can do anything.   A class is full of students talking – on entry or after an activity or discussion:

  • Signal:  You give the agreed signal for attention
  • Pause: You wait, adopting an assertive stance and position in the room, scanning for eye contact;
  • Insist:  You insist on full attention.  Michael…Suki… I need you looking this way and listening. ….Thanks. 

You now give the instruction or direction you want to give.  You do not do anything until you have full attention; you expect it, you insist upon it, so it happens.  Signal. Pause. Insist.

(A Bill Rogers Top 10 Behaviour Strategies)

2. Questioning: ‘In your pairs, discuss’ + dialogue

Instead of ‘hands up’, you ask students to discuss their answers in pairs for a short period and then you call individuals to respond, reporting back on their discussion.   You then engage in a dialogue with the respondent, exchanging three or four responses to probe more deeply.

  • What were you saying in your pair? (Reporting back a rehearsed answer or state of confusion)
  • Why do you think that might be the right answer?
  • Can you link that to what James said earlier?
  • Does that happen all the time or just in this case?   And so on.

(The Washing Hands of learning: Think, Pair, Share)

3. Literacy: ‘Say it again properly’; saying it is a rehearsal for writing it. 

The whole-school literacy strategy could be reduced to this:  Every time students give a verbal answer and before they are asked to write anything,   ask them to re-form their intial responses into well-constructed sentences using the key words and phrases you’ve discussed.  Do it relentlessly, every time.

What does the graph tell us?

  • First attempt:  It goes up. 
  • Second attempt:  The speed on impact increases as the mass of the trolley increases. 

4. Marking and Feedback: Close the gap.   

Think about all marking and feedback as a short plan of action. Once you regard marking as a plan for the feedback a student will act upon and nothing more, it helps to keep it in perspective and have more impact.  Only give feedback at the level and frequency that it is practical to be acted upon.  This needs to be linked to giving time for redrafting and for acting on feedback during lessons, as well as for homework – directed improvement and reflection time or DIRT.

Three related posts: Marking in Perspective; Close the Gap marking; Improving the basics

5. Straight teaching: Objectives, explain, model, practice, check    

I find this a useful model; it helps to make sure you’ve taught something properly.

  • Objectives: You know exactly which ideas you want to explore.  The more precise the better.
  • Explain: You walk through the ideas and explain them using models, analogies and examples.
  • Model:  You show your students how to apply the learning to a question or problem, modelling the strategies.
  • Practice: Students now try a few problems themselves; they test out their understanding.
  • Check:  You use a range of feedback strategies to find out how they got on, adjusting the next cycle accordingly.  Importantly, you need to be ready to diverge; some student will get it and will want to move on; some will need more consolidation.

Objectives, Explain, Model, Practice, Check.  Each step is important.

Great Lessons 6: Explaining     Learning objectives vs Tasks

6. Assessment:  Set lots of tests – formatively. 

Repeat after me:  Tests are good.  Once you embrace this idea, your students will shoot forward.  Tests help with recall, developing long-term memory and serve a great way to tell you how well you have taught something.  Micro-tests, self-assessed tests, multiple choice tests and single question long-answer tests all help to flush out misconceptions, areas of weak understanding – and develop memory.   Take time to go over them, making sure that students learn from their mistakes.

Formative use of summative tests.

7. Gifted and Able: Teach to the top:

There are lots of strategies, but the Silver Arrow is the disposition: A total philosophy of G&T.  Use assessment data to identify your three highest performing students.  Imagine that their parents are hawkish and demanding; they (rightly) expect nothing but the best for their children.  Do everything in your power to make them love you because their children are stretched and engaged – always.  If you do that, the thing is – everyone’s a winner.  You are a winner, the top-end students are winners and – here is the clincher – everyone in the class is a winner too.  Teach to the Top and everyone benefits.

8. Homework as Guided Study: “You are not doing it for me; you are doing it for yourself”

That is one of my all-time favourite teacher-clichés. Homework is Guided Study.  You are giving students the tools to learn to study independently.  They are doing this for themselves and not for you.  That helps to put all kinds of things into perspective: the nature of the tasks; the resources you provide and expectations in relation to marking.   As well as questions for practice and consolidation, activities such as pre-learning, making notes and research are all valid, helpful homework tasks.  Activities that link into the next lesson are useful too – everyone brings in work that forms the starting point for the lesson.  The key thing is to make sure students have the tools they need once they leave your classroom.

Great teachers set great homework

9. Hard Work: 10 minutes of silence.

Learning does not flow from engagement; engagement flows from learning.  That’s a good message to hold on to.  Sometimes, after a whole series of activities and discussions, you just need students to get on with some work on their own.  10 minutes of silence is a great way to create an atmosphere of hard-working, heads-down endeavour.  It’s almost a treat after all the noise of a classroom exchange.   You are making hard work a positive experience by showing students how much progress they make in a short focused burst.  Crucially, the silence has to be a warm, peaceful silence; not the silence of discipline and dread.

Pedagogy Postcard #4: Working in Silence

10. Creative Opportunities:  for open-endedness, respond in any format

To mix things up a bit and to give students some scope for making decisions about their learning, I like the open-format response strategy.  If you have done some research, explored some ideas or finished a topic, it can generate fantastic responses if you ask students to capture their learning in any format they like:  an essay, a Powerpoint presentation, a website, a video, a booklet, a  3-D artefact – whatever they like.  This leads to a lovely range of responses that can be shared in different ways.  There’s nothing worse than a class of Powerpoint to schlep through – but the open format method usually yields enough variety to make it possible to see everything.

Students can explore a range of creative ideas to communicate their learning, learning some technical media skills in the process.   Often I find that students need reassurance – Am I allowed to make a website?  Yes, of course!  You need to make sure the content is given due weight – it needs to be a rigorous piece of work.  It helps to show them last year’s stunning exemplars.

Give them permission to do whatever they like – but ask them to dazzle you.

Please add your own Silver Arrows in the comments below….

Thanks to @EducatingMiss for creating this infographic summarising this post:


Click to download.


71 thoughts on “10 Silver Arrows: Ideas to penetrate the armour of ingrained practice

  1. Great list, Tom. I’d also add, stick to your seating plan and on entering the classroom children should have something purposeful to get on with…responding to a question on the marking, improving their DIRT work etc. I use a Trivium 3 Part lesson plan and this forms part of the grammar section.


    Posted by Brian Hays | October 24, 2014, 7:52 am
    • Seating plans for learning I think should also be dynamic, students should move from time to time, as well as for different activities – a seating plan that stays the same all year is not a seating plan for learning


      Posted by Ian White | January 4, 2015, 9:21 am
  2. Share the love: don’t let the end of lessons be a rushed panic all the time where you teach right up to the bell in a desperate bid to ‘fill your vessels’. Use a couple of minutes at the end to share something you’re enthused about in your subject – a poem, an article, a discovery, a picture, a tricky problem – whatever it is… “Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire.” It’s not just theirs you’re lighting either, it’s your own you’re stoking…

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by magnus4444 | October 24, 2014, 7:17 pm
  3. Purpose.
    Give your children a real context for their learning.
    This is, I think, easier in primary, but a very powerful tool, if you can harness it.


    Posted by nancy | October 24, 2014, 9:06 pm
  4. Great list – one that works for primary and secondary. Thanks!


    Posted by BekBlayton | October 25, 2014, 7:11 am
  5. Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.


    Posted by Tim Taylor | October 25, 2014, 12:35 pm
  6. Reblogged this on academictrust and commented:
    A great ‘top ten’ of teaching and learning strategies.


    Posted by academictrust | October 26, 2014, 4:39 pm
  7. *semi-facetious comment warning*
    Something about the example ‘the speed on impact increases as the mass of the trolley increases’ didn’t ring true. I’ve just taken a straw poll around the education department of the Institute of Physics and we think that you might mean ‘the average force on impact…’ Or perhaps ‘the impulse of the wall on the trolley on impact…’ Or even ‘the average rate of change in momentum of the trolley on impact…’ How’s that for precision in scientific literacy??

    There’s nothing like a group pedantic physicists with time on their hands.
    But then, I’m a history graduate so what do I know?

    Great list BTW

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Dr David Cameron (@David_Cameron76) | October 30, 2014, 12:12 pm
  8. Reblogged this on #TeachGeog and commented:
    A great list of teaching and learning strategies.


    Posted by Patricia Kokkinos | November 1, 2014, 1:45 pm
  9. Reblogged this on Making Our Best Better.


    Posted by Ben Hill | November 3, 2014, 11:07 am
  10. Reblogged this on NOA Great Teaching .


    Posted by Ellie Jacobs | November 9, 2014, 7:53 pm
  11. From time to time plan for maximum impact in the final 10/15 minutes of the lesson (i.e. the ‘plenary’). I think we often concentrate on an effective start + the main activities students will carry out. It’s a nice alternative when planning lessons to really focus on what you want to happen in the last 10 minutes and let the rest feed into that.


    Posted by david sims | November 21, 2014, 6:13 pm
  12. ‘The key thing is to make sure students have the tools they need once they leave your classroom.’ Indeed. As such, i think an important addition to the list is the creation of a learning culture in the classroom where students are challenged to arrive at answers with as little teacher influence as possible. Constructivist approaches seem to be incredibly powerful in terms of learning effectiveness, and tend to intrinsically motivate students. How teachers set up tasks, questions they ask, wait time, knowing when to step in, are all key considerations for a teacher wanting to create a culture of challenge and curiosity in their classroom. What do you think Tom?


    Posted by paulgmoss | November 29, 2014, 7:11 pm
  13. Read aloud to our classes on a regular basis – a story, poem, article, extract… A simple suggestion for a silver arrow but perhaps we could do more of this with all year groups. Model the love of reading and open up your students to something they may not choose to read independently.


    Posted by Estelle Ash | November 30, 2014, 10:57 pm
  14. Control your door – always be at it between lessons and make it clear it’s your territory. Pick up on any uniform infraction or negative attitude before they enter. Always be at it at the end of lessons; no one touches my door handle but me.
    Respect pupils time. Never be late to lessons and if you are, apologise and tell them why. Never hold them after the bell – they are busy people too.


    Posted by Maths Tyn | December 1, 2014, 8:03 pm
  15. A great read, thank you!

    I’m going to focus on guided homework a little more this term. I have set homework in the past that leads into the next lesson and this has worked really well as students see a real purpose to it.

    I also like to give students some control over the organisational aspects of their classroom. They decide (from a list provided) what goes on displays and which resources/props they would like to use to aid their learning. They feel the space is their own. As a result, I frequently have students turning up early to offer help and set up the classroom (usually KS4!)

    Thanks for the useful tips!


    Posted by Abigail Mann | January 4, 2015, 10:10 am
  16. Dear Tom, we had a very productive hour today during our training day today based on this article. Ten members of staff delivered their own personal take on “If you do just one thing do this”. Thank you for providing the inspiration. Best wishes Greg


    Posted by Greg McClarey | January 5, 2015, 10:22 pm
  17. Teach to the top -imagine the parents.

    I might add teach to the top but be mindful of how this impacts on your students with SEN. Are they accessing this in a meaningful way – would you parents of the children with SEN also be happy? I argue that if you get SEN right; you get help all (including the top).
    Great blog – I agree with the whole school literacy point – expand verbally then write.


    Posted by mainstreansen | May 25, 2015, 10:40 am
  18. Model. Used to be a cliched term when I trained but if the students see you attempt the same question as them in the same time they can see the impossible is possible. I model poor responses on purpose so that they can see what not to do, and then they tell me what should have done, effectively coaching me, and they write an improved version. Equally I model top mark responses and then we all ‘colour in’. Colouring in the different sections of their writing to see which aspect of their paragraph structures need fleshing out or reducing down. Sometimes this takes a whole lesson or I use it as an extended plenary to demonstrate to the students that they have moved to a different place from where they were at the beginning of the lesson.


    Posted by Karen Dunn | September 6, 2015, 11:24 am
  19. Reblogged this on Kesgrave High School and commented:
    A really useful blog that outlines what to focus on / what matters.



    Posted by timlegg | January 25, 2016, 8:26 am
  20. Testing is good but not always (but still needed for the same reasons explained by Tom). When you’re teaching a class with low confidence (maybe in a PRU) use of quizes provides the same information you need to scaffold and feedback and it feels more like fun. Start with whole class versus teacher then gradually reduce into smaller and smaller teams – high challenge low threat. Similar strategies can be applied in many different ways but you maintain the teaching to the top principle.


    Posted by bocks1 | September 4, 2016, 8:27 am


  1. Pingback: 10 Silver Arrows from @headguruteacher | parktownprawns - October 25, 2014

  2. Pingback: ORRsome blog posts from the week that was. Week 42 | high heels and high notes - October 29, 2014

  3. Pingback: 10 Silver Arrows: Ideas to penetrate the armour... - October 29, 2014

  4. Pingback: Education Panorama (November ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit - October 30, 2014

  5. Pingback: Edssential » 10 Silver Arrows: Ideas to penetrate the armour of ingrained practice - November 2, 2014

  6. Pingback: Ten Silver Arrows | RHS Teaching & Learning Hub - November 3, 2014

  7. Pingback: Assessment | PGCEPhysicalEducation - November 10, 2014

  8. Pingback: SBHS Teaching & Learning Take Away | 10 Silver Arrows… - November 21, 2014

  9. Pingback: 1,000,000 Views. Thanks A Million! | headguruteacher - November 21, 2014

  10. Pingback: If you do just one thing …….. | The Dean Academy: Professional Learning - November 25, 2014

  11. Pingback: » Worth the read, December 2014 edition Another Fine Mess - December 1, 2014

  12. Pingback: Blog of the Week: Silver Arrows | RGS Learning - December 3, 2014

  13. Pingback: 14 Blogposts for 2014! #14for2014 | From the Sandpit.... - December 22, 2014

  14. Pingback: The Best Education Blogs of 2014 | @TeacherToolkit - December 27, 2014

  15. Pingback: Looking Back on 2014. | headguruteacher - December 29, 2014

  16. Pingback: Talking in class. Do we know how to use it? | Evidence Informed - January 29, 2015

  17. Pingback: Time-Saving Pedagogy – 12 Practical Ideas, by @Powley_R | UKEdChat - Supporting the Education Community - January 31, 2015

  18. Pingback: Thinking Aloud: Structure Allows Creativity | Teaching at the Edge of Chaos - April 5, 2015

  19. Pingback: headguruteacher.com is three | headguruteacher - May 13, 2015

  20. Pingback: What happens in our best lessons, and how do we know? | Making Our Best Better - May 14, 2015

  21. Pingback: Ideas for Teaching Better. All In One Place. | headguruteacher - May 29, 2015

  22. Pingback: Growth Mindset Misconceptions and Missteps | Teaching: Leading Learning - August 3, 2015

  23. Pingback: Slightly updated: A start-of-term reading list | Making Our Best Better - August 19, 2015

  24. Pingback: A great article on 10 silver arrows from headguruteacher .Well worth a read | Gartree learning culture. CPD blog - August 19, 2015

  25. Pingback: My Observation Checklist. | headguruteacher - November 7, 2015

  26. Pingback: What Are Your Silver Arrows? | RISE - November 29, 2015

  27. Pingback: Mathematical Miscellany #1 | Mathematics, Learning and Technology - January 31, 2016

  28. Pingback: Field Testing ‘Teach like a champion 2.0’ | citizenshaw - March 7, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow teacherhead on WordPress.com


Blog Stats

  • 6,400,963 hits


Follow me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 114,928 other followers

St Jude Songs. And others.

%d bloggers like this: