11: Meeting individual needs and balancing workload

Session Elements

  • analyse artefacts
  • action planning

Learning Intentions for this session

You will learn that:
5.3 Adapting teaching in a responsive way, including by providing targeted support to pupils who are struggling, is likely to increase pupil success.
5.4 Adaptive teaching is less likely to be valuable if it causes the teacher to artificially create distinct tasks for different groups of pupils or to set lower expectations for particular pupils.
You will learn how to:
5h. Make use of well-designed resources (e.g., textbooks).
5i. Plan to connect new content with pupils’ existing knowledge or provide additional pre-teaching if pupils lack critical knowledge.
5j. Build in additional practice or remove unnecessary expositions.


In the self-directed study from Week 10 and follow-up meeting with your mentor, you looked at adaptive teaching and the importance of identifying the critical knowledge pupils need in order to access the curriculum. You reflected on your own practice both in the classroom and by looking at examples of planning.

In this self-study session, you will extend your knowledge of meeting the individual needs of pupils and balancing your workload by focusing on high-quality exposition and efficiency. Classroom dialogue is important and striking the balance between teacher-talk, pupil-talk and independent work is crucial in ensuring pupils are well supported and challenged in their learning.

You can apply insights from these exercises to examples from your own past experience with pupils and to future lesson plans.

Research and Practice Summary

This reading will help you understand some of the theory behind this week’s topic. We will start by introducing some of the key concepts (these are in bold). You will also see some suggestions of how to put these concepts into practice. When using these concepts in your own practice, you will need to take account of your pupils’ characteristics, the context of your classroom and the nature of the material that you are teaching.

High-quality expositions and efficiency – Year 9 English

Mrs Turner has found that her Year 9 English class are struggling to grasp some foundational concepts in the current scheme of learning on War Poetry. They produce a lot of written work but when she has marked their books, she has found that there are misconceptions and misunderstandings. She has spent a lot of time during the lesson explaining background information to the concepts but the pupils’ knowledge hasn’t improved.

What strategies could Mrs Turner employ to tackle these problems?

Efficiency can be thought of as ‘the reduction of waste’. The most common resource that can be wasted in teaching is time, leading to an overall increase in teachers’ workload. Reducing wasted time is a key priority for teachers and school leaders.

It can be helpful to think of efficiency as the relationship between time taken and quality of outcome, because it doesn’t always follow that reducing time spent on an activity is a good thing per se. Teaching is intellectual labour, and some parts of a teacher’s work take time because they are hard to do well. For example, when planning to introduce a new foundational concept, rushing the planning of a lesson may mean that pupils do not learn that concept well, affecting many future lessons.

Schools and multi-academy trusts develop their own policies and practices around assessment, marking and feedback. They are encouraged to be mindful of the impact upon teacher workload of assessment practices, which can be onerous. Teachers need to be aware of their school’s expectations of marking and should also seek ways of minimising the potentially negative impacts of doing it excessively. Self- and peer-assessment both have pedagogical advantages and can help reduce marking workload.

To help you save time without significantly impacting the quality of outcomes, you could make marking manageable and effective by:

  • recording data only when it is useful for improving pupil outcomes
  • working with colleagues to identify efficient approaches to marking and alternative approaches to providing feedback (e.g. using whole-class feedback via a visualiser, or well-supported peer- and self-assessment)
  • using verbal feedback during lessons in place of written feedback after lessons where possible. (Some schools may encourage using verbal feedback stamps, but remember this also uses up time and may not help improve outcomes for your pupils)
  • using departmental or phase team time to moderate and standardise assessment (this is also a great form of subject-specific professional development)

And you can make planning manageable by:

  • making use of existing well-designed resources (e.g. textbooks, exam board-approved exemplars, online stores of graphics and animations, carefully selected commercial schemes of work)
  • doing it collaboratively with colleagues (e.g. during shared PPA time or during time set aside for department/phase development)

Which strategies might be effective in reducing wasted time both in and out of lessons?

It is important that the curriculum is carefully sequenced so that pupils learn foundational concepts first – concepts that are needed in order to understand more complex information. Examples of foundational concepts include learning the alphabet and phonetic sounds in literacy; learning to count, add and subtract in mathematics; and learning about cells and atoms in science. Over time, building up foundational understanding can help pupils develop confidence in their ability to recall relevant information while their knowledge gradually becomes more complex, and external support (or scaffolding) is gradually withdrawn.

To help your pupils to master foundational concepts, you should:

  • with your colleagues, identify what these are and ensure they are prioritised in your curriculum
  • with your colleagues, identify the likely common misconceptions that can hamper understanding of the important concepts
  • give concrete examples and metaphors as these are often useful in helping pupils understand abstract concepts (e.g. stories and narratives, sayings, rules, mnemonics, equations and models)

Mrs Turner decided to take a look at the scheme of learning and identify where there may be misconceptions and misunderstandings in future lessons. A key problem pupils had was understanding historical context in relation to the themes of the text they were studying. She identified potential pitfalls in future lessons and found time to sit with her class’s history teacher, who helped her locate a five-minute video which depicted conditions in trenches on the Western Front. He also gave her a history textbook from which she was able to compile a glossary of key terms, such as ‘trench-foot’, ‘morning hate’ and ‘no man’s land’. Collaborating with this teacher saved them both time, as he now has a better idea of the war poetry they study. Mrs Turner was able to create resources to support and challenge her pupils.

Exposition refers to the process of explaining concepts, ideas and information with great clarity. It requires the teacher to have sound knowledge of the curriculum area and involves ensuring that pupils are able to understand new information in the context of their prior knowledge and understanding. Exposition is about more than simply telling pupils information. It also involves providing examples to illustrate and illuminate the material to be learned. Examples can include visual and conceptual models, application of rules, and contextual information. Good exposition may also involve modelling. Exposition does not require pupils to make discoveries themselves: by moving from the general to the specific, it allows pupils to understand increasingly detailed explanations of the material to be learned and link those explanations to information presented previously as part of a general overview.

To help your pupils learn through more effective exposition, you should:

  • plan what you are going to say and how you are going to model to your pupils (e.g. by rehearsing how you will explain foundational concepts)
  • think about the visuals and examples you can use that will help your pupils connect this new learning with what they already know
  • be prepared to break down your expositions further for those pupils who may need it
  • allow time also for pupils to practise: don’t simply rely upon exposition (in your plan, allot a time limit to your expositions; this will help you keep to your point)

What Mrs Turner did

Mrs Turner showed the five-minute video she had borrowed from her history colleague to her class, at the end of the previous lesson. She said she would be quizzing them on it in the next lesson. She also gave them the glossary of terms connected with trench warfare for them to learn at home.

She started her next lesson with the promised quiz on the video. She rearranged the pupils’ seating plan as a result, creating a ‘support table’ for those who had done less well on the quiz. She showed the video to the whole class again because she believed that would ease the load on their working memories. In her plan, she scripted her main exposition to the class, being careful to include several of the terms from the glossary and to connect these to the concepts she wanted them to grapple with in 2 poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. This all took 15 minutes, and she was able to allow her pupils to spend most of the remainder of the lesson on independent practice, first in groups of four to generate and refine ideas, and then individually. Mrs Turner was able to use the independent practice time to target her support on the ‘support table’ of pupils who had done less well on the video quiz. With them, she reused her quiz questions and glossary as the main resources to re-teach them.

Mrs Turner recognised that her class’s hard work was not the same as effective learning: they were still stumbling over foundational concepts, even though they were producing a lot of writing. She used the resources of her history colleague – the video and glossary – knowing that they would be of high quality and pitched correctly for the age of her pupils. She used these to pre-teach (through homework and the last few minutes of the previous lesson) some of the keywords and concepts she would need her class to be familiar with. That meant in her lesson, through the quiz and exposition, she was able to connect new content to their existing knowledge. Her exposition was brief and – because she had scripted it – she made sure it was to the point. This allowed her class plenty of time to work independently. In turn, this afforded her the chance to give extra in-class support to the group who had struggled with the quiz on the video. Rather than create new resources for them, she reused the same materials as with the whole of the class. This made more efficient use of her planning time.

Self-Study Activities

Review: 10 mins

Read the Research and Practice Summary on this week’s topic. As you read, reflect on:

  1. the practices that you are already doing well
  2. the practices you are doing some of the time but could do more of/more consistently
  3. the practices you don’t use in your teaching yet

Plan: 10 mins

Analyse artefact

Examine your schemes of learning for the next few weeks. Identify an upcoming area of the curriculum where there may well be misconceptions which arise in the course of covering new learning over 3 lessons. You may wish to discuss this with a more experienced colleague or someone (e.g. Mrs Turner’s history colleague) more familiar with the topic.

As an alternative, you can do the same exercise with a textbook which will cover several of your upcoming lessons.

Theory to Practice: 20 mins

1. Action planning

Annotate the scheme of learning (or textbook) for the 3 lessons. Start with the foundational concepts (these may already be identified). What are the potential misconceptions arising from these concepts? How will you explain them, and what resources will you need? How will you plan for these lessons and be efficient with resources and time?

Make notes of your ideas on a table like this:

Foundational concepts Potential misconceptions Potential resources/ expositions Efficient? (my workload)





Bring these notes to your next mentor meeting.

Next Steps: 5 mins

Look ahead to your next mentor meeting, where you will learn how to:

5h.    Make use of well-designed resources (e.g. textbooks).

5i.     Plan to connect new content with pupils’ existing knowledge or provide additional pre-teaching if pupils lack critical knowledge.

5j.     Build in additional practice or remove unnecessary expositions.