CPD, Diligence

Routines and Practice at Dixons Kings Academy

One of the most striking details about Dixons Kings is that we have many routines that every member of staff adheres to, and every student understands.  Here we explain why we have them and how we practise them.

Our routines are so important, but when systems and routines are the sole preserve of the classroom teacher, we get inconsistency. And inconsistency is unfair. It’s especially unfair on the students, because they don’t know what to expect. Behaviour that is acceptable in one lesson suddenly merits a sanction in another lesson. It’s unfair on the experienced teacher who works tirelessly on developing their own classroom routines that are not followed elsewhere. It’s unfair on the new teacher, who needs to create classroom routines on top of the many many other things they must do. It’s unfair on the Teach First participant or the cover supervisor, who haven’t got the benefit of established routines.

So a school approach to classroom routines helps to ensure that consistency. At DKA we have tried to unpick the moments in lessons and the school day that could benefit from shared expectations and routines, from the habits for individual, paired and group work to the shared routines for mini whiteboard use. Yes, some elements are prescriptive – scripting of how we bring a class to silence for example- but these routines are designed to make it easier for teachers to teach the way that works best.

If we say a routine or expectation is important, then it can’t just be sent out in an email or relayed as a ‘policy’. It needs to be exemplified and practised, which is why we dedicated time to practising our routines on our first days back. In addition to building consistency, practice shows us where we are going wrong (or where we might go wrong) and need to improve, but also helps reinforce what we are doing well, making us more confident and comfortable in the classroom.

It’s a simple practice method. We share a model of what is expected, staff practise once through in groups of about six, receive feedback then repeat. Everyone practises, and everyone feeds back at least once. While the models that we practise are carefully considered, they are open to feedback, and practising will often identify the flaws, creating better models in future.

Let’s take the practice session on classroom routines on the first day back from the perspective of a new member of staff at Dixons Kings. The practice was useful for them in internalising everything they had been told about- and as you might expect on the first day back- they had been told a lot. Think of that first lesson when students are sizing up their new teacher and the teacher starts the lesson just like the experienced senior leader. Immediately, the new teacher carries just a little more authority. And for the rest of the staff, who can seem to forget completely how to teach by September, it is great to warm up.

There are more things to practise of course, and we won’t spend every session on the absolute basics, although we should never become complacent. With a relatively small amount of time spent on embedding simple whole school routines, we free teachers up to concentrate on the complex art of teaching.



Supporting students to revise using their Knowledge Navigators

This is a guide for parents, carers and anyone who wants to support students to use their Knowledge Navigators*.

By now you will be familiar with Knowledge Navigators, as students carry them in their folders and are expected to use them for independent study. Since we started using these at DKA, we have seen an increase in how much students know, but we do understand that some have found it difficult to know what to do with Knowledge Navigators. So, here are three ways that you can help them make the most of their knowledge navigators.

QuizQuiz them regularly

We are more likely to remember things by regular quizzing than if we just read them. Sometimes, students can think they know something well but they can’t actually remember it when testing. Not only does testing actually help them to remember, but it shows them where they might need to put some extra practice.

If the Knowledge Navigator has a list of words with definitions, you could read out the word and ask them to explain what it means. Or you could do this in reverse. With dates, you can ask “what happened in …?” or “What year did … happen?”

You can ask them just to write down everything that they remember. Then, when finished, use the Knowledge Navigator to fill in the gaps.

Flashcards are a really simple way to quiz regularly. We like the Leitner system as a simple way of getting the most out of flashcards.

Ask them to elaborate

Sometimes a fact may be known but it is not totally useful in isolation, so connecting it to other things that the student knows is beneficial. Some questions that you might ask are:

  • Why is this true?
  • How do you know this?
  • What ideas is this similar to?
  • What are the causes and effects of this?

Once again, there are a number of benefits to this. The first is that it helps connect knowledge together – and the better that knowledge connects to other things students know, the more likely it is to stick. If the answers to any of the questions above is “I don’t know” then it is a useful signpost for further study.

Organise what they know in different ways

We want the knowledge contained on Knowledge Navigators to be used fully. No examination will simply ask for them to list the ideas from the Knowledge Navigator . Therefore, it is helpful to be able to arrange the information in different ways. Not only this, but organising information in different ways will help to remember it.

Easy ways to organise information:

  • Categorise information into lists
  • Put things in order e.g. most to least
  • Use graphic organisers to present information differently. The most well-known of these is the mind-map/ spider diagram, but there are many useful forms.

DunloskyMost of these strategies are applicable to revision in general. If you want to read more about the best strategies for revision, this is a really useful guide.

Sign up to the Bradford Research School newsletter here.

*We call them Knowledge Navigators at Dixons Kings. These can also be known as Knowledge Organisers or 100% sheets.


Navigating Knowledge at Dixons Kings Academy

At Dixons Kings, we value knowledge. Because of this, every student receives a folder with ‘knowledge navigators’ for each subject. (These can also be known as ‘knowledge organisers’ or ‘100% sheets’) As Joe Kirby from Michaela Community School explains here, they “organise all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single page.” In this post, we explain why we think that they are essential.

Why do we value knowledge?

We know that an accumulation of knowledge has many benefits. One is that it aids reading comprehension. Reading comprehension may seem like just a skill, but it is much easier to understand a text if you have the associated background knowledge. A student with an understanding of the complexities of rugby will understand a difficult passage in that domain where they might struggle with a similarly complex passage on crocodiles or isotopes. By pre-teaching some of the prerequisite background knowledge in a unit, we can aid in comprehension.

Having knowledge stored in long term memory also frees up our working memory. Our working memory capacity is finite, which means that we can only juggle so many different ideas in our heads at once. The more knowledge that is stored in our long term memory, the less that has to be held in our working memory, allowing more cognitive capacity to think about the topic at hand. Think of the difference between a student who has memorised their times tables versus one who has not. The latter has to use vital cognitive resources working out the individual calculations.

Interestingly, the more knowledge we have, the more knowledge we can get. This is known as the ‘Matthew effect’, so named because of the Bible passage Matthew 25:29: “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

What about the myth that we can just google things, so why do we need lists of knowledge? That argument doesn’t really hold up, because you need some key knowledge just to even google something and then you need knowledge to process the results.

Why Knowledge Navigators?

It is one thing to say that we should build knowledge, but it is often difficult to curate the knowledge necessary for optimal performance. That’s why our teachers start with the end – what knowledge is a pre-requisite for understanding this topic? What knowledge will enable them to offer complex responses? What background knowledge is important in order for this information to stick and for them to accumulate new knowledge? We can’t choose every possible piece of knowledge that exists, just the most judicious.

An example of a Knowledge Navigator from Spanish

The best knowledge navigators are quizzable, so can be used as simple quizzes in lessons. Also, homework can take the form of a quiz, making it an efficient use of students’ and teachers’ time. Students can also develop ways of self-quizzing. In fact, quizzing is one of the simplest and most beneficial forms of studying, because of the testing effect – the testing effect is the idea that we are more likely to remember things when we are made to retrieve the information from our long term memory.

We are still exploring the best ways to maximise the benefits and we acknowledge that our Knowledge Navigators can always benefit from improvement, but if you want to teach in a school that values knowledge, then have a look at our vacancies here. (Currently Maths and Science 2ic 30/4/18)


Using research evidence to improve memory at DKA

Dixons Academies Trust hosts Bradford Research School, part of the Research Schools Network. This is a collaboration between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) to create a network of schools that will support the use of evidence to improve teaching practice. 

We want what we do at Dixons Kings Academy to be informed by the evidence about what works. In this post, head of MFL Emma Hickey describes how she is using the best available evidence to ensure effective learning.

Like many departments, we realised that the increased demands of the new linear GCSE would pose some challenges. In particular, we knew that the we had to prepare students for learning a greater volume of vocabulary.  Therefore, we set about trying to ensure that our structures were designed to support this.

We were particularly keen on understanding how we could use retrieval practice in our work. Taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention, a phenomenon known as the testing effect. (Roediger and Karpicke, 2005) The process of retrieving information makes it easier for you to retrieve it subsequently.

KNUsing the topics from the GCSE specification, we sorted vocabulary into ‘Knowledge Navigators’, which are our equivalent to Knowledge Organisers. For the full benefits of retrieval practice, we know that students must already have learnt the information, so we practice vocabulary in lessons via listening, speaking, reading and writing activities. At this point, we also teach memorisation strategies e.g. carne = meat (carnivores eat meat), counting the letters to aid with spelling, look say cover write check, self-testing. We place the vocabulary on Memrise to help students self-test. Memrise is a website and app which is designed with some of the principles of retrieval practice in mind – they call it ‘choreographed testing’. We then test this vocabulary once a week. Initially, we wait a week and test the assigned vocabulary from the previous week. Following this, we distribute the previous words learnt, to ensure that the students are continually being asked to retrieve the vocabulary from their memory.

The organised and systematic approach to vocabulary is having clear benefits, most of which we can see in the results of our regular vocabulary tests. We can also monitor learning stats on Memrise, and they show us that students are spending an increasing amount of time on self-quizzing and are answering a higher percentage correctly.

We intend to roll out this approach to Key Stage 3 and this should help ensure that vocabulary is learnt earlier, retrieved more often and finds itself embedded in long term memory. We hope that students will understand that these regular low stakes quiz are a learning strategy rather than an assessment tool.

At present, our quizzes focus on one type of question- those that require recall. We are exploring how to adapt these strategies for learning sentence structures and verb forms. We are also exploring how best to use other strategies to aid retrieval e.g. flashcards.


Roediger H and Karpicke J (2005) ‘Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention’ Psychological Science  17(3): 249-255.

Hartwig M and Dunlosky J (2012) ‘Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement?’ Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 19(1):126-34

Agarwel et al (2013) ‘How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning’ Institution of Education Sciences

Pashler et al (2007) ‘Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning’ Institution of Education Sciences


Data Days at Dixons Kings

How do you ‘close gaps’? It’s a question to which everybody in education would love the answer. Gender gaps, gaps between cohorts, the gap between where a student should be and where they currently are. There are no magic bullets, but at Dixons Kings Academy, we try to close these massive gaps by concentrating on the very specific things students don’t know, and the very specific things they can’t do. One way we do this is by using Data Days to create intervention plans.

Data Days

Data Day BookWe have three ‘Data Days’ throughout the year. Inspired by the book ‘Driven by Data’ by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, these are days where students don’t come in and teachers look through their class data, considering  how they can address any particular problems, and then creating plans and resources to do so. The days give busy teachers time. It’s a big task so the least they can be given is a day.

Bambrick-Santoyo suggests looking at your class data with ‘global’ questions, which look at the wider class picture:

  • How well did the class do as a whole?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses? Where do we need to work the most?
  • How did the class do on old versus new standards? Are they forgetting or improving on old material?
  • How were the results in the different types of question type (multiple choice vs open ended; reading versus writing?)
  • Who are the strong and weak students?

Then these are followed up with ‘dig-in’ questions:

  • Bombed questions- did students all choose the same wrong answer? Why, or why not?
  • Break down the standards. Did students do similarly on every question within the standard or were some questions harder? Why?
  • Sort data by students’ scores: are there questions that separate proficient and non-proficient students?
  • Look horizontally by student: are there any anomalies occurring with certain students.

Intervention planning

Once we have drilled down to exactly what to focus on, we spend the rest of the data day intervention planning. These plans need to start from the gaps, not from the students. If we start from the students, then we end up with a massive gap to close and then try to throw things at the gap, ultimately changing very little. By starting with specific things, the gaps can actually be closed.

Data DayOur intervention planning starts with the gap to be closed, then the student(s) it affects, then exactly what will be done. Nothing vague. Precise gaps, specific interventions. As you can see, the interventions include different tasks, reteaching, working with other adults etc. There is no guarantee that this closes every gap for good, but at least it is a focussed plan. There are a couple of students on that plan who are not underachieving according to their grade, but have some basic issues that need fixing- these might not be our focus if we started just from the grade. On data day, every teacher produces one of these per class for the following three weeks, but now that these have been happening for a while, it is not unusual for interventions to continue.

The quality of the interventions will often depend on the quality of the assessments – without useful data based on meaningful assessments your intervention plans will be flimsy at best.

Even if data days didn’t exist, the process could still be followed: design effective assessments, ask questions of the data, plan and carry out specific interventions on specific gaps.


Making Students Think Deeply at DKA

One thing you will notice in classrooms at Dixons Kings is the way that students are made to think deeply. This is seen in the depth of challenge in work set and the way that all students are supported to reach these ambitious points. It’s seen in the high expectations of behaviour which create the conditions for hard work and deep thought. And it’s also seen in the skilful way that our teachers question students. Here are three ways that our teachers ensure that all students think – and think deeply – with their skilful questioning.

No Hands Up

Hands UpChildren raising their hands is one of the universal images of learning in school. But it can actually be counterproductive. First of all, certain students can dominate the classroom discussion. When this happens, it can make it easier for some students to ‘hide’ and if this is happening then they are definitely not thinking deeply about the material being taught. Secondly, teachers can get a skewed understanding of what students know, because they will generally call on the students who do know to answer. Or it will be keen students who offer wrong answers which may not necessarily be representative of the class.

By insisting on No Hands Up, we are insisting that all students are ready to answer a question. If any student can be asked a question, regardless of whether their hand is raised, then there is more of a likelihood that they will do the thinking. A period of wait time between the asking of the question and answering helps give that little bit of extra thinking time. Because our teachers know their students well, questioning can then be targeted appropriately. It doesn’t always mean that students know the answer, but it does help to ensure that they think.

No Opt Out

Of course, students might then say “I don’t know” and we are ready for that. There are different reasons for this response and each requires a different response from the teacher. If “I don’t know” is actually an admission from the student that they didn’t think about the question or they weren’t listening, then they will be ‘rewarded’ with further questions to ensure that they then do think about this. Fortunately, at Dixons Kings we see increasingly few examples of this – probably because students realise that thinking about the question and being ready is probably less work than the follow up questions! The No Hands Up policy also obviously helps with this too.

We call this strategy ‘No Opt Out’, and it’s taken from Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. It isn’t just about those who don’t try – it’s helpful for those who genuinely don’t know the answer too. The routine and systematic nature of this helps it to be less threatening for students who may feel embarrassed if they don’t know an answer. In fact, it’s really positive because it ends up with students knowing the correct answer.

Mini Whiteboards

And of course the regular use of Mini Whiteboards also helps us to ensure that every student is thinking. It’s visible and students are accountable for their thinking. When teachers use MWBs, they see every answer from every student. They can extend the thinking of those who ‘get it’ and can support those who are struggling.

Teachers are not mind readers and we can’t always know exactly what is going on in our students’ heads. But by building certain habits into our questioning, we can be fairly sure that they are thinking.


DKSR Kings Beats: Student Radio Station

We asked the student controller of our school radio station to write this month’s blog and here it is:

At Dixons Kings Academy, we have our own student-run radio station, DKSR Kings Beats. While the job may seem quite simple to those on the outside—how hard can it be for a bunch of kids to choose songs and play them off a computer?—in reality, it takes a lot of diligence from all those involved.

What We Do

dkrs2The most noticeable thing we do is our daily morning show (aptly called ‘The Breakfast Show’), which is broadcast live to all the staff and students from 7:10am. It features a wide selection of music, hand-picked by the staff and students of the school, amongst various other segments such as ‘Cheer-Up Tunes’, in which a staff member details the songs that make their day that little bit brighter. This show is the current main focus of the radio station.

As we move into the future, we want to start creating podcasts, whether they be subject-specific or just for fun for DJs who may not have enough confidence to present live yet. For instance, the Spanish department do a ‘Radio Internacional’ podcast, in which students write and record their own shows in Spanish, covering different aspects of Spanish culture, life, music etc. This would present opportunities for subject teachers to push students’ understanding of a subject and allow students to do wider reading around their best subjects, which can only be beneficial for their futures, both in exams and life in general.

Job Roles

A radio station needs a variety of people in order to thrive and achieve its potential. We’ve narrowed it down to four categories: talent, technicians, marketing, and news.

Each job needs a different type of person: for example, our technicians need to be able—or willing to learn—to use different pieces of specialised software and equipment, while DJs can get away with not knowing the difference between an Ethernet port and a USB port. Students who like to have a little nosy into school news and enjoy a bit of English would be perfectly at home in the news team. Creative students can help take photos, make posters, or even manage the radio’s social media account.

There’s a job for virtually any student interested in joining the radio station team—all we ask for in return is enthusiasm and commitment to the job.

Skills Development

Apart from the skills specific roles hone in on, being involved in a group project like this develops some general skills that are useful for anyone, in or out of school. Teamwork is key, along with time-management, organisation and communication; we can’t have a DJ sat behind a microphone at 7:10am without a technician there to get the broadcasting happen, neither can we have a DJ scouring their mind for a song thirty seconds before we go live, nor an awkwardly quiet Twitter feed. All of its aspects link in together, and I think members of the radio station can take a lot away from observing and understanding how each branch of the radio station relates to one another.

Personal Development


Being the radio station controller has opened up a myriad of opportunities for me: speaking in front of my peers in assemblies, writing letters to be distributed to students, chasing down members of staff for quick meetings… While a lot of these tasks may sound trivial to most people in the world of work, to me—a student who has not yet been subjected to the throes of the adult world—these develop crucial skills that will undoubtedly creep into my life at some point or another, and so it would be best to get accustomed to them sooner rather than later.

Overall, I believe opportunities like these are greatly beneficial for helping students to reach and showcase their potential, as well as diversifying a student’s set of skills. Projects like a school radio station can open these opportunities to students and increase their understanding of the jobs available to them after school.