Strictly Come Teaching: SEVEN techniques to keep you on your toes!

Carmel Bones

Carmel Bones is an honorary fellow of the Historical Association and member of the national secondary committee. An advanced skills teacher, former HOD, GCSE and A2 examiner, she now works nationally and internationally helping schools to optimise outcomes for learners and teachers. For GCSE 2018, Carmel has written for BBC Bitesize, Clickview and Studytracks, was consulting editor for Hodder Dynamic Learning, showcased VR 360 at the Bett Show and is co-author of GCSE revision guides (AQA and OCR, published November 2017 and January 2018 respectively).

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What is more exciting than returning to school…? The return of Strictly, of course! In excess of 12.5 million viewers tuned in to see the final in Dec 2015. After the Bake Off, this made it the most popular TV show in Britain adding sparkle and sequins to dark Saturday evenings. I know there are many open and closeted fans in schools across the country, and here I’ll outline how teachers could take some steps in the direction of the glitter-ball providing a “magnificent” SEVEN to keep you “en pointe!”

1. High expectations

From the outset, the end goal is in mind. Tess and Claudia introduce the razamatazz and the professionals immediately showcase what is expected. For the celebrity students, What A Good One Looks like (WAGOLL) is plain to see. The shows’ opening numbers set the standard: share excellence to inspire and motivate. Those present are WOWED by what they see. This idea can be applied to the classroom by calling back papers from the exam boards so you too can WAGOLL the end result. Act quickly - the deadline date for this post results service is 4th October.

Throughout the year, be a curator. Collect masterpieces and works in progress from your classes and colleagues so that you build a departmental portfolio of excellence to share with your team and your students. Working walls are great for showcasing success, and even a rolling “hall of fame” along a corridor, with current students or alumni, can provide aspirational ideas.

Keeping the end goal in mind is vital and ties in with the ‘Teaching Backwards’ ideas of Griffith and Burns. The best course of action is to communicate high expectations to all students and maintain appropriately high standards. Our beliefs about pupils have a tremendous impact on their progress and attainment. Have an open mind about students, review your thinking and beware of falling prey to the halo effect. This is a form of confirmation bias whereby your first impressions can go on to continue to colour your judgement. Reset the barre!

2. In training

During the show, time is spent sharing details of the contestants struggle and mistakes along the way. It is a sign of progress, not of failure. This honesty and openness in school could take the form of a “learning log”, or even a video diary, from older students offering tips or “things they wished they’d known”. This would provide an insight into where the gaps might be and encouraging the need to understand where to place emphasis and take action. is useful here. This can help to support a reflexive approach and develops self-efficacy to help sustained progress. “Practise makes permanent,” as Doug Lemov reminds us.

3. “Len’s Lens”

Chief judge Len Goodman making his last appearance this year provides kind, specific and helpful feedback when he takes a forensic look at dancing performances. He applauds technique and celebrates quality. He also models precisely what could be improved and he SHOWS, not TELLS, the students HOW to do it.

This prized expert insight serves to move competitors on. In class a visualiser or iPad can serve the same purpose. Use it in real time at any point in the lesson to illuminate success and share a student or marking highlight. By taking a judicious approach different learners’ work, achievements can be highlighted across a scheme of learning. It’s a double-whammy way to arouse curiosity at the start of a lesson and immediately reinforce high expectations, too.

4. “You’re My Favourites!”

I couldn’t write an article on Strictly without mentioning Brucie! Although now retired, he offered to contestants praise which was unexpected, spontaneous and genuine. It was always targeted upon an element of technique where the participant had clearly struggled. The effort or process was being acknowledged, and this invariably seemed to spur the individual on. The recipient of Brucie’s comments was never the front-runner or “performance” favourite. His remarks were more to do with attempts at mastery and, while sometimes tongue-in-cheek, it is worth thinking about re-framing praise to ensure it is informational and future orientated.

Hymer encourages “Bad Praise” monitors, whereby you invite your students to spot where you seem to give “fixed mindset” praise. They will love keeping you honest, ensuring difficulty is something beneficial for learning. This could result in high level conversations about meaningful feedback and deeper learning and teaching for understanding.

5. “The scores are in!”

This phrase can strike terror into the hearts of the contestants, but the emphasis is on marginal gains. The judges pinpoint individual improvement tasks or next steps targets. This comes after the contestants themselves have reflected, and they are fully aware of the success criteria.

The emphasis on self-assessment is vital, but beyond that the need to be reflexive and act upon the video footage pervades the series. Turning students into feedback givers and your class into a critique group can help to level up student outcomes. For lasting learning, students must take control as “drivers rather than as passengers” (Didau). Dot marking is an easy-to-implement classroom strategy, whereby the teacher pin points (by means of a coloured dot) areas of strength and further improvement, and the recipient has to respond and make the necessary corrections .This is very powerful in terms of encouraging student independent response to feedback and understanding of their own scores.

6. Starting Points

There is the annual tabloid controversy about celebrity starting points and “unfair advantages”. Our students will have different starting points. Use this to your advantage. Be sure to find out, this is really important at the start of the year. Learning is an iterative process. Devolve to learners and encourage them to help each other. The “walking chocolate bar” activity is great for this - see Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkham’s work.

Irrespective of what the students “already bring to the party”, they are more likely to be successful if they believe their intelligence and abilities are not innate but can be developed. Professor Carol Dweck famously encourages self-belief through teaching about the malleability of intelligence. She argues students should learn the “general skill” of saying: ”Here’s a worthwhile problem - it’s messy, it’s complicated. How do I stick with it? How do I come back from dead ends?” Strictly is a lesson in resilience and determination. Early in the term, team up your students with ‘study buddies’, taking reciprocal responsibility to come up with creative solutions to help and support each other - just like the contestants and celebrities do following their pairings at the launch show.

7. Next week you will be dancing…

Contestants have strengths and weaknesses. They may show Ballroom brilliance, but are lacklustre when it comes to Latin. If we want to improve learning we should introduce what Professor Robert Bjork calls “desirable difficulties”, a tactic that can have a positive impact on students’ ability to retrieve information.

For sustained improvement, introduce variability. Change the seating plan, displays, mix up topics and keep students on their toes. Spacing out material and then interleaving or mixing topics together encourages more likely information transfer, from working to long term memory, especially important as the new linear GCSEs are embarked upon.

The producers of Strictly seem to understand the idea of interleaving, since the dances are mixed up to such an extent the contestants feel the spacing effect and transfer knowledge between contexts. They have a varied cognitive load wrestle to with and time for forgetting is built in. This mixed up approach is shown to be of benefit in terms of integrating new concepts into our mental webs.

Have a great year. Be sure to keep your learners in the spotlight. Thank you for reading and to paraphrase Tess and Claudia….Keeeeep Thinking!

Further reading references;

With thanks to the staff of Rainford High School, Haydock High School, Pendle Vale College, Waterhead Academy, Park Hall Academy and Yewdale Primary School working through the Osiris Transforming Teaching Intervention.

  • Allison Shaun and Tharby Andy “Making every lesson count” 2015
  • Didau David “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” 2015
  • Didau David and Rose Nick “What every teacher needs to know about psychology” 2016
  • Dweck Carol “To Encourage a Growth Mindset, pass it on” TES No. 5192. April 2016
  • Griffith Andy and Burns Mark “Teaching Backwards” 2014
  • Hymer Barry and Gershon Mike “Growth Mindset; Pocket Book” 2014
  • Newton Douglas P “Teaching for Understanding: What it is and how to do it” 2000
  • Wallace Isabella and Kirkham Leah “Talk Less Teaching” 2014

Do you bring your favourite programme into the classroom? Let us know below!

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