Reflecting on stepping learning

I really enjoyed the Engchat last week hosted by Susan Strachan.  The initial question was framed with regard to our ‘less able’ pupils and how we teach inference.  The ability to make inferences is such a complex skill and I shared my approach. 

It took me back, however, to something I felt was lacking when I inherited trainees in my previous school and that was the lack of training surrounding sequencing.  Trainees arrived with their very detailed lesson plan to be filled in and an expectation that in an hour lesson something tangible would be learnt.  Now sometimes this is the case.  More often, this is not.  Supporting trainees to step the learning and to feel comfortable resting on a step was often the main focus of my work.

When we teach pupils to make inferences, we are building up to their analytical writing.  I now use WHAT HOW WHY as a process but this itself is loaded in steps that pupils need to go through before they even begin to complete fully rounded WHAT HOW WHY responses.

  1. The ability to find literal information
  2. The ability to find the best literal information
  3. Making inferences
  4. Matching evidence to inferences.
  5. Ensuring that we make an inference it isn’t just repeating the evidence being provided.

And these are the steps just to get to the WHAT HOW stage.

Here is what I have done with my year 7 class this term. 

First of all I introduced literal meaning to pupils and then gave them an opportunity to practise.  When they fed back, I asked them if they had located the information in the text – does it actually say this?


The next lesson I gave them further practice at finding literal information after reading a particular passage.


I then introduced them to the term INFER.

Inf 1

I started by giving the pupils the inferences I had made in the text and asking them to highlight the evidence that supported my inference.

Inf 2

I then reversed the process so I gave pupils the evidence and asked them to come up with their own inferences.

Inf 3

We then repeated this activity again with our non-fiction text about Joseph Merrick.

Inf 4

It was during this lesson that I realized pupils were being repetitive with their inference and their evidence.  And together, we worked through the importance of using our own words when making our inference and establishing our WHAT. (We also worked through vocabulary choices – only a third of our year 7s are English native speakers).

Reframe 1

Because I knew there were misconceptions around this, I got pupils to practise this skill the following lesson.  They first had to tell me what was wrong with the grid below and then they had to correct it by re-writing the inferences using their own words.

Reframe 2

So, as you can see, we haven’t even got to the WHY after 1 term’s worth of work BUT I am ok with this because stepping the learning and ensuring pupils clearly understand these steps is far more important in the long term.

It was something I really felt was missed off the training for my PGCEs, or my Teach-Firsters but something that is so crucially important to how we prepare our lessons but also how we feel, as teachers, confident, comfortable and capable in adapting when pupils need more time with something.

We are in the process of creating a medium term plan / guide and I think part of our peer review with these should really focus in on how clear the steps of learning are and the possible misconceptions and how these can be addressed.  Thinking more explicitly about these steps means ultimately learning will be retained for the longer term.

Huge thanks to Susan and Engchat for a really interesting chat.


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