Best practice

This topic is suitable for teachers and line managers.


Quick summary

The timely practice app was designed to allow the teacher to far more easily apply research backed best practice, to the task of

increasing the likelihood that teaching becomes embedded learning for low attaining and under achieving learners.

In the main it isn’t that teachers don’t know what works, its that without a tool like timely practice, best practice is too time consuming for teachers to apply.

The vast majority of learners who can be described as low attaining or under achieving have smaller working memory capacity than their peers. However this is not the main reason that they are not achieving as well as their peers. Their main problem is being educated in a system set up for those with average and above average working memories. Having a smaller working memory capacity per se, is far less of a problem. With timely practice we have consistently demonstrated that: once the teacher starts to teach in a smaller working memory friendly way, the teacher will see that previously low attaining and under achieving learners' progress significantly accelerates.

(1) teach on firm learning foundations

Effective pre assess, finding out what learners "already know" means we can make best use of lesson time. We won't teach learners what they "already know", nor attempt to teach them work for which they don't have sufficiently firm learning foundations, instead we can teach in the "sweet spot" between. So teaching and learning become more efficient i.e. we can increase the output (retained learning) per hour (of lesson time).

With timely practice, teachers only need to pre assess a topic once, before they teach the topic for the first time. Next time the teacher spirals around to teach the topic, the teacher will be able to see in fine detail what the learners already know/don't know yet from the assessment of retrieval practice data the app collects.

Of course it is no good collecting robust assessment for learning data, unless the teacher uses it to plan teaching.

A traditional pre assess process which asks all the learners the same questions at the same time - whether they answer within a test, selecting from multiple choice options or using mini white boards - makes many learners uncomfortable. Low attaining learners are often especially uncomfortable, so they often undermine its effectiveness by quietly not engaging, copying or otherwise avoiding answering, perhaps by claiming they know everything or nothing or perhaps by asking - when will I use this in life?

People are not naturally good judges of what they have learned, so rather than finding out if teaching has become learning, by asking learners if they know something or by assessing them at the end of the lesson, it would be better to assess by questioning at least one sleep after teaching.

Research by Bjork tells us that, until we learn something about our own learning, we are often seduced into thinking

  • that finding practice easy means we are learning well

  • that finding practice hard means we are not learning well.

In fact almost the opposite is true. Fluency of practice is not an indicator of learning taking place, it's when we struggle to practice (Bjork calls it desirable difficulty) that we embed learning better i.e. it's easier for us to recall for longer. Once learners, learn about learning, over time, they will overcome this misconception.

timely practice ensures that

  • pre assess and retrieval practice are "low stakes". Learners, over time, learn their assessment is formative (to help their learning) not summative (to judge them against a standard). We need to teach most low attaining learners - who no matter what the standard was, have learned that they won’t meet that standard - that when they use timely practice we are in the business of assessing them to help them learn better. (We probably won’t be able to avoid summative testing entirely.)

  • it may take some time for learners to begin to feel comfortable, what the teacher can do to help is keep sticking with the message: “I’m finding out what will be easiest and most valuable to teach next” and “I’m finding out how well you can recall recent learning, so that you can recall it more easily in the future”

How do we pre assess? - we use a trial and improvement process - please read this if you are curious to know more about how this works.

How do we schedule retrieval practice? - please read this about how we do it in the app and this if you want to know about the research.

(2) teach 1 layer per learner per topic per curriculum spiral

Summary: Learners are more likely to be able to build an accurate chunk in long term memory, during the night after the lesson, if we teach them one small bite - a timely practice layer - rather than if we teach them a “too-large-for-the-learner” bite i.e. several layers. Since the teaching and subsequent practice of a layer usually takes between 10 and 25 minutes, there will often be time to teach more than one topic per lesson, so the class can more quickly spiral through the curriculum if we use spare time to teach 1 small bite from 2 topics rather than 2 small bites from the same topic. In each spiral the teacher teaches less on a topic at one time but teaches many topics several times a year. In each curriculum spiral most learners learn a small bite more on their firm learning foundations.

Avoiding pitfalls: Learners with smaller working memories are vulnerable to a double whammy

Learners with smaller working memory capacities are less likely to build chunks in long-term memory after the lesson than their peers.

Learners with smaller working memory capacities are more dependent on chunks in long-term memory to process the content of lessons than their peers.

Every time we help ensure a learner create a chunk in long term memory from the learning of the lesson - when they otherwise would create no chunk or create an imperfect chunk - we are ensuring the learner will make more progress when they otherwise would.

If you are not convinced about limiting what the amount taught per topic per spiral - why not just give it a go - with a class of learners who you don’t expect to retain most of what you are “expected to teach” and see how it works out? In our development of timely practice and our training of teachers we have found that changing from an annual (depth-first) to a more tightly spiralled (breadth-first) scheme of learning is the hardest of the changes for teachers to take on. We accept that some schools would prefer to use timely practice without doing this - however our experience is that this significantly dilutes learning gain. For these schools we offer trials where they can measure and compare gains in embedded learning.

An effective revision program uses these key behaviours

If we think about teaching following an annual scheme of learning it is much more like cramming than a good revision program since

  • pre assess: may not be done at all or may not be done in sufficient detail or may be difficult for the teacher to use,

  • all the teaching on a topic: is done within a short period of time and only once a year,

  • practice questions: are done within a short period of time.

However it is not surprising we teach like "cramming" - as it is easier for the teacher - and it works for most learners

With timely practice the teacher can teach learners a wide spread of attainment like a revision program rather than like cramming.

use an efficient process

Some learners will more quickly master what they have recently learned in a topic than others, but by using retrieval practice and waiting until the next spiral of the curriculum before teaching another layer on the topic

  • the learners who are finding a topic harder, get more practice and when necessary feedback with their teacher,

  • the learners who are finding a topic easy, practise less and so have time for extra practice on other harder for them topics or time to learn more topics,

  • hence, in almost all cases, learners are ready to learn another layer of learning when the class returns to learn more on the topic in the next spiral of the curriculum.

When the teacher returns to teach the topic in the next curriculum spiral, they can see which learners are ready to learn a new layer and which are not. The teacher may be able to apply what they learned from the feedback process during the previous spiral, to help all learners, but especially those learners who didn’t master a layer in the previous teaching spiral.

Suppose the "big" bite of teaching on a topic with blocked teaching could be split into 3 small "bites" and let's suppose the learners might judge them as: "OK", "hard" and "very hard". With blocked teaching a teacher might find that a few "more able" learners in the class learn and retain all of the "big" bite, but most learners will not. Instead with a more tightly spiralled  scheme of learning, the teacher can teach

the "OK" bite in term 1,

the "hard" bite in term 2 and

the "very hard" bite in term 3.

However, since the learners master the "OK" bite during term 1, through their timely practice, when the teacher returns to teach the "hard" bite in term 2, the learners will find the "hard" bite much easier to learn. So now the learners will judge that bite as "OK" and by term 3 the "very hard" bite will also be "OK" for the learners to learn - as through retrieval practice with timely practice - they will have mastered both the "OK" and "hard" bites.

So by spacing out the teaching of a topic most of the class can learn and retain what the teacher was previously expecting only the more able in the class to learn.

  1. Mastery learning: ensuring that learners can use and apply pre-requisite skills to a high standard before learning new work. Mastery Learning is associated with an additional five months’ progress over the course of a school year compared to traditional approaches.

  2. Chunk-based learning: this branch of theory came about from studying how experts practise and structure their learning. We are all limited to 4 ± 1 slots in our working memory. However if we can form a process into a chunk in long term memory, we reduce the number of slots required in working memory. The chunk replaces some of the working memory requirements. The chunk makes it easier to decide which process to use, remember the order of the steps of the process and makes it easier to apply the process. The power of chunks is that we can create chunks of chunks etc. Chunk-based theory strongly recommends a number of teaching-learning strategies including a spiral-curriculum and deliberate practice.

  3. Cumulative practice: for what we consider higher order skills, such as generalising and problem solving, research suggests that when learners are using two different pieces of knowledge/skills/methods to learn a third, the learners are most successful if both the two existing pieces of knowledge/skills/methods are more strongly embedded before the third is learned. 

... taken together imply that it is better, for the low attaining learner, to come back to topics more frequently, but learn less new work each time.  

timely practice doesn't use either of the standard ways to solve the mastery learning problem - what to do when some learners in the class have learned and some have not yet learned - instead we use an efficient process where the learners who are finding a topic harder, get more practice and feedback with their teacher - so nearly all learners are ready to learn the next bite in a few months time.

The timely practice app ensures that the practice done within timely practice assignments is deliberate practice. timely practice enables learners to improve their skills by practice and the teacher to use feedback and scaffolding to help the learner when required.

The following sections describe in more detail

(3) learners (not teachers) mark the learners' practise-learn worksheets

The practise-learn worksheets are made with cut-off answers, because

  1. Learners will learn better by doing self assessment, and will have the opportunity to get help during the lesson, if they have made mistakes.

  2. Teachers should not use their non-contact time assessing the learners' practice questions on the topics of the lesson. That is not a good way to find out if teaching has become learning. The teacher may spot check during the lesson, to check that the learners are self assessing their work.

We know that

  • end of lesson assessment cannot tell us what we want to know - “has teaching become learning?” - because learning will only be embedded in long term memory during sleep the night after the lesson,

  • learners may learn the skills they were taught without fully completing the practise-learn assignment.

The first time we can find out - “has teaching become learning?” i.e. has teaching resulted in the desired change in the long-term memory of each learner - is by asking a retrieval practice question on the skill the next maths lesson. The timely practice app will schedule this for the next assignment. All the teacher needs to do is tell the app which learners were absent, and therefore shouldn’t be assessed on the topics taught that lesson.

(4) teachers assess (but don’t mark) the timely practice assignments

The purpose of marking may be thought to be

  • To make sure there are no remaining written errors on the page: the reason might be that then the learner can revise from their exercise books. This is not a good use of time, because we want learning to be improved soon, rather than hope learners will return and revise at a later date.

  • To give hints or clues or model answers to help the learner. However the teacher must guess what the learner was thinking/ not thinking when the learner made their error(s). This is not a good use of time because often the teacher will guess wrong, or the learner won’t read, or understand if they do read, what the teacher has written.

  • The teacher gives value judgements in the hope of changing learners effort/motivation in lessons. This is not a good use of time, because value judgements, even positive ones, may decrease rather than increase the likelihood of learners learning from suggestions and the learners motivation.

  • A repetition of all or part of the original teaching. This is not a good use of time, because if the teaching of the lesson, didn’t lead to embedded learning, the teachers explanation - which is necessarily less detailed and can’t involve assessment for learning, as the lesson could - is less likely to lead to embedded learning.

Although each outcome of marking may sometimes be effective, the probability that any of these will be effective at embedding learning is low, and the cost to the teacher is high.

If the teacher finds, when assessing an assignment, that a learner is unable to independently and accurately answer a question, and the teacher decides to give feedback the next lesson, then this feedback-dialogue in the classroom has multiple benefits over marking (These are described in Top Tip 2).

The assessment outcome for each question should be communicated to the learner and the app. The most efficient way to do this is

This saves the teacher a little time for each question

Teacher’s may find suppressing their urge/habits to write more a little difficult at first - but stick with it - not only will it reduce the teacher work load in non-directed time, it will also make retrieval practice more effective at embedding learning.

The only exception to this rule, is for example, if the learner makes an error in a complex multistage word problem, the teacher might want to write down the numerical answer (on the learner's page, or on the teacher’s lesson plan page) to save the teacher having to work out the answer to check the learners correction.

If the assessment outcome is a tick or best learned later or reset: there is no need for feedback in the next lesson.

If the assessment outcome is feedback on attempt or feedback on blank: then we expect the learner to try and self correct or get peer to peer help or initiate a feedback-dialogue with the teacher, within the rules of the classroom.

By assessing and where necessary, engaging in personalised feedback dialogue in the lesson, we gain multiple advantages:

  1. The teacher is replacing the time and effort they would spend on marking, non-directed time, with only the possibility that they may need to spend directed time, inside of lesson time, on feedback. The teacher need not feel guilty, as not marking + giving feedback in the lesson (if necessary), helps the learner learn better.

  2. The non-directed time spent by the teacher will be less - today - because this kind of assessment is far quicker than marking, and will be less - in the future - because feedback is far more likely to be successful and so similar questions will be asked less frequently and answered more accurately.

  3. The learner has a chance to self correct or self reflect or get peer-to-peer help: so the teacher may not need to spend lesson time giving feedback or failing that, the learner has time to read the question again and will be primed to adjust their chunk or mental schema (Kornell et al 2009) during the feedback-dialogue;

  4. With in-lesson feedback-dialogue the learner is far more likely to engage with the teacher than they are likely to engage with the teacher's marking.

  5. Without marking by the teacher, the teacher and learner can start the feedback-dialogue from a common place.

  6. With in lesson feedback-dialogue the teacher has a chance to learn about learner's past thinking and/or influence the learner's future thinking, more effectively than with marking.

  7. Feedback-dialogue makes excellent, non threatening, feedback for the teacher on fine detail ways to improve future teaching. It allows the teacher to gain decades worth of high quality teaching experience within a much shorter span of time.

  8. Feedback-dialogue provides an opportunity for the teacher to help the learner to better deal with the emotions brought up by errors e.g. to move on from self-criticism or making excuses or blaming others and to help the learner reflect about their question reading or process or problem solving skills i.e. help the learner grow a growth mindset.

  9. Feedback-dialogue is likely to increase the learner's motivation whereas marking is likely to decrease it.

  10. Sometimes during feedback-dialogue the teacher and/or learner will realise that the layer is best learned later - and this is also a productive use of the teachers and learners time - because now they can stop putting their time and effort into making this layer stick and instead put their efforts in to embedding other layers which are far more likely to stick. After all we can’t expect to go from a place where most teaching is forgotten to a place where absolutely all teaching becomes embedded learning. Surely a process where almost all teaching becomes embedded learning should satisfy us - there is no shortage of other layers to teach - before returning, to see if this layer will stick in a few months time.

The main disadvantage (such as it is) is that there is very little in the way of an easy to follow paper trail of the efforts the teacher has put in. There is the record that feedback dialogue has been requested, and possibly the corrected workings by the learner. In future assignments we usually see the learner being able to answer correctly similar questions and there is the record of the subsequent progress on the layer within the timely practice app. If the teacher must be checked up on, then the “checker-upper” must do the work to find out if the teaching is successful or not. This counterposes with a marking trail - where the teacher is doing the work of demonstrating that they have tried - but cannot possibly demonstrate that they have been successful - in embedding the learning.

Not giving hints etc will pay dividends, as the answer space can be used to answer the question

  • by the learner and teacher to model answering if the learner gets peer-to-peer help or feedback-dialogue with the teacher

  • by the learner if the learner can actually do the question - perhaps they just didn’t see it, they got distracted, they were having “an off-day” etc

** or other symbol used to show that the answer is not fully correct but that the teacher wishes the learner to try and self correct/get peer help/get feedback

Even though many questions will take the teacher "next to no time" to work out the correct answer, the teacher should use the answers provided by the app, because 

  • the small bits of extra time to read the question and work out the correct answer add up,

  • it distracts the teacher from the assessment task - i.e. how well is this learner able to apply their learning - it is harder, and therefore takes fractionally longer, for the teacher to switch back and forth between doing maths and assessing maths.

(5) schedule a “timely practice assignment” episode every lesson

The timely practice assignment episode (5-25 minutes) does many valuable “jobs” for teacher and learners. These jobs are traditionally hard for the teacher to schedule sufficient time for:

  • Learners review the teacher’s assessment of their last lesson’s assignment and

    • self correct when they can and

    • get personalised feedback when they need it.

  • The teacher has far more time to give personalised feedback to learners because

    • learners are independently engaged in completing their new assignment which

    • efficiently schedules retrieval practice questions which

    • embeds all prior learning ever more deeply into long term memory.

These “jobs” ensure that the new learning done in the remainder of each lesson becomes firm foundations for future learning, rather than soon forgotten.

The primary task is embedding learning and the secondary task is giving feedback.

To do a “timely practice assignment” episode in a lesson the teacher will:

  • return the most recently assessed assignment to each learner and give each learner their new assignment,

  • train the learners what is expected of them during this episode of the lesson.

The teacher may want to display the following on the whiteboard/a poster for

  • the learners and

  • to share with teaching assistants and other adults visiting the classroom.

Top tips for learners doing their timely practice assignments

Look at your assessed assignment and see all the questions you got correct - by doing this you embed this learning more deeply.

Look at each question which has an asterisk, * , assessment outcome and decide:

  • can you answer it now, perhaps you missed the question out by mistake?

  • can you see an “oops” in your workings out? if so, you may circle it or fix it,

  • did you “mis-copy” some of the numbers from the question? if so, you can circle the errors or fix them,

  • do you need some feedback-dialogue with a teacher in the room? + does that teacher need to be a paid teacher?, if so, get help or make it easy to find the question for when its your turn for help e.g. write page 2, Q7 at the end of last lesson’s assignment

  • is there a question that you think is best learned later? - if so - find a similar question in your new assignment and write the bell symbol instead of an answer.

Begin answering questions in your new assignment

  • are there any questions you need to have feedback from last assignment before you answer? - write e.g. page 1, Q3 at the end of your new assignment, to remind yourself to return to the question,

  • if you are stuck, look to see is the question in the learned and remembered? section - this means it's a pre assess question - you can miss it out and write bell or draw the bell symbol (best learned later),

  • if you need help on questions in the timely practice section, it’s ok to ask for help - your teacher will write the feedback symbol beside the answer line - this will mean you get help when you need it, but the app won’t think you could easily answer, instead the app will give you another practice question sooner (so you are much more likely to be able to answer a similar question independently and accurately in your next assignment,

  • is there a question in the timely practice section that you think is best learned later? if so, tell your teacher by writing the bell symbol instead of an answer - although if you do this too often, your teacher won’t always listen to you!

  • you are allowed to ask your peers/your teacher/other adults to read words or sentences to you - and they won’t use the feedback symbol.

Teachers and teaching assistants expect you to answer each question independently, if you don’t answer your questions independently then you won’t make progress. Please don’t try and “sneak extra help” from teaching assistants - they will record the feedback symbol beside the answer line and your teacher will know!

Discourage learners from working out a score for their assessed assignment (its not written in the poster above, because that might be counterproductive!). It is better to concentrate on feedback, and judge oneself on progress. We know that when a learner gets only feedback they pay better attention to the feedback than when they get a score and feedback.

(6) get the most from feedback by remembering it's better called feedback-dialogue

Every time we help a learner fix a chunk in long term memory - when they otherwise would be left having learned no chunk or an imperfect chunk - we are ensuring the learner will make more progress when they otherwise would.

Feedback should be done after some teaching has become embedded learning, so sometimes reteaching - especially after a long gap between lessons - will be more efficient than giving feedback. If the long gap between lessons can be foreseen, consider planning a cooldown.

Feedback can be more properly thought of as feedback-dialogue, a dialogue between the learner and the teacher - it should be more personalised than reteaching - e.g.

  • help the learner add the bit they have forgotten of a skill or process, to the bit that they have remembered of the skill or process,

  • if accuracy is an issue - help the learner to check though their workings out - with the ultimate goal that the learner begins to be able to do this for themselves,

  • adapt the learner's past thinking to influence the learner's future thinking,

  • use the opportunity to train the learner to figure out what strategy or knowledge will ensure the learner can solve similar problems in the future,

  • help the learner to better deal with the emotions brought up by errors e.g. to move on from self-criticism or making excuses or blaming others and instead help the learner reflect about their question reading or process or problem solving skills, without fear of feeling a failure or a fool,

  • sometimes feedback gives the teacher and or learner the opportunity to realise that the layer is best learned later.

Additionally, the process of feedback-dialogue makes excellent, non threatening, feedback for the teacher on the fine details for future teaching.

Examples of feedback-dialogue are given within the questions for this layer (ask if you would like this training).

(7) acknowledge that choosing best learned later may result in more embedded learning than choosing a feedback assessment option

In Assess t.p. the decision between feedback and best learned later can be complex, as we are deciding on the best use of the teacher’s and learner’s lesson time.
The question isn’t about just whether the teacher and learner can use the feedback process to “get the learner to be able to ask similar questions in the layer” but also about balancing the cost in lesson time allocated and the cost to the learner’s limited supply of motivation.

In a nutshell the question is

Will the learner, in the next week or two, “need too much help” to embed this learning?

and the answer to this question depends on the learning context (see the Top Tips below)

(8) use the assessment for learning data to plan who learns what …

Usually the teacher will only need to consider the progress on topic of the topic they plan to teach, to decide which layer to teach each learner. However sometimes the teacher may need to look at the progress of topic of another topic e.g. for the topic expand linear the teacher may need to look at the learners skills in the topic simplify x/÷

Teaching up to 3 different layers will usually provide sufficient differentiation for the learners without undue complexity for the teacher.

When the teacher is more confident a scaffolded pair (where the questions in the easier layer of the pair includes some scaffolding, and the questions in the harder layer of the pair do not) can be counted as one layer for teaching purposes. The teacher talking about the differences “what scaffold might be included with this question” and “what might this question look like without the scaffold” can help learners move more successfully from the layer with the scaffold to the layer without.

Training on how to do this is found in

We ask questions on a few key layers of a topic - which gives us a broad brush stroke picture of the learner’s skills and learning gaps - which are at an appropriate level for the learner. We know that quite often asking one question on a layer is insufficient to find if a layer is secure or not, so we always ask a second question if the learner seems to know the first. The assessment of the key layers is then used to gather more assessment for learning data in finer detail.

Mainly because

  • it would take too long: so we rule out some key layers that we consider too easy or too hard (based on the Level for Learner the teacher inputs into the app),

  • it would more more traumatic for learners: so we try and remove layers which we think would be too hard for each learner based on the responses to earlier questions. Hence the teacher can say to the class “Everybody will get some too easy, some OK and some too hard questions in their learned and remembered section, this is to help the app find out for the teacher, what to teach you soon”

Also because

  • there is little point in assessing a scaffolded layer, which can’t be understood, until after being taught.


See for more detailed information

(9) … then plan the teaching and learning activities of the lesson

Rather than aim for “rapid progress” every lesson what we need is to aim for “sustained progress” every lesson.

Without ensuring that new learning is durably embedded in long term memory “lots of learning” quickly becomes “lots of forgetting”. The timely practice assignment episode does this job, so it should be part of every lesson.

A lesson might be made up of e.g.

  • a timely practice assignment episode + teach-learn episode on topic A + practise-learn episode on topic A

  • a timely practice assignment episode + teach-learn and practise-learn episodes on topic A and B

  • a timely practice assignment episode + whole class project

the timely practice assignment episode

Usually the teacher’s best use of the timely practice assignment episode is giving feedback rather than teaching (as described in However the teacher can interleave timely practice with teaching e.g. if only one learner must learn layer 6 and all the other learners layer 2 or 3, the teacher might teach layer 6 to the learner, whilst the rest of the class “for the next 3 minutes: begin your (silent) do now: look at your assessed assignment and begin your new assignment”.

teach-learn episodes

Make use of the fact that each layer is quick to teach and learn (because all the pre-requisite skills are mastered), so KISS whole class teaching (keep it short and simple). Well thought out teach-learn questions for each layer are available from

There are a number of ways the teacher can use the advantage of knowing exactly what learners already know on a topic, but remember it is completely OK to teach e.g. layer 1, layer 2 and 3 (where 2 is a scaffolded version of 3) and then layer 4 in the same session one after the other.

The teach-learn part of most lessons rarely holds low prior attainment learners back, but trying to practise too much or too hard in the practise-learn part of the lesson or failing to make efforts to embed new learning regularly does.

In whole class teaching, learners with low prior attainment can often answer questions from harder layers, but

  • being able to answer in the scaffolded situation of whole class teaching, following on from reminders about their current learning and after a small bite of new learning, and

  • being able to retain and answer such questions later is more difficult. It’s easy to be deceived that learning performance results in embedded learning. One timely practice experienced teacher describes this effect as “hurrah, they’ve got”, the teacher will want to move on, but recommends not doing this instead “just stop”.

See and remember the subsequent layer isn’t on firm learning foundations.

The teachers task with a timely practice scheme of learning is to

so that new learning quickly embeds. There is usually sufficient time within an academic year to spiral through most of the topics within the scheme of learning several times.

Getting practise-learn and retrieval practice “more right” will lead to large learning gains, without the more sophisticated options suggested below.

It’s likely that whenever we teach a topic we have learners at different places on the ladder to mastery of the topic.

Thinking about the learners with the lowest prior attainment of the topic

  • should we expect them to learn the most? - of course not,

  • should we expect them to learn, several previous years of schooling on the topic, in a few minutes? - of course not.

Thinking about the learners with the highest prior attainment of the topic

  • should we expect them to learn the least? - of course not,

  • should we prioritise their needs over all of their peers? - of course not.

Hence acknowledging that some learners will spend a few minutes of some lessons “being quiet and allowing the teacher to teach other learners something that is too easy/too hard for you to learn right now” is better than pretending that all teaching will be both accessible and learned by all learners.

  • There is some value in reviewing skills already mastered on a topic - it primes learners to more readily hang the new harder learning on the easier already existing chunks.

  • There is some value in telling groups of learners that they can ignore what you are going to teach for the next few minutes - it's better than the above alternatives.

  • Often we won’t have to come out and explicitly say “ignore me now”, generally we will find our learners do their best to join in (or appear to join in) with whole class teaching, whether they “get it” or not.

Other more sophisticated planning is possible, please read on from the next expand boxes.

  • With mini white boards/scraps of paper and large felts: ask learners to work out 1 or 2 or all of a few questions (each from a different layer) shown on the whiteboard e.g. 50% of £26 = … and/or 75% of £26 = … and/or 5% of £26 = …

  • With a no hands up policy, after a sufficient pause, direct questions to specific learners e.g. with a layer 3 practice question, ask a learner who is learning layer 3 now, but with a how/why question on layer 3 question ask a learner who is learning layer 5.

  • When teaching layer 1 of a topic to a few learners when the rest of the class has already mastered it (and possibly higher layers too): introduce the topic, ask some learners to “have a go at the review questions on your desk aiming for accuracy, whilst I work with a small group. Then we’ll come back together, in a few minutes, to see who has been 100% accurate”. This stops the masked-fidget from learners who “already know” when the teacher is teaching slowly to those who are being introduced to the topic, yet learners who “already know” the skill are still primed for learning harder layers from the topic.

  • Learners who only needed to learn the easiest layer being taught from a topic might be directed “If I’ve given you a practise-learn worksheet, you can ignore me and do the worksheet, while I teach everyone else something new-for-them” and then quickly follow up with “OK, if you don’t have a practise-learn worksheet I want your full attention now”

  • Another alternative, e.g. with solve is to model “the hardest skill” {begin the problem} and then explain that “the next bit most of you can do” {intermediate stage} and finally “everybody can now solve this part” {final stage}.

  • Another alternative e.g. with proportionalFormulaNC after a little whole class teaching is to issue some learners with calculators or times table grids saying “what I’ll be teaching now has harder numeracy skills, but not harder mathematical skills, so some of you are allowed to use a calculator and some a times table grid.”

  • Teach several similar layers together as a whole class, e.g. layers 2 to 4, but if one or two learners are learning an outlier harder skill e.g. layer 7, then teach them at their desks or a flip chart, whilst other learners are doing their practise-learn worksheets. This can be done by organising a few learners to hand out the correct practise-learn worksheets to most learners, whilst you get the learners learning the harder layer together and reading the teach-learn questions you plan to use. Then once every learner has started their practise-learn worksheets, teach the small group the harder skill.

  • Obviously, if you have teaching assistants, you can teach 2 or more groups exactly what they need to learn simultaneously.

practise-learn episodes

Well thought out practise-learn worksheets are available from

It's not OK to get learners to practise several new practise-learn worksheets on the same topic, as almost always this will lead to muddling methods and greater need for feedback later.

It’s OK to teach some learners 2 topics in one lesson, and others only 1 topic. Remember learners are more likely to be left further behind, by consistently failing to embed new learning, than by learning at a pace that works for them.

It’s essential that learners follow up the teach-learn on a layer with independently answering the questions within the correct practise-learn worksheet (or a similar alternative). However sometimes the practise-learn worksheet questions from the second topic may be need to be deferred until the next lesson, in which case defer adding the layer as taught (via Edit Teaching) until the next lesson. So sometimes a lesson might be made up of

  • a timely practice assignment episode + teach-learn and practise-learn on one topic + teach-learn on a second topic or

  • a timely practice assignment episode + practise-learn on last lesson’s second topic + teach-learn and practise-learn on this lesson’s topic.

There are a number of ways the teacher can use the advantage of knowing exactly what learners already know on a topic, and exactly what each leaner should learn next.

Some of these include the good practice of activating the learners in the class to be teachers:

  • Interleave teach-learn and practise-learn episodes within a lesson, so some learners might be (re)doing a practise-learn worksheet on a layer 1, (a layer which they’ve already learned), whilst the teacher teaches layer 1, using the teach-learn questions to a small group. Then the teacher switches the focus of their attention: some learners learn new harder layers and those that have just learned layer 1 now do the practise-learn worksheet.

  • Get the one learner who needs to learn layer 5, to teach the one learner who needs to learn layer 1, while you teach the other learners layer 3. Teaching will advantage the learner who needs to learn layer 5 as long as the teacher makes sure they have enough time to teach layer 5 later in the lesson.

  • “I’ve partnered you in pairs, one of you is good at layer 3 but can’t do layer 4 (and vice versa) … see if you can find out who has already learned each skill, and use the teach-learn questions I’ve given you to teach each other the missing skill”

When the teacher knows exactly which skill to teach to each learner, in advance of the lesson, the teacher can find many ways to make better use of lesson time.

I’ve not had the class control skills to say “Tuck your practise-learn worksheet under your planner, but don’t begin it, until I say you can”, but you might be one of those super-teachers, and may be able to use this method to good effect.

To help get the class together again e.g. in order to move on to teach a second topic, have some activities which can fill up to 5 minutes, but which won’t move the learner on in learning the topics that are being taught in the lesson.

  • some maths puzzles or patterns to find within a times table grid written on e.g. a flip chart

  • create a second “catch-up” timely practice assignment (which will have questions on more embedded layers, which are unlikely to need feedback: to do this create a second assignment, the catch up one, directly after creating an assignment for a lesson - the urgent question will have gone into the first assignment, so will be full of non-urgent questions). The “catch up” assignments, can be completed “any when within the next week” without causing the problem that retrieval practice questions will be asked too late, and so can be used as a filler activity,

  • ask learners to annotate recently learned questions with think aloud speech and thought bubbles (either questions the learner is really confident they know, or questions the learner has recently had feedback on),

  • ask learners to pair up and test each other on some times-table facts they are learning (perhaps have an envelope for each learner with a few flash cards in),

  • ask learners to draw a cartoon of a given maths word,

which can be used by learners who finish earlier than their peers do.

(10) schedule a cooldown before each holiday

A cooldown with timely practice involves some maths lessons where timely practice assignments are done, but no new layers are taught.

Before a half term holiday: 2+ lessons

Before 2 week holidays: 1+ weeks

Before the summer holiday: 2+ weeks

The purposes of a cooldown are

  1. to avoid wasting teaching time: e.g. a newly taught layer will need more than a week of timely practice before it is likely to be remembered for 2 weeks. Hence continue with timely practice until directly before a holiday, but without any new teaching during the cooldown period will make better use of learning time (use the rest of lesson time to do activities which aren’t learning new maths content - see suggestions below).

  2. to embed learning prior learning so that it can be recalled, without recourse to feedback, after the holiday. If layers become overdue during a holiday, and can’t be asked, then the learner is less likely to be able to recall this learning after the holiday. By allocating some cooldown lessons before the holiday (for which the teacher creates assignments with e.g. 30% more questions), fewer layers are likely to become overdue during the holiday. (Since, with more retrieval practice questions, layers are more likely to be asked shortly after when they are “ready” - rather than closer to when they become “overdue”

  • a whole class project which uses a mix of maths skills e.g. maths and Islamic art, group problem solving, nRich activities, what would you do with $177 billion dollars? (Jeff Bezos' wealth at the time of writing this), maths investigations, shape puzzles or

  • school required activities such as tests or the school requirement for learners to set themselves targets for maths etc or

  • whole class project which uses fewer/no maths skills e.g. history of mathematics, women mathematicians, mathematics of colonialism, wealth and income distribution, or

  • review timely practice for the past term/year: learners compare their timely practice assignments from a term/year ago and now (teachers have reported to us that this results in impressive motivation gains), or

  • learners annotate recently learned questions with think aloud speech and thought bubbles.

The teacher can also reserve, topics to teach just prior to a slightly shorter cool down period:

  • e.g. topics which may be easy to learn, but time consuming to develop accuracy such as frequencyGraphs or stemLeaf,

  • e.g. topics which are quick to review e.g. simplify or solvingReady (it’s quick to review these skills, one question from each layer is usually sufficient).

Teachers may find that most learners don’t remember what they learned on Thursday, by the following Tuesday (after a long-maths-weekend). Rather than wasting time giving lots of feedback every Tuesday, use this knowledge to adjust lesson planning and homework.

  • e.g. create a short homework assignment dated Saturday,

  • e.g. teach fewer topics on Thursday and create a longer timely practice assignment for Thursday,

  • e.g. don’t “Edit Teaching” of Thursday’s topics directly after Thursday’s lesson - instead allocate lesson time on Tuesday for learners to redo their practise-learn worksheet from Thursday and/or redo some teach-learn practise questions with the whole class and then “Edit Teaching” of Thursday’s topics after Tuesday’s lesson.

(11) grow a growth mindset

Facilitate learners to grow a growth mind set by helping learners to deal with the emotions of getting answers wrong / being unable to solve problems, in a way that promotes good learning behaviours in the future.

With timely practice, learners see how feedback and further practice helps them to master layers which they have previously had difficulty learning. Over time, and sometimes through feedback-dialogue, the learner begins to have confidence that their attainment is improving and that they will always be able to learn, even if they find leaning a little hard at first.