I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about a brilliant, evidence-informed note-taking technique (and our new Research School…)!


The greatest test of a school is what’s going on when non-one’s looking. Yesterday, during last lesson, I took the new Head of Manor Academy, Simon Barber, on a tour of Huntington. We chanced upon Penny Holland, our Subject Leader for Science & Associate member of SLT, teaching Year 11. Whilst the students continued with their work, she explained how she had developed a note-taking technique which embedded the learning in students’ memories efficiently and effectively in a short space of time:

  1. Begin with teacher explanation. Students have pens down and have 100% attention on Penny’s explanation. Eyes looking at Penny and the board, with Penny’s radar on detecting anyone whose focus is less than total.
  2. In this lesson there was a precise explanation of metallic bonding, tied directly into the GCSE specification. The BIG IDEA for this group at the moment is bonding and each lesson deals with a specific aspect of bonding.
  3. On the board Penny had written a labelled diagram, key terminology and brief theory and then made a direct link between the content and the common questions from past exam papers. She had instructed the students, using the If…then… model: “If you see these key words in the question, then this is the knowledge you need to answer correctly”.
  4. She had then modelled the answer to one of the examination questions. The students were still utterly focused. And importantly, they had taken no notes at all.
  5. Penny then rubbed off key parts of her boardwork and tasked the students with making their own notes based on the bare bones of Penny’s notes left on the board.
  6. The first individuals to finish their notes can go up to the board and fill in the blanks on the board which Penny has rubbed off. The competition to finish first and earn the right to complete the gaps on the board keeps the students focused and provides help for the others who haven’t been as quick.
  7. The lesson concluded with their books closed and a white board assessment, checking their learning and embedding in their memory what they had taken notes on. Extended learning last night was to revise what they had learnt about metallic bonding in the lesson yesterday, ready to be retested at the beginning of today’s lesson.

Evidence-informed teaching is becoming embedded in our classrooms like the words in a stick of rock. Penny has invented that note-taking process as a result of her department’s work on Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. She is also keen on developing metacognitive strategies, prompted by the Education Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. And  she has read Nuthall’s The Hidden Lives of Learners – if you notice, the students experienced the metallic bonding content three times in one lesson à la Nuthall (Penny’s explanation; their note taking; the whiteboard testing…and with the review in today’s lesson it will be four times).


Necessity (and a highly sophisticated, evidence-informed knowledge of the learning process) is the mother of invention. Penny realised last year that she had to be laying down new learning in students’ neural pathways as soon as possible. There is no time for passive note-taking. She had learnt from Rosenshine that even when she was pushed for time she had to…Review, Review, Review!
A Network of Research Schools…Huntington School has been designated as one of five schools in the new Education Endowment Foundation and Institute for Effective Education joint project to establish a national network of Research Schools. The other Research Schools are:

Join in the evidence-informed revolution! If you want to wander your school when no-one’s looking and find your teachers teaching deliberately, using evidence-informed techniques which have the best chance of improving students’ academic progress, get in touch; you can email us at HuntResearchSch@gmail.com and find us on the embryonic Research School website. A newsletter and further information about training and support are imminent. And do follow our Twitter feed at @HuntResearchSchool.

Alex Quigley, Director, and Jane Elsworth, Assistant Director, of Huntington Research School


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