Using knowledge organisers for home learning at FHES

By Jack Tavassoly-Marsh, Vice Principal and T&L Lead

I recently posted on Twitter @GeogMarsh that I was incredibly proud of my two year 10 classes. They had just sat a cumulative assessment on the content taught in year 9 (we do a three year KS4) and had no prior warning that the assessment was taking place. They sat two thirds of a GCSE paper from the Edexcel B SAMS. The two topics were ‘Hazardous Earth’ and ‘Development Dynamics’. Since the start of the this year, we have been using knowledge organisers (KOs) as a home learning strategy across the school. In year 10, they have been revisiting the ‘Development Dynamics’ topic through weekly KO home learning since September. 

All but one student, across two classes that total 58 students, scored higher on the ‘Development Dynamics’ topic than the ‘Hazardous Earth’ topic. In most cases the difference was more than 5 marks, over a 30 mark topic. This could be a complete coincidence, and I could have taught ‘Development Dynamics’ better, however, it was the topic they started with, so learnt right at the start of year 9. I personally think that the correlation is more to do with students working with KOs as a home learning strategy. Several people on Twitter asked about how we have gone about implementing the strategy, so here is the blog post that attempts to give it clarity. Buckle up. 

First of all, I am not going to explain what KOs are, as there are many blog posts out there that do this in great detail. If you are new to KOs, I would suggest reading one of these blog posts first, prior to reading on:

Knowledge Organisers – Joe Kirby

Using Knowledge Organisers to improve retrieval practice – Andy Tharby

Self-quizzing as a form of homework – Rebecca Foster

Guide to making and using knowledge organisers – Sarah McCleary

A 5 year revision plan – Joe Kirby

Why did FHES go with KOs as a home learning strategy across the school?

In consultation with students, parents and teachers we found the following feedback meant that something needed to change with regards to home learning at FHES. 

  • Historically there has been a lack of consistency of the setting of home learning and the expectations of what acceptable home learning looked like.
  • There was inconsistency within departments and across the school, therefore the desired curriculum was very different to the enacted curriculum, when it came to home learning. 
  • Students had a real difficulty in retaining knowledge, and the movement to linear exams has identified this as a major challenge for students at FHES. 
  • There was a real reluctance to revise and prepare for exams, with most students saying that they crammed at last minute, leading to stress and anxiety increasing. 
  • Teachers wanted students working harder than they were. There has been an intervention and mop up culture in year 11, which sees teachers working exceptionally hard, every year, to get students through, rather than students taking responsibility for their knowledge retention over time. 
  • Setting and marking of home learning and home learning detentions were causing a large workload for teachers which needed to be challenged so that teachers can spend their time planning great lessons. 
  • We wanted teachers to engage with the theory behind retrieval practice, looking at how knowledge retention is improved through interleaved and spaced learning. 

The trial period

From November 2017, two subjects trialled KO based home learning at FHES, in order for us to get feedback, mainly from students, as to whether to implement the strategy across the whole school. Geography and German were the two subjects that trialled using KOs as a home learning strategy, specifically with year 10 students, and the feedback was very positive. Students in both subjects performed well in their end of year 10 cumulative exams, with many performing at or above expected performance. Although not the largest control trial, it was enough to get the ball rolling towards a whole school strategy for KO home learning. 

How are KOs being used for home learning at FHES? 

We introduced KOs as a home learning strategy across all year groups from September 2018. All subjects prepared knowledge organisers for all of the topics/content that is covered across the 5 year curriculum. For years 7 and 8, these consisted of one page KOs, for KS4 students, there are sometimes far more detailed documents. 

  • In years 7 and 8, students have a KO exercise book, in which they do all of their KO home learning, and a KO booklet, that contains all of the KOs for each subject, along with a timetable, reading log and instructional guidance for students and parents. The booklets can be found here: Y7 and Y8 Half Termly KO Booklets. Students complete two subjects a night, completing an A4 page worth of KO home learning for each subject. More on what this looks like below. 
  • In years 9 – 11, students have a KO exercise book for every subject that they take at GCSE level. Students complete their KO home learning tasks in that book, away from their classwork, which is done in a separate book. All GCSE KOs are online, yet for KS4 students, we set KO tasks, as per an agreed timetable, on our online portal Firefly. The timetable is the same for years 9 – 11 and is as follows:

Monday: English and Option A

Tuesday: Maths and Option B

Wednesday: Chemistry and Option C

Thursday: Physics and Option D

Friday: Biology

The rationale behind the two subjects a night at KS3 and the timetable above for KS4 is clear. We expect students to work hard during the week, but they should have the weekend off to spend time with family and friends. If students have a particularly busy (sports training or cadets etc) night during the week, then they can have that night off, and put those subjects to the weekend. Students should be working for five days a week, with two days off. If a student does the home learning on the night it is set, then a fantastic weekend is in store!

Each subject teacher has set a lesson a week (we have a one week timetable) in which the KO home learning is checked. Teachers simply sign to say that a page worth (or the student has spent the time allocated) of KO home learning has been completed. No marking, just initials and a date. 

The KO task is the minimum expectation, and teachers, as professionals, can set extra home learning, if appropriate to support the curriculum. This is monitored by subject leaders, and students/parents are encouraged to let us know if too much is being set. 

What does a KO home learning task look like?

Students work on transferring the foundation knowledge for each topic, in each subject, from their short to their long term memory. This is supported through revisiting each topic at various intervals across the key stage. 

There are methods that students have been asked to follow for their KO home learning tasks:

Method 1:

  • Study the KO for 10 – 15 minutes
  • Write down as much as you can remember in blue/black pen.
  • Tick the content that you got correct in green pen.
  • Add all that you weren’t able to remember in green pen.

Method 2:

  • Study the KO for 10 – 15 minutes. 
  • Use/Write exam style questions. 
  • Answer the questions in blue/black pen.
  • Tick the content that you got correct in green pen
  • Correct/improve your answers in green pen. 

By study, we explained to students and parents, it could mean:

  • Sit in silence and read the KO.
  • Right down a list of the key terms, for which definitions need to be recalled.
  • Get tested by a parent, sibling or friend. 
  • Talk about the information into a dictaphone or similar style of app, and listen back to it. 
  • Make written notes on the KO on a separate piece of paper

It is worth noting at this point, that the fact that we have asked students to make corrections and improvements in green is inconsequential. The colour signifies nothing other than the different between content a student has recalled, and content a student has not recalled, or content recalled incorrectly.

It is also worth noting that we spent a lot of time explaining to students and parents the need to remove the KO during the recall stage. What we are therefore expecting to see over time, is the when students revisit KO topics, the amount of green pen should reduce over time. At the start, we let students and parents know that a lot of green pen is to be expected when using the KO for each topic for the first time. 

Examples of student KO work:

The first two examples are from year 11 students studying GCSE Geography. 

This example from a KS3 student, shows the exercise book that KS3 students do all of their home learning in. In this case, the student has done more than the A4 page, which is the minimum. All the member of staff has to do is sign to check that the home learning has been done, along with a signature of a parent/carer. 

This image below shows an exemplar provided to Y7 and Y8 students through tutor time, looking at expectations of what KO learning should look like, and what should happen over time, if KO work is done correctly, with the green pen reducing, using the same KO. 

The examples below are from year 10 students, and the example on the right shows the teacher providing a simple initial/signature and date. 

For maths across all year groups, we are using Hegarty Maths and students complete KO home learning in the form of notes on a video, followed by examples that have been completed and self-checked, along with an online quiz. 

The image above outlines how students are using Hegarty Maths as KO home learning across all year groups. 

How are KO home learning tasks linked to learning in lessons?

Every two weeks, every student completes a knowledge retrieval quiz/activity of some kind in every subject. The quizzes are related to KO home learning tasks, and check whether students can recall the knowledge over time. A simple percentage is recorded, and helps to inform the teacher of the student’s performance over time with knowledge recall. 

Teachers are also using blank, or partly completed KOs, for students to complete as retrieval activities in lessons. This activity came largely from the blog post from Rebecca Foster, which is linked early on in this post. 

Lastly, they are used for cover purposes. If a staff’s absence isn’t planned, then as all teachers have a great understanding of KO home learning, students complete a KO home learning task in the classroom, ensuring that cover lessons are productive. Teachers that are ill, that cannot set cover, don’t need to worry, knowing that lessons will be covered that work on learning that has already taken place. 

What have the challenges been so far?

Despite all the hard work and effort from our staff and students, there have been some small teething issues, some of which I will outline below. However, due to student assemblies, students carrying out KO example work in lessons, parents’ information evenings, staff training and governor training, so far KOs as our home learning strategy have been very successful. 


  • Students are having to complete more home learning than before, as there is a consistent approach across the school, which has meant they are working harder than before, which comes with a small amount of resistance. However, with the student assemblies and examples being done in class, students now have an understanding of retrieval practice and how it works. Buy-in has been better than we could’ve hoped for at this stage. 
  • Students struggled to get to grips with the expectations, and therefore it was vital to share the great practice of some students in the early stages, along with exemplars in tutor sessions, to set the highest of expectations. 
  • Students needed to know that it was okay to focus on a small part of the KO, instead of the whole KO, and that chunking the task was fine. We didn’t get this right initially, and it took a week or so to realise that this was needed, especially for the younger students. 
  • Teachers initially were concerned with the lack of challenge for the highest ability students, yet once students started using method 2, setting and writing their exam questions, teachers have been very complimentary of this method. 
  • A very small minority of students do not complete the same amount of KO home learning, due to learning needs, and it was essential to make staff aware of who these students are. However, the SENCO has reported great progress with KOs, as once students have ‘got’ the method, it can be applied to all subjects, thus reducing their cognitive load, and anxiety around home learning. 
  • If a home learning task is not completed, or not completed to the level expected, a 30 minute detention is put in place. We decided as a school to not sanction for the first half term, until the strategy was embedded. This was in hindsight, a strong decision. It allowed issues to be ironed out. Specifically, it allowed students to know the expectations and to get into a rhythm. 
  • Since October HT sanctions have been live. In the first two weeks a large number of students were getting detentions, but this has fallen to roughly 30 students a day, out of a school of over 850 students. Previously, home learning detentions were high, and therefore, this shows a reduction in the number of home learning detentions, despite a massive increase in the consistency of home learning that is being set. 
  • We made the decision to centralise home learning detentions, and print out paper copies of all KOs, so that students can work on KOs in the detention. This needs improving, but is working reasonably well at this stage. Teachers are thankful for not having to worry about home learning detentions, and workload has gone down. 

Things that we still need to work on:

  • For the second half term of the autumn term and for the spring term, some subjects have added practical home learning tasks, instead of KO home learning in the year 7 and 8 booklets. This has gone down very positively with students and parents, and for some subjects, this may be a move we want to make for September 2019. 
  • We need to work on the consistency of signing the student work to show that we have seen it. In most departments this is working well, but in some areas, due to curriculum time, staff are finding it hard to check home learning in lessons. 
  • KS4 students are jealous of the KS3 students having a KO exercise book, and perhaps moving forward, we need to look at having a KO exercise book/folder for all students. However, this means that teachers can’t take the book in, as students would need their books every night to do the home learning. 
  • Working with students on the fact that KO home learning is one part of their revision process, and that other strategies are out there, and that can support. Seneca Learning and Tassomai are two other great bits of software that we use readily. Yet students and teachers need to see that KO home learning tasks aren’t the silver bullet.
  • Ensuring the repeat offenders for in-completion of home learning are challenged and they buy in to the strategy.  

Overall, three months into the new strategy, there have been huge strides forward, mainly with students’ attitude to learning outside the classroom, home learning completion, and the understanding of knowledge retrieval across the school, alongside knowledge retrieval quizzes. 

We would welcome any suggestions as to how to improve the strategy further, and are putting together a focus group with students, staff and parents, to see how we can improve the process further for next September. 

Please feel free to get in contact, if you want to know more. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close