Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

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Archive for November 2018

How to come up with ideas (when you’re not naturally creative!)

If you didn’t already know…

I’m definitely *not* naturally creative.

I’m don’t like open-ended tasks.

But they come up often for students (and for me too in my first ever teaching interview!)

So, now I LOVE training non-creative students (like me!) to BECOME creative using the beauty of non-creative, hard and fast, checklists, steps and systems!


I’m not naturally great with open-ended tasks or any writing where you have to be imaginative.

(My husband always says I have zero-imagination! He’s quite into movies and I’m just like – well *that* wouldn’t happen).

So imagine my horror, when in my invitation to interview for my first ever teaching job I was asked to prepare to teach:

– a Geography lesson to a class of Year 9’s (no problem)

– that would be observed by the principle (bit nerve-wracking, but again, no problem –  this is what all teaching interviews involve back in the UK).


So. Teach a Y9 Geography lesson on the topic of…




I was like, come-on!

Please, give me something to go on!


Maybe they thought they were being kind, but for me, that was the worst possible type of lesson to plan.

I honestly would’ve preferred them to tell me to teach an interesting lesson about watching paint dry.

That would’ve felt like less of a challenge, because at least I’d have had somewhere to start with that. Some guidelines.


Because I like direction and instructions and steps.
(You’ve got that by now, right?!) 😉


And that’s why, over time, I’ve found ways to make the open >>>> structured.

The fuzzy >>>> clear.

And devised strategies to transform the downright confusing into steps, checklists and templates.
(Ahhhh. Those words are music to my ears)?


For a long time, this was just to help me get to grips with certain tasks or concepts myself.

But over time I’ve realised that it’s actually super-helpful to any teens whose brains work (even a little bit!) similarly to mine.

And here’s what I’ve found:

Often it’s best to start at the end and work backwards.


And for that, students need to start at the marking criteria and break down, in detail, exactly what the marker is going to be looking for in their work BEFORE they pick their topic or decide on their choice of – whatever options they can choose from!


Here’s an example:

If it’s a type of narrative, like a short story perhaps, then when students go through the mark scheme, they’ll realise that their marks and grades are less about the actual story or characters and more about their ability to use a variety of sophisticated literary devices, like imagery and symbolism for example.

So a setting or character that allows them to use plenty of those will be beneficial. Perhaps the story needs to involve some sort of theme or message that comes through and therefore they need to think about making that weave through the plot and/or characters.


And that brings us nicely then to the planning. They don’t want to be planning from the point of “hmmm, I wonder what’s going to happen in my story?”, but from the point of,

“OKAY – what sort of story will easily allow me to incorporate a variety of writing techniques like personification, metaphor, alliteration?”

“What sort of character would allow me to give some really interesting and detailed descriptions?”

“What sort of setting would I be able to adapt my writing to in terms of style and vocab?” – like using tech-y words for sci-fi, or lots of extravagant details for a romance.


And then they can start to consider what their story could be about.

Plus, now they also have a kind of checklist to work with.
Bonus! (Yay! A checklist!)



So really, it’s not about pondering on the main task,


“Ooooh, what country should I investigate for my geography project?”


“Hmmm, what historical leader should I choose for my inquiry?”

“What on EARTH should I write a story about?!”


Students need to figure out what needs to be in the finished product and then, asking themselves ‘What topic will give me the easiest AND most effective way to produce that?’


‘What will give me the most and highest quality opportunities to convey those skills?’.


This is what I call the science behind creativity.


And it’s not *just* for students who aren’t particularly creative.

For those students who ARE the creative types, then it’ll provide them with that trusty checklist to see which of their wonderful and creative ideas is going to serve them best when it comes to the marking of their work.



Let me know – is your teen naturally creative?

Have they ever struggled to come up with great ideas? (And if so, could this help them?).
I’d love your feedback! 🙂
Scroll down leave me a comment, give this post a ‘like’ or, just as useful – tell me what you didn’t like, or what else you’d like to hear about 🙂

Also, I’d really appreciate it (and so would they!) if you share this with anyone else who’d find it useful.


Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!
Katie 🙂

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3 (more!) Google Hacks for Research and Referencing

It seems everyone loves a good Google hack.

After last week’s video with the ninja trick to finding the date for referencing websites, I’ve had some super-appreciative feedback, so I’m gonna share more…

Here are my top three non-technical Google-Hacks that I think could be super-useful to your teen.


So I’ve had a ton of feedback basically loving last week’s video all about the ninja trick to finding the date for referencing websites, plus I’ve had a few suggestions of other tips and tricks.

I have to admit, I knew of all of them, BUT the more technical ones I always forget,

so in case it’s the same for you,

I’ve come up with my top three that I think could be super-useful to your teen.

Ok, so Google hack number 3 is

(we’re doing this countdown style-ee here, okay) 😉

*start the music chart countdown backing track*


Adding the subject or topic in the search box in addition to the key word that your teen is searching.

This is because just searching for the name of the person, place, event or concept often gives too wide a variety of results, which then just leads to hours upon hours of trawling a ton of websites and results including many which are totally irrelevant.

The example I always give for this is adding in the subject when researching the definition of ‘depression’ – because of course you’re going to want verrrry different results depending on whether you are researching this word for History, Business Studies, Economics, Biology or HPE, or even for an atmospheric depression in Geography or Science.

Just adding in the subject or topic is going to give much more focused results.

Onto Google Hack number 2:


Putting quote marks around the word or phrase that is a must-have search term and in the order/exact phrase you have typed.

Often Google gives results that have a sneaky little greyed out bit of text below that shows the part of the search that isn’t included in that result… which, can sometimes be the main thing you really wanted it to find!

So using our previous example, if I was researching the dates for the great depression for history, I might actually include the words –

history date

and then type

“the great depression”

with quote marks before the word the and after the word depression.

This means that the words ‘The Great Depression’ as a whole phrase must appear in any search results. So no more wasted time clicking on results only to realise they don’t actually have the key info or topic I was after.

And – drumroll please – here is my fave google hack for students.

Well, it’s not really a hack – more of a ‘I can’t believe how many students don’t know about this whole other thing’ kinda thing.

But Google Hack number 1 – is ….


Google Scholar.

This gem of a search engine searches all academic papers and publications, like scientific journals, peer reviewed articles and academically acclaimed books, websites and other publications.

So your teen can say goodbye to good-old Wikipedia

‘Urgh.’ I can tell you that no teacher ever wants to see Wikipedia in a reference list beyond Y7, maaayyyybe Year 8. At a push.

and they can say hello to more sophisticated, more reliable and credible sources for their research.

This is at

Or, of course, you can just type in Google Scholar into Google!!! *There’s gotta be a meme or other joke-y-joke of google-ing for Google out there, right?*

But extra tip – make sure you’re in google, rather than – which is where it’ll take you if you search it from

You staying with me here?!

So, there are my top 3 Google hacks for your teen – to save them a ton of time AND give them better QUALITY academic sources and references.

I’d love to hear your feedback on these 3 Google hacks – which one will be most useful to your teen and why – tell me in the comments below, and then while you’re there, go ahead and give this a like or a share 🙂

Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week.


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Ninja Trick for Source Referencing

It can be a total nightmare trying to work out the date of publication for websites.


Until now!


Check out this ninja trick that a brilliant, computer-savvy student told me about just a few days ago!

(Yep, I tried and tested it, and it really works!)



You’re looking for that thing you put in a ‘safe place’ ?

Once you realise it’s not where you think it should or could be, well then it could be A.N.Y-where.

After looking for a good half hour or more, you still don’t find it and you either turn the house upside down

(if it’s REALLY important- like when my sister’s best friend couldn’t find her passport the night before they were due to fly to New York for a ‘big-zero-birthday’ trip)

or you give up.


It’s the same when your teen comes to referencing and bibliographies, particularly for websites.


Ok – starting with an obvious statement here, but stick with me.

Are you ready – here it comes…

Students are using websites more than ever to research essays, reports and assignments.


Thank you Captain Obvious!


But here’s the problem:

It can be a total nightmare trying to work out the date of publication of websites.

Journal articles and scientific papers – simple – it’s stated on the front page at the top. Easy!

Books – it’s like a page or two inside the cover. Simple – done.

Even blog articles usually have a date with them.


But trying to find the ‘date of publication’ of a website – toooootal nightmare!

Because not only does a website very rarely have a date it was published displays,

but technically you really need the date it was last updated, because of COURSE, the beauty of websites over books is that they can easily be updated.


So… I have a small but mighty trick for your teen.

And it sounds super-techy – but I promise you, it really isn’t.

Granted, a clever and tech-y student told me this trick, BUT I tried it and it worked straight away for me – so anyone can do this, okay!! 🙂


Now, quick heads up.

As far as I know, this only works in Chrome, so if your teen uses Safari or Explorer or Firefox, they’ll need to download Google Chrome.



> STEP 1
– go to the webpage where their source or quote is.

And then…

> STEP 2 – Whilst on that page, type the following text into the web address bar. (And yes, I’ll type it into the blog so that you can totally cheat and copy-paste it.) You have to type in:



Now, it doesn’t work for EVERY webpage.

In my experience, probably 60-70%.

But hey, that’s pretty good.

And if a student has 10 online sources and it saves them 10 mins of searching around for the date of the webpage for 6 or 7 of them, then yikes – that’s over an hour of wasted time SAVED!

And, that makes me so happy!

I love me a bit of time efficiency!


And #BonusTrick that your teen can do too:

I emailed myself that text, so that now, instead of having to remember it, I can just go to that email and copy-paste it straight in.

You’re welcome 😉


If you or your teen has any other tips and tricks like this, definitely feel free to share them with me on email or comment below this blog post.

Not only will I love you forever, but I also promise to share them with our community of parents and students too (so they’ll love you too) 🙂


Hope that helps save a ton of time and bother searching for a webpage date for referencing and bibliographies in future.

Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!




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When Procrastination is Productive!

I’m all for being organised and on top of things.
But there are SOME situations and certain tasks for students where a specific and purposeful decision to leave something to the last minute *can* actually mean improved efficiency AND a better outcome and result.


Which camp is your teen in?

Are they in the ‘Leave it to the last minute – I work better under pressure’camp?

Or are they in the ‘Get it done as soon as they get it’camp?


Although I know there are examples of some super-successful people coming up with their best work under pressure, I personally prefer to feel in control and reduce my stress levels as much as possible.

* Raises hand for the second camp*


BUT… Ahhh, there’s a but! 😉

BUT… there are SOME situations where I’ve made a specific and purposeful decision to leave something to the last minute because experience has told me that it works better that way and actually saves me time and effort.

And there are certain types of tasks and situations where this could be the case for students too:


1)  Anything where they have to present.
(For me, that could be an in-school workshop or an online webinar).

In other words, anything where I’ll be able to perform betterif the information and content is fresh in my head.

If I’ve just finished the powerpoint or just written the content or schedule, then it’s going to be top of mind for me and therefore I’ll be a lot more confident inpresentingand have everything on the tip of my tongue.

The topic or concepts are already rolling around in my head and so examples or analogies will be easy to pull out as I’m asked questions or when I need to expand on something.

This means I’m not just relying on my powerpoint or notes.
(Never a good look in a presentation – for me or your teen!)

I’m less robotic and can really get into the event a lot more as well, making it a lot more engaging for the parents or students.


Overall, I can focus on making the delivery really amazing, rather than having to try to remember or think so much about what I’m saying.


The same goes for these blog videos!

I started off, years ago, planning the topics I wanted to talk about much further in advance than I do today! But then it meant that I had to read back over my notes and remind myself of what it was I was going to talk about before I started the camera rolling.


What I quickly found though, is that if I leave it til the day or day before I want to film to plan what to talk about, then it’s fresh in my head and I don’t end up spending additional time recapping my notes or going back over my ideas and thoughts.

So I actually SAVE time, AND do a better job of the delivery.(I hope!) 😉


So, for students, if there’s a task where they have to present or act out or deliver a speech, then as long as they still give themselves time for editing, improvements and proofreading, then it might be better for them to actually construct the powerpoint, or write the final script close to the performance date.


2) When there’s more information that will become available before the deadline.


When I first started in teaching and was preparing for Parent-Teacher interviews, I’d compile data and notes on students well in advance.

(Because of course Miss Organised over here likes to get things done asap – that should really have become my married name – MRS Organised) 😉


But then a couple of parents would end up cancelling – which meant wasted time and effort.

Plus, things would sometimes come up or change in terms of how a student is going in the week or days leading up.
So I had to end up changing my notes or data anyway, doubling up my time and effort.


Students might find themselves in this sort of ‘new info becomes available and so changes what I do or don’t need to do’ situation when the teacher is going to continue to drip info, ideas, tips, or content.

I’ve seen this in a couple of my Personal Coaching students where they’ve done what seems like the right thing and gotten started on a report or assignment early, only to get some additional or new info the next lesson that means they need to change, or take out, or add in something.
This has meant there’s been some wasted time or effort, or perhaps a difficult choice in whether to continue with what they’ve got, or make a pivot in order to get the grade they want or need.


So rather than default to whatever ‘camp’ your teen usually sit in, have them make a conscious and calculated decision about their homework and assignment tasks.


When is it going to be beneficial to get ahead?

When might it actually make more sense to leave it a little longer before they start working on it?


>> Let me know in the comments!… Which camp does your teen usually sit in and how is that working for them? I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!





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