Research School Network: Knowledge Organisers: How did we get here?

Knowledge Organisers: How did we get here?

by HISP Research School
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There has been some discussion on Twitter recently about Knowledge Organisers with some teachers asking whether it is time to move on. In a recent blog Is it time to KO the knowledge organiser?’, Alex Quigley discusses a common problem in schools of the specific purpose of resources and interventions being eroded over time. When the WHY?’ is no longer underpinning an intervention then the active ingredients of resources such as the KO can get diluted and lead to ineffective use.

We have in the last couple of weeks handed out KOs to year 7 students, with the aim of developing them for Year 8 and 9 in preparation for the next academic year.


The handing out of the KOs was accompanied with a virtual assembly to the students about the WHY?’, WHAT?’ and HOW?’ of knowledge organisers, including modelling how to use them. This was also shared with parents so that they can support the effective use of these at home.


The Yr7 KOs are a key component of the Effective learning behaviours’ section of our 2020 – 21 school improvement implementation plan, linked closely to our focus on clear routines at the start and end of lessons.


How did we get to this point?
Schools are very busy places with the day to day operational needs often squeezing out opportunities for strategic planning which are essential for the thread of implementation to be revisited and reinforced. I will now attempt to summarise the journey we have been on that has brought us to this point of investing a lot of time and effort in creating and giving our Yr7 students these knowledge organisers. The point of this is to highlight that implementation in schools is a long and complex process. To be honest, our implementation has not always been smooth to get to this point, but on reflection we have kept our focus on a consistent Why?’.

We now must go back to the GCSE reforms that took place in the summer of 2017 to start our journey.


In 2017, with the new demanding GCSEs being introduced, we identified a need for us to develop our practice to support our students with schema building (although I don’t think we used this term back then) and long term knowledge retention. From this point onwards, we spent, and continue to spend, a lot of time and professional development on developing a language of learning’ across the school, making sure that we have an understanding of effective learning strategies based on cognitive science. The main influences on this development of an understanding and language of learning were:

Strengthening the student toolbox- John Dunlosky
Principles of instruction- Barak Rosenshine
Memorable Teaching: Leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning- Peps Mccrea

A common understanding of how we learn was developed and communicated though professional learning groups and department meetings, assemblies, revision days, parent information evenings, and most importantly in lessons.

At the same time, our science department were nearing the end of mapping out their curriculum from Yr7-11, following the publishing of the reformed national curriculum in 2014. This had involved a lot of networking and regional working groups facilitated by the local authority, identifying the fundamental concepts in each topic and writing their schemes of work. They then created science knowledge organisers for Year 7 to 9 students and explored the use of these in lessons and for home learning tasks throughout the year, linking to effective learning strategies such as retrieval practice and spacing.


In 2018/19 the science department continued to explore the use of KOs and worked closely with several schools in the local area to model their use and to further explore how to use them more effectively. This was shared with colleagues in other departments across the school to plant seeds’ of ideas for them to think about. We decided that we also needed more external guidance and challenge before we were to make the decision to make the use of KOs a priority across the school. In January 2019 a group of middle leaders and SLT visited Glenmore and Winton Academies in Bournemouth to look at how they had implemented KOs and how they were being used in lessons. Having the opportunity to visit other schools further on in their journey was invaluable.

It was perhaps a talk by Mark Enser at ResearchEd Durrington in April 2019 that completed the jigsaw for us as a leadership team in influencing our decision. Following a talk by David Muijs about the evidence informed approaches to the new Ofsted inspection framework, with a focus on curriculum, Mark ran a session about interweaving’. In his talk he focused on the importance of supporting students in building schema by making the links between concepts explicit to students in lessons. As experts in our subjects, we have complex schema in our heads that we can draw on to solve problems. The links between concepts need to be made visible to novices to support them in becoming experts. This highlighted an important need for KOs to us as a team, not only as tools to support students in developing effective learning strategies and knowledge of vocabulary, but also as a vehicle to support teachers in forming the habit of regularly communicating the links between topics in lessons. Indeed, further discussion with the science department highlighted the fact that the KO was an effective planning tool for them as busy teachers, focusing them on the fundamental concepts for the topic, and the links with previous and future learning.

2019 – 2020

Although we had learnt a lot about KOs over the previous year, we sought expert training from one of our neighbouring Research Schools, Durrington, who were a couple of years further down the line with KOs. Effective learning behaviours and vocabulary instruction were two key foci of our school improvement implementation plan and we wanted to have as much external expert input to challenge our ideas about what effective use and implementation of KOs would look like, before asking departments to spend a year creating and exploring their use in their contexts. We also wanted to make the purpose of them very clear, making the links to the work we had done on developing a common understanding of how students learn very explicit so that the thread of implementation was clear. The key messages about the purpose and effective use of KOs were revisited in the January INSET day, where time was given to group discussion and planning, and then again in the July INSET day following the disruption to the year due to Covid-19 lockdown. In the summer term we wrote our 2020 – 21 school improvement implementation plan with the use of KOs with Year 7 as one of our active ingredients.


2020 – 2021
This brings us back to October half term 2020, a couple of weeks after we handed out our first ever Year 7 whole school KO. In reference to the EEF’s school’s guide to implementation guidance report, we are now at the start of the deliver stage.


We now need to monitor the impact of the use of KOs (as well as other active ingredients) against this section of our school improvement implementation plan which is summarised below. An example of an EEF implementation plan template, together with an online course about effective implementation can be found here:‑schools-guide-to-implementation/

SIP Focus: Effective Learning behaviours


What needs to change e.g. teacher behaviour, student behaviour, attainment?


  • Variance in the expectations of students at start and end of lessons in departments across school
  • Some students late to lessons- transition to lessons
  • Teachers want to be able to effectively develop the independence of all students


  • Covid-19 lockdown will mean that students will be returning to school with potential lack of routine and diminished learning behaviours.
  • Experience a variation in expectations at the start and end of lessons.
  • Some students have weaker self-regulation skills


  • Time on task’ impacts student outcomes.
  • Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact.


What are the essential active ingredients’ of the intervention?
What activities and behaviours will you see when it is working?

See EEF active ingredients guidance:
active ingredients

  • Clear start and end to lessons: Staff meet and greet in corridor and students engage immediately in a learning task
  • Knowledge organisers used regularly in Year 7 lessons to model effective learning strategies.
  • Explicitly teach students metacognitive strategies: activate, explain, practice, reflect, review- incorporating guided and independent practice
  • Students regularly reflect on their learning behaviours, learning strategies and the quality of work being produced. 


How will it be done?
What blend of activities are required?


  • Effective learning behaviours overview start of year. How we deliver to students effectively. Link to Thornden 10
  • Behaviour management training for all staff, EEF behaviour programme 
  • Student training and rehearsal
  • Training of support staff (inc cover supervisors) to tackle student misbehaviour 
  • KO use- training for staff
  • Students trained how to use KOs in tutor, assemblies and lessons
  • EEF metacognition training- Covid-19 lesson template (activate etc) and plan, monitor, evaluate template. Metacognition department leads. 
  • Staff- what is behaviour for learning? (EEF guidance report) How to use B4L scale.
  • Parents’ evening training- using student books as discussion stimulus


  • Purpose shared with staff- SIP video.
  • Purpose of guidelines shared in assemblies, tutor periods and lessons – Thornden 10, values.
  • Guidelines shared on posters and ppts.
  • Half termly reminders of expectations of students.
  • Rota / positioning map / support staff meeting
  • How to use KO’ video for parents and students. Linked to below.
  • Half termly effective learning strategy videos for students and parents – e.g KR, dual coding.
  • Parents’ evenings
  • Metacognition assemblies, guidance to parents regarding support with HW, parents’ evenings
  • B4L weeks aligned with each Year group reports / parents’ evenings. 
  • B4L assemblies and videos.
  • B4L reflection sheets in parent letter



  • SLT positioned at different points around school during lesson transition
  • SLT learning walks at start and end of lessons
  • HoDs learning walks at start and end of lessons
  • Staff surveys to receive feedback on fidelity, reach and acceptability
  • Student surveys
  • Department meeting minutes
  • T+L Tuesdays
  • Number of lates recorded on SIMs


How will you know that it is working?
Do staff feel the approach is feasible and useful?

Short term

All teaching staff develop and trial strategies to ensure students engage readily at the start of lessons.

Support staff start to feel more confident in approaching students not heading to lessons

All staff understand the purpose of the intervention.

All teachers understand the purpose of KOs.

All year 7 teachers can describe at least one KO strategy they have modelled with a class 

All teachers understand the purpose of focusing on metacognition and self-regulatory strategies

All teachers can describe at least one metacognitive strategy 

All teachers understand the purpose of B4L reflection weeks.

Majority of tutors build in a B4L activity.

Majority of teachers use student books at parents’ evenings.

Majority of students understand the purpose of the intervention.

Number of students late to lessons / loitering in corridors is low

Majority of Year 7 students understand the purpose of KOs and have at least one strategy to use them effectively.

Majority of students can state at least one metacognitive strategy they have been taught.

Majority of students understand the purpose of B4L reflection time.

Majority of students complete B4L reflection sheets prior to parents’ evening and reports.

Medium to long term


All staff feel confident in challenging students who are late to lessons.

All teachers are in the habit of starting and ending lessons with a consistent approach.

Majority of Year 7 teachers can describe at least three KO strategies they have modelled with a class(es).

The KO is used at least once per Yr7 topic per department.

Majority of teachers can describe at least 3 metacognitive strategies they have explicitly taught in lessons.

Majority of tutors build in a B4L activity.

Majority of teachers use student books at parents’ evenings.

Majority of students engage immediately with a learning task every lesson

Number of students late to lessons / loitering in corridors remains low.

Majority of Yr7 students can describe how they have used their KO throughout the year.

Majority of students can describe at least three metacognitive strategies they have been taught in lessons.

Majority of students complete B4L reflection sheets prior to parents’ evening and reports.


How will pupils, teachers and the school benefit?

Students will experience a consistent approach by staff and learning time will be maximised.

Routines will provide staff with a calm start to lessons.

More students will be able to revise effectively and independently.

Students will be more resilient and be able to draw upon strategies when faced with a problem rather than asking for help straight away.

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