Developing New Teaching Strategies for Improving English

Gateshead College

This project was designed to explore how teachers can better develop learners’ English abilities through pedagogy of teaching practice. The focus was to use innovative digital technology as a means to reach disengaged learners to maximise participation in English.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


To inspire and engage learners to improve their English skills and increase their confidence, learners were given podcasts to listen to, with the aim of developing skills, knowledge retention, critical thinking and metacognitive resilience. Learners were set assignments on GCSEpod or used these as a flipped learning approach, whilst others used the resource primarily for revision prior to their final exam. Additionally, some learners created their own podcasts to either peer teach or as a revision tool.

Podcasts had a positive impact on a minority of learners, encouraging them to gain a more responsibility for their own learning, bringing the ‘fun’ factor back into lessons. The flipped learning approach increased learners’ confidence, encouraging them to revise or feel more prepared for lessons, particularly when new topics or skills were introduced.


The focus was on resit learners who have not achieved a high grade and, therefore, were generally less motivated to excel, and part-time adult learners who have returned to education later in life. A significant proportion of full-time learners are ‘reluctant learners’, as they have to repeat GCSE English, some several times, in order to achieve a grade 4 or above. Low self-esteem is a significant barrier for many learners as they fear failing again; ‘believing it is safer to not try at all, than to risk embarrassment’.

Teachers do their utmost to be creative and use current and contemporary topics to engage learners in the development of skills required for GCSE; however outside of the classroom, learners tend to be reluctant to continue their studies. The modern learner engages in digital technology and podcasts were therefore used to bring this into the classroom, making best use of learners’ mobile devices both in College and at home.

The content of ‘GCSEpod’ are varied and are specifically linked to the GCSE English assessment criteria. GCSEpod allows teachers to assign learners a personalised playlist, with follow up assessment tasks; a flexible approach to learning where learners can take control of their progression and identify areas of development, as well as enabling teachers to develop focused intervention. Each of the selected learners used as case studies utilised the podcasts in preparation for further study both inside and beyond the classroom.


Each teacher adopted a differing approach to using GCSEPods and podcasts within curriculum planning. Focused learning walks, observations of teaching, learning and assessment, data tracking for GCSEPod engagement, self-reflections, surveys, learner interviews and written feedback were obtained to measure the impact of the use of digital technology in engaging learners.

Some learners used GCSEpod as a flipped learning approach, where they were asked to access GCSEpod and complete assessments before their lessons, while other learners used GCSEpod as a revision tool in preparation for the November resit exam.

Some teachers also used GCSEpod as an introduction to the beginning of their lesson to engage learners, whilst some learners created their own video podcasts as a tool for self-reflection, revision and peer teaching.

Schemes of work were reviewed, allowing us to map the podcasts to the assessment criteria for GCSE. Regular meetings monitored progress and shared learners’ responses. Any issues were quickly identified, allowing early intervention or changes in how we approached or delivered future lessons.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

  • Changes in staff practice have been evident through curriculum planning and, as a result, planning for learning has significantly increased and diversified the use of ICT.
  • Podcasts have been specifically mapped to the assessment criteria for GCSE English. Teachers have therefore been encouraged to consider how to implement the use of podcasts into sessions and as a tool for setting homework, flipped learning or peer teaching to engage learners.
  • GCSEpod was used as an effective revision tool to support learners resitting GCSE English, as learners were able to get instant feedback. Previously revision sessions were classroom based and feedback could be delayed.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

  • Greater focus on designing a more digital curriculum for learners, encouraging flipped learning, where learners are encouraged to watch pre-selected podcasts and complete assignment tasks in preparation for the following week. As an organisation, we achieved a ‘Star Podformer Status’ for the most assignments set in September, out of 1,250 subscribers nationally to GCSEpod (Figure 12c-2).
  • The use of creating contextualised pods as a revision tool will be developed as CPD for staff across other vocational areas as a way of engaging more practical learners with background theory.
  • We have built stronger relationships with other FE providers involved in the project and have been approached by organisations to offer CPD sessions on creating podcasts as a tool for teachers or created by learners in the classroom for peer teaching.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Homework assignments for flipped learning consist of either one or more videos, followed by a series of assessment question in the form of freestyle and multiple-choice responses, individually selected by the teacher; multiple-choice questions are marked automatically, allowing learners to self-assess instantly. Free written responses are marked by teachers and feedback given constructively, allowing teachers to mark and respond to learners’ work more efficiently, as well as reflect, track and monitor learners’ progress.

Learners who have used the tool as a flipped learning approach have found it beneficial in aiding their understanding when something new is being introduced or as means of consolidating any previous knowledge.

“GCSE pod gives you an idea of what the lesson is going to be about. This is good because it doesn’t make me look like I’m lost in the class.”

Completion of homework online had increased initially, but as learners progressed through the academic year, the number of completed assignments online decreased.

Some teachers assigned fewer pods as the year progressed; pods were initially used as an effective introductory tool, but it was believed they did not develop the higher order thinking skills necessary to develop learners’ confidence in enhancing their responses. Therefore, this impacted on the number of assignments created on GCSEpod.

For a minority of learners, engagement with GCSEpod, outside of the classroom, significantly improved performance; although not consistently across the case studies or active users. For many learners, their level of engagement with GCSEpod decreased, once they became familiar with the skills and assessment criteria required for GCSE English.

“Once I got an understanding…as an overview, I felt I didn’t really learn much.”

Learners felt the pods were relatively basic and did not develop higher order thinking skills.

Case Study 3 preferred the tutor’s own podcast, as he could engage with the tutor which felt more relatable and ‘adult-like’ in comparison to GCSEpod, which he felt was too monotone and ‘boring’. Furthermore, he felt the tutor’s podcast was much more in depth ‘showing you how to analyse language’ and went beyond the basic level of GCSEpod. He felt the podcast was aimed at a particular set of learners, who were familiar with the tutor’s teaching style.

Although the number of pods streamed and downloaded increased with learners using the GCSEPods to revise for the November exam, learners said they, ‘preferred to be taught in a classroom because they were able to ask questions’, allowing teachers to elaborate and stretch and challenge.

Both case studies 2 and 4 used GCSEpod for 6 weeks leading up the exam, both successfully achieved a grade 4 in the GCSE English November resit. Case study 2 started at Entry Level 3 and continued to progress over a three-year period. The learner passed his exam on his third attempt. Case study 4, had a positive impact on his learning and improved his self-confidence, he was able to gain instant feedback and identify areas of development, allowing him to reflect on his answers without having to wait for tutor feedback. Overall, he felt his skills had developed as he is now able to identify more technical aspects of language to meet the assessment criteria required for GCSE English.

For a minority of learners, GCSEpod allowed learners a greater sense of responsibility for their own learning, allowing them to set individual targets in order to focus on their weakest areas or skills, becoming more autonomous.

However, for learners where podcasts made a positive impact on development and engagement, podcasts are not the only factor having a positive impact on learning; more research is needed to fully explore the impact.

Learning from this project

Learners have a digital platform they can use at any time, which works well for some learners, fitting around their working lives. GCSEpod appears to be aimed at lower level learners or is effective as an introductory tool for a particular skill or topic, which should then be developed in class. Although, learners tended to use GCSEpod as a tool for revision purposes, leading up to their end exam, this should be used alongside taught sessions, allowing teachers to proactively support and motivate learners to develop skills gaps.

The voice in GCSEpod uses Received Pronunciation which learners are not accustomed to and found difficult to engage with. In contrast to GCSEpod, learners engaged more with the teachers’ podcasts because the voice was familiar, allowing learners to relate to the teacher. Furthermore, the content was more contextualised and vigorous and, therefore, more challenging; although, it was evident teachers used a specific learning style suited to learners and, therefore, a more generic approach or teaching style would be more suitable for a wider audience. Having said that, it was evident the teacher had built up a relationship with learners, enabling them to reflect on previous teaching which GCSEpod could not.

Observations of classes, where learners created their own video podcasts, proved to be highly successful in some sessions; although less keen to record and listen to their own voices. These sessions have proved to be a highly effective engagement tool, which positively impacted on teaching, learning and assessment.

Where learners have not enjoyed making their own podcasts, the ‘have a go’ reflective approach has meant teachers have re-evaluated the concept of learners creating their own podcasts and re-trying this teaching strategy, using an alternative technology for learners to record their own voices. This will be assessed over a longer period with different vocational areas to fully assess the impact.