Case Study | Rivers Academy West London

At a glance

Country: United Kingdom
Number of students: 30
Age of students: 12-14

2023 case study
Part of the Aspirations Academies partnership

Edited by The Economist Educational Foundation for clarity

[Students] have built crucial knowledge before moving onto debates so they know what they’re going to come to the discussion with.

Ella Marshall, Teacher

Map of the United Kingdom with a location marker containing the UK flag

In their own words

Building confidence in students

I’ve really noticed a difference in the students that don’t tend to put up their hand in lessons or ask questions. Topical Talk has sparked interest amongst these students. They’ve come forward in the debates and asked questions in lessons, which has been absolutely lovely to see because that is so hard to do as a teacher, to be able to build that confidence up in them. It’s the structure of the activities that has made them feel secure to engage.

They’ve built crucial knowledge before moving onto debates so they know what they’re going to come to the discussion with. They’ve discussed it with their team or small group before bringing it to the class, so they’re able to have that confidence to be able to speak in front of a class. A lot of the engagement has come through this confidence. Students are able to feel: “I know what I’m talking about; I’ve got a question for this; I know how to relate it to my life”. And that’s just been lovely to see.

Using the Skills Builder Framework

When it comes to the Skills Builder skills, I’ve found them good to use. Skills Builder is clear and in child-friendly language which my students understand. We are taking this learning to apply it to the Trust’s skills framework.
Looking at specific skills and steps to show the students the skills they're currently working on, how they can use them outside of school and later in life in careers and things like that, has been very successful. It gives children more of a purpose and meaning behind their learning. As a teacher, I really like being able to link how relevant a skill is in Topical Talk, in another lesson, and for use outside of school and in careers. That’s a really powerful and easy template to apply broadly.

Skills and knowledge development

Listening has been drawn out as a skill so much. Every single teacher I’ve spoken to over the last couple of weeks has mentioned listening in particular because it’s actually a really complex skill to not just wait for someone to speak but actually listen and digest what they’ve said so that a discussion can flow and you build upon each other’s points.

I teach a lot of the year seven and year eight classes, so I’ve been able to deliver Topical Talk lessons multiple times to different abilities and ages. For each activity you can see the different sets and the different abilities take on the task and the skills. With the higher sets, it’s easier to look across the higher levels in the Skills Builder Framework. Then, with the lower abilities, we can see development across the levels. Higher sets may have a wider vocabulary or be able to articulate reasons better, but Topical Talk has also worked really well in a mixed ability setting because you have the modelling of the range of abilities and for lower sets you can target lower steps on the Skills Builder Framework.

Topical Talk has had a massive effect on students’ knowledge and understanding of current affairs. We’ve been able to bring in knowledge from lessons like the 'World hunger' resource and build that into students' understanding of healthy lifestyles. They were so fascinated by that broader knowledge and they were able to use their knowledge and the facts in the next sequence of lessons. They could link their knowledge through the lessons, which has been really good.

Applying knowledge and skills outside of Topical Talk

In terms of how students are using what they learn in Topical Talk lessons across the curriculum, they’ve been able to access and use real-life scenarios in discussions and apply the skills to other tasks. An example is that before Topical Talk I might have taught a lesson on energy drinks, which would be focused on short-term effects and long-term effects. Students would only use what we covered in the lesson to form opinions.

Now they’ve had a chance to take part in Topical Talk discussions, where they gain relevant knowledge from the news. In this case, following a Topical Talk lesson on gaming regulations, they brought their knowledge into the lesson and linked this to the discussion around regulations in food and drink. They used their knowledge and their speaking and listening skills to consider and ask questions around why corner shops are still selling drinks to children but why a store like Tesco is not. So you can see how Topical Talk has opened up a lot of discussion.

If I just delivered that lesson without the Topical Talk discussions and approaches, we wouldn’t have had that discussion.