Differentiating Texts

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Many school subjects require students to read and analyse paragraphs of text. Whether it’s a description of freeze-thaw action in geography, or a synopsis of the rise of crypto currencies in ICT or economics: blurbs, descriptions and essays confront our students with unique challenges. 

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Sometimes our students don’t yet have the reading level to cope with the text. Sometimes they just simply get switched-off or disinterested, and this may or may not be related to their English language proficiency.

Have you ever stopped reading a book, or a short article, because it just didn’t interest you enough? I know I have, many times.

I can read but if I’m not interested, I’ll switch off.

Take the following body of text from my book, for example. How would you differentiate this so that all of the students in your class could understand and use it?:

Rapport

I had a great professional development session with a group of colleagues this week. We came up with some great ways to differentiate texts, which I’ve included below. Study the images carefully: I’ve linked them to the text above.

Technique #1: The Funnel

Basically this is a filtering system where the students take all of the key words in a text and filter them down into, first, a few sentences; and then, just one sentence:

Dif1

Technique #2: True or False Questions

Nice and simple and can be done in a number of ways:

  • Write the true or false questions yourself, and get the kids to answer them
  • Get the kids to write true or false questions and give them to each other (recommended for high-ability students, as this one is a little more difficult to mark/assess and takes more time and effort to complete).

Dif2

Technique #3: Flow chart

Kids create a flow chart that either describes the process involved, or the reasoning behind the text. Questions can be used as connectives:

Dif3

Technique #4: Fill in the blanks

This is a simple one and can be used to reinforce technical vocabulary, elements of speech (such as interjections and conjunctions) or anything else that’s important.

Technique #5: Cartoon Strip

The kids will need to be quite creative with this one, as they may need to illustrate the concepts using an actual example. Great fun, and can get quite entertaining!

Other techniques

There are lots of creative ways in which students can be assigned to decipher and breakdown texts. Consider these suggestions:

  • Stop-motion animations (takes a lot of time but acts as a great mini-project)
  • Drama and role-play
  • Music
  • Website creation
  • Infographic creation (much better than ‘make a poster’)
  • Make an instructional video

Today’s images

I’ve drawn all of today’s images myself using some beautiful Sharpies®. Highly recommended:

Sharpies

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Back to School Basics for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s been a busy Summer vacation for me.

As a Chemistry teacher at an international school, I get a similar ‘Summer Holiday’ to my colleagues back in the U.K. – about 7 weeks from the end of June to mid-late August. However, I’ve not been resting that much as I’ve been involved in two excellent summer camps which have kept me productive and active.

I now have another two days left before school starts, so I’m enjoying a short break in the seaside resort of Pattaya, Thailand (a short drive away from Bangkok).

Siriya
Me at Suriya Land, Pattaya, today. 

Getting into the swing of things

7 weeks is a long time to be away from school and if we are to be at our optimum when we meet our new students on day one, then we need to get physiologically, biochemically and mentally ready.

I’m now going to go through my top 5 tips for starting the new academic year like a superhero! Over the past 12 years of my professional teaching career these tips have been absolute life-savers!

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I know they will work for you too, as they have done for the hundreds of teachers and trainees that I have counseled and mentored over the years.

Here’s a quick video summary of these 5 tips:

Tip #1: Rest yourself

This can be difficult, especially if you’re a parent with small children. However, it is absolutely essential.

snacking

When we rest ourselves before school begins, however, we must do it in a systematic, organised way. What does this mean? – Well, let’s take a look at this list together and see if we could implement these actions at least 1 week before going back to school:

  • Hydrate ourselves well: We should drink low-sugar, high-water fluids to get our bodies biochemically ready for the new academic year
  • Get enough sleep: I personally need 8 hours per night – any less and I find it hard to function!
  • Implement a regular sleeping pattern: I don’t want my first Monday back to be a total shock to my body (that’s happened to me before and it was ugly!). From now until the day I start back at school, it’s bed at 10pm and up at 6am every day. A pattern like this allows our circadian rhythms to become balanced just in time for the first day – so that we’ll feel fresh and ready!
  • Do recreational stuff: You know what you love to do. Do it! For me: I love to read in the countryside with a windy breeze in the background. I enjoy going to the gym and taking my time when I’m there. I enjoy karate. I love writing my blog at a sleepy little coffee shop somewhere in the back-of-beyond. Whatever it is that you love to do, give yourself the gift of doing it before you go back to school. This will help you to relax and will adjust your nervous system to a state of ‘positive awareness’.
  • Eat properly: I don’t need to lecture anyone about this – we all know what we should be doing. I know, for example, that by having three-square meals per day, at around about the same time each day (followed with wide-spectrum multi-vitamins and mineral supplements), then by the process of bio-accumulation my body will be biochemically at its optimum before I launch into my teaching modality on day one.

Tip #2: Know your curriculum!

We need to know two important things well before we start teaching our students:

  • What we are going to teach
  • When, exactly, we are going to teach it

This process is called ‘curriculum mapping’ and it’s so important, especially if you’re starting at a new school or if you’re a newly-qualified teacher whose starting a new job.

making plans

I know, for example, that I’ll be teaching a Year 12 and 13 IBDP Chemistry class this coming academic year. I know that Year 13 need to have covered Topic 17 (HL Equilibria) by the end of August, and Topics 8 and 18 (Acids and Bases) by the end of September. Year 12 need to have covered Topics 2 and 12 (Atomic Structure) and Topic 1 (Quantitative Chemistry) by the end of September.

I need to know exactly what’s happening, in terms of my teaching and school events that could interrupt my normal schedule, for each and every month of the upcoming academic year.

Curriculum mapping benefits us in so many ways:

  • It keeps us confident because we are ‘on-track’ and going in the right direction
  • It relaxes us (because we know what’s coming next)
  • It gives us time to plan ahead

So get mapping – you know it makes sense!

Tip #3: Get photocopying!

Here’s something I can guarantee – on day one of teaching, and the day before, many of your colleagues will be using the school’s photocopiers and printers to get their resources ready.

Explaining

If me and you want to start the academic year in a hassle-free, relaxed way, then we need to be a step-ahead of everyone else.

Go into school a few days before you’re due to start and get your first week’s worth of worksheets, booklets and whatever else you need printed and ready.

Trust me –  you’ll be glad you did it!

Tip #4: Read ahead

We all forget subject content, even the most highly-qualified and knowledgeable of us.

If possible, get your hands on the same textbooks your kids will be using. Use these textbooks to:

  • Read ahead and make sure you understand the stuff you’ll teaching the students
  • Think about which questions from the textbook you’d like to set for your kids. Do these questions have model answers? If not, then you’ll be creating unnecessary work for yourself when you come to mark them. Will you set these questions as homework or classwork?
  • Does the textbook contain any good graphics that you could scan/photograph and put into a Prezi, Google slides or PowerPoint?

Tip #5: Don’t be nervous

Whatever your situation is: starting at a new school or staying at your current school, you’re likely to have new colleagues, systems, resources and even policies that you’ll be working with.

jenga

Don’t be in a rush to get to know everyone all at once. Take your time, relax and get to know people one at a time.

See the new academic year as an opportunity to inspire, care-for and motivate your new students. With this mindset, you’re sure to start back at school like a superhero!

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5 Easy Ways to Teach English Through Any Subject

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I had an embarrassing experience in France when I was 16-years-old. 

No, it wasn’t my French that was the problem (although I’m sure I made lots of pronunciation mistakes). It was my knowledge of English!

sit n talk

Sat around in a communal circle of newly-found friends, I was at Taizé: a Christian retreat in Burgundy. At many points during the week-long pilgrimage, I found myself conversing with people from all over the world. It was my first truly ‘intensive’ exposure to so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.

“You must have felt humble” states a friend during a conversation of which I cannot remember the theme. 

“What does ‘humble’ mean?” I asked.

Then the laughter came. “Are you sure you’re British?” asked one of the group.

I was sure I was, and I was the only native-English speaking person in the group. It was rather a bashful moment to be honest, and it spurred me on to read more and more books and get better at articulating myself. 

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My friends brushed-it-off and were very light-hearted and amused by the matter.

I wasn’t amused though.

English is a massive language

Here are some facts about the English language that I recently discovered:

  • A new word is added to the English dictionary every 2 hours! This means that, in one complete year, 4380 words will have been added to the dictionary! 
  • About 360-million people speak English as a native language. This ranks English third in the world: behind Spanish (400 million native speakers) and Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers).
  • Despite the common belief that English has more words than any other language in the world, this is actually impossible to prove. However, English is definitely larger than continental European languages, due to the absorption of German and Latin throughout its history. 
  • The difficulty of English language learning depends upon the native language of the student. The closer the native language to English in terms of letter shapes, sentence structure, grammar, syntax and logic, the easier it will be to learn. Additionally, in a study conducted by Philip Seymour of Dundee University and his team, it was found that English was the toughest European language to master. Children learning other European languages as a mother-tongue typically master the basic elements within one year. British kids, however, typically take 2.5 years to reach the same level.

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Conclusion: English is a pretty difficult language to learn!

Helping our kids to master the language

I’m a high school science teacher. I also have a duty to teach English through my subject. 

I have an additional responsibility too: as an international school teacher in Thailand, I must model the very best elements of English pronunciation so that my students pick up the language quickly and efficiently. The local colloquialisms, dialect and accent I picked up from North Wales has to go out of the window (at least to a certain degree).

Here are my top-ten tips for teaching English through your subject:

#1: Book the school library and choose your books beforehand

Getting the kids out of the classroom provides a nice change for them and, if we choose our books wisely, we can get our kids to read around the subject and absorb lots of great information and facts.

bean bags

Try to make the library task productive too. It shouldn’t just be a ‘sit and read silently for one hour’ task. Give the students a worksheet to complete where they have to source the info from books. Perhaps get the kids to write a one-page summary of what they’ve read in their books. 

#2: Be a model of good speech and get your kids say words out loud

Most subjects have key words that the kids have to remember. My subject – Science, has many!

When a key word comes up, get the kids to:

  • Write it
  • Highlight it
  • Use it
  • Say it

I’ll often get all of the kids to say words out loud:

Me: “So what’s the positive electrode called, please?”

Class: “The anode”

Me: “Excellent. Say, ‘an-ode”

Class: “An-ode”

Me: “Not everyone said it. Again please”

All of the class: “An-ode”

I’ve also written a blog post about reinforcing key vocabulary, which you may find helpful, here

#3: Use ‘Learning Journals’

I wrote a massive blog post about this here, but I’ll explain the process briefly again.

Basically, get your students to write revision notes in a special, ‘non-school’ notebook of their choice. Perhaps one they’ve bought for themselves.

25 MARCH

Every week, collect the books in on a fixed day. Write one post-it note of feedback on each book and hand it back the next day.

This gets kids into the habit of regularly reviewing their work and delineating their understanding of the concepts covered by the course.

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It’s an EXTREMELY POWERFUL tool, but it is rarely used in teaching profession (sadly).

#4: Play vocabulary games

I’ve written extensive articles about this here and here. Learning games are very easy to set up and require very little planning. My two favourites are ‘splat’ and ‘corners’, which I’ve included here:

Splat

Here’s a short video of me playing ‘splat’ with some of my former students:

Corners

#5: Talk face-to-face with students when giving feedback

Marking can be powerful when used properly. Personal, face-to-face feedback is even better though.

About once every two weeks I like to set my kids a task and then speak to each student one-at-a-time at my desk. 

I’ll look at his/her notebook and point out the things that could be improved upon (as well as the good stuff). By doing this every two-weeks I can ensure that the changes the student has agreed to make are being implemented. This includes spelling mistakes and the use of key vocabulary.

Overall Conclusion

Making our lessons more ‘English intensive’ doesn’t have to be intense for us!

By making some minor adjustments to methodologies and feedback systems, we can dramatically increase the English acquisition of our students.

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Should Parents be Involved in Sex Education?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

As an 11-year-old boy I was interested in two main things: sweets and toys (especially toy soldiers, model cars and wrestler figurines).

Then the day of the ‘video’ came. A large TV was wheeled into class and the school nurse and class teacher looked on as a group of kids giggled at the animations in the ‘Growing Up’ documentary.

chatting in class

I knew it was coming, and so did my parents – they had to sign a consent form beforehand.

Did I really need to be taught that at 11-years-old? For me, personally, I don’t think so. It was little too early. 

The news

As I was scrolling through the BBC News’ Family and Education section looking for interesting articles to tweet, I came across this top story:

bbc news

You can read the full article here.

After reading the article my conclusion is this: Children in England of 15-years-old and above will be soon be allowed to opt in for sex education classes, even if their parents wish to withdraw them.

Currently, parents have the right to withdraw students from sex education classes up to the age of 18.

The article makes the legitimate point that any child who does not receive sex ed before the age of 16 will effectively have reached the age of consent without knowing what sex is, and what the consequences of sex could be. There are also concerns that modern sex education covers topics such as mental health and LGBT issues, which some lawmakers and ministers feel are such important topics that parents should have no say in whether or not their kids learn about them. 

I tend to disagree, strongly.

Culturally and religiously inappropriate

In many cultures, sex education is simply not taught to kids at the age at which we in the U.K. would deem it appropriate. Here are some facts which I’ve pulled from research done by studyinternational.com

  • Belgium: Sex education begins at the age of 7 in some schools, although the approach to sex ed is rather relaxed and no national strategy or system is really in place.
  • China: Mostly absent, although Do-It-Yourself STI testing kits are readily available. Sex education is primarily the responsibility of parents, not schools.
  • India: Sex education is not compulsory, but good programs are in place that are aimed at 12-20 year-olds
  • Indonesia: Again, sex education is not compulsory but big changes are happening across the country to modernize Indonesia’s provision. 
  • New Zealand: As a compulsory subject, sexual education is taught through a rigorous national curriculum from Year 7 to Year 13. However, concerns have been raised about New Zealand’s STI levels, and moves are being made to modernise and improve the programme. 

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As we can see for this small sample, people of differing cultures have completely different views on when and how sex ed should be taught. We also see that despite comprehensive sex ed courses being provided to schoolchildren in countries like the U.K., New Zealand and America, the effects seem to be mixed:

  • In New Zealand, teenage pregnancies and birth rates are falling (is that a good thing?), but STIs such as syphilis are on the increase
  • In the U.K., despite sex education being written into law with the The Education Act of 1996 (which states that sex education should inform pupils about STIs and HIV and encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and family life”), syphilis infections are the highest they have been in 70 years. 
  • The American situation is just as dire, with the CDC reporting that in 2016 gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia infections were at an all-time high. Sex education has been a public health priority for American governments for four decades but methods of implementation vary by states, districts and school boards.

One could argue that sex ed in schools simply doesn’t work. In fact, that was almost the exact conclusion of a massive 2016 Cochrane Infectious Diseases Review of studies into sex ed. The review states that:

There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programmes alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.

Removing parents from the ‘system’?

Some people would argue that a pattern seems to be emerging (albeit slowly): the systematic removal of parents from involvement in their child’s education. 

Let’s take a look at a quick summary of some developments in the U.K.:

  • Whilst homeschooling is allowed in the U.K., the headteacher of a pupil’s assigned school must be notified. A local council representative may come to inspect, and if he or she provides a negative appraisal of the situation then the pupil may be required to attend full-time school. School Attendance Orders were introduced in 1996 and basically allow for the government to fine and prosecute parents if their children do not receive a suitable full-time education from at any point between the ages of 5 and 16. 
  • Children between the ages of 13 and 16 have the same medical confidentiality rights as adults, which means that doctors and teachers are not required to inform parents in the case of an abortion or sexual activity. 
  • If parents are homeschooling their children, then they do not need to follow the curriculum. However, they must make sure their child is educated suitably for their age and ability and for any special educational needs they may have.

Conclusion

Sexual education doesn’t seem to be working effectively, as STIs continue to rise globally (even in those countries where sex ed is comprehensive and implemented through a national strategy). This concerning, and more research needs to be done to ascertain feasible solutions.

Parents should be encouraged to get more involved in the sexual education of their children. Parents should always be given the choice to consent to school-based sex education for their children. The religious and cultural beliefs of the family unit should be respected. 

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The Four Rules of Praise

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s a warm mid-summer day in muddy Swynnerton, England. I’m at an army base for Summer Camp. I’m a 15-year-old army cadet.

The Territorial Army had some of their boys in to inspire and help us. They needed a cadet to help with the radio and signals work during night exercises. I can’t remember if I volunteered or if I was chosen, but I very quickly found myself listening in on the radio transmissions, recording the call signs and messages in the log book and taking action where needed to pass on vital information about group movements and conditions, along with any emergencies.

it integrated.jpg

I loved it. It was ace!

I just immersed myself in the process and did the best job I could. I was told what to do by the T.A. lads and I just got on with it.

Later that night, they all shook my hand and told me I had done a good job.

The next day came and I was approached by my home platoon sergeant. I can still remember her words, two decades later: “Corporal Rogers I’m hearing brilliant things about you from the T.A. Keep it up! You’re doing Flint Platoon proud”.

That felt amazing, and it spurred me on to work harder.

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Praise only works when it is used properly

The Army Cadets were an excellent model of good teaching. To be honest, I really think they turned my life around. I went from a shy, weak and rather timid boy to a confident and rather ambitious young man in the space of about three years, thanks to their help.

Giving feedback

I’m going to summarise what I’ve found to be the very best ways to use praise to empower and push our students forward. They worked for me when I was being taught as a kid, and they’ve worked for thousands of students that I’ve helped in my twelve years as a high school teacher.

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?

Be specific. Here are some examples:

“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”

“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”

Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

woman-reading

I’ve written about the power of this technique before, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.

Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.

On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.

Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on subtle reinforcement for more info about this powerful technique).

Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future

Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.

poll-everywhere

Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.

Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.

“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”

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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Today is a remarkable and unique day. The suspense and the emotion fills the air. It surrounds us. We can even taste it.

A daring and incredibly dangerous rescue mission has been given the green light to go ahead. Today is the day that Royal Thai Navy Seal divers will begin the attempt to rescue the 12 schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach who’ve been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, for two weeks.

Thai Cave Rescue
The boys and their coach inside the cave, accompanied by a Thai Navy Seal diver. Image courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

Being based in Bangkok, Thailand, I have a close association with Thai people from all walks of life. This event has truly gripped the nation, and the world.

Before I talk about today’s subject matter, I’d like to ask all of my readers to please join me and all Thai people by praying for the safe rescue of all 12 boys and their coach (and the safe return of the rescuers).

Humans are natural carers

This cave rescue in Thailand has given me a fresh perspective on the topic of empathy. It’s made me ask the question: do children really need to be taught how to care for one another?

The outpouring of help for these trapped boys and their coach has been truly inspirational. I won’t even begin to attempt to write a list of all of those who have helped because that list would be so huge it would take months, maybe years, to research and collate. But it has been remarkable. People from all over the world have literally sacrificed their time, money, health and energy to do everything possible to help these boys.

One man even sacrificed his life: Petty Officer Saman Gunan, who fell unconscious and died shortly after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave complex.

When times are at their worst, humans will do everything they can to help. Mr Saman Gunan is a true hero who selflessly did the best he could to help people who were in desperate need.

Surely this is our highest and most prized quality as humans – selflessness. Few people, however, are both incredibly brave and selfless, as Mr Gunan was.

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

I personally believe that the vast majority of people are natural carers. We empathise naturally – it’s part of who we are.

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering

According to Samantha Rodman (Clinical Psychologist and Author), however, there are six keys ways in which we can teach kids empathy. This would seem important in a world where youngsters are being increasingly detached from physical interactions with one another by the barriers of mobile technology.

Materialism also doesn’t escape the jury’s verdict.

According to research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University, materialism is socially destructive. It is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships.

jenga

To further compound this issue a more startling picture of human empathy is portrayed by the research conducted by Sara H. Konrath and colleagues of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Her team conducted a 30-year study between 1979 and 2009 and discovered that Emphatic Concern and Perspective Talking is declining rapidly in college students. 

Maybe we do need to teach kids how to care, after all. 

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

  1. Teach kids about emotions: Children need to know what emotions are, and how to identify them. Once kids have identified those emotions, they can then learn how to manage them. Progress in this area has been heavily fueled by the Mindfulness in Schools strategy, which teaches the importance of observing one’s thoughts and emotions, rather than reacting by reflex-action. Check out their website – it’s well worth a look!
  2. Read and watch TV with your children: I guess this could work in a parent-student, teacher-student and student-student dynamic. The key is to get the kids thinking about and discussing how the characters feel in different parts of the story. It still amazes me when I watch a movie in the cinema and people laugh when some character gets killed or something bad happens. Movies are strange entities because in some cases they play on human emotion positively by creating more empathy, but in some genres repeated watching can lead to desensitization. 
  3. After conflicts, have a reflection: This is a classic tried-and-tested technique, and it works well. “How do you think Sarah felt about what you said? How would you feel if someone said that about you?”. Getting young people to reflect on the emotional consequences of their actions can have profound, long-term effects on their character and personality.
  4. Set an example by resolving conflicts in your own life: Probably more applicable to parents than teachers, or teacher-parents, but well-worth mentioning. If you have an argument with your wife in front of your kids, for example, you must also make-up in front of them too. With your students in school, you could get them to shake hands after an argument and get them to say sorry to one another.
  5. Express feelings on behalf of those who cannot speak: Babies, pets and, in some cases, disabled people, cannot express their emotions verbally or through other means. Discuss with your students or children what the feelings of these individuals might be when the opportunity arises. 
  6. Be a good role-model of respect and decency: Show courtesy. Be respectful of people who have different opinions or beliefs than you do (unless those beliefs threaten life, health or safety – then you’ll have to take action in a sensible, emotionally-detached way). Let your students see you showing respect for those around you who may have a different religious belief system, or political opinion, than you do. It’s very sad to see politicians arguing on TV, for example, when they should show greater respect for one another. 

Conclusion

  • Research has shown that empathy is decreasing in young people
  • Materialism is associated with anxiety, depression and the breakdown of relationships
  • There is a case to be made for the rigorous and broad teaching of empathy to kids in schools
  • There are ways to deliberately teach empathy to children, and six have been identified here

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Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Childrens’ Health

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was 1988. I was five-years-old.

I wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ kid in early primary school. I tried to follow instructions, but things didn’t really ‘click’ for me until later in life. One day, however, I must have been a good student because my teacher rewarded me by letting me use the computer.

I was led by hand to a small room adjacent to the classroom. Nestled in the corner on a wheely truck was a BBC Micro computer. It came complete with a huge floppy disk drive and some kind of touch-pad which I didn’t understand how to use.

it integrated

It all looked very high-tech and cool to me.

For thirty minutes I was allowed to play vocabulary and maths games. The black screen whirled with green text and pong balls as I tried to solve the problems. The bleeps and 8-bit sounds were awesome.

Later that year my family would buy a far-superior computer and a legendary gaming console – the Atari 520 ST.

If I was lucky I’d get an hour to play on that computer each day. The games were aimed at kids and the themes were vivid and colourful. The Atari machine taught me hand-eye coordination and the basics of using a mouse, floppy disk drive and operating a basic computer. I think it also made me a bit of a dreamer and aided my imagination.

Double Dragon
‘Double Dragon’ – A game I used to play on the Atari 520 ST back in 1988

My life back then was very-much centred on the outdoors. The Atari was a nice addition to my life, but I still preferred running though streams and burying my toy cars in the garden.

Fast Forward to 2018

I can’t believe that thirty whole years have passed since 1988. My generation has seen so much change in such a short space of time.

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Some technological developments over the past three decades have been revolutionary and beneficial to mankind. The creation of the mainstream internet in 1993, for example, opened peoples’ homes, libraries, offices and schools to a whole new era of possibilities and opportunities in learning, business, entertainment, communication, research and e-commerce. 

Along with this sudden treasure trove have come some shocking and extreme societal changes which pose new challenges for all of us. 

sitting on the carpet

Take a report published by the Telegraph this week, for example. The headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

But I thought that technology was good for kids!

As teachers, we’ve pinned our colours to the ‘Technology Troop’ so much that as soon as people start speaking up about the dangers of widespread and pervasive technological encroachment into peoples’ lives they are often shunned; sometimes disgraced and can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ or not ‘with the times’.

schematic

I once remember a fashionable post and picture from a friend on LinkedIn in which he said “When faced with a steam-rolling technology you either become part of the steam-roller, or part of the road”.

I remember thinking ‘How about you just move out of the way of the steam-roller’?

It didn’t take long before the reflex-action barrage of indignation was fired my way.

But the dangers of compulsive and widespread association with our mobile devices are real – very real:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in Canada, America and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

PC activity with mouse pen

Conclusion

As teachers and parents we are facing a global health crisis of epic proportions.

The dangers of excessive mobile-device usage are well-researched, fully-supported and very real. Also: ‘excessive’ has become the new ‘normal’.

If we do not take action now, when this problem is in it’s relative infancy, then who’s imagination can predict the problems that are waiting to manifest?

We must no longer subscribe to the notion that technology is amazing and that anyone who criticizes or questions its value in an educational setting is to be shunned or belittled. There are legitimate reasons for being concerned about the encroachment of screen time into childrens’ lives. 

Next week, I’ll be exploring ways in which adults can reduce the screen time of their children and students. We all must help. We all must take action now. 

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Don’t Be A ‘Mediocre’ Teacher

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

They stood at the front of the audience: seemingly ready to dazzle us all. They were all 18 years old and in the final term of high school. I was much younger then too – 26 years old and in my third year of teaching.

It was a Biology revision presentation. I’d invited my colleague to come along to watch (also a Biology teacher).

The presenters began their talk.

When it was over, I needed to take a paracetamol tablet. I was rather perplexed.

I let my colleague chirp in with some feedback first, thinking she would cover most of the points I wanted to raise.

“A great presentation. I loved the level of detail and research. Well done”

That was it?

studying with com

Now I found myself clenching my fist. I thought back to the late 90s when my dad received a ‘stress reliever’ doll one Christmas. It was basically a squishy, red, head-shaped rubbery thing in a pot that you could squeeze when you got a bit mad. It was joke gift of course: designed to cause a giggle or two; but I wished I had one right now.

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“Mr. Rogers. What are your thoughts?” Asks my colleague.

After a barrage of questions which the students responded to with nervous looks and blank stares, I decided to give my merciless, but honest, feedback:

“Whilst I agree with my colleague that your research skills were good, there are still a few issues I’d like to address.

I’ll start with the negatives, then share my thoughts on what, if anything, was positive. All of you were reading directly off the slides and not making eye-contact with the audience. We can all read, so your method of presentation was not only boring but it was also patronizing. There was too much text on each slide. The material had not been properly referenced and the images you did use, though few, were of very low quality. You also superficially skimmed the surface of the topic, and didn’t even touch on issues such as splicing, introns and transposable elements.

On the positive side, you showed us all that you are very good at copying and pasting. You were also able to describe some of the concepts in some detail.

Please speak with me tomorrow morning during registration so that we can arrange a time to do this again”

Giving feedback

The ‘respect’ factor

Unfortunately, many of us in the teaching profession have been conditioned to dish out praise all day long for the most minuscule of things. A kid hands in a complete dog’s dinner of a homework and it’s “Well done for handing this in on time. Meeting deadlines is important”. 

I could go on with the spectrum of ‘non-confrontational’, politically correct garbage that I was conditioned to spew for another 1000 words, but I think that would be tedious.

I used to be one of those ‘praise everything’ teachers. Guess what I found out:

  • Praise only works when it is sincere
  • Praise only works when it recognises significant, meaningful achievements that have taken some work to accomplish
  • Praise is extra effective when preceded (NOT followed by) points for improvement

And guess what else I’ve found out – students respect us more when we are honest. They respect us when we tell them that they need to improve. They respect us when we are vigilant.

Explaining

Lots of research supports these findings. Here are two good examples:

  • A 2016 summary by Vanderbilt University found that praise works well when it is behavior-specific, and that a ratio of 4 praise statements to one reprimand works well for improving performance (if 4 praise statements are available for the work being assessed). Here are some examples of language changes we can make to turn praise into a kind of ‘disguised reprimand’ or ‘behavior enforcer”:
BSP Vanderbilt
Behavior Specific Praise. Courtesy of Vanderbilt University, 2016. See the publication entitled ‘Behavior Specific Praise in the Classroom’. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project.

Whilst this table is useful, I think it’s important to remember that reprimands must be specific and direct. “We don’t take other people’s property, because that causes suffering to another person. When you’re older, you can also get into big trouble with the police for that. You’ll need to write a letter of apology to Simon for what you did.”

  • A 2015 blog post by Brian Gatens at the University of Portland made the point that when teachers show honesty and compassion, they build trust with their students. Compassion doesn’t mean making kids feel good all the time – it means letting them know when they’ve under-performed, and caring enough to do something about it! It also involves celebrating and recognising significant progress, performance and attainment.

‘Mediocre’ Versus ‘Vigilant’

Here are some statements I’ve come up with which sum up the ‘Mediocre’ teacher, versus the ‘Vigilant’ teacher. I don’t mean to offend anyone here – I was once the Mediocre Teacher. I share my findings as a means of self-reflection for all of us. I still get a bit ‘mediocre’ at times, but at least I’m aware of how to spot that now:

  • Mediocre teachers record attainment and progress. Vigilant teachers record attainment and progress, quickly identify under-performance and then intervene to improve that.
  • Mediocre teachers praise the smallest of things. Vigilant teachers reserve their praise for significant, meaningful displays of effort, attainment and progress.
  • Mediocre teachers sometimes bring up points for improvement with their students. Vigilant teachers leave ‘no stone unturned’, and relentlessly monitor their students’ weaknesses and do the best they can to improve those.
  • Mediocre teachers don’t feel the need to be a ‘role-model’ for their students. Vigilant teachers understand that their words, actions and subliminal cues will act as points of reference for their students for many years to come.
  • Mediocre teachers mark their students work. Vigilant teachers provide feedback that’s meaningful and specific. 

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Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It won’t be long until our students (and us) will enjoy a long summer vacation. Sand, sea, sleep-ins and more time with the family. Sounds great!

sit n talk

In the UK, schools will close around mid-late July and reopen in early September. In America the summer holiday is much longer. Take New York, for example: Schools there will have their last day on June 26th, with students returning on September 5th. 

Some teachers and parents would say that young people need this summer vacation to rest, have fun and basically enjoy being a kid. Others would say it’s too long to be away from school work entirely, and some learning should still be taking place.

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I say that it all depends on the age and needs of the individual students. 

Start planning now!

During this article I hope to convince you that the summer vacation can be used to our advantage. Effective teachers have used the summer vacation for decades to act as a ‘buffer’ – a chance for slower students to catch up; for able, gifted and talented students to be pushed even more; and generally for getting a little more material covered so that the new academic year can start a little bit ahead. 

talk n walk

However, in order for me and you to effectively make use of the summer vacation (so that our students benefit), we must start planning now!

Case #1: The exam-preparation class

Let’s say that you’re taking a group of students through a two-year course (such as the IB Diploma, IGCSEs or ‘A’ – Levels). 

In an ideal scenario, those two years would be broken up as follows:

Year 1: Cover as much content as possible (at least 60% of the syllabus). Complete all coursework if the timetable permits.

Year 2: Finish off any remaining content. Allow as much time as possible for revision and past-paper practice.  

I believe that a good way to get our kids to be ahead of the game before Year 2 is to set them a significant piece of summer homework that is achievable, but not too onerous. 

I’ve found the following tasks to be effective (sometimes I combine them both together):

  • Provide a booklet of notes and questions covering a topic that the students haven’t studied yet. When they get back to school after the summer, collect the booklets in. Check those booklets to make sure they are completed. Peer assess them and provide a one-week condensed summary of the topic in your lessons. Keep a record of who has and hasn’t scored well on the content, and intervene where necessary (e.g. with some after-school classes).
  • Give students a test on a topic they learned over the summer. Provide notes for the students to revise from. Analyse the grades and help out any students who haven’t performed well.

When both of these techniques are combined together powerful and deep learning can take place over the summer. This can give our students a head-start in Year 2, giving them more time to do revision and past-papers. 

card games

Case #2: Able, Gifted and Talented Students

These are students who we really want to push and encourage.

The summer vacation is a long-time to be away from formal education, and we don’t want these students to lose momentum or interest.

I’ve found that project work is particularly useful for these types of students. I usually set work based on the following procedure:

  • Find out what the student is really interested in. What does she have a passion for? (For example: hip hop dancing)
  • Think of ways that you can link your subject area to the student’s area of interest (For example: A project about vector mathematics as a model for the movement of a hip hop dancer during a routine)
  • Discuss the project with the student. Make sure it’s relevant and deep. Ask the student to come up with ways to process the information and present the final output. Perhaps a stop-motion animation will work well. Maybe the student prefers to do a performance. Maybe a project portfolio will work well.
  • Offer some kind of significant reward and recognition for the effort. Discuss the benefits (e.g. how this project will improve subject knowledge in a particular area). Speak with senior management about any material rewards that can be given (e.g. book tokens, medals, certificates or a trophy).
  • Follow through and keep our promises: We must make sure that we honour our promises to these students. If we’ve promised a medal, then we must damn well make sure that the kid gets a medal. If we’ve set the work, then we must fulfill our professional duty by giving feedback. 

PC activity with mouse pen

Case #3: Students who are falling behind

I’ve reached a stage in my career now where I just cannot allow poor performance to go unnoticed or unchallenged. It just bugs me too much.

For kids who haven’t been performing well, a good sit-down and chat with the students and their parents is an absolute essential before the summer, in my honest opinion.

Let’s say that you’ve had a biology student for one year and she just didn’t understand cells, human body systems and plant reproduction. Let’s say that this student failed all three tests for these topics.

If this student has not been given the opportunity to re-sit tests in these topics throughout the academic year, then it is our duty, I believe, to ensure that this material is covered over the summer. The student will have more time and, provided that the parents are aware and involved too, this should result in regular, productive revision and an increase in subject knowledge.

out-of-control

I’ve found the following techniques to work well for students who are falling behind:

  • Analyse the assessment data for the whole academic year. Identify the area or areas in which the student is performing poorly.
  • Look through all of the student’s work that you have to-hand. Is there any particular method or output that the student is really good at (e.g. website creation, drawing diagrams, making infographics, etc)?
  • Meet with the student and his/her parents. Discuss a way forward over the summer that involves the student completing meaningful work on the topics of weakness through an output that appeals to the student’s preferred learning style.
  • Check that the quantity of work is neither too much, nor too little
  • Decide on a way to assess the work

When planned properly, our summer holidays can become times when our under-performing students really turn their lives around and gain a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. 

Conclusion

Schools not ‘out for summer’ (sorry).

The summer vacation offers a powerful way for us all to push our students forward, allow our students to cover extra material and address weaknesses for those students who are struggling. 

This all involves some planning, though. 

I don’t know about you, but when my students break up for the summer in one month’s time, I’ll be ready. I’ll have had my conversations with parents, kids and SLT and my students will know exactly what to do in the months approaching the new academic year.

We owe them that. 

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Subtle Reinforcement: Techniques to Gradually Build Confidence and Character in our Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

He pulled me aside at the end of class as we were getting ready to go home. I had tremendous respect for my sensei, and his words, though few, always hit-home hard.

“You a look a mess, Richard. Why isn’t your gi ironed”

“My mum didn’t have time to iron it today”

“Your mum shouldn’t have to iron it for you. What are you: a man or a weasel? Take responsibility for your own life. Iron your own flippin’ gi and make sure you look tidy next lesson!”

A ‘gi’ is a karate suit, just in case you didn’t know. It’s made typically of heavy cotton drill and it’s plain white. Easy to get dirty; hard to clean. Even harder to iron.

But I wanted to win my sensei’s approval. I wanted to ‘be a man’ and take responsibility for my own karate, my own personal dress and personal presentation.

box seats

Short conversations

It’s funny when I think about it now, but that short conversation with my sensei totally changed my life. It felt like I’d gone down a peg or two in his sight and opinion.

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I worked harder than ever before to train and to be the ‘perfect’ student: My gi was freshly washed and ironed every time (I asked my mum not to help – I was 11 years old and my sensei wanted me to ‘man up’). 

Years later, when I went to a local karate shop to buy a new karate suit, I happened to bump into my old sensei there that same day. 

“Richard, it’s flippin’ great to see you!”

“Me too, how you doing”

“I’m good. You still training?”

“Yeah I joined a Shotokan Club at uni”

“That’s flippin’ great. You know, I remember the kid who didn’t iron his gi and was very clumsy. Remember that conversation we had in the changing rooms that day?”

“Wow! Yes, sure. I remember you telling me off”

“Haha, yes. Well, I noticed a massive difference in you after that day. I was sorry to lose you when you left for uni – you were the best brown belt in the dojo”

Wow!!!

Clay class

That felt good. The fact that my old sensei remembered me, and remembered our conversation. That he genuinely took an interest in me – that was inspirational.

It reminded me of who I was, which brings me to my first tip of Subtle Reinforcement.

Subtle reinforcement tip 1: Remind your students of who they are

This is different to reminding students of their achievements – it involves reminding students of their character.

As an NQT I was full of enthusiasm, as we all are. I wanted to change the world ‘one student at a time’.

Suddenly, my chance came like a clap of thunder.

Walking down the corridor one day I passed one of my Science students. He was looking very depressed, and divulged to me that his girlfriend had just dumped him.

High five

“John, I know how you’re feeling right now. Trust me, I’ve been there. But see this as your baptism by fire. This is the moment where you realise how strong you are. This is the moment where you gain back control and focus on what you’ve been letting slide in your life. It’s her loss and your gain – now you have more time to perfect your BMX biking and become the best geographer in the whole school”

We part as men – his fist punches mine in a sign of solidarity. The lighting begins to fork in his soul. Already his mind is tuned in to my words. Already he starts to fight back.

He comes to class extra early, and gives 110% to each lesson. There’s a renewed respect for me as his teacher – he knows that I actually care. 

Five months later his final exams are approaching and he’s getting stressed out. I ask him how his revision is going.

“To be honest, sir, it’s going badly. I’m just so stressed with it all”

To which I reciprocate: “I remember the man who who didn’t let life beat him down when his girlfriend decided to walk away. I remember the man who achieved grade As and Bs across the board and impressed everyone in school with his complete turnaround.”

Then I lower my voice.

“I remember the man who came second place in the BMX  showdown at Westminster Park” 

“You know about that?”

“Your mum told me”

He walks away trying his best to hide a grin that cannot be hidden. He remembers who he is. He remembers how all it took was a change of focus to create vastly different results in his life.

He went on to get 96% in his End of Year Science exam: the highest in his year group.

projector interactive

Reminding our students of who they are renews their faith in themselves. This can have a dramatic impact on their lives.

Subtle Reinforcement tip 2: Remind your students of their skills and achievements

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the skills and achievements that students display outside of our subject areas are not relevant to us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Benjamin was struggling in Science class. He found experimental work difficult because his fine motor skills were limited. His Special Educational Needs also affected his retention of written information in class. 

I started an ECA at school one year – website design. It was a very simple and easy ECA – the kids picked topics they loved and basically made websites about them. Each week they would update their content and share what they had done with the group.

Benjamin signed up for that ECA and absolutely took to it like a duck to water. I was actually quite surprised – his website was by far the best in the class. He just happened to have a ‘knack’ for it. 

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

After the Christmas break I gave Benjamin a unique task:

“Benjamin – you are now my class Online Learning Chief. This is an important responsibility which I have not handed out lightly”

“Wow. Me? Why?”

“Because you are brilliant at web design. I’ve seen your great images on your site. I remember your portfolio of Minecraft tactics that you wrote in such a comprehensive way. From now on, I want you to do all of your homework online. When you’ve built up your website to a sufficient quantity, we’ll share it with the rest of the class as a revision resource. Deal?”

“Wow. Deal”

I follow through. For once in his school life, Benjamin actually gets recognised for something valuable. This wasn’t a participation medal for turning up on Sports Day. This was recognition of something significant that Benjamin actually possesses.

He goes on to raise his achievement by two grades that year – from an E to a C. This amounts to his biggest step-up in progress he has made in school, ever. 

robot

By reminding our students of their skills and achievements, we offer them solutions to daily problems. In a similar mission to that of differentiation, we aim to inspire the inner genius through methods that appeal to each student’s learning style.

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 3: Take the time to discuss progress

A quick two minute chat is all it takes. Bring the student to your computer and show him his grades for the year thus far.

Use this to congratulate or to offer advice for improvement.

This shows each student that you are ‘on the ball’: that you are alert to their progress and that you care about their grades. 

This approach is guaranteed to have positive outcomes, if dealt with in the mood of ‘passing on information’ rather than dishing out criticism. 

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 4: Be the person you want your students to be

This is the part of the article where I must try my best not to sound like a patronizing ignoramus. I’ll have a go.

Kids notice things about us. 

They notice the things we do, the way we look and the things we say, even when not spoken directly to the students who are listening.

Drawing upon our own life experiences can be a great way to get our students focussed on the right path.

The Science teacher who pulls out his vitamin box to show the students his daily supplementation for good health – this teacher is ‘living’ the subject. 

The maths teacher who takes part in World Maths Day along with the students shows that maths is fun – not just something for kids to do.

The P.E. teacher who genuinely stays in shape by hitting the gym a few times per week sets an excellent example for her students to follow, and respect. 

I want the very best for my students, but if my mouth is saying one thing whilst I do the exact opposite then I’ll end up becoming a laughing stock. 

That’s not a good place to be.

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Student Reinforcement Tip 5: Be there when they need you to be there

My IB Chemistry students were an amazing cohort of hard-working individuals. 

They needed my help a lot though.

It was not uncommon for random students to turn up at my room at lunch times and after school to seek help with questions, homework and coursework.

I could have chosen the easy option and made myself unavailable – I would certainly have gained more time and less work that way. But what’s the point in living like that?

I wanted my students to do well. I was happy to help when I could. 

There was a limit, of course, and they knew that. I wasn’t prepared to stay all night and help them – I had a life of my own too. But I was prepared to stay for a significant and suitable amount of time to help them out when needed.

The results were profound – they worked harder, enjoyed the subject more and made better progress. 

To be honest, I also felt a sense of satisfaction too. To me that’s the best reward of teaching – the knowledge that you’ve touched someone else’s heart. The knowledge that you’ve really made a difference. 

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