When Kids Don’t Return Homework – What can we do?

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here. 

The organizing of homework can be a real nightmare, especially for inexperienced teachers.

I was no exception.

I thought I knew it all when I got my first teaching job in North Wales, at 23-years-old. However, I soon found it a real challenge to….

  • Set homework regularly
  • Remember to collect homework in
  • Mark homework promptly
  • Return it to the the kids and………..
  • …… the real killer – dealing with kids who didn’t hand-in their homework on time

I used to be one of those teachers who would deal with each of the above five challenges separately: not realizing that they are, in fact, very intimately connected – the way we set homework, for example, affects the frequency at which it is handed-in.

Using this holistic approach to the management of homework I’ve discovered a few simple techniques to get our students compliant with regards to handing it in. I’ve also discovered some ways to make up for any gaps in knowledge that arise when work hasn’t been done on-time.

So buckle up, grab a coffee and make some notes (that’s your homework for this week, by the way)!

Homework busting tip #1 – have some lenience (the first time)

Having too-strict an approach can cause major problems for you and your students. Whilst I’ve never, ever heard the classic ‘the dog ate my homework’, kids can and do:

  • Leave their homework at home by accident
  • Write the homework on paper and lose the paper
  • Submit it electronically but lose the work/forget to save it

Our kids are learning basic organizational skills, and we must understand that. Don’t be too strict. Allow another day to hand it in. However, if homework lateness becomes persistent then……..

Homework busting tip #2 – give a detention

It’s not nice for the teacher or the student (you lose your free time and so does the kid), but it’s definitely worth it. We simply can’t allow our students to fall behind.

I wrote some months ago about the effective use of detentions. I mentioned that detentions must always have a distinct purpose. In the case of a ‘homework detention’, the purpose isn’t to punish the kid – the detention time should be used for the student to complete the missing homework.

When detentions for homework lateness are used to complete the homework, there’s a sense of fairness in it all – you’re doing this because you care about the student and you want him/her to understand the concepts being covered in the homework.

When this approach is consistently applied, you’ll soon find that kids will hand-in their homework. They don’t want to sit in a detention just as much as you don’t want to supervise it.

Homework busting tip #3 – use recurring homework tasks

Set homework on the same day/days each week. Collect it in on the same day/days each week. It really is that simple.

This builds a routine into your schedule and your kids’ schedules, making it less likely that they will forget about their homework.

When I first started teaching I would get my KS3 students (11-14 years old) to actually write, on the first page of their notebooks, their homework schedule:

“I will receive homework every Monday. I will hand-in my homework every Thursday”

…..or whatever their schedule was.

You may also want to consider using a Learning Journals system with your kids (read more about that here).

Homework busting tip #4 – share the news with key colleagues

Have you got some kids who consistently don’t hand homework in on-time? Share that info with the kids tutor/homeroom teacher. He/she can contact parents and reinforce your message – that homework must be completed on-time.

Homework busting tip #5 – contact parents

For consistent offenders it may be necessary to call parents as ask them to come into school for a chat. However, the conversation you have must be dealt with very delicately.

The aim of such a parent-meeting should be to find solutions to the problem of incomplete homework. You may want to discuss:

  • The difficulty of the homework being set
  • The student’s schedule and ways in which time can be set aside for homework completion
  • Things that you can do to support the student

With a relentless and consistent approach you’ll soon find that even the ‘toughest nuts’ can be cracked.

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Homework busting tip #6 – offer support and help

Some students are simply too shy to ask their teachers for help. We must combat this.

When you set a piece of homework, make it clear to the students that they can see you for help between now and the deadline. Tell them that it is your pleasure to help them: that you’re happy to help them when they get stuck.

Crucially, tell your students exactly when you’re available to help. You may be busy on Tuesday lunchtime, but after-school on a Wednesday you’ll be in your room doing marking so your students can see you then.

When we encourage our students to seek help from us we are showing them that we care, and that we are approachable. It also solves the classic excuse you’ll get – “I couldn’t do my homework because I didn’t understand the questions”. Really? If you didn’t understand the homework, then why didn’t you come to see me for help like I told you to?

When we are supportive and open to offering help then there’s no ‘hiding place’ for our students.

Further reading

I’ve written a number of blog posts that deal with the subject of homework. You may find them useful:

Tips for Organizing Homework

Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

Homework: A Headache we can all Easily Cure

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“Education Not Indoctrination”: Parents Protest Over LGBT Lessons

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

A primary school in Birmingham, England, has been in the spotlight this week after hundreds of parents withdrew their kids from classes in protest over LGBT lessons.

Parkfield Community School in Saltley recently implemented their ‘No Outsiders’ programme; designed to teach children from reception-age upwards about same-sex marriages and relationships, alongside other things to meet the requirements of the Equality Act. The programme was designed to give students five lessons per year, with books such as Mommy, Mama & Me and King & King on the reading list [Source: Guardian].

Parents at the predominantly Muslim school were outraged, and on Thursday night more than 200 protesters turned up outside the school to voice their concerns [Source: Fox News].

Some parents have made some very thought-provoking statements. Mariam Ahmed, who began the campaign and who has a four-year-old daughter at the school, made this statement:

“It’s not about being homophobic at all”

“The fact that my child in particular has come home and said to me: ‘I can wear boys clothes, I can change my name’, this and that and confusing my child at such a young age, it’s not right, it shouldn’t be done.” [Source: Sky News]

At one protest outside the school signs were held that read “Say no to promoting of homosexuality and LGBT ways of life to our children”, “Stop exploiting children’s innocence”, and “Education not indoctrination” [Source: Guardian].

In response to the protests the school has temporarily stopped the lessons.

In a letter to parents the school said “Up to the end of this term, we will not be delivering any No Outsiders lessons in our long-term year curriculum plan, as this half-term has already been blocked for religious education (RE). Equality assemblies will continue as normal and our welcoming No Outsiders ethos will be there for all.” [Source: Guardian].

This event has even caught the attention of the chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, who supported the school by saying it was vital that children know about “families that have two mummies or two daddies” [Source: Sky News].

My personal thoughts on this

I think it’s important that teachers, like myself, speak up about things we feel strongly about and things which challenge our core beliefs. If we choose not to do this, especially out of fear of reprisals, then we’ve lost our basic humanity and our courage.

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“An AMAZING Book”

I believe that this whole situation could have been mitigated if the parents were consulted prior to the programme being taught. As a high-school science teacher, for example, I have to send a letter to parents requesting their consent before I teach their children about human reproduction.

Surely the parents’ prior consent should have been sought in this case too, right?

I’ve said many times before that parents are our allies, not our enemies. Schools should work with parents, not against them. By forcefully delivering this programme to children so young, Parkfield Community School has ignored this basic principle. They should have got consent from the parents first. Perhaps they could even have sat down with parent-representatives and designed the programme with them.

In terms of the age of the kids involved in this programme: I am concerned that they were far too young to be taught this stuff. Kids need to be kids. Teach them this stuff when they’re going through puberty and might be at an age when they are questioning their own sexuality and feelings. But teaching this stuff to four-year-olds? – I really can’t see the benefit in doing that.

Am I wrong in my assertions? Should primary-age children come home from school questioning their gender/identity? Does LGBT education for four-year-olds help them or damage them? At what age should such education start?

I would be very interested to read your thoughts in the comments’section below.

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Turbo Teaching: 5 Ways to Supercharge Learning

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Check out the new…………….

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Let’s admit it once and for all: teaching is hard-work! From choosing the right techniques to use and gradually building rapport with your kids over the academic year; to marking and admin – the teaching profession requires of its disciples skills like no other.

But is it possible to distill all the research, experience and mumbo-jumbo into just a few effective strategies that work like a treat?

I believe so: hence this blog and my books.

Here are what I believe to be the most effective ways to ‘squeeze the most juice’ out of each lesson:

Tip 1: Quick starters

Give the kids something to do as soon as they walk through the classroom door (or immediately as the lesson starts). This kickstarts momentum from the outset, making it easier to build up knowledge and understanding later in the lesson.

And that’s another thing – a good starter activity should either introduce a new concept, or build on things (or review things) that were learned last lesson (or recently).

My second most popular blog post ever,7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers‘, is well worth a read as it contains very simple games and activities that can be applied to any subject area.

The Lancashire Grid for Learning describes the successful elements of good starters really well in their online document,Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools‘:

During successful interactive starters:

• pupils engage fully in learning from the outset;

• they gain an understanding of the objectives and purposes of the lesson;

• there is a sense of pace;

• pupils spend most of their time on-task and focused on learning;

• there is an appropriate level of challenge that enables pupils to make good progress in their learning.

Unit 5: Starters and Plenaries, Lancashire Grid for Learning [Online]. Accessed 3rd March 2019

If I were to add anything to the above list, it would be:

  • the teacher exhibits a large amount of energy and enthusiasm
  • the students enjoy what they are doing

Without energy and enjoyment, starter activities are only partially effective.

Tip 2: Quick plenaries

Plenaries give the students a really good chance to review what they’ve learned in a lesson (or sequence of lessons). When used frequently, they can really boost retention of knowledge.

Another very popular blog post of mine is ‘7 Plenary Activites for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers’. Check it out – simple techniques that require very little prep and resources.

Tip 3: Break-up learning with questions

Some kids can get really switched-off when they are lectured to for a long time. use textbook questions, question banks from exam boards, online questions (e.g. the BBC Bitesize tests), software (e.g. Educake and MyMaths) and even integrated presentation and task technology (e.g. Nearpod) to break up the lesson into sections.

This is important because, contrary to popular belief, the human brain keeps developing well into adulthood. This means that, although teenagers may look like small adults, their brains are still developing and actually resemble closely the brains of smaller children (Source: The Guardian).

So keep students focused with variety. Include various types of questions within lessons to review content (or to develop research skills).

Tip 4: Use Spatial Learning

Turn your kids into the concepts they are learning!

Teaching diffusion? Great – turn the kids into ‘particles’ and get them to move across the room and ‘diffuse’. Teaching maths? – Try getting your kids to make number shapes using their bodies.

Two favorites to get you warmed up are ‘The Human Graph’ and ‘True or False Walls’ (shown below) – again, taking simple concepts and techniques and making spatial.

You can see more spatial learning techniques at my blog post here.

Tip 5: Differentiation

Do you know what the word ‘differentiation’ really means? Most teachers think it means adjusting the difficulty level of tasks in a lesson to meet the needs of the learners. This is wrong.

Modifying difficulty to suit individual learners in lessons implies that those ‘more able’ students will have higher objectives than those deemed ‘less able’.

This philosophy is very damaging in my personal opinion. If you’ve got a group of kids in a class that you teach, then your aim must be that all learners achieve the same objectives, no matter how aspirational those objectives are.

Our job is to get those kids there, no matter what it takes. Normally, it takes a bit of differentiation.

Here’s the very best differentiation definition I have found to date:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

COURTESY OF GREAT SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP [ONLINE]. AVAILABLE AT HTTP://EDGLOSSARY.ORG/DIFFERENTIATION/ (ACCESSED 21ST APRIL 2017)

So, we now see differentiation clearly defined (finally). All students should master essential skills and knowledge, but we should change our instructional methods to suit the kids’ needs. We shouldn’t make stuff easier for some learners, and harder for others.

It amazes me how slowly education systems all around the world are moving towards this. We must stop ‘boxing’ kids into ability brackets. In the absence of some pre-defined cognitive hindrance, all students are equally capable. We’ve just got to find the ways to inspire them.

You can read more about differentiation (with lots of suggested techniques to use) at my blog post here.

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Breaking News! – 2nd Edition of The Quick Guide Available Within Days!

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

What’s this? Only the new and improved 2nd edition of The Quick Guide! With in-chapter questions, online answers, new information and extracts from my blog; this really is an unmissable book for new and experienced teachers alike! Still at the same bargain price of $7.99. To be released on Amazon globally in the next few days! Spread the word! 😊🏙📚✈️🧮

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3 Tips for Reducing Your Teacher Workload

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Before I give my general tips on how to reduce your workload as a teacher, please remember that if you are facing extreme pressure from work (e.g. unrealistic deadlines), then you MUST tell your line-manager. If nothing gets done about it, and you’re facing long-term unsustainable pressure, then simply leave: life is too precious to be bullied around by people who want to crack the whip but don’t realize that you are a human and you need down-time.

For the rest of us, here are some tips to help us reduce our general workload:

1. Do more peer and self-assessment

You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times, but it’s at the top of the list because it’s one of the best ways to keep your marking down to a minimum. Besides, the benefits of peer and self-assessment go way beyond the reduction of workload:

  • Peer-assessment encourages “student involvement and ownership of learning”, and self-assessment “encourages students to critically reflect on their learning progress” (The Center for Education Innovation of Hong Kong [Online])
  • Both self and peer- assessment Focus “on the development of students’ judgment skills.” (the University of Sydney [Online])

But we don’t need the experts to tell us that peer and self-assessment are both really cool. Experience shows teachers that both techniques are simply a very efficient way to get our marking done, whilst reinforcing the concepts tested in the assignment being marked.

Q & A

I know that some people will say “but what if the students cheat?” – that’s why we reserve teacher-driven marking for big final-assessments and tests, and coursework.

Besides, in my experience, when self and peer-assessment are done properly, it’s actually very hard for the kids to cheat.

Here are my top 3 tips for peer and self-assessment:

  1. Make sure you have an official mark-scheme/set of answers ready for those kids to use. I would advise against projecting the answers on the whiteboard and going through each question one-at-a-time: that just takes ages, and kids always have disputes and questions. Print the mark scheme or distribute it electronically.
  2. Sit at your desk, or at an accessible point in the classroom, and let the students come and see you if they have a doubt about how many marks to award to a question, or what the correct answer is. Don’t walk around the classroom and help the kids – it’ll drive you crazy and is very inefficient.
  3. Always insist that the students write the final mark/percentage at the top/front of the assignment – this will make your data-entry easy. Also, make sure you collect the work in after the peer/self-assessment and just have a quick glance though it – perhaps focusing on those questions where common misconceptions are likely to crop-up. This has the added benefit of deterring student-cheating: the kids know you have collected in the work after they have marked it.

card games

2. Use ‘Live Marking’

Live marking is a brilliant and simple technique that I picked up far too late in my teaching career. It would have saved me many a late-night had I have conceived of it earlier.

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

Here’s a video I made about live-marking:

You may also like this blog post of mine, which goes into more detail: The ‘Four Pillars’ of Time-Saving Marking

3. Use recurring homework

sit n talk

This a simple idea that can (must?) be used right the way up to Year 13/Grade 12.

Set homework on the same day each week. Collect homework on the same day each week. Plan your marking around this schedule.

That’s the essence of it. This is a practice I currently use with my Learning Journals system for older students (well worth a read!)

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5 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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My PGCE year was like a year of absolute hell. I thought I was ready to be a teacher before I embarked on the year-long course. I wasn’t.

I was kicked into shape, lesson-by-lesson, with merciless feedback from every lesson observation along the way (i.e. every lesson I taught). One day it got so bad that I wanted to walk out.

being-told-off

I didn’t, thankfully, and fourteen years later I’m still doing the job that I believe I was put on this planet to do: to help young people as best as I can.

I need to be a little merciless in this blog post. I need to tell you the unadulterated truth: not a fairy tale of what should make you better at your job, but the real stuff that actually matters. The stuff that changes everything.

img_0009-1“An AMAZING Book!”

These 5 tips are simple to do, but not easy to do. They take effort and will make you squirm at first. But they will work. They will change everything: guaranteed.

1. Get out of bed a lot earlier

I like to set my alarm clock to go off at 5 am. This gives me 2 hours before I have to leave for school.

That’s golden time.

I must admit, it’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

I set my alarms to ring so that I have to get out of bed to switch them off. I used to put them across the room, but now I put them in another room altogether.

When those alarms go off there are days when I feel like a total zombie – that’s the only adjective that accurately describes how I feel. My face is puffed up, my head hurts and my muscles ache. I can’t even walk properly.

But stumble, I do, to my dining table, where I sometimes sit in a daze for fifteen minutes or so. I will not climb back into bed – I’ve done that too many times in the past and paid for it severely.

You see, I used to be the ‘snoozer loser’ – the guy who kept pressing snooze multiple times because he was so exhausted. It made me wake up late, rush a shower, skip breakfast, arrive at school late and start my day in a big mood.

be enthusiastic

My body wasn’t physiologically ready for a day at school when I was a snoozer. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My head wasn’t ready.

Then, one night, there was a big thunderstorm in Bangkok. It was so loud and magnificent that I watched it on my balcony in amazement. When I tried to sleep that night I simply couldn’t. It was too loud. I decided ‘Forget it, I’ll just stay up’.

Bored and frustrated, I decided to pass the time in the early hours of that morning by ironing my clothes, reading through and modifying my lesson plans for the day and writing a list of tasks/goals for the rest of the week. I had some breakfast too.

That was an amazing morning because, despite my lack of sleep, I was more ready for my day ahead than any other day prior to that in my career. I knew exactly what my kids would be learning. I knew exactly what I had to do that day. I had time to prepare resources. Hell, I even had resources uploaded to the VLE in advance of the lessons for that day.

Q & A

Since that fateful night I’ve snoozed once or twice, but that’s it. I’ve been up early and ready for the day ahead on almost every occasion since.

If you only take one tip from this blog post today, then take this one: when you’re up early and fresh you’ll be more prepared for the school day than the overwhelming majority of your colleagues.

Your students will notice the difference immediately.

Note: It’s worth getting intimate with your sleep-cycles/circadian rhythms. The experts say that adults should get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night, but this varies from individual to individual. I know, for example, that if I only get 6 hours of sleep for several nights in a row then I won’t be able to function properly by day 3. I know that my body must have 8 hours of sleep per night, so I make sure I’m in bed early enough to get that.

2. Exercise

I told you these tips weren’t easy. But this one is definitely simple, for sure.

The strange thing about exercise is that it defies logic in it’s effects. When I wake up feeling like a zombie, for example, one would think that a 20-minute run around the streets would be a stupid idea – I’ll just be using tons of energy when I’m already exhausted.

It doesn’t work like that, however. After that 20 minute run/jog/walk (yes, sometimes I need to walk-out the last km or so), I feel fresher than ever. A cold shower afterwards really serves to electrify my nervous system too.

Singing class

Things went to the next level when I joined a gym, however. I currently train at Fitness First, here in Thailand, around 4-5 times a week. It’s expensive, I’ll admit, but I found that to be a good motivator: “I’ve paid so much for this damn gym membership that I’ll have to go, otherwise it’ll be a total waste of money”.

richard rogers gym 17th feb.jpg

As my body has become stronger, faster, leaner and more flexible over the years I have found that the same effects have happened to my mental faculties: I can think faster, clearer and stronger. I can recall information more quickly than when I was the lazy-NQT who never went to the gym.

I hate to tell you the bold truth, but if your body is out of shape then you’re going to get ill more often than if you were in-shape. Your mind is also not going to function as effectively, which will definitely have an impact on your teaching.

The photograph shows me at the gym today. I like to do a mix of boxing, cardio and weight training. 

3. Give equal focus to relationships and techniques

Teaching techniques (such as differentiation and quick starters) are important, but they lose their effectiveness if a good rapport/connection is not present between you and your students. Your kids have to like working with you, and they have to enjoy the subject, in order for you to be an effective teacher.

Art class

Try using the following techniques to build-up this essential rapport (links to separate articles given in the list):

4. Work with parents

Parents are our allies, not our enemies (most of the time).

I truly believe that the parental domain is not being explored enough by schools, as it can be a really powerful outlet for a number of benefits:

  • Sharing praise with parents can reinforce the love for your subject and your teaching style at home
  • Sharing points for improvement/disappointments (in a polite and respectful way) can sometimes cure a problem before it grows into something bigger
  • Parents often have a lot of skills and contacts that they can bring to the school, offering new opportunities for your students

shake-hands

I’ve recently seen the massive power that working with parents can have on my students.

I run a CREST Award ECA after school every week, and one of my students is now on her Gold Award. A big problem, however, is that she needed a university mentor to help her with her biochemistry project.

In a chance conversation with a parent at our school’s coffee shop, I discovered that another CREST Award student in Year 7 was getting access to lab time on weekends at a local university. I found out that his mum had a professional relationship with a team of scientists here in Thailand.

discussion-mother-and-daughter

After liaising with this parent over the course of a few weeks we finally got the green light to go along and see a famous scientist in his lab. The result of all this:

  • My school now has a professional connection with a great university
  • We have a mentor for my CREST Award student
  • The university will send staff and resources to our school to support our Science Week and STEM day
  • Our CREST students will be visiting the university in the very near future

And all of that from just one parent! The gratitude for her help goes through the roof for this.

I wrote a separate blog post about working with parents here (well worth a read)

5. Plan everything

It sounds easy and I apologize if it’s a little patronizing, but not every teacher plans their lessons in-advance. This is especially the case for the ‘snoozer losers’, of which I was once an active member.

Please see my video and blog post about efficient lesson planning for more in-depth tips.

When planning lessons, think about:

  • The long-term plan for this class (where they should be in three months time, for example)
  • The location of the students at different points in the lesson (will you bring them to the front? Where will groups sit? How will you assign groups?)
  • Incorporating
  • Using EdTech (see my blog post here and here)

making plans

Conclusion

Being a brilliant teacher (and a happy teacher) depends on three factors being in alignment:

  • Your physiology (is your body ready, biochemically and physically, for the day ahead?)
  • Your relationships with students and parents (and colleagues)
  • The teaching methodologies you use

Follow the advice in this blog post for immediate results. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

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5 Things Schools Should be Teaching Kids (But Probably Aren’t)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Thinking back to the pre-smartphone age in which I completed my studies at high school, I often wonder: did school achieve its purpose in my life?

Before I can answer that question I must first define what the purpose of a high school should be. Here are some thoughts from some of the best pedagogical experts on the planet:

The purpose of high school, I believe, is to prepare students for a meaningful life in the 21st century; to be a good citizen, economically self-sufficient and respectful of themselves and others. 

– Terry Doran, Retired School Board President, Berkeley Unified School District

Most of what our students need to know hasn’t been discovered or invented yet. ‘Learning how to learn’ used to be an optional extra in education; today, it’s a survival skill.

– Dylan Wiliam, Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms

My role, as teacher, is to evaluate the effect I have on my students.

– John A.C. Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

A variety of interesting thoughts, but are there some common themes in these quotes?img_0009-1

I’ve extracted the following:

  • School must prepare students for life
  • Schools must focus on the effect they are having on their students, and this effect would presumably be best measured by how students have fared in adult life
  • Students must be taught ‘how to learn’, in order to cope with a rapidly developing and changing skills market

Using these extractions and my own intuition as a compass, I believe that schools are focusing too much on real-time strategies that improve grades, but are not focussing enough on:

  • Alumni, and how school has actually helped or hindered them in life
  • Modern technology and the quick integration of this into the school curriculum
  • Skills and knowledge which are readily applicable to life after school

Using these conclusions as a solid foundation, I’ve drawn up my list of the five most important things that we should be teaching our kids at school (but most of us, through rigid curriculum expectations, cannot).

a guy sitting

1. Teach kids how to manage money

From credit card debt to budgeting and student loans: personal finance should be a thorough and comprehensive part of every high school curriculum.

2. Teach kids about FinTech

High school Business Studies and Economics courses haven’t caught up with the current trend in cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin and OMG), Distributed Ledger Technologies (such as Blockchain) and electronic forms of payment such as AliPay, WeChat Pay, Impesa and True Money Wallet (to name but a few).

The way that people use and perceive money is changing rapidly and in order for kids to be prepared for the ‘real world’ I believe they should be taught about these various technologies.

I’m currently studying for a Professional Certificate in FinTech through edX (with the University of Hong Hong) and I can tell you – it’s fascinating! When I learn something new from the course I pass it on to my students in my Money Management ECA, which I run after school once a week.

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3. Teach kids about digital marketing

Kids need to be taught about the power of social media – when used to promote products and services. By showing kids the benefits of digital marketing, we make them realize that compulsive selfies or photos of their dinner serve no purpose for their career in the long-term, and can be a real waste-of-time.

Schools should aspire to turn their students into independent learners and critical thinkers, and should, therefore, prepare students for the possibility of entrepreneurship one day. Digital Marketing is now an essential component of any company’s advertising strategy, and our students need to learn the power that social media can have in building a business’s platform.

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4. Teach kids the importance of integrity

The importance of managing one’s reputation (especially one’s online reputation) has never been more important.

One inappropriate photo uploaded onto social media, or one public outburst recorded on someone’s smartphone, and everything you have worked for can literally be destroyed in an instant.

It’s not a nice thing to admit that we now live in a somewhat dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society; but it is the truth. Our students need to know the realities of this, and see it as an opportunity (not a disadvantage) – they can just as easily build up a good online reputation as a bad one.

Discussing homework

5. Teach kids problem-solving skills

As technologies rapidly develop, it’s now become impossible for schools to teach absolutely everything a child needs to succeed in the workplace or business arena.

Whilst schools must keep up with the times by upgrading curricula on a yearly basis (in my opinion), they must also give students the opportunity to work on projects in which they have to solve problems.

Theme days, group-work, camps and special programs like CREST Award are great ways to take students out of their ‘comfort zones’ and challenge their capacity to think laterally and quickly.

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Conclusion

Just as salaried employees and business owners need to skill-up on a regular basis, schools should upgrade the skills portfolio that they are providing for their students in real-time. New developments in fields such as STEM, Business, ICT and Economics needs to be filtered down to the classroom level quickly, so that students receive relevant training in adaptability and problem-solving.

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5 Easy Ways to Help Exam-Level Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Exam-level students face unique challenges that we, as teachers, can often forget. They have to deal with:

  • Learning the techniques that work for them
  • Becoming organized in their revision
  • The stress and pressure of having to perform in exams that will follow them for the rest of their lives
  • Domestic pressures – expectations from parents, the responsibility of looking after siblings and, in some cases, the need to complete a part-time job

So what can we do to help our exam-level students achieve success?

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“An AMAZING Book!”

1. Tell them WHAT to revise

All exam boards have ‘specifications’, ‘syllabuses’ or ‘Course Guides’. These are usually documents aimed at helping teachers deliver the course correctly, but there’s no reason why students can’t have these documents too.

mess around in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Share the official syllabus for your course with your students. You can print it, share it on a VLE (such as Google Classroom) or even just provide the URL if the syllabus is available for free online
  • Many syllabuses contain unnecessary information for students (e.g. objectives of the course and key objectives). Extract the course content from the syllabus and turn it into a ‘kid-friendly’ revision list for the students to follow when revising.

2. Tell them HOW to revise

Many students require years of experience to discover their preferred (and most efficient) style of revision. For me, I found that dictating my notes to myself and playing them through my earphones when I lay in bed at night was effective, but this might not work for everyone.

Students really need a ‘menu’ of techniques to try out, but how often do schools actually provide this menu? How often is new technology taken into account? How often are students invited to share their best revision techniques with their peers?

chatting in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Hold a ‘committee meeting’ style gathering with your exam-level students. Sit them together in groups to share their ideas with each other about how to revise for tests and exams. Swap the groups around 3 or 4 times during the session, and get the students to write their techniques on the whiteboard at the end (or contribute to a Google doc).
  • Share what has worked for you personally when revising. Ask your colleagues to come to class and share their experiences. Get parents involved. Make it a community thing – if the ‘group mentality’ is directed towards exam success, then this will definitely rub-off on the kids.

lab girls

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to revise, but we must be pro-active in sharing this advice with our students.

Good websites that deal with the subject of revision techniques include:

For the interest of educators the BBC has also produced an excellent report in which revision techniques are ranked by effectiveness (well worth a read).

3. Tell them the BAD HABITS to avoid

When students know what to revise and how to revise, they often think that they now have every tool in their toolbox and are ‘ready for action’. This is a delusion.

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There are negative influences, habits and distractions that can really mess-up even the most conscientious of students, and we must warn our learners about them. These bad habits include:

  • Procrastination: when students are revising from home during holidays or study-leave time, it can be very tempting for them to watch online videos or play computer games more frequently than they should be. For some students it’s better for them to get out of the house and go somewhere public (e.g. the school library) where they can’t take a nap and can’t get distracted as easily as they would at home.
  • Relationships and hormones: the ugly truth of this one needs to be revealed. Teenage sweethearts/lovers can lead to massive distraction on the run-up to exams. This is a delicate issue to deal with as a teacher, but I personally think it’s important to talk with individuals who are in teenage relationships and politely remind them that they have to be focused on their exams at this time, and not on each other so much. I’ll leave it there.
  • Sleep: It’s a balancing act. Students need enough sleep, but not too much. During school holidays and study-leave, many students fall into the habit of waking up late and messing up their sleeping cycles/circadian rhythms. This can lead to low productivity. I always teach my students the ‘Up Early and Out’ rule: get up early and go out to somewhere where you physically can’t nap during the day. The school library, a local library or even a coffee shop can be good options.

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Bad habits can destroy our students’ chances when revising for exams. We must tell them the negative behaviors to avoid, along with the positive actions to implement.

4. Tell them how to make a REVISION TIMETABLE

Even the very best students: those that know how to revise, what to revise and what habits to avoid, can get completely messed up by not being organized.

First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans, then transformation of those plans into reality. – Napoleon Hill

Organization is the key to exam success. Students should be starting their revision well in advance of their final exams (around 5 months works best). They should be sub-dividing their days into sessions, with each session focussing on a specific topic area.

A good revision timetable should include:

  • Enough sessions to cover each topic twice
  • A variety of subjects each day
  • Skewed weighting in favor of the what the student is weakest at (i.e more time spent on reviewing weak topics than reinforcing strong topics)
  • Practice questions, exam-style questions and lots of past-paper practice for each subject they are taking.

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Below you will see a great video about how to create a revision timetable (created by a student). Feel free to share this with your students:

5. Show students WHERE to find past-papers and which specification they are following

In my work as a Science Teacher and home-tutor over the past 12 years, I’ve met too many exam-level students who simply do not know:

  • The exact exam-board and exams they are taking
  • Exactly where to find the past-papers for their exams

A lot of exam boards (but not all) provide their past-papers for free (e.g. BMAT and Edexcel). Share the URLs with your students, or share the papers via a VLE.

Crucially: encourage your students to complete past-papers under timed conditions. Four example, if paper 1 mathematics is 1 hour long, then make sure your students know that they should time themselves for one hour when doing the past-paper at home for revision.

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

Consider the ‘Multiple Mock Exam (MME)’ rule too: why just have one mock exam? For my IBDP Chemistry students, for example, mock number 2 (in class) has traditionally happened in February. Mock number 3 in March. Finals in April/May.

MME can really help students to get used to the rigour of the exams, as well as the command terms language and time-constraints.IMG_5938richard-rogers-online

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What is ‘Question Level Analysis’?

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

Dr. Curry was a friendly, but direct, man.

On one sunny afternoon in the newly-built science labs at St. Richard Gwyn RC High School, Flint, he called me to the back of the class to discuss my progress in the subject. This was a strategy that was being implemented school-wide, with every ‘A2’ – Level student (we were in our final year of high school).

Giving feedback

Dr. Curry must have made me think that day because I remember what he said:

“You’re still waffling too much in exam questions, Richard, but it’s better than when you were doing GCSEs”

I hope I won’t waffle too much in this blog post.

Thought results in memory 

Daniel Willingham sums up what I experienced best in possibly one of the most influential texts on pedagogy out there: ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’

Memory is the residue of thought

This quote often comes up in my thoughts as I go about my day as a teacher. I think about the thousands of lessons I was taught as a kid in primary and secondary school. In terms of content, I think I can remember upwards of 70% (as proven by my exam scores over the years). In terms of impressions and actually thinking back to a specific lesson and ‘remembering’ what happened: that’s got to be less than 1%.

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An AMAZING book!

Dr Curry’s analysis got me thinking about myself, and how I had evolved as a student over the years. It was a good tip, and it helped, but is there a way to make a one-to-one meeting like this even more specific (and is it beneficial)?

Command terms frequency analysis

Whole-class feedback can be powerful, especially when there are obvious patterns of weakness showing-up. This is where an early-technique of mine can be really helpful: analyzing the command terms in different tests and assessments.

Discussing homework

Command terms are those words that tell you what to do in a question. Examples include:

  • Describe
  • Annotate
  • Explain

What I found helpful in the early part of my career was counting the command terms used in different tests, and then seeing which students scored poorly in tests where a clear skew of command terms was apparent. This gave me some means of specific advice that I could pass on to my learners:

If we look at the table above, for example, we can see that the different tests contain different numbers of command terms. Let’s say that I have a student: ‘Student A’, and Student A does okay in test 1 in November; as expected in the December test, but slumps in the January test. What does a teacher do in that situation and why has this happened?

As we can see from the frequency analysis above, it may not be the case that Student A simply didn’t revise enough (a common misconception that teachers have).

chatting in class

We see that the January test required many more explanations and calculations that any of Student A’s previous tests, and her poor score could just be because she hasn’t had enough practice in completing these kinds of questions.

Armed with this kind of data, teachers can have very meaningful and powerful one-to-one conversations with students: highlighting specific areas of weakness and providing guidance on how to best tackle specific command terms.

This process can be a little tedious, however, and focuses only on skills (not content).

So……..is there a way to make this process better?

Thankfully, the answer is yes!: it’s called Question Level Analysis or QLA.

Students assess, think, share and discuss: productive QLA

Taking the command terms frequency analysis to the next level (which is a great ‘whole-class snapshot tool’) we can now get the students to analyse their own responses to specific questions and then think carefully about how to fix any problems they’ve had (creating memory in the process).

jenga

The method I like to use (because of its simplicity and ‘hands-on’ approach for the students) is as follows:

  1. Share an editable spreadsheet with all of your students (such as a Google Sheet®). Make sure the command terms are filled in for each column heading.
  2. Get your students to fill in their names and colour in the boxes with a colour that recognizes levels of understanding (e.g. green, amber and red)
  3. You could do this as a ‘per test’ format or cumulatively over the course of a year, examination course or even the entirety of a child’s schooling:

4. Pair the students up (or group them) according to weakness-matching. For example, student B can help student G with the calculations questions, and student G can help student B with the ‘describe’ questions.

5. Once the kids are paired up, give them the chance to explain to each other how to answer the specific questions that they scored poorly on. Ideally, this should be done before any mark-scheme or model answer sheet is given to the students, as this will cause deep-thinking to take place, which should result in secure memory of the concepts being learned in the process.

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6. Rotate students around a few times: this will get those who’ve just learned something new to teach it to another student (you’ll have to explain this concept to the class)

6. Once the process has finished, feel free to give the mark-schemes to the students: they’ll need them when doing their own revision before the final exams. Sometimes students make messy notes when they are peer-teaching each other like this, so be sure to tell them to keep their corrections tidy and clear as they’ll need to refer to them as part of their revision at some point in the future.

Q & A

Teacher actions during the QLA process of peer-teaching

  • Sit-in on different pairs of students and listen to how the conversations are going
  • Call individual pairs to your desk and ask probing questions about areas of weakness
  • Mark questions in front of the students in cases where complete misunderstanding has taken place
  • Sit with very weak students and provide extra-guidance
  • A possible twist: pair some very strong students up and get them to create a website, blog or infographic that teaches all of the students the content in the exam

I’ve been fortunate enough to use QLA successfully in my teaching over the years, and I saw it in action at Harrow International School at a CPD course I went on last weekend. I can tell you firmly and confidently: it works!

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Discussing QLA with Harrow International School staff last week 

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3 Cool Education Apps to use in 2019

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

Technology is supposed to be helpful, but sometimes it makes me mad. When I can’t change the text color on a blog post because the iPad doesn’t support it, or when my PC auto-updates when all I want to do is switch it off, I find myself losing faith in the power of technology.

A bright light of hope was shone my way these past two days, however, when I attended an excellent Science JAWs (Job-alike Workshop) event at Harrow International School, Bangkok.

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Learning about EdTech with colleagues at Harrow International School, Bangkok, Thailand. I’m the one in the polo shirt ;-D

I had the chance to rigorously test out the apps I’m about to show you and, I can tell you: they really do make life easier (and they can do some cool things too!).

So here’s my list of what I believe to be the most useful apps I tested during this event. I’ll definitely be using them with my students and in my teaching. Enjoy!

1. Nearpod

Where you can get it and use it: App Store, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Chrome Web store and on the web at Nearpod.com

Cool Feature #1: You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.

Cool feature #2: Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.

When I tested Nearpod at Harrow I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at her blog:

As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.

Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.

I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.

Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.

Cool feature 3: Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).

I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over 450 ready-to-run VR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:

  • Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
  • You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).

I love this app and I look forward to using all of its features with my students.

2. Noteability

Where to get it: App Store, Mac App Store

Cool feature #1: Noteability has allowed me to make the most amazing notes and save tons of paper and paper-notebooks in the process. Just look at these beautiful notes I made during my Science JAWs training this weekend:

As you can see, you can select a wide variety of colors and make beautiful notes, Mind-Maps, concept-maps, flow charts, diagrams and more.

I use this feature of Noteability to:

  • Plan things in my daily life (such as my blog posts, my weekend plans, my fitness plans, etc)
  • Write shopping lists
  • Write lesson plans
  • Take notes in school meetings

Cool feature #2: Noteability allows you to annotate PDFs with the Apple Pencil. This is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me to annotate my IB Diploma Chemistry coursework (Internal Assessment) quickly and clearly before uploading the coursework to the IBIS system.

I can see this feature becoming really useful for schools that want to save paper and for teachers that want to annotate coursework, homework or classwork and then send it back to the student in some way (e.g. by e-mail, through Google Drive or through Google Classroom).

Take a look at this IB Chemistry coursework annotation I recently did with Noteability and the Apple Pencil:

Another way to use this feature is to get the kids to scan their classwork, homework or past-paper answers and then annotate each other’s work with the Apple Pencil. The teacher could also annotate it too:

Cool feature #3: Students can make revision notes, classnotes, homework assignments and submit work all through Noteability. Using the ‘split-screen’ mode on the iPad Pro they can even copy images and charts directly from a web-page they are reading at the same time:

For students, I can see Noteability being using in a range of creative ways:

  • Making revision notes
  • Annotating their own work, or each other’s
  • Creating assignments and presentations (Noteability allows users to copy content from the web seamlessly using ‘split-screen’ mode)
  • Making notes in class

There is the possibility that tablets may even replace traditional school notebooks in future too – removing the need for 11-year-old kids to carry really heavy bags around school all day (and this has already been linked to back problems).

My thoughts on Noteability

I mentioned this a few blog posts ago but I feel it’s worth a second shout-out.

I like this app because it has basically replaced all of my notebooks, and is an excellent planning, note-taking and annotation tool.

A big drawback of Noteability, at the time of writing, is that it is only compatible with iOS. Not all students use Apple devices, and schools won’t always fork-out money for them. However, I have found that my own personal investment in an iPad Pro, along with Noteability, has enchanced my life in many ways and has benefited some of my students as I have been able to annotate their work better than ever before.

3. Flipgrid

Where to get it and use it: Microsoft Store, App Store, Google Play Store and at flipgrid.com

Cool features: Flipgrid is a secure video-commenting/video-conferencing platform. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower student voice” and they’ve certainly achieved that with this app.

Basically, the teacher uploads a video of himself/herself asking a question, or posts a question, link, resource or video, and the students respond by taking videos of themselves responding to the material.

It’s super cool!

Once the students have uploaded their videos of themselves, other students can see them and watch them (and comment on them). They can even respond to videos with videos, so it really can get a discussion flowing!

Image courtesy of Flipgrid

Each video a student creates will receive feedback from other students and the class teacher, and the student who made the video can quickly see the feedback they’ve received.

I would recommend all tech-interested educators to check out Jess Bell’s guest blog post over at larryferlazzo.edublogs.org entitled ‘Getting Started with Flipgrid’.

My thoughts on Flipgrid

When I tested it this weekend at the conference it took me a while to figure out how to use it, and what its purpose was.

Once I’d signed up, however, the website directed me to lots of great help and resources. There’s a load of pre-made lessons and students can sign in with a simple pre-generated code (like Kahoot! and Nearpod) which saves tons of time.

Once you’ve signed up (it’s free) and you’re in on Flipgrid, your dashboard will look something like this:

As you can see: it has a very user-friendly interface.

Conclusion

EdTech is here, everyone, whether we like it or not.

I’m a big believer in using things that work: things that help. I don’t believe that technology can (or should) replace everything a teacher does traditionally (such as having a one-on-one conversation with a student), but I do believe that these apps I have mentioned have tremendous potential and should be capitalised on fully.

As always, please do be aware of how screen-time affects our students’ health (I wrote a blog-post about this here: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Childrens’ Health). I wouldn’t advise that screens be used all lesson, every lesson, but we should use these apps at appropriate times to reinforce, teach and revise key concepts.

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