Falling Behind Your Teaching Schedule: Prevention and Cures

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati (a former student of mine, and a key illustrator in my book). You can e-mail her at popslittlespace@gmail.com if you’d like her to do some beautiful illustration work for you!

The start of a new academic year at any school is usually very hectic, especially if you’re starting somewhere new. With fresh classes, new systems, new students, new workload demands and a new timetable, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

out-of-control

Falling behind on your teaching schedule (i.e. the topics you’re supposed to cover and when), is easily done. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when the floods hit Bangkok in 2011 and schools were closed for two weeks, or when you have to go on a residential or field trip. Sometimes it’s a symptom of getting used to life at school, and adapting to new changes.

Don’t feel guilty

Falling behind schedule happens to every teacher at some, or multiple points, in our careers. Don’t beat yourself up – accept what’s happened and use the prevention and cure strategies in this article to solve the issue quickly and easily.

Fundamentals: The Curriculum Map

In order to know whether you’re behind schedule in the first place, you’ll need curriculum maps set up for each of your classes.

A curriculum map is basically a long-term plan for each class for the whole academic year. It doesn’t have to be fancy – even a table drawn on paper is enough. However, a good curriculum map should show the topics you intend to teach each month, or week, of the academic year. These topics should be linked to the textbook you are using in class or the syllabus you are following or both.

 

making plans
A curriculum map doesn’t need to be complicated

 

Once your curriculum maps are set up, and you know what you should be teaching and when, you can start using these prevention strategies which will enable you to keep on schedule for the rest of the year.

Prevention Strategies

These can be used at any point in the year, as you may be behind, or ahead of schedule (a topic for another blog post?), at multiple points during the academic year.

Set time aside each week to plan ahead

When I first qualified as a teacher I used to plan my lessons day-by-day. This was not a good strategy, as I found it hard to gain a long-term focus for my planning, which sometimes caused me to fall behind.

Now I set aside time every Sunday afternoon to plan all of my lessons for the week ahead. However, I don’t just simply scribble activities into each and every box in my planner. I ask myself these five questions for every class:

  1. Let’s take a look at the curriculum map. Am I on schedule?
  2. Where are the kids up to now?
  3. Where do they need to be by the end of the week?
  4. Has anyone missed any lessons (including me?). How can we catch up?
  5. Which new activities or games should I use this week, which I haven’t used for a while? (Great ideas for learning games and differentiation tips can be found here, here and here).

always learn

Going through these five steps allows me to not only plan lessons which are enjoyable, tailor-made and meaningful, but also allows me to keep up with the pace of the curriculum.

I addition to this, some extra strategies are sometimes needed to fully answer to above five questions. Let’s take a look at those strategies now.

Set up a marking timetable

I know this is probably not a popular way to phrase a sub-heading, but please stay with me and you’ll see the immense benefits that this strategy has.

For this current academic year, I am teaching 8 different classes. Obviously, I see those classes at different points during a typical week, so I spread out my marking as follows:

  • Year 11 on Monday
  • Year 9 and 10 class 1 and 2 on Tuesday
  • Year 13 on Wednesday
  • Year 7 and Year 10 class 3 on Thursday
  • Year 12 on Friday

Okay, so you get the idea of what a marking timetable looks like. How does this help you to keep your teaching on schedule?

discussing-homework

  1. You’re constantly checking the students’ books to see if they have covered exactly what you think they’ve covered. Sometimes it can be easy to lose track of where your kids are at, especially if you have multiple classes to teach. Sometimes planner or VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) records are not enough – you need to check if the kids have actually UNDERSTOOD what you taught them.
  2. It doesn’t take long to do if you do it each day and spread it out. A quick glance may be all you need to see where the kids are at.

My grandad was a very keen and competent gardener. He lived by the Little And Often Principle: “I do a little bit of gardening, every day, so that I don’t have a load of weeding and pruning to do every Sunday” is what he used to say.

I like that idea.

Make sure that your marking timetable fits in well with your school’s homework timetable (if they have one) and your free-time.

Other benefits of having a marking timetable are as follows:

  1. You’ll get to know the writing, presentation and artistic styles of your new students really quickly.
  2. Checking through the students’ books and homework yourself is one way to quickly memorise new names
  3. It allows opportunity to provide written and verbal praise, which helps you to build rapport

Set meaningful and robust cover work

Whether you’re out on a school trip, ill with the cold or attending PD overseas, your cover work should aim to minimise re-teaching when you come back.

instructional software

Some teachers fall into the common trap of setting work that keeps students occupied or entertained, rather than work that challenges the students or covers new material.

It is understandable why some teachers are reluctant to give new content as cover work – if you’re a subject specialist who’s away from school, then it’s likely that your class will be supervised by a non-specialist.

But does that mean you should make your cover work easy?

If you want to avoid being behind schedule, then set cover work that covers some of the syllabus that the kids would normally learn if you were at school. 

For example, I was just recently away for three days on an Outdoor Expedition trip. I asked my Year 12 class to complete the End of Chapter questions on Atomic Structure – a challenging task since they haven’t quite learnt everything about successive ionization energies yet. When I go back to school tomorrow, I’ll check their books to see how far they got and to see if they could do the successive ionization energies question.

bean bags

If they could all do it, then congrats – the kids have taught themselves some new knowledge whilst I was away. I can quickly go through that question and move on.

If some couldn’t do it, then I’ll take those individuals aside during a class activity and go through it with them.

If they all couldn’t do it, then I know that my cover work was too challenging (or the kids chose to slack off whilst I was there). However, now that I know the kids really well, I can gauge that my cover work wasn’t too challenging (a skill that takes experience to master). If all of the kids couldn’t do it, then I’ll have to spend time to teach that topic to them again. 

Bottom line – Cover work should aim to teach, not just to entertain. 

Keep spares

A basic one this, and more for individual kids who have missed classes.

If you’ve handed out worksheets or paper-based homework in class, then keep the same sheets in some kind of filing cabinet or folder. When the kid comes back, you can hand him or her the work that he or she needs to catch up on.

Even better – put everything on a VLE. Good systems include Google Classroom® (which is virtually free of charge), Firefly® and Moodle®. 

Stick to the syllabus

We all want to enrich our lessons with real-life examples, practical work, field-trips, case-studies and projects (which are all great and all have their place in teaching). However, it can be easy to get carried away a bit.

tablet activity

I made the mistake of doing this in my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year – my first year of teaching. I was going through genetic diseases with a Year 11 Biology class, and I decided to teach them about Huntington’s Chorea when it wasn’t on the syllabus. 

with-ukedchat
An AMAZING Book!”

Whilst it was nice for these kids to have another example of a genetic disease in their toolkit, and they found it interesting too, they weren’t going to be examined on it. I basically wasted a lesson teaching them this. 

The odd lesson here or there of additional material isn’t usually a major problem, but large periods of time need to be considered more carefully. Do your kids really need one week to complete a recycling project, or will one lesson give them enough material for their test or exam?

Plan your enrichment material carefully. Make sure it fits into your curriculum map without disrupting the flow of the main syllabus content. Ideally, enrichment activities should embed and enhance the curriculum, not digress from it. 

Use focussed resources

Have you ever produced a worksheet or resource that was designed for a slightly different course, but you had little time so you set it anyway? I’ve done this in the past, especially when I was just starting out as a teacher, and it usually has one or more consequences:

  1. There will be a question or two that the kids can’t do, and you’ll need to spend extra time explaining the theory behind those questions
  2. The kids may spend too long on the worksheet or activity, eating into valuable teaching time
  3. The kids will get confused about what they actually need to know, and what they should revise for their test or exam

poll everywhere

There is a flip-side to this though – some resources designed for the same topic but other exam boards can be used as extension material – stretching you’re best learners to excel in the lesson. Just be sure to specify though – “Everyone should do questions 1-5 in 10 minutes. Questions 6 and 7 are bonus questions if you finish early”

Behind Schedule Cures

But what if you’re already behind schedule (whether or not it is your fault)? How do you get back on track?

Play accelerated learning games

There are some activities you can do in class which speeds up the amount of content learnt per lesson. My two favourites are marketplace activities, and the Poster Game (given below). 

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

Set homework

Can some of the simpler stuff be given as homework? If you’re behind schedule with your teaching, then this could prove to be a useful tactic. Just be sure to check the work quickly to make sure that no-one is left behind.

Sharing a class? Speak to your partner!

If you share a class with another teacher, then be open and honest and tell them that you are behind schedule. Two heads are better than one, and together you may be able to find a creative solution to the problem (e.g. the other teacher might be able to cover the missed material, while you progress to the next topic).

Assign extra time

This might be your only option if you are far behind and exams are approaching. Sometimes this happens through no fault of our own, and sometimes we’ve just gone too slow (which could be the result of multiple causes, some of which may be beyond our control).

it integrated

You may need to find out when all of your kids are free, and give them some extra sessions. After school, lunchtimes, school holidays and weekends can often be used.

The last resort, but still an option.

Speak with your head of department

If you are really struggling to keep up and are finding that the pace of your lessons is not adequate to meet the demands of the curriculum map (despite trying the tactics I’ve mentioned), then speak with your line manager as soon as possible. 

You’ll be seen as more mature, focussed and trustworthy by owning up to the problem than trying to sweep it under the carpet. What’s worse – a discussion with your HoD at the beginning, or multiple problems towards the end the academic year?

Your HoD should sympathize with you and offer a suite of solutions, some of which you may never have thought about. You may be going too slow because behavior management is taking up too much time, or maybe your kids just find learning a challenge in general.

Speak up and don’t be afraid. You’ll be respected for doing so. 

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Your First Few Weeks Back at School: Are You Doing These Six Things?

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati (a former student of mine, and a key illustrator in my book). You can e-mail her at popslittlespace@gmail.com if you’d like her to do some beautiful illustration work for you!

So you’ve been at school for a short while. You’ve settled in, got to know some (maybe all?) of your new students and are using the school’s new systems. You’re hopefully getting settled in and used to the new routine.

That’s great!

This article is designed to be a self-check for you – to see if you’re on track and doing the very best things you can do to be effective as you start the academic year. 

#1 Professional Intelligence Gathering

A large part of your time has probably already been spent trying to get to know your new students. I’ve personally just started at a brand new school, so all of my new students really are, well, new. 

A good way to quickly get to know your kids is to do some professional intelligence gathering. I wrote about this last week, so hopefully, you’ve already got your notebook set up! ;-D

Marking work

To cut the explanation short, you should get a notebook and keep all non-confidential information about each student you teach in there. Write down their dreams, aspirations, hobbies, ECAs, talents and significant events that have occurred, or that are coming up in their lives.

alphabetic mat

This information can then be used to generate good professional rapport – the key cornerstone of all great teaching. Kids will learn most effectively when they like and respect their teachers. There’s only one way to get your kids to like and respect you – build up a rapport with them.

Use your professional intelligence to:

  • Strike up conversations with your new students during lessons when activities are happening or even at impromptu times such as when you’re on duty or walking around school. This will show that you’re interested in their wellbeing and that you remember what they’ve said. Kids and young adults love being listened to and, deep-down, they all want to recognised and admired for their skills and abilities. 
  • Inform your lesson planning by dividing the class into skills groups for activities, or even link the hobbies and interests of your kids to the content. 
  • Speak with students when they slip up or fall behind. I remember once having a one-to-one conversation with a 17 yr old boy who wanted to be a restaurant manager one day. His attitude and focus had been slipping in class, so I had a one-to-one chat with him. I reminded him of the dream and goal he once told me – that he wanted to be a restaurant manager. The effect was profound and deep, and he quickly put himself back on track. 

#2 – Settling-In Assessments

with-ukedchat
“The book that transformed my teaching!”

If you’ve got new kids doing new courses, then you’ll need to know their strengths and weaknesses.

I recently gave my IB Year 12 Chemistry students a full IGCSE exam to act as a baseline test for the course. It allowed me to quickly identify students who needed help so that I could start tutoring and support measures to get these kids up to the right standard. It also helped me to see who the high flyers are so that I can prepare suitable extension work to push these high-achievers. 

Get some kind of assessment done at the start of the year. It will provide valuable intelligence which you can use to inform your lesson planning and feedback. 

#3 – Extra Curricular Activities

Getting involved in your schools ECA programme is a great way for you to get to know your kids, some of which you may not teach in your mainstream curriculum. It also sets you aside as a contributor to the school community, which reinforces the level of trust that your students will have in you (and you’ll need to build trust quickly if you’re at a new school, or teaching new kids). 

robot

Think of things that the kids will enjoy and benefit from:

  • Sports 
  • Languages
  • Special certification courses (e.g. CREST Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, St. John’s Ambulance First Aid, etc.)
  • Crafts
  • Music 
  • ICT clubs (e.g. coding, animation, game design, app building)

#4 – Marking 

Not everyone’s favourite but, nevertheless, a staple for the new teacher at a new school. Last week I wrote about how your first few weeks should involve slightly more teacher-led marking than peer, automated or self-assessment because:

  1. You’ll quickly get to find out about your kid’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. classwork presentation, homework completion, creativity, numeracy, language proficiency) which can all go into your professional intelligence notebook?
  2. You’ll learn new names more quickly
  3. It’ll give the parents a good impression of you when they see your comments on their kids’ work
  4. It can be used as a POWERFUL opportunity to provide sincere and meaningful praise, which will empower your students right from day one

Read my blog post here about marking and assessment strategies if you’d like some advice or ideas for ways to implement this key strategy. 

#5 – Have Energy

Are you pumped up for every lesson? Do your kids see you as enthusiastic and upbeat, or just an old bore?

be enthusiastic

Sorry for the direct statement, but it is important to make the point that ENERGETIC TEACHERS MAKE THE BEST TEACHERS.

Of course, you’ll be adjusting your activities and intensity to suit each year group (post-16 kids need more content delivered per unit time than younger kids, for example), but your energy should be high every single lesson.

Here are some tips for you to create high-energy lessons, every time:

Play Games

I mentioned some learning games last week that will help you to get to know your students (‘Mystery Word’, ‘Splat’ and ‘Who Am I’), but there are so many that you can play on a regular basis.

Here is a high-energy clip of me playing some learning games with my kids in China:

I’m currently in Week 6 at my school and my kids are already trained up and loving a variety of games that I play with them. They’re all easy to do, are inexpensive, provide deep learning and keep the students interested and focused. 

As well as the games I mentioned last week, try the following high-energy lesson transformers!:

The Poster Game

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

Bingo

Got some equation symbols or mathematical problems to teach your kids? Perhaps the symbols of the periodic table is more your thing? Whatever it is, this simple game can be adapted to suit any subject.

Bingo

Vocabulary Musical Chairs

You’ll need a good rapport with your kids to use this one, as it needs to be controlled really well by the teacher (e.g. to avoid kids bumping into each other). However, it is simple, fun and worth the effort!

Vocabulary musical chair

Mystery Picture

This one takes some imagination on the part of the teacher and some training of the kids beforehand. However, it’s really, really good for encouraging higher order thinking skills.

Mystery pictures

Be Eccentric

You’ll come across as boring and monotonous if you aren’t, well, yourself. 

You don’t need to put on a fake persona. Be wacky and quirky and be yourself (just don’t break any school rules – obviously).

One thing I love to do is sing and rap to my kids. They love it! I also use voice inflexions and funny noises to make the content a bit light-hearted and funny. It loosens up the mood in the room and gets the kids giggling a bit.

One thing that I’m a big fan of is modelling. No, not the cosmopolitan cat-walk modelling, I mean getting your students to BECOME THE CONCEPT YOU’RE TEACHING.

Just last week I had my kids stood in circles and spinning, pretending to be electrons orbiting a nucleus. The week before they were spreading around the room randomly pretending to diffuse like gas or liquid particles would.

The possibilities for modelling are endless. Here are some ideas that can be applied to any subject:

Human numbers.jpg

Human graph and true or false.jpg

Memory Mind bender.jpg

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Getting to Know Your New Students: Tips That Actually Work!

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati (a former student of mine, and a key illustrator in my book). You can e-mail her at popslittlespace@gmail.com if you’d like her to do some beautiful illustration work for you!

The first few weeks of a new academic year can be really challenging, not least because you’ll have a lot of new names to remember!

Whether you’re a new teacher working in a completely new school, or whether you’re simply rolling into a new academic year with new classes to teach, this article will help you.

Strategy 1: Gather Intelligence

Knowing your students on a deep level is a fundamental principle of rapport building. You need to know ALL of your students’ dreams and aspirations, strengths and weaknesses and other relevant information (such as issues at home or Special Educational Needs).

This kind of knowledge or ‘intelligence’ can even be used to inform your lesson planning. See the examples I included in my book and at Angela Watson’s great Cornerstone for Teachers site here.

image1 (7).JPG

Unfortunately, however, few teachers truly utilize the power of professional intelligence gathering.

The best way I’ve found to gather such knowledge is by getting a fresh notebook and setting a page aside for each student you teach. On each page write down important (but not confidential) information about each student – e.g. the ECA’s they do, their career goals, subject-area strengths, competitions they’re entering or have won, etc.

Woman reading

The information you gather can be used to:

  • Inform lesson planning so that content is made more relevant to individual students, and the group, than it normally would be
  • Trigger conversations in leisurely school settings such as at the lunch queue, when you’re on duty or when you’re supporting students in a mentoring or pastoral role
  • Provide fuel for you to reinforce the credibility and brilliance of the students’ personal goals, so that a ‘hypnotic rhythm’ of focus empowers each student to
    with-ukedchat
    “The most important book you’ll ever read”

    fulfill their goals

  • Show the students that you truly care about their education and their future

Strategy 2: Marking

In your first few weeks it might be a good idea to get a lot of marking done, especially for your new students.  

Whilst you might normally do peer-assessment, self-assessment and automated assessment tasks throughout the main body of the academic year, it is worth spending a bit of extra time at the beginning of the year to do traditional, teacher-led ‘red-pen on paper’ marking.

IMG_0574.JPGBenefits of this strategy include:

  1. You’ll get to know the writing, presentation and artistic styles of your new students really quickly.
  2. Checking through the students’ books and homework yourself is one way to quickly memorise new names
  3. It allows opportunity to provide written and verbal praise, which helps you to build rapport

Teacher-led assessment

My Head of Science recently started a ‘Science Stars’ notice-board at school. Every few weeks the Science teachers pin up some examples of beautiful work. What a great way to celebrate the success of your new students whilst getting to know them and build rapport with them at the same time! 

Strategy 3: Contact Parents

If you’re a form tutor/homeroom teacher, this one is really important, but it can be used by any subject teacher too.

In the first few weeks of school it can be a good idea to contact parents to let them know how their child is getting on. 

Contacting Parents Richard Rogers.jpg

I’ve found that telephone calls work best, as well as face-to-face conversations, as both of these methods involve a relaxed sense of dialogue that’s not normally available through methods such as e-mail.

Benefits of this strategy include:

  • Extra intelligence, such as the student’s approach to homework in their real home environment, can be gathered
  • It puts the parents’ at ease and reassures them
  • It can be used as a motivational tool for your new students – if you’ve passed on praise to their parents then they will feel happy and will know that mum or dad is only a phone call away. 
  • It can pre-empt a settling-in parent’s evening, providing common ground and information before a face-toface meeting

Strategy 4: Play Games 

People who have been following me for some time will know that I am a big advocate for the use of learning games in teaching. They break up lessons into chunks, appeal to the multi-sensory needs of your learners and stop your kids getting bored.

card games

What could be better than that?

But which games should you use to get to know your students?

There are a number of learning games you can play at this very useful blog post of mine here. All of those games can be adapted to a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson, but my favourites for this specific context are given below:

#1: Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and a class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary and is perfect for E.A.L. learners. You could potentially replace key words with students’ names in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson. 

Splat.jpg

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

#2 Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is. Again, you could potentially replace the words with students’ names in a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson. 

Mystery word.jpg

#3 Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. In a ‘getting-to-know-you’ lesson, you might want to use the hobbies and interests of different students as the key words. 

Who am I.jpg

Personally, I feel that it’s a shame that more teachers don’t make use of simple learning games such as these. They aren’t costly, they’re simple to do and they provide so much fun and great, deep learning for your students (when applied properly). 

img_5938

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