Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
I’m a big fan of books and articles that condense years and years of hard-earned experience into a few, clear, tidbits of advice that anyone can benefit from.
The aim of this week’s blog post is to do just that.
To set the context for today’s article I’ll tell you a little about me: I completed my PGCE in 2006, taught secondary science in the UK for two years before moving to Thailand to teach science and mathematics at international schools (along with a little German here and there). I’m now in my 16th year of teaching. In 2015 I published my bestselling book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, which has inspired thousands of teachers all over the world to make subtle little changes to their approach to teaching, with massive results being reported from educators in a variety of sectors and subject areas.
I’ve found that there are many simple techniques that I need to adopt on a daily basis to be exceptional at my job. I’m not talking about that seminar you went to where you had to spend hours planning the so-called ‘perfect lesson’. I’m talking about real stuff: things we can actually do that make a difference, and don’t eat into our free time.
So strap on your seatbelt – this aint grad school!
#1 – Play learning games
You don’t need special resources and you don’t need tons of time – learning games can be applied to any subject, at anytime.
My two favorites are ‘splat’ and ‘corners’, detailed below:
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.
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):
Get the kids to stand all around the room. Ask a question. The first to raise their hand can answer. If the student gets it correct then he or she can choose another student to sit down. The game ends when one person is left standing. ‘Sitters’ can also play, but they cannot stand up again.
#2: Keep a personal journal
This is so powerful, but it’s almost never encouraged in the teaching profession.
Get a special notebook, and use it to record:
- Things you did well
- Great lessons you planned and implemented
- Teaching mistakes you made
We often repeat the mantra ‘learn from your mistakes’, but we rarely consider that mistakes are easily forgotten. We can only learn from mistakes if we remember them. I like to write them down, and then read over my journal every Sunday. It keeps me reinforcing the positive stuff I did, and ensures that I don’t make the same teaching mistake twice.
I’ve made a quick video about this here:
#3 Use Learning Journals with your students
- Powerful and effective
- Encourages consolidation of knowledge and good revision
- The kids hand it in on the same day each week, so it generally prevents students from forgetting their homework
- The teacher can easily plan his or her marking and admin around this regular feedback routine
- Perfect for exam revision, but can be used with any age-group (as long as they can read and write)
- It’s cumulative, and acts as a great learning record for the kids
Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?
So how do we set-up and use learning journals?
- Tell the kids to buy a special notebook for themselves. If this won’t work, then give each student a school notebook.
- Choose a particular day each week for the students to hand in their Learning Journals
- Explain that the journals are for students to record revision notes, answers to questions and reflections on learning. They can use any style they want (see Pop’s Learning Journal above – it’s beautiful!).
- Put a name list on the noticeboard. Students hand in their learning journals on the allotted day and sign next to their name.
5. Write one AND ONLY ONE post-it note of feedback for each-week’s work in each journal. This keeps our marking time down and keeps our feedback direct. See the example below:
This ‘marking’ doesn’t have to happen in our free-time either – read my advice about ‘live-marking’ next. You can also read more about Learning Journals in my article here.
#4 – ‘Live’ Marking
I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.
Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.
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:
- Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
- 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).
- 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 the Four Rules of Praise:
#5 – Quick starters, quick plenaries
Do something to get the kids excited and ready for learning at the start of the lesson.
Do something active and focused to review learning at the end of the lesson.
Consider the following:
- Put something in the students’ hands as soon as they walk into your classroom – a worksheet, a task, a sticker to put in their books. Anything useful to get their focus right as soon as the lesson starts.
- Use the learning games I’ve already mentioned (see above)
- Have a task or activity displayed on the whiteboard for the kids to complete
- Use the Learning Journals (see above) – these don’t just have to be recurring homework records – they can be used as recurring plenaries too. Get the students to write five bullet points of information about what they’ve learned in their learning journal at the end of every Wednesday class, for example.
#6 – Gather professional intelligence
A professional intelligence journal can send you from excellent to ‘superhero’ status, very quickly.
But guess how many teachers have even heard of ‘Professional Intelligence’? – Almost none.
It works like this: Get a notebook or use a computer. Assign each page to one student (so if you have 200 students, then that’s 200 pages). Write non-confidential information on each page as the year progresses:
- Birthdays (so that you can say ‘happy birthday’ on a kids birthday – a massive rapport-building strategy)
- Hobbies and interests
- Goals, aspirations and dreams (e.g. which university the student wants to go to)
Use your professional intelligence to:
- Strike up conversations with your 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 well-being and that you remember what they’ve said. Kids and young adults love being listened to and, deep-down, they all want to be 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-year-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.
#7 – Use the legendary power of ‘Subtle Reinforcement’
Do you know what ‘Subtle Reinforcement’ is? If you do then give yourself a clap: you’re in an infinitesimally small minority.
Subtle Reinforcement is the technique of building up your students’ power to change anything in their lives through a stoic belief in themselves, and identification with the experiences that have built-up their character over time.
There are 5 parts to Subtle Reinforcement:
- Remind students of who they are – remember, and remind students of moments in life when they overcame setbacks because of character traits they possess: determination, resilience, tenacity, drive, empathy, etc.
- Remind students of their skills and achievements – this is where Professional Intelligence can come in. Remind your students periodically of achievements they made months or even years ago. If you haven’t known them that long, then find out by speaking with your colleagues! Ask your students to describe their past achievements. Be interested – sometimes a short conversation can be life changing.
- Take the time to discuss progress – Live Marking can feed into this, but it doesn’t stop there. Be sure to have one-to-one discussions with your students regularly to discuss classwork, homework and just general well-being. When kids know that their teachers care, they start to care more about themselves and their work.
- Be the person you want your students to be: Be a role-model. Period. That means upholding decency and morality, and being professional at all times. Kids pick up subliminal cues all the time.
- Be there – we don’t have to give up hours and hours after school each night. However, if a kid excitedly hands you their homework on the corridor five days early and really wants you to look at it, then don’t dismiss that. Spend a lunchtime or two helping out kids who are struggling – it makes a huge difference.
I’ve made a video about ‘Subtle Reinforcement’ here:
This article that I wrote goes into more detail.
#8 – Get automated
Use ICT to enhance learning positively, not negatively (yes, that’s possible).
Screen time is destroying children’s health: that’s a fact (see my article on the subject matter here). However, it’s not necessarily the length of time that’s causing the damage, it’s childrens’ compulsion to use a variety of addictive programs such as social media and online games that seems to be causing the problems (see this University of Michigan research here).
When we use technology to train kids that computers can help you to learn (not just to post selfies and wefies) we do them a great service.
Consider setting up Kahoot quizzes in class, doing a QR treasure hunt and even using subject-specific programs such as MyMaths and Educake. Programs like this will often teach and assess the students, taking lots of time and effort out of the teacher’s hands.
#9 – Differentiation
This used to be a ‘buzzword’ in education. It’s still pretty important.
And, by the way: for those who now think that learning styles don’t exist – they still do. My 12 years of teaching experience have taught me that some kids like to build models to help them learn and others like watching YouTube videos and making notes.
Differentiation is when every student in a group has the same learning objectives, but a variety of methods are used by the teacher to get those kids to where they need to be.
My two favorite differentiation techniques are Learning Style Tables and Delegated Responsibility:
Learning Style Tables: This is such a great activity for engaging a wide variety of learners. The idea is that you produce the same information or lesson instructions via pictures, audio, in writing or in clues that need to be solved or through some some other style, such as tablet PCs linked to online simulations. Students can go to the table that best suits their learning style or you can direct them to one. This takes some preparation but it’s well worth it.
Delegated Responsibility: Allocate different tasks to different groups within a class, based upon ability levels. For example, when analyzing a poem a weaker group might be asked to ‘describe the meaning’, whilst a higher ability group might be asked to ‘suggest the ways in which form and structure emphasize the meaning’.
Here’s a short video I made about differentiation:
And here’s an article I wrote on the subject.
#10 – Spatial Learning
Do you know what ‘Spatial Learning’ is? It’s very powerful.
Basically, you turn the kids into a model of the situation or concept you are trying to teach.
Teaching diffusion? – Turn the students into ‘molecules’ and get them to ‘spread out’ around the classroom.
Using surveys or bar charts? – Turn your students into a ‘human graph’ (see below).
Doing calculations? – Turn your students into ‘human numbers’.
Here’s a short video I made about ‘Spatial Learning’: