Tips for Organising Homework

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student. 

That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations. 

Explaining

I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me. 

That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.

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I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was. 

“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”

She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”

That felt good. 

award

Juggling many things at once

Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.

I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.

I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:

  • I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
  • Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
  • The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all

So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!

discussion-mother-and-daughter

So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.

Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returning timetable

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).

Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.

always learn

And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.

Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:

Homework setting, marking and receiving timetable

Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish. 

Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals

Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:

  • They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
  • They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
  • The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
  • They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
  • Students receive quick, effective feedback
  • Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal. 

So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
  • Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.

25 MARCH

  • Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
  • Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:

learning-journal-system2

  • I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:

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  • The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students

In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific. 

Strategy #3: Live marking

‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.

I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:

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.

work overload

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.

I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniques hereSome general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:

Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark. 

At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.

teaching with laptop

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Self-Assessment

Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

  • It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
  • When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.

There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:

  • Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Class Q and A

Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’

Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.

Intangibles include:

  • Revising for tests and quizzes
  • ‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
  • Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
  • Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students. 

Conclusion

Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:

  • Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
  • Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
  • Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
  • Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
  • Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them

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Stop Devaluing Your Students

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

She started at my school around a month later than all of the other Year 11 students.

“I’ve never studied chemistry before. I don’t know anything” she said.

As an E.A.L. student from overseas she was faced with three monumental challenges in Thailand:

  • Adapting to a new climate, culture, environment and school
  • Continuing to learn English
  • Learning advanced chemistry through the medium of English, having never learnt any chemistry before

Most mature adults would find these three challenges incredibly difficult to overcome. 

This girl was only 15.

Her peers had been learning chemistry since Year 7: a whole 4-years of prior training. She was at a massive disadvantage.

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

Bruce Lee

Many of our students learn best when they are faced with tough challenges like this girl was. Some students don’t realize they are in the ‘deep-end’ until they are thrown in and asked to swim. This new Year 11 girl was visibly stressed in the three days before her first chemistry test: a paper that covered the bare fundamentals. 

“I’m just going to fail this test aren’t I?” she said. 

She did fail that test. She got a grade U. 

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With only seven months to go before the final IGCSE exams, I was tempted (but only tempted) to think like most other teachers would: that there was little hope of her getting a decent grade in her final exams.

I chose not to think that way. 

I scheduled weekly 15-minute meetings with this student, in an attempt to teach her the basics and to encourage her.

“You can do this! With regular practice and good revision you can get an excellent grade in Chemistry”

This is the mantra that I would repeat to her on a frequent basis. By providing her with extension work, tailored help and the verbal expression of my sincere belief in her (and anything we do as teachers must be sincere, otherwise it is ineffective), she started to believe she could achieve too.

“Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. And there’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.” 

Jim Rohn

She gradually climbed the ladder of grades as her assessments kept coming in: first achieving grades Es, then Ds, and then the magical grade ‘C’ came along.

“Wow! I got a grade C!” she said.

lab girls

This was quite a monumental moment – this was the stage when the ‘veil lifted’ and she finally realised that she had the power to do anything she wished, if she had a goal in mind and worked towards it. She was now getting grades comparable to an average student in the class.

But it didn’t stop there.

During her mock exams, four months before the finals, she got a grade ‘A’. 

“This is outstanding. Now you have shown all of the other students that effort is what really matters when achieving results in life. You’ve beaten most of the other students, and all because you worked hard and set your sights high.” – she walked away with a smile when I told her that.

It was a real pleasure for me to she this young girl transform from a shy and scared new student to a really confident and happy person. She beamed with smiles when she came to Chemistry class on the run-up to the final exams – she understood all of the content now.

chatting in class

Our parting words before she took her finals went something like this:

“You’ve helped me so much, Mr Rogers. I’ll never forget it”

“You did all the hard work” I said. “Now go for it! Enjoy the exam and show everyone in the world what happens when a person works hard towards a goal they’ve chosen. Show the world how great you are.”

Her results came through in August of that year – she got a grade A* (the highest grade achievable).

Not bad for 8 months of work by a student who had never learned chemistry before.

graduation

The ‘belief’ factor

This girl’s story is one of so many that I have found to be typical in the teaching profession. Just one of many experiences of a similar nature that I have had along the way. However, an ugly culture has formed in many schools around the world which I’d like to address here:

  • A student’s past does not equal their future: contrary to popular belief
  • If a student does not have any cognitive difficulties, or Special Educational Needs, then that student is capable of getting an A* in the final exams (provided there is a reasonable time-frame). It really is that simple.
  • As teachers, we have to adopt “I will not accept mediocrity” as our personal mantra. When we only accept the best, we get the best.
  • If a student goes down a grade in a test or assessment, I’ll make them re-do the test a week later. It’ll be different questions, of course, but it will cover the same content. I simply will not allow grades to slip. When students realise that you will not allow them to drop in grades, they then are motivated to push themselves. This also builds up belief, because when a student sees that their grades increase in the re-test, they realise that poor grades are the result of poor effort; not difficult questions. They hold themselves accountable.
  • Disappointment works better than anger – it shows that you care about your kids. If a student produces shoddy homework or or simply hasn’t revised enough for a test, then I’ll sit them down at my desk and have a talk. I’ll genuinely be disappointed, and my words will be carefully chosen. I’ll tell the student that their work just isn’t acceptable (oops – isn’t that taboo these days!). If we don’t tell our students the truth, then we’re really just deceiving them, aren’t we? I’ll remind them of their past achievements, however small, and I’ll tell them, sincerely, that they can achieve greatness.
  • Too many teachers put the burden of total responsibility on the shoulders of the student but do little to address that responsibility. “He just doesn’t care”, “He just doesn’t get it” and “It just doesn’t sink-in” are phrases that are spoken all too commonly in school staff rooms. When we hear comments like this, our response ought to be something like “Okay, so what are we going to do about it?”. Guess what – there’s a lot that we can do to turn things around. We’re not miracle workers, but we really can make a massive difference when we deliberately try to, and when we believe we can. 

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Thank you to all of my regular readers and followers for your kind and continuing support – I love you all!

Richard

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10 Easy Ways to Motivate Your Students

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Student happiness and motivation are so vitally important that without them, kids simply won’t want to learn.

If kids don’t want to learn, then they won’t learn. It’s that simple.

I remember reaching a point in my ‘A’ – Level studies at 17-years-old when I just didn’t perform well in Chemistry class. I was convinced that the teacher didn’t ‘like’ me, and her brutal critiques (like the time when I broke a beaker by heating it up directly with a Bunsen Burner), were enough to make me feel dejected and disinterested. 

lab girls

“Are you thick?” she said, as the glass bottom of the beaker smashed.

Now I can respond: “No, you were the thick one. You didn’t demonstrate the method before we all got to work on the practical. You just gave us the sheet and told us to get on with it, whilst you did some marking or something. We also didn’t receive enough practical training in high school in general. You’re lucky that nobody got hurt, because then you would have been in serious trouble.”

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“An AMAZING book!”

Phew. That’s given me some closure after all these years. I can say those words with conviction today: I’m a chemistry teacher. 

Keeping students motivated and ‘on your side’ is a multi-faceted, complex and full-time job in itself. However, it’s a lot of fun and it pays a lot of dividends: students get better grades and are better prepared for life at the end of their time at school. 

I’ve made a video on the subject matter here:

This article plus the above video compliment each other well and will provide you with an array of powerful techniques to keep your students’ focus, well: focused!

it integrated

Don’t let your students hold grudges against you for years because of silly little behavioral mistakes on your part. Let’s learn how to keep our students determined, focused and motivated!

Tip #1: Greet your students, and greet them with sincerity

Our students are human and, as humans, they require emotional connections in order to feel that they ‘matter’; in order to feel that they ‘belong’ to something.

The simple technique of just saying ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’ and ‘How are you?’ to students who we see at school can absolutely work wonders for their motivation. When we’re on duty, as we’re walking around corridors or even on our way out of the building at the end of a school day: a quick conversation with a student can really show that we genuinely care about them.

Discussing homework

And that’s really what student motivation all boils down to: showing kids that we really, truly care about them. When students know that someone in this world cares about them, they feel empowered and validated. We can then use that self-empowerment to get our students to push themselves onwards and upwards to better and greater things. 

Tip #2: Notice sadness, sickness or ‘out of character’ behaviour

When you’ve known your students for a short while, it becomes easy to notice a sad face or quiet disposition when normally there would happiness and light.

In these situations, walk over to the student or ask them to stay behind for a minute or so. Ask the student: 

“Is everything okay?”

“I notice you’re a little sad today, is there anything I can help with?”

Reassure your students that you’re here for them and that they can talk to you if they ever feel the need to do so.

studying with com

Our kids bring all kinds of emotional baggage to school to with them. A sullen or grim-looking face could have been caused by any one of a myriad of different things: a conflict at home, an argument with a friend at school, a detention from another teacher or even a remark that was taken the wrong way.

Sometimes all our kids need is a good listener to offload their problems to. That can be the conversation that literally turns a child from depressed and stressed to empowered and happy.

Don’t forget to refer students to a school counselor to take it to the next level if the student reveals that something serious is causing the sadness that he or she is facing. Never guarantee confidentiality – always make students aware that if you feel that they need extra help, then you may have to talk with a senior teacher or someone else in the school community.

Q & A

Don’t ignore sickness too, and wish for your students to ‘get well soon’. Ask about sports injuries if you notice any – a quick conversation can reveal information about a student that you never knew before and can help you to build up a good professional relationship. 

Tip #3: Use professional intelligence

It is possible for a teacher to motivate his or her students so much that they are constantly driven to succeed. This is a life-changing process.

We can only do this, however, if we get to know our students really, really, really well!

I’ve written about Professional Intelligence a lot in the past, 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.

The short conversations I mentioned earlier can provide you with lots and lots of useful professional intelligence.

alphabetic mat

This information can then be used to generate good professional rapport – the key cornerstone of all great teaching. Kids always 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 good 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. 

Tip #4: Give regular, positive, genuine feedback

Praise is one of the most powerful motivational techniques out there, but only if it’s implemented properly.

Here are the ‘Four Rules of Praise’ that every teacher needs to know:

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

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

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

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

sit n talk

Be specific. Here are some examples:

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

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

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

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

woman-reading

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

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

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

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

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

poll-everywhere

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

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

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

#5: Recognize wider achievements

Our students are engaged in a wide-range of activities that generally go beyond the scope of what we teach them in class.

We must learn to recognize the achievements of every student, whatever the achievement may be (yet another reason to gather Professional Intelligence). 

I recently had a conversation with one of my students on the corridor one break-time. I don’t actually teach her, but I learned that she had recently been accepted onto a national symphony orchestra because her musical talent was so high.

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I congratulated her on the corridor and the effect on her disposition was amazing. She was thrilled that news of her achievement was widely known in the school community, and she talked to me about her future plans to make a career out of her musical composition and performance.

I told her to “Go for it, all the way”.

That conversation may have acted as one more beacon of guiding light, urging her on to reach her goals and achieve her dreams. 

That’s inspirational. 

Tip #6: Monitor, track and recognise progress

We all need to know where our students are at, and where they are going. 

I personally keep a spreadsheet of all of my kids’ grades on end-of-unit tests. I use this spreadsheet to take action in the following ways:

  • Notice any drop in performance at the earliest instance and intervene with one-to-one conversations. This tells the students that I’m ‘on their case’ and that I simply will not allow or accept negative performance (i.e. going down in grades).
  • Praise and make a fuss out of achievements, such as when students go up a grade in subsequent tests

Most teachers collect data, but few teachers positively act on that data. When we are mindful of which students are rising and which students are falling, we can intervene quickly and literally change their lives. 

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I’ve seen many students over the years come into IBDP Chemistry having never learnt chemistry before, and then coming out with level 7s (the highest level possible) in end-of-unit tests. I had one student last year who came into IGCSE Chemistry year two having never learnt any chemistry before. After one year of my help, using the techniques I’ve mentioned today (and especially this idea of using data intelligence), she pushed herself to achieve a grade A*: a truly phenomenal achievement by any pedagogical measure. 

It’s not a miracle when something like this happens – it’s been carefully engineered and crafted by a teacher who knows their students and who is relentless in taking massive action on a daily basis. 

Tip #7: Talk with parents

Parents can be great allies in our fight to keep students motivated and driven, but only if we communicate with them on a regular basis.

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I’ve written a separate blog post about working with parents here and I would strongly encourage you to read it if you feel that this is an area in which you could develop further.

Tip #8: Praise must be collective in order to be effective

I’ve kind of covered this already, but I’m repeating it in order to stress its importance.

Most teachers are good are dishing out praise.

Some teachers are good at dishing out genuine, meaningful praise that actually has a positive psychological effect on the student.

Very few teachers are good at sharing meaningful praise with colleagues so that those colleagues can also praise the student and reinforce the empowerment you’ve created.

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Be mindful of the power of the collective – when a number of different voices are providing positive, meaningful and sincere praise for the same action or achievement, then that turns student self-motivation into drive: a life-changing personality trait. 

Tip #9: Use points and rewards

These work with kids at any age. 

If your school doesn’t have a points or rewards system in place, then you can invent your own or even use an online system such as Class Dojo (highly recommended)

Tip #10: Love what you teach

I hope this is an obvious one.

If me and you walk into work sad, tired or fed-up, then you can guarantee that our students will pick-up on that (and emulate it).

Whatever issues we have going on in our lives, our students deserve our highest level of passion and energy, even if we’ve got to fake it on certain days.

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Building up subject-knowledge can be a great way to become more passionate about the content we are teaching, along with learning new techniques and skills.

I hope you can see my level of enjoyment in this short clip of me teaching my students in China:

Energy is infectious, so make sure you have lots of it!

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Thank you to all of my regular readers and followers for your kind and continuing support – I love you all!

Richard

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