3 Tips for Reducing Your Teacher Workload

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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

Check out the new…………….

Rogers forum

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.

poll-everywhere

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.

woman-reading

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.

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

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?

img_0009
“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.

snacking

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.

reading

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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