Secret number 1: Have a genuine interest in the lives of your students

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.

Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:

• Build trust
• Use humour within lessons
• Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students
• Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties
• Create an environment of cooperation and compliance
• Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals
• Personalise our lessons

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Becky’s story

Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.

One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

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In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.

At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.

Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):

• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
• Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student
• Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students)
• Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened)
• Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
• Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.

Conclusion

It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.

Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.

Using Verbal Feedback: The Ugly Truth

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

YouTube video accompanying this article

I started my conquest to save my ‘marking time’ when I moved to Thailand, back in 2008.

Starting out as a relatively new teacher in one of Bangkok’s most prestigious international schools, I was first struck by the fact that expectations were very high and students, parents and line-managers required the very highest levels of service.

Feedback, being a key game-changer when it comes to student performance, has always been a personal priority of mine. However, I have always wrestled with the problem of giving high quality feedback without sacrificing too much of my free time.

This was a difficult balance to control at first.

The fresh-faced Richard in 2008 (who didn’t need to use as much facial moisturizer, or drink as much green tea, to look young back then) would respond to the school’s ethos of promoting excellence by taking home piles and piles of student work every weekend and covering every page with red-inked scribble after scribble.

The kids would get their work back and the process would repeat itself the following weekend.

It just wasn’t sustainable, and life became a struggle, rather than a happy experience (which is what life should be, when designed properly by the person living it).

Shortly after this I vented my concerns in the staff room. One of my colleagues suggested doing more peer-assessment, and that was a real life-changer for me.

I’ve written a separate blog-post about peer-assessment here (highly recommended if you’re struggling to cope with your marking workload).

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After putting peer-assessment and self-assessment strategies into place for a few years, I then learnt about the idea of giving ‘verbal feedback’. The idea was to simply sit with each student, talk with them about their work and write ‘Verbal feedback given’, ‘VF’ or even stamp the work with a special ‘Verbal feedback given’ stamp. No need to physically ‘mark’ the work.

It sounded great in theory – the teacher saves time and the student gets good feedback.

After 10 years of actively seeking the best verbal feedback methods, however, I’ve discovered the ugly truth about verbal feedback: that it is not as simple as it seems to be.

So make a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the ride as I tell you the ‘iron rules’ of using verbal feedback with your students.

#1 – The stamp is useless, unless it’s followed up

The idea of stamping a student’s work after having given some verbal feedback is a nice one for teachers – it means that we cut down on our marking dramatically. However, what we’re not told is that any feedback we give is useless unless the student actually remembers the feedback that was given.

Try this – stamp a student’s work with ‘Verbal feedback given’, and then 3 months later ask that same student: “What did I tell you to improve for this piece of work”.

Most students will only be able to remember a few things, if any.

This is why, crucially, we must tell the student to write down the verbal feedback we have given, with a different colored pen (or using a different colored font/style if it’s ICT based) immediately after we’ve given the feedback.

When we force our students to delineate the feedback we have verbally given them, we ensure that they:

  • Have to think carefully about the feedback we gave (i.e. process the information)
  • Remember the information (because by processing and thinking about the feedback, this will automatically create cognitive associations and memory)

One of my favorite quotes from a pedagogical book is this one:

Memory is the residue of thought

 Daniel Willingam, ‘Why Students Don’t Like School’, Jossey-Bass (2010)

So we must get our students to remember their verbal feedback, and one great way to do this is to make sure they write it down. Always collect their work in (again) to check that they have actually done this.

#2 – Combine ‘Live Marking’ with Verbal Feedback

Do you know what ‘Live Marking’ is? – it’s real-time marking done in-class, as opposed to at home. There are two main ways to do “Live Marking’:

  • Walk around the class with a colored pen in-hand and mark the students’ work as they are doing it
  • Call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and ‘live mark’ their work in front of them

I wrote a whole article about ‘Live Marking’ here. You may also like this video I made.

It is also possible to combine verbal feedback with ‘Live Marking’. Try these ideas:

  • As you are walking around the class and giving verbal feedback to your students, why not train your students to write ‘Mr Rogers told me this……(use your name, obviously!)” in their books, so that they record the feedback you’ve given them?
  • Again, call the students to you desk one-at-a-time and look through the work with them. Point out areas of strength and weakness. Get each student to write down what you have said in a different color.

Using this technique brings a number of benefits: you build up rapport with your students, save time when marking and you provide high-quality feedback that the students will remember.

#3 – Give reasons for the feedback

Students need to know why they need to improve, not just what to improve.

Always tell your students why – “It’s really important that you make your diagrams large and neat because in the exam the examiner needs to be able to clearly see every piece of apparatus”

By giving reasons we allow our students to see the ‘bigger picture’ – the final destination. This can, when used frequently by a range of teachers in the child’s life, allow the student to formulate goals for the future.

Conclusion

Verbal feedback must be internalized – students must process the feedback they have been given. Get them to write down what you have told them. Write questions in their books for them to answer. Check that this has been done.

It is important to remember that it is still necessary to use ‘traditional’ marking from time to time: e.g. when marking large tests and when collecting in books. Students still do need some acknowledgement for their efforts with encouraging comments, but these do not need to be strewn throughout every page of the notebooks.

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

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

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

I was no exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homework busting tip #2 – give a detention

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

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

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

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

Homework busting tip #3 – use recurring homework tasks

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

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

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

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

…..or whatever their schedule was.

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

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

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

Homework busting tip #5 – contact parents

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

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

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

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

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Homework busting tip #6 – offer support and help

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

Tips for Organizing Homework

Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

Homework: A Headache we can all Easily Cure

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“Education Not Indoctrination”: Parents Protest Over LGBT Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not about being homophobic at all”

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

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

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

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

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

My personal thoughts on this

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

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“An AMAZING Book”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turbo Teaching: 5 Ways to Supercharge Learning

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Check out the new…………….

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

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

I believe so: hence this blog and my books.

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

Tip 1: Quick starters

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

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

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

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

During successful interactive starters:

• pupils engage fully in learning from the outset;

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

• there is a sense of pace;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 2: Quick plenaries

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

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

Tip 3: Break-up learning with questions

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

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

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

Tip 4: Use Spatial Learning

Turn your kids into the concepts they are learning!

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

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

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

Tip 5: Differentiation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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