Speak up if you Have a Problem (Secret No. 11)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I was walking down the corridor on a Friday afternoon, around 11 years ago. I guess I must have had a ‘free period’ (i.e. I wasn’t teaching that hour).

In of front me I saw a student walking aimlessly around the corridor. He should have been in class.

I approached him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class….”

I was interrupted mid-sentence by a colleague who opened her classroom door and looked at me with a face of thunder. I felt like Criminal Number One.

She told the kid to come back into class. I didn’t realize she’d sent him out.

Well, I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.

Later that afternoon I entered the Science prep room, which was effectively a hangout area for the science teachers. She was there, my colleague, and I remember clearly what she said: “Richard, I am well-capable of handling discipline and classroom management and I don’t need your help!”.

“He was walking around the corridor” I said, in my rather shocked and timid 23-year-old voice.

“He was walking around the corridor because I sent him out!”, she snapped.

She walked out of the prep room. I couldn’t believe it.

Later on, I decided to have a chat with my head of department, who was always a beacon of support and good advice. As I was about to talk with him my colleague walked in and saw me chatting with him. I asked her to stay, but she just walked right out in a most unsatisfied manner. She didn’t say anything,

“I think we need to move because this could get confrontational” my HoD said.

We moved to another classroom and I told my HoD what had happened.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Richard. She has a really difficult class on a Friday afternoon and she was probably just stressed by it all. Let’s let her have the weekend to calm down. I’m sure it’ll all be forgotten about on Monday.”

That was very reassuring, and he was right. In fact, later that year she became a good friend of mine.

Always speak up

It’s really important that we speak up immediately when problems that we can’t solve arise. I recently had to ask for permission to extend some deadlines for my students, for example. I had to go through official channels. Had I have worried about the problem, and unofficially extended the deadline, then I may have had some awkward questions to answer later down the road. I would have lost trust.

Another thing worth mentioning is the issue of inter-gender dynamics in the workplace and at school. In the age of #MeToo and mildly masculine behaviour being deemed as ‘misogynist’ or a ‘micro-aggression’, it is important that men and women who meet or speak together at school do so in the most professional manner possible. It’s too easy for messages to be misconstrued and misunderstood in today’s climate. Even a simple compliment to a colleague about his/her appearance can be misunderstood.

Keep everything professional and academic, and document anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Speak up and tell a manager too – you’ll be in a much stronger position if you speak up early, than if you leave it too late. Send summaries of one-to-one discussions via e-mail and cc’ your line manager.

In the case of my story with my female colleague who was in a mood at me for speaking with her student – I absolutely had to speak up immediately and talk with my HoD. Had I have left it until later the following week she may have come to him with a totally inaccurate story and I would have been in a weaker position trying to defend myself. It’s also good to get reassurance from those more experienced than you, especially if you’re a compulsive worrier (like me).

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5 Ways to Empower Your Students (Secret No. 10)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Here’s a quick video I made to supplement today’s blog post:

Every high school student you will encounter; no matter what their domestic situation is or how much peer pressure they are under, craves a sense of personal importance just like you and I do. It’s the reason why we wear posh designer labels; why we brag about our new car or house on social media and why we beautify images of ourselves using various apps on our smart phones. It’s also the reason why a lot of young people turn to drugs, join gangs and get involved in thug culture.

The trick with students is to make sure that they are receiving their validation (i.e. their sense of importance) from positive sources.

Block building

My experience has taught me that the best way that we can make our students feel empowered and important positively is by enacting the following steps:

1. Find out what the strengths, hobbies and interests of each of your students are: This can be daunting, as you’ve probably got a whole gaggle of students that you teach and it’s hard to remember everything about everyone. If you have to, then buy a special notebook and write down snippets of information that you pick up. Is Thomas exhibiting his artwork at a local gallery this weekend? Write it down. Does Cassandra love fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan? Write it down. Did Jason score a goal at lunchtime football? Write it down.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

2. Act on the information you have gathered: Use the information to engage your students in their lessons. If the output of a task or project is open to negotiation, then suggest a way for a particular student to produce that output in a way that is personal to them. Does Damon like boxing? Get him to create an animation or movie of a boxing match in which each boxer represents one side of the debate. They can say counter-phrases whilst they box, and the winner will represent the argument that Damon agrees with the most. When doing group work, assign roles to each student based on their strengths, and make it clear why you have chosen each student for each role.

I once had a student who was famous for being confrontational, and he was the figment of every teacher’s worst nightmare at that school. However, I noticed quickly that he was very good at art, so I made him the class ‘Art Director’, where his job was to check each student’s presentation. He loved the positive attention, and he became my most compliant and hard-working student. I also took a special interest in him by going along to the art room to look at his work, and I viewed his pieces in a local art gallery. This extra effort on my part really paid off, and other subject teachers were amazed at the change they saw in him.

Art class

3. Always turn a negative into a positive: Have you just taught a student who ‘played up’ or had a ‘tantrum’? Has one of your students just had a ‘bad day’? Make a special note of this, sit down with the student and offer your help and guidance. Focus on the positives of this situation, and what the student did well. Perhaps this time the student didn’t swear – now that’s a positive and a step in the right direction. Maybe your student was frustrated because they couldn’t quite make their work ‘perfect’ – brilliant, this shows a desire to do well and to try their best. Tell the student how pleased you are that they care about their work so much and offer more time to get it done if needs be. Maybe another student annoyed the kid who played up; offer a number of solutions to the student such as a seating plan and the chance to have a ‘time out’. Get your ‘problem students’ to reflect on solutions, and praise them for being reflective and proactive in wanting to move forwards, and not backwards.

4. Focus on the long-term goals of the student: Some students are completely unsure of what they want to do in life even when they reach 18 years of age: when they’re about to start out at university or find employment. Others take time to develop their goals as they mature through high school and still others are very sure what they want from life since their first day in Year 7/Grade 6. Whatever the situation may be, you must remind your students that there’s a bright and happy light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not an oncoming train!). Talk regularly with your students about their goals, ambitions and strengths, and constantly make them feel like they can achieve those goals by being supportive and enthusiastic for them. When students can see that there is a real purpose to school life; that all of these ‘pointless lessons’ can actually make their dreams come true, they tend to work harder. However, you, as a teacher, need to constantly reinforce this and it can take some time and effort before positive progression is seen.

Stay strong, have faith and I guarantee that your efforts will pay massive dividends!

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5. Use rewards more than sanctions, and make them sincere: When a student accomplishes something, and is then rewarded for this accomplishment, this reinforces the positive behaviour/process that lead to the outcome. However, the extent to which this reinforcement is maximized depends upon the depth, relevance and sincerity of the feedback given to the student. We’re all very busy, and it can be really tempting to just sign that house point box in the student’s planner, or hand out that merit sticker, with little conversation afterwards. However, if we’re going to be effective behaviour managers, then we need to spend more time giving sincere and relevant feedback to our students that focuses on the effort/process that went into the work that was produced. Always sit down with your students, especially those who have a reputation for being disruptive, and talk with them about their accomplishments. Tell the student how happy you are, and give a good reason (e.g. “I was so pleased that you took the time to draw large, labeled diagrams in this work. You also asked lots of questions, and you tried your best to avoid distractions”).

This is actually quite simple when we think about it: all we’re trying to do is reinforce the behaviour that we want to see repeated again in the future.

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Conclusion

Making your students feel important, or valued, is probably the most important factor in ensuring that you have a positive relationship with them (and, hence, lessons in which behaviour is good). One of the most memorable examples of this takes me back to my first teaching post in Thailand, when I was teaching Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) to a group of Year 8 students. At that time, I was taking the students through the Expect Respect™ programme, and we were covering themes that centred around domestic abuse and neglect. At the end of my first lesson with this group, a very shy and withdrawn young girl spoke with me privately and said that she enjoyed the lesson because it made her reflect on what was happening in her home environment. She then revealed to me something which almost shocked me to a frail state of nervousness as a young teacher – she told me she was self-harming, and she showed me the scars on her arms.

The first thing I did at that moment was talk about the positives of this situation, and I praised her for having the courage to speak to someone. I asked her what she thought of the lesson, and she said that she could empathise with the people involved in the scenarios we had discussed. I said that this was a brilliant quality to have, and that she could use this in her career when she leaves school. She left with a very bright smile on her face, and I could tell that she felt empowered. I saw her domestic situation as a positive, because it gave her the experience she needed to help other people in similar situations.

After our conversation, I referred her to our school counselor who worked with her twice a week to talk about what she was going through and how to move forward. She told her counselor how she felt so refreshed by her conversation with me, and how she felt that she could be a counselor too!

As time went by, I constantly reinforced my belief and professional interest in this student. When we covered career clusters in later PSHE lessons, she was keen to talk about how she wanted to be a person who cared for, and helped, others. She talked boldly about her plans to make people happy, and she would allude to her life experiences as being valuable in making her a strong person. Prior to this transformation, this young lady was famous for crying in class, and would often not take part in group activities. My belief in her, along with the help provided by other staff members, transformed her into a self-confident, determined person.

I am not ashamed to say that I was rather tearful when she got accepted into university to study occupational therapy five years later. She is now a professional, mature and empowered young woman who has a dream and a mission to help the people she comes across in her day-to-day life. I must admit, I can’t take all, or even most, of the credit for this, as many individuals in the school worked with her to empower her to be bold enough to face life’s setbacks and move forward. However, I like to think that that first conversation she had with me all of those years ago was the spark that set the forest fire of ambition raging through the wilderness of her life.

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Opinion: Should University be Free?

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that any country that doesn’t offer university for free is basically doing only one thing – punishing people for trying to better themselves.

The UK seems to be an extreme example of how the state punishes those who work hard in life and do the ‘right’ things; and rewards those who drop-out of school and make bad choices in life.

Although this is a very simplistic analysis of the effects of the British welfare system, it’s also understandable why many people would feel this way.

Last week, a large-scale British government review of Higher Education was concluded and from that came a key recommendation: that university fees in the UK should be reduced to £7500 per year. They currently stand at around £9250 per year.

This recommendation doesn’t doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion.

Say, for instance, that you listen to your teachers in school, work hard and, despite all challenges that may come your way as a high-school student (domestic upheaval, working part time jobs, helping with the raising of siblings, etc.), you get good grades on your exams and go to uni (and get the recommended master’s degree, which employers now say is needed to get higher pay) – well, you’ll probably be saddled with debts in excess of £50,000, which you could be paying back well into your 60s.

Choose to drop-out of school and become unemployed, however, and here’s some benefits you can expect to receive:

Britain’s welfare system is so good that it even pays child benefit for almost anyone who raises a child in the UK. The current rate stands at £20.70 per week for an eldest or only child, and £13.70 per additional child.

All of this money, of course, comes from the taxpayer.

Whilst the intentions behind this system are that people who find themselves in difficult financial situations are helped out, some would argue that the system causes more problems than it solves.

Take Amber Rudd, the U.K. Work and Pensions Secretary, who admitted in February that it is the welfare state – created to prevent hunger and destitution – that is now actively causing it, with the shortcomings of the system responsible for increasing the number of Britons who are reliant on food banks to feed their families.

It’s the old ‘learned helplessness’ dogma in action, with devastating consequences. This pattern; of state welfare creating reliance and reinforcing the problem it’s intended to solve, has been noticed in other countries too. In a number of papers, including a large scale June 2008 American study in which the effects of “promoting employment and reducing dependenceon low-income children’s time-use was investigated, for instance, a positive correlation between parental employment and the achievement of low-income children was discovered.

Dependence vs rewards

But if dependence results in more misery for people, then why make students dependent on government grants for their university education?

That’s a good question, and for me I think it can be answered with the argument of rewards vs sanctions.

As teachers, we reward our students for good behaviour, effort and academic achievement, and we know from extensive research that rewards work better than sanctions when motivating students to achieve.

In other words, if you want a particular behavior to be repeated, then you reward that behaviour.

Whilst the British welfare system is designed to help those in need, it can be exploited rather easily. Take the hypothetical situation of a high school student who chooses to drop out of school and stay unemployed. That young person will probably be entitled to housing benefit, jobseeker’s and child benefit if his/her kids are involved too.

Stay in school and go to uni, however, and you’ll be rewarded with debt, and lots of it. You may even be paying off that debt well into later life.

I believe that if tax pounds were redirected from certain state benefits and funneled into higher education grants for struggling students (including living expenses), we would see a much greater motivation for children and young adults to work hard at school.

Conclusion

Any education system should reward those who put in the necessary time and effort to revise hard and pass their exams. I would argue that forcing students into astronomical amounts of debt is actually a form of punishment for making the ‘right’ choices in life.

Whilst there are ways around the system (my sister recently completed a degree with the Open University for example), one has to sacrifice considerable time to achieve the goal of getting a degree, debt free, in the UK. My sister was 26 when she graduated, for instance.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below.

Using Movement and Action to Enhance Learning (Secret Number 9)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati and Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

The high school science teacher turns his students into ‘electrons’ and gets them to walk along a prescribed route in the classroom, reinforcing concepts associated with circuit diagrams and electricity. The primary school mathematics teacher gets her students to make funny shapes with their bodies that represent the numbers 0 – 9, creating a fun way to tackle mental arithmetic problems. The ICT teacher creates a variety of ‘human graphs’, getting students to line up in columns based on their chosen answers to assigned questions.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

What do all of these examples have in common?: The students are using movement to solve problems and, in doing so, are engaging multiple regions of the brain.

Every single day, our experience of the world around us is created by five main sensations or senses, namely:\

Touch: Experiencing the texture of different objects

Taste: Stimulation of various taste receptors on the tongue

Smell: Linked strongly with taste and involves stimulation of olfactory receptors in the nasal passage

Sight: Our perception of light energy through stimulation of cells in the retina

Hearing: The way in which we receive and process longitudinal vibrational energy

The above five senses allow us to perceive the world around us so that we can make decisions effectively. However, what a lot of people forget is that all of the above five senses become obsolete, and can be switched off, if one vital organ is missing: the brain.

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A point I often make with my biology students is that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch with our brains! We don’t see with our eyes, we don’t hear with our ears and we certainly don’t feel touch because of our skin alone. All of these sense receptors just mentioned are tasked with one job only: to send information to the brain to be processed. Once the brain processes the necessary information, we then feel the intended sensation.

Evolution has ensured that our brains are hard-wired to remember information generated by all five senses. It is essential that we can do this, otherwise we would not be able to survive.

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Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, puts this very eloquently:

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason

When students have a good rapport with their teachers and are genuinely interested in the subject being taught, they acquire the self-confidence and motivation to pursue their learning with hard-work and enthusiasm. ‘Interest’ is a funny human condition because we often make the mistake of thinking that it’s just something that each person has an affinity for, based upon their life experiences or even the way they were born. However, the real truth is that the effective teacher behaviours outlined in this blog and my book can literally change students’ lives as they go from ‘liking’ a subject, to wanting to be the best student in the class!

But what is Spatial Learning?

There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:

 

Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations. 

 

Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool. 

Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:

A human graph and true or false?

Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method! 

Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall.  Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question. 

This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:

Body numbers

Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!

Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:

For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!

Modelling

The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about. 

I find that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another. 

I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task. 

Modelling example one: Diffusion

Textbook definition: Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles. 

Modelling activity: As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow. So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.

See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT

Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.

Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room. 

Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?

Further reading

My debut book is filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’s Lucy in the City:

Also, a great manual for designing great spatial-learning activities is Dr. Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (highly recommended):

 

 

 

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