Can Progress be ‘Engineered’ from the Start?

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Video accompanying this article:

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

He walked into my room not really knowing what to expect. It was half-way through lunchtime and I had asked him to meet with me to discuss his grades in Chemistry. 

David was an infamous Year 10 (15-year-old) student at our school. He had somewhat of an undisputed reputation for being ‘lazy’: not really caring about his studies, being untidy in his classwork and generally under-performing in tests and assessments.

a guy sitting

I wanted to talk with David because I’d noticed a decrease in his grades on two end-of-unit assessments. He’d taken a cognitive test at the beginning of the academic year to determine his predicted grade: a C. However, on his first assessment he achieved a grade D, and on his second he dropped down to a grade E. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

At this stage most teachers would have simply recorded the grades, reported to parents (e.g. in the school’s scheduled reporting cycle or at a parent-consultation afternoon), and just left it at that. After all, David was under-performing across the board; so there wasn’t really any pressure for me to ‘fix’ things, right? Almost all of his other teachers were reporting the same kinds of problems. If they were having trouble with him, then it was normal for me to experience those same problems. 

Giving feedback

I had an issue with seeing the situation this way, however. It bugged me that my default mindset was to ‘give up’ on David because this was ‘who he is’. I just didn’t like it. I tried to fix things. 

“Hi David. Thank you for coming. This is just going to be a quick chat because I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Tell me: why do you think I’ve asked to see you today?”

“Err, because I’m doing badly in Chemistry.”

“I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but I do want to talk with you about your grades, yes.”

“Okay”

“Do you remember what grade you got on your first test this year?”

“Yeah, a grade D I think.”

“That’s right, and a grade E on your latest test. Now, tell me: do you think these grades really reflect the best you can can get?”

“No, sir”

“That’s correct, David. The answer is ‘no’. I know that you can do much, much better than this. I have seen your strengths in Chemistry, especially during that titration experiment we did. Do you remember that?”

“Yes”

“You got some great results in that didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“So. I’ve seen how good you can be. I also know about your cool project in D.T.  – Mr Reynolds told me about it.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, and I went to see it too. It’s a fine piece of work, David.”

“Thank you”

“So, how can we solve this, David. What do we need to do to get you a better grade in Chemistry?”

“I need to study harder.”

“Yes, David. Study more frequently for these tests. What resources can you use to help you?”

“My book, the notes on Google Classroom. my textbook.”

“Yes, David, and you know that you can always come and see me for help, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“Good man. You must get a grade C on your next test in 4 weeks time. That’s your target, okay?”

“Okay”

“I believe in you, David. I know you can do this!”

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I shake David’s hand as though we’d concluded a business negotiation. Wheels have been set in motion. 

This conversation empowers David in a number of ways:

  • I draw upon his genuine success in D.T. and his good work in the Chemistry experiment. This kind of knowledge is called ‘Professional Intelligence‘ and is crucial for engaging our students on a deep, emotional level (which is where the real change needs to take place).
  • I give David a specific target to achieve. This focuses his mind on where to go next. I’ll have to reinforce this target over the next four weeks, as his next test approaches. 
  • I tell David that I believe in him and, because I do actually believe in him, my tone of voice conveys that I’m telling the truth and not just making it up.
  • David is prompted to state the resources he can use to help his revision. This makes our conversation more memorable for him, and I assure him that he can always come and see me for help – this final part portrays me as an approachable, helpful person who’s not angry with David –  just concerned about him. 

studying with com

Of course, this conversation is not where my influence ends. We have a whole four weeks until David’s next test, so it’s important for me to reinforce my message and my belief in him as the four weeks proceed:

  • Almost every time we have a Chemistry class together, I walk over to David’s desk and utter a few quiet words to him: “How’s the revision for the next test going?”, “Don’t forget to come and see me if you need help with your revision”, “I’ve uploaded some great resources onto Google Classroom that you can use for your revision”, etc.
  • When I see him around school (e.g. if I’m on duty or walking around the corridors, or at the canteen), I take the time to have quick chats with him. I ask him how he’s doing. I pass on any good news I’ve heard from other teachers (one of the Four Rules of Praise). 
  • I constantly remind David that he’s going to get a good score in this next test. I remind him of his grade C target. I remind him that I believe in him.
  • I look especially hard for positives to praise in our lessons. The smallest piece of progress in homework or classwork; anything that’s good. I want him to feel empowered. 

This process: of paying close attention to a student and reinforcing our belief in them and their targets for the future, is aptly named ‘Subtle Reinforcement‘: we subtly reinforce the student’s sense of self-worth and purpose.

The test day comes and David scores 68% – a grade C (and two marks away from a B).

This is not a fairly-tale. It’s a real story, and I’ve had many experiences like this during my teaching career. These experiences have led me to come to a significant conclusion: that teachers can effectively engineer the progress they want to see in their students. 

be enthusiastic

This means that we actually have tremendous power over how our students fare at school. It’s a shame that few realise this power. 

T.I.P.S. : A four-step method to engineer progress 

Step 1: Track progress. Look for patterns in grades. Keep a spreadsheet of scores. 

Step 2: Intervene when grades slip. Have a short conversation with the student in which you use……..

Step 3: Professional Intelligence: Gather and use knowledge about the students’ past achievements, achievements in other subject areas and skills used outside of school to praise the student and remind him/her of the ability that he/she naturally possesses. Talk with other teachers to gather this intelligence if needs be. Couple this with…..

Step 4: Subtle Reinforcement: Be on-the-ball and remind your student regularly what his/her target is. Introduce new resources and offer your time to help. Remind him/her about a test that’s coming up and how you believe in their ability to get a good score. Praise small steps of progress along the way, or any positive work in your subject area. 

You can read more about Subtle Reinforcement here. Some info on Professional Intelligence gathering can be found here

TIPS RICHARD JAMES ROGERS

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Dealing With Stress as a Teacher

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Teaching is definitely a stressful job. In fact, a February 2019 study by England’s National Foundation for Education Research found that 20% of teachers feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those working in similar professions. Additionally, as if that wasn’t startling enough, a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey found that teachers in England have one of the highest workloads in the world. 

The statistics themselves are worrying enough – that’s one-in-five teachers in England carrying a burden of worry and stress on a regular basis.

As a teacher myself, I have certainly had my fair share of work-related stress over the past 14 years. Some of the problems I encountered were the result of self-sabotage and inexperience, and some were beyond my control.

Whatever the causes of your stress are, there are effective ways to deal with them and I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best ways to do just that.

Stress Tip #1 – When your lessons are not going well

This is often a result of poor or rushed lesson-planning and is normally avoidable. I have fallen into this trap many times in my career – using my ‘free periods’ to write rough lesson plans or spending a few minutes before a lesson to think about what I’ll actually do.

chatting in class

Sometimes this works. Sometimes it causes problems.

Take the time to spend a whole morning or afternoon each week to plan a week’s worth of lessons (I use my Sunday mornings for it). Get a good teacher’s planner and think about:

  • The starter activities you will use (read this blog post about starter activities). Make sure you plan for your lessons to begin promptly (this blog post about a prompt start will help).
  • Where the kids will sit at different points during the lesson. Will they need their books at all times? Do you need a seating plan so that ‘problem’ students are not sat next to each other?
  • Breaking up the lesson into ‘chunks’ – variety is key if you want your lessons to be engaging and ‘fun’. Read my blog post about learning games you can use here.
  • Syllabus content you will cover – with some classes you’ll have a lot of content to get through in a short space of time. Get your PowerPoints, presentations, quizzes, and other resources ready well in-advance of these kinds of lessons. You might also want to read my blog post about keeping up with your teaching schedule here.

 

Stress Tip #2 – When you have too much marking to do

Marking tends to come in ‘waves’ in teaching: There are times of the academic year when you’ve just got normal, regular homework and classwork to mark; and there are times when high-intensity marking hits us like a bolt of lightning. For example:

  • When a ‘work scrutiny’ comes up and a line-manager wants to see your class notebooks
  • When you have a load of end-of-unit tests or exam papers to mark
  • When parents’ evenings/parents’ consultations come up and you need to mark a lot of work so that you have some good points to discuss in the meetings

work overload

Marking can be a big-problem for teachers, but again: it’s easily avoidable when a little bit of time is spent planning in-advance:

  • In your weekly planning, think of peer and self-assessment techniques you can use to quickly deal with homework and classwork. Read my blog post on peer and self-assessment here.
  • Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ to keep those notebooks up-to-date. Live-marking is basically when you either call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, or you walk around the classroom with a pen in-hand and mark student notebooks in ‘real time’. Read my blog post about ‘Live-marking’ here.
  • Take a deep breath and plan your time – if you find yourself with a tonne of exam papers to mark within 48 hours (I’ve been there), then the first thing you must do is sit somewhere quiet and plan your time for an hour. Think about your targets – which papers need to be marked by when? Should some papers be marked before others? Is it possible, or appropriate, to use peer/self-assessment for some exam papers?
  • Try using stamps and stickers – they’ll save you some writing time
  • Make sure you’ve got a set of model answers ready for your kids – this will save you writing out the correct answers for the kids by hand in their books (never do that, by the way).

Marking work

Stress Tip #3: When you’re in trouble with your boss over something

One of the main causes of stress for teachers, I believe, is that we are held to a far-higher professional standard than those in most other professions. As ‘role-models’, we have to be extra careful about:

being-told-off

We do need to be mindful of these things on a daily basis, but even then we may make mistakes. If you are called to a meeting with your boss over something, then don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about your side of the story and the facts of the matter at hand.

In your discussion, focus on:

  • Solutions to what’s happened (‘How can we solve this?’ should be your mentality).
  • If you’ve done something wrong, then admit it. Covering something up will only cause more problems later on.
  • If you feel that you’ve been unfairly treated then speak with a union representative or a lawyer before making any big decisions (e.g. choosing to resign).

I know that this is not a nice subject to talk about, but unfortunately it’s one that does come up. Protect yourself and your reputation, do your best everyday and just let life roll – some things are just beyond our control.

always learn

Another thing, by the way, is that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. I know that’s cliched, but it is true. Keep a written record of the mistakes you’ve made in life somewhere, and read over it on a weekly basis at least. When people tell us to ‘learn from our mistakes’, they can sometimes miss the fact that in order to learn from mistakes we have to remember those mistakes. Keeping a record and consistently reading over it is a good way to do this.

Stress tip #4: When student behavior is poor

It takes time and experience to build up our skills as good ‘behavior managers’.

Things to bear in mind are:

  • ‘Boring’ lessons can cause some kids to play up. Try to introduce a variety of activities into your lessons if possible, and be vigilant in watching your students carefully during practical activities, computer-based work and group work.
  • Praise, when used effectively and with sincerity, can be one of the most powerful behavior management tools out there. Read my blog post about The Four Rules of Praise here, and take the time to watch my video below:

  • Good behavior management can only really be achieved with a long-term strategy: effective lesson planning, good use of praise, fair and consistent use of sanctions if necessary and good use of ‘professional intelligence’ to reinforce our students’ sense of self-worth and character. Read my blog post on Subtle Reinforcement here.

Q & A

There are many facets to being a good behavior manager, but it basically all comes down to the relationship, or ‘rapport’, that you build with your students. Please read my blog posts on building rapport and behavior management.

Stress tip #5: When a colleague doesn’t like you (or is causing problems)

When you begin to have a positive effect on your students and you gain a reputation as a ‘good teacher’, you may create some enemies. Some of your colleagues may not like you simply because you are ‘better’ than they are.

Chapter 7 - gossiping

You need to be careful in these situations. Here are my tips:

  • Control your speech at all times when in the presence of your colleagues. Off-the-cuff remarks like “I’m behind with my marking” or “I got totally wasted on Friday night” can be used against you by conniving and jealous colleagues who want to secure your destruction.
  • Don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips. Gossips are notorious for being negative and untrustworthy. Just don’t do it. If you’re asked directly or prompted to gossip about a colleague, for example, you can respond with a “I don’t think I should talk about that” or even a “I don’t like to gossip about people”.
  • If a colleague is genuinely causing problems for you, then make a record of all interactions with that person (hand-written if necessary). Speak with your line-manager about it and ask for suggestions. It’s much better to tackle this issue in a professional way from the outset, rather than submitting a formal complaint when the problem has gotten out-of-hand.
  • If appropriate, speak with the colleague you are having issues with. You may wish to ask a third person to attend as a witness. Be polite. Be respectful. Show that you are the mature person in this scenario.
  • Keep all discussions with colleagues academic in nature. Try not to discuss politics or ‘touchy issues’ in society (e.g. Brexit, 2SLGBT+ rights, third-wave feminism, etc.). We live in a time, unfortunately, in which people can be easily ‘triggered’ by an alternative view you might have that challenges their perception of the world. Feel free to discuss this stuff with close friends or family outside of work, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your colleagues are your friends – they’re not. Your colleagues are the people you work with, and all interactions with them need to be professional in nature. If something is not related to your work or the curriculum, then you don’t need to discuss it. It’s that simple.

Conclusion

Teachers today are more stressed than we have ever been in history. Relax, plan-ahead, deal with issues head-on and don’t worry.

Two books I highly recommend for consistent worriers are given below:

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (click on the image to buy the book):

carnegie worrying.jpg

The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (click on the image to buy the book):

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Seeking Help from Colleagues: Tips for Teachers (Secret no. 11)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor-behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants  : they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.

talk n walk

In many schools around the world, teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first-hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really? Well he’s fine for me.”

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An AMAZING Book!”

The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If conversations of this type are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes a lot worse.

Question time!

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

Answers can be found at the end of this article

Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues

1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student: find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.

2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.

3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.

jenga

4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students that you teach, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of the things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine-tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.

5. Be sure to thank the positive deviant once the process is complete

Our colleagues are often the best people we can turn to for help – and another big advantage of seeking counsel ‘internally’ is that you’ll be liked all the more for respecting and acknowledging the expertise of the people you work with. 

That counts for a lot. 

I am borrowing the phrase ‘positive deviants’ from the excellent book ‘Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change’ by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I strongly recommend this book to any teachers who aspire to positively influence their students or who wish to be effective school managers.

teaching with laptop

Answers 

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

The answer to this question will depend very much on your own personal work environment.

I can share my own personal experiences with you in a effort to highlight the qualities you should look for.

When I was training to be a teacher and doing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be mentored by an amazing Biology teacher. The school I was training at was challenging, with students coming predominately from low-income families in an area of high crime. Kids came to school with a range of different forms of emotional ‘baggage’, and they would generally misbehave whenever the opportunity arose. It was difficult to maintain their interest and focus in lessons.

My mentor didn’t have the same problems as I did, however. When I observed his lessons I noticed that the same kids that were misbehaving in my classes were attentive and focussed in his. After careful study of this phenomenon, I discovered that this ‘positive deviant’ was doing the following in his teaching:

  • Listening very carefully to his students, respecting every question that came his way and offering the best answer he could
  • Using voice inflections to sound interested in the topic he was teaching (because he was, genuinely, interested)
  • Deploying activities to engage the students, such as practical work
  • Using the students’ names to address them (I’ve always found it difficult to remember student names)
  • Using ‘professional intelligence’ – knowledge of student interests and their ‘whole lives’ to build rapport. Common conversations he would have with his students would go something like this:

How’s your dad these days? Is she still working as an engineer?”

“I heard you did some great work in art class with Mrs. Stevens this week. Tell me about it.”

I’ve worked with so many excellent colleagues over the past 16 years. Teachers who have inspired me have had strengths in many areas, including the following:

  • Organization – I’ve learnt a lot about recycling resources, organizing homework and marking student work promptly from my colleagues over the years
  • Displays – some teachers are just naturals at creating beautiful classroom displays. A beautiful classroom is always conducive to learning.
  • Student-teacher rapport: I have learnt a lot about building rapport through showing a genuine care and concern for all of my students by following the examples of others. 

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

The first thing I’d like to say about this is that the teaching profession offers its family of educators two main opportunities: the opportunity to teach students and the opportunity to teach colleagues.

The past five years have given me tremendous scope to share my knowledge with people from all over the world – through this website, my books, social media and training sessions.

I can tell you this – teaching your colleagues can often be just as rewarding as teaching your students. 

We can share our expertise with our colleagues in many ways, including:

  • Running CPD sessions, perhaps after school on a rotational basis or during INSET/teacher-training days
  • Through blogs (WordPress is great as it allows people to comment and join in with the discussion – you can even comment at the bottom of this page, for example)
  • Virtual Learning Environments, where materials can be posted and shared with a network. Google Classroom, Firefly and Moodle are all great for this. 
  • Hosting or attending coffee mornings or meetups in your town or city. Check out meetup.com – there’s bound to be a teacher-training group on there. If there isn’t, then set one up. 

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5 Super Cool Teacher Hacks

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Supplementary video: 

I’m now 36-years-old. The years have flown by, and they have taught me that my life and time are both very precious. 

As a young and rather gullible NQT at 23-years-old, I was a massive time-waster. I wasted time on almost every nuts-and-bolts aspect of teaching. I wasted time writing reports from scratch. I spent hours creating tests and assessements and homeworks, and then hours marking them because I stupidly forgot to source or create an official mark scheme. I put kids on detention and then realised that I had to supervise those detentions, and that ate into my free time. 

Nowadays I have long-since scrapped all of those clumsy behaviours and I now streamline everything I can for maximum effectiveness.

So, grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit back because I’d like to share my new and improved teacher behaviours for maximum effect and efficiency.

Hack #1: Copy, paste and modify school reports

Writing school reports used to be a massive chore for teachers. I still remember receiving hand-written reports when I was a kid – imagine how long those must have taken for my teachers to write!

jenga

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, and I don’t feel ashamed to say that it’s okay to do a bit of copying and pasting with school reports – so long as you always modify the reports to match each student.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Write a really good set of original, unique school reports for your students. Save these to your computer somewhere (e.g. on Microsoft Word® or Google Docs®) and be sure to comment on attainment, progress and overall characteristics. This first stage will take considerable time (but it’s time that’s well-invested).
  2. When the next reporting cycle comes around, look at your student data and and use your own judgement to see which students match your old reports you wrote. For example, Jennifer from this reporting cycle might be very similar to Susan, who you taught last year.
  3. Use the ‘Replace’ feature on a word processor (like MS Word) to quickly change names, adjectives, genders and other key terms.
  4. Add some unique descriptors and features for that student. Make sure the report accurately reflects the student you’re writing about.
  5. Highlight the report you’ve just modified so that you know that you’ve used this one (you don’t want to duplicate copies)
  6. Copy and paste the text into your report-writing system at school.

I like to be quite prosaic in my report-writing – it ensures that my reports are accurate and professional. I sometimes use a template to help me.

Create a S.W.A.P. template

Every report should contain these four elements (at the very least):

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses (including targets)
  • Attainment
  • Progress

They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, but they should all be present somewhere.

A good template can save you tons of time, and will ensure that your reports are detailed and accurate. I’ve given an example with applications below. Please feel free to copy and paste and use this as you see fit:

x has had a disappointing/steady/good/very good term/half-term/year/semester. He/She has shown strengths in a number of areas including……………………….. . This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by………………………………. x’s most recent recent assessment score was ……………., which indicates to me that……………………….. Progress has been disappointing/steady/good/very good, as exemplified by the fact that………………… 

Let’s see this in action below:

Example 1: An excellent student

Joshua has had a very good half-term. He has shown strengths in a number of areas including modular arithmetic, definite and indefinite integration and differentiation. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more of the Higher Level assigned tasks on MyiMaths, as he does have the ability to challenge himself further. Joshua’s most recent assessment score was 83%, which indicates to me that he is completing the necessary revision at home. Progress has been very good, as exemplified by the fact that he has jumped from a level 6 to a level 7 in the space of just seven weeks.  

Example 2: An average student

Lisa has had a steady half-term. She has shown strengths in a number of areas including balancing chemical equations and completing laboratory practical work. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more practice questions on Quantitative Chemistry and using the model answers as a good guide for improvement.  Lisa’s most recent recent assessment score was 54%, which indicates to me that she has a good knowledge of some areas of the subject, but needs to work harder to revise identified weaknesses. Progress has been steady, as exemplified by the fact that Lisa’s assessment scores have been consistently above 50% since the start of the course. 

Hack #2: ‘Live’ Marking

I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.

Discussing homework

Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  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 here. Some general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

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

Hack #3: Education Apps

I had the chance to rigorously test out the apps I’m about to show you and, I can tell you: they really do make life easier (and they can do some cool things too!).

1. Nearpod

Where you can get it and use it: App Store, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Chrome Web store and on the web at Nearpod.com

Cool Feature #1: You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.

Cool feature #2: Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.

When I tested Nearpod I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at her blog:

As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.

Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.

I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.

Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.

Cool feature 3: Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).

I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over 450 ready-to-run VR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:

  • Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
  • You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).

I love this app and I look forward to using all of its features with my students.

2. Noteability

Where to get it: App Store, Mac App Store

Cool feature #1: Noteability has allowed me to make the most amazing notes and save tons of paper and paper-notebooks in the process. Just look at these beautiful notes I made during my Science JAWs training a few months ago:

As you can see, you can select a wide variety of colors and make beautiful notes, Mind-Maps®, concept-maps, flow charts, diagrams and more.

I use this feature of Noteability to:

  • Plan things in my daily life (such as my blog posts, my weekend plans, my fitness plans, etc)
  • Write shopping lists
  • Write lesson plans
  • Take notes in school meetings

Cool feature #2: Noteability allows you to annotate PDFs with the Apple Pencil. This is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me to annotate my IB Diploma Chemistry coursework (Internal Assessment) quickly and clearly before uploading the coursework to the IBIS system.

I can see this feature becoming really useful for schools that want to save paper and for teachers that want to annotate coursework, homework or classwork and then send it back to the student in some way (e.g. by e-mail, through Google Drive or through Google Classroom).

Take a look at this IB Chemistry coursework annotation I recently did with Noteability and the Apple Pencil:

Another way to use this feature is to get the kids to scan their classwork, homework or past-paper answers and then annotate each other’s work with the Apple Pencil. The teacher could also annotate it too:

Cool feature #3: Students can make revision notes, classnotes, homework assignments and submit work all through Noteability. Using the ‘split-screen’ mode on the iPad Pro they can even copy images and charts directly from a web-page they are reading at the same time:

For students, I can see Noteability being using in a range of creative ways:

  • Making revision notes
  • Annotating their own work, or each other’s
  • Creating assignments and presentations (Noteability allows users to copy content from the web seamlessly using ‘split-screen’ mode)
  • Making notes in class

There is the possibility that tablets may even replace traditional school notebooks in future too – removing the need for 11-year-old kids to carry really heavy bags around school all day (and this has already been linked to back problems).

My thoughts on Noteability

I mentioned this a few blog posts ago but I feel it’s worth a second shout-out.

I like this app because it has basically replaced all of my notebooks, and is an excellent planning, note-taking and annotation tool.

A big drawback of Noteability, at the time of writing, is that it is only compatible with iOS. Not all students use Apple devices, and schools won’t always fork-out money for them. However, I have found that my own personal investment in an iPad Pro, along with Noteability, has enchanced my life in many ways and has benefited some of my students as I have been able to annotate their work better than ever before.

3. Flipgrid

Where to get it and use it: Microsoft Store, App Store, Google Play Store and at flipgrid.com

Cool features: Flipgrid is a secure video-commenting/video-conferencing platform. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower student voice” and they’ve certainly achieved that with this app.

Basically, the teacher uploads a video of himself/herself asking a question, or posts a question, link, resource or video, and the students respond by taking videos of themselves responding to the material.

It’s super cool!

Once the students have uploaded their videos of themselves, other students can see them and watch them (and comment on them). They can even respond to videos with videos, so it really can get a discussion flowing!

Image courtesy of Flipgrid

Each video a student creates will receive feedback from other students and the class teacher, and the student who made the video can quickly see the feedback they’ve received.

I would recommend all tech-interested educators to check out Jess Bell’s guest blog post over at larryferlazzo.edublogs.org entitled ‘Getting Started with Flipgrid’.

My thoughts on Flipgrid

When I tested it it took me a while to figure out how to use it, and what its purpose was.

Once I’d signed up, however, the website directed me to lots of great help and resources. There’s a load of pre-made lessons and students can sign in with a simple pre-generated code (like Kahoot! and Nearpod) which saves tons of time.

Once you’ve signed up (it’s free) and you’re in on Flipgrid, your dashboard will look something like this:

As you can see: it has a very user-friendly interface.

Hack #4: Learning Journals 

Shortly after getting my PGCE and completing my NQT year in the UK, I came to Thailand to work as a Chemistry Teacher at an international school in Bangkok. I was lucky enough to have been given a very able and hard-working class of Year 10 students to teach. In fact, the illustrator of this blog and my books: Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati, was in that class. 

I decided to try Learning Journals with these IGCSE Chemistry students. The idea was that they were to buy a special notebook (not their normal class book) and fill it with revision summaries, mind-maps, key words and anything learnt in class each week. I wanted it to be a ‘living journal’, and not just simply a replica of the students’ class notes. 

The students mainly took to it very well. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:

2 MARCH

16 MARCH21 MARCH.jpg

25 MARCH

Highly-motivated students like Pop would always hand in beautiful notes, every single week. In fact, CfBT inspectors came to that school that year and they said that Pop’s notes were the best they had ever seen!

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

However, some students didn’t take to it that well and I found out why: I wasn’t giving feedback regularly enough. Some weeks I would be too busy with other school things, so I would sometimes (to my shame) collect in the journals and simply give them back the next day with some simple verbal feedback only.

I discovered that when students were given some written feedback on a weekly basis, however small, they was a marked improvement in the quality of the journals I received each week. 

Back then, when I realised this at 26 years of age, I would write multiple comments on every page in a student’s journal. This almost killed me when I had 20 journals to mark. I soon gave that up and came up with a better way.

Oh, but did the journals work? Well…that class went on to get 100% A*-C in their Chemistry IGCSEs.

Did the journals help them achieve this? I believe so.

My updated (better) journaling system

I’ve set up a Learning Journal system with my Year 11 IGCSE and Year 12 and 13 IBDP classes. Every Monday they must bring their journals to my room and place them in the right place, as shown below:

Learning Journal System

Then, after school every Monday I write one and only one post-it note of feedback for each student; which I stick in their journals. This keeps my feedback focused on the essentials and increases my productivity.

An example of what this feedback might look like is given in this reconstruction below:

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Students pick up their journals (with post-it note feedback inside) every Tuesday, meaning that they are getting recurring, weekly feedback as well as regular, meaningful homework.

I’ve been using this system successfully for a few years now. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly. 

A little ‘tweak’

I did find that the Monday evenings were becoming quite hard because of all of the journals I was marking. Now, I spread out the days to match my timetable:

  • Year 11 give me their journals on a Monday
  • Year 12 on a Wednesday
  • Year 13 on a Friday

The system allows me to give regular feedback to my students, and it seems to be showing in the progress they are making in tests and assessments.

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. 

Learning Journals Conclusion

  • Journaling is a powerful tool when used correctly
  • It can be applied to any subject area
  • It’s great for exam-level classes doing revision
  • Recurring feedback and meaningful homework come as part of the package
  • The students can be creative and present their journals in any way they choose (online is an option too)
  • The feedback process allows the teacher to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses very quickly
  • The Learning Journal is a permanent record that the students can treasure and be proud of
  • Journaling is not used enough in the teaching profession. I aim to change this. 

Hack #5: Self and Peer Assessment

There’s no doubt about it – getting students involved in their own assessment and marking has a wide-variety of benefits.

walking around wt laptop

Take this great summary by Rosario Hernandez at University College Dublin for example, which explains that peer-assessment benefits students in four key ways:

  • Promotes high quality learning
  • Contributes to skills development
  • Furthers personal development
  • Increases students’ confidence, reduces stress and improves student motivation

That’s quite a convincing list!

Peer assessment

Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-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 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.

But how should we use self and peer-assessment?

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 – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with the 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. 

Art class

Training students to assess themselves

This is a gradual process and basically involves exposing students to exam-style questions and past-papers; along with their mark schemes, over a prolonged period of time. The process is straightforward but can be monotonous: provide past-papers as homework, classwork, projects and even through a special past-paper ECA club (which I’m currently doing with my IGCSE and IBDP students – it’s very effective). 

There are a number of creative ways to train students up in proper exam-technique:

  • Cut up the questions and answers to past-papers and hand them to students one-at-a-time. They can only come and get the next question when they’ve effectively answered and marked the previous one.
  • Give students the answers to questions and get them to write the questions! Use the same method as the previous bullet-point above, or set up a large display and get students to put their answers on post-it notes which they can stick to the display.
  • Get a big container filled with cut-up exam questions. Students have to pick out questions from the container in pairs or threes, and work on them. No two groups should have the same question. 
  • Students can make revision videos, websites and even stop-motion animations that contain exam-style questions and answers. 

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