Originally posted December 2017. Updated December 2022.
The Christmas vacation is finally here. Many of us in the teaching profession can now look forward to a good couple of weeks of much-needed rest and recuperation.
Our students deserve a break too.
I agree that time spent with family and friends is an absolute essential right now, but I’m also mindful of the workload and duties that will hit me like a tornado when I return to school in January.
When it comes to school holidays, I always see them as time to ‘go at my own pace’. The way I see it, I have two choices:
Do nothing for the whole holiday and totally chill out, returning to the normal barrage of work that hits every teacher at the start of Term 2
Still have a holiday and some rest but do some little things to get a head-start on things before I return to school
I’ve always found that trying to do option 2 is the best, even if I don’t get through all of the ‘head-start’ work that I plan to do.
Is this an admission of failure before I even begin? Maybe, but here are my plans made as realistic as possible: meaning that I can have a rest and do around 50% (minimum) of these things too:
Requisitions and orders: I’m a Science Teacher, so I need to order chemicals and equipment for my lessons each week. This Christmas my first priority will be to get all of my requisitions done for each week of Term 2, ahead of time. This will save me many a long night when I get back to school, and will help me to plan ahead and reinforce my long-term curriculum mapping.
Termly review: Every Christmas I make it a priority to evaluate where I am at now, and where I want to be with my classes by the end of the term. This kind of self-analysis allows me to see where I’m behind and where I’m ahead and how to address those issues. This is really important for final-level exam classes as they must have covered the whole syllabus and have revised by the time the terminal exams come along.
Getting back to gym: I’ve been slacking off lately (I said this back in 2017 too!). No excuses this time. I’ve got every day free for a few weeks so I’ll be up early and out for a jog before hitting the weights later in the day.
Responding to student e-mails: Some students in my exam classes will be e-mailing me with questions about past-papers, coursework and subject-specific stuff. If I can help, then I will help. However, if not urgent, then I will deal with these queries when I am back at school.
Clothes: I’m running out of a few things (such as shirts that actually fit me!). Time for a wardrobe mini-makeover so that I continue to look half-decent at work.
Writing my next book: My first book was quite well-received, as was my second (The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback) so I’ve decided to have a go at writing another. Ten Techniques Every Teacher Needs to Know will explore the themes of classroom management and assessment to inform learning in even greater depth and breadth than my first book, and will build upon the fundamentals covered in one of my most popular blog posts. I see this as ‘downtime’ for me because I really love writing. Can I count this as ‘relaxation’?
Going back to karate: Another thing I’ve been putting off. Time to get a regular schedule set up.
Contacting people I should have contacted ages ago. Chasing up old leads and projects that I’ve allowed to slip.
Of course, as well as all of this I plan to enjoy my freedom in Thailand as much as possible. A trip to Pak Chong (where The Big Boss was filmed), along with my long-awaited visit to the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (still haven’t done that yet – it needs to go on the list!).
How will you use your free-time this Christmas? Is it all one-big holiday or can you think of some small ways to make your life easier when you get back to school?
An unfortunate stigma has been attached to Teacher Talking Time (TTT) in recent years. A common misconception is that the more a teacher talks, the less effective their lesson will be. This is simply not true. Teachers MUST talk to their students during lessons – for many and varied reasons. In today’s blog post I will describe the best ways to make use of Teacher Talking Time within the classroom.
Accompanying Podcast Episode:
The official consensus
Unfortunately, the official advice published by much of world’s most respected educationalists is misleading at best, and downright inaccurate at worst. Just take a look at these examples:
“TTT often means that the teacher is giving the students information that they could be finding out for themselves, such as grammar rules, the meanings of vocabulary items and corrections. Teacher explanations alone are often tedious, full of terminology and difficult to follow. There may be no indication of whether the students have understood.” –British Council
“Some EFL/ESL researchers say that students should speak for 70% of the lesson. Teachers should speak for 30% of the time. Of course, some lessons may require longer explanations on the part of the teacher. Or other lessons may only require a minimal amount of explanation, and 90% or more may be devoted to conversational activities. But this 70/30 figure works well as a goal in most classroom situations.” – Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al, International Journal of Applied Language and Cultural Studies
The majority of the research on TTT has been carried out in English teaching/EFL/EAL settings – yet the conclusions derived are overwhelmingly extrapolated to other subject areas. This, in my opinion, presents everyday teachers with a double-edged sword: bad conclusions to begin with, applied to subject areas beyond the scope of the available research.
Teachers MUST talk to students
Let’s address the British Council’s statement on TTT first – that TTT replaces student-led inquiry all too often, and that teacher-explanations can be tedious, and that there may be no indication of whether the students have understood the content.
This simply isn’t true for most teachers. We are not robots that deliver monotonic talks from lecterns. We use voice inflections, quick-fire questioning, repetition of key words, movement and mannerisms and we are vigilant in checking that students have understood content along the way by providing directed tasks, such as worksheets, learning games and live quizzes.
Let’s also address the student-led research point the British Council makes. Project work, group explorations and directed investigations that encourage students to discover content for themselves work well for low stakes classes that have moderate, or simple content to get through in a large amount of time. Problems arise, however, when teachers try to do these exploration/student-led discovery tasks on a regular basis with advanced-level students who have massive amounts of content to get through in a limited amount of time. Such teachers often find that they fall behind schedule, because such tasks take up large amounts of time, and that students pick up big misconceptions and incomplete knowledge along the way. This time could be better spent on teacher-directed tasks, such as slide presentations, focussed explanations using the smartboard and past-exam papers, that offer clarity in a timely manner.
The 70/30 rule proposed by Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al. is also impractical in most subject areas, most of the time. Just think about all of the reasons why teachers may need to talk within a lesson:
To welcome students into class and begin starter activities, or to provide initial instructions – e.g. “Good morning, Year 10. Please take your seats and please log on to Google Classroom”
To provide instructions for project work, such as experiments, practical work, model building, group creation tasks, homework, etc.
To prompt students in real-time as we’re walking around the room – e.g. “Joshua, don’t forget to underline the title”, “Marisa, please highlight the key equation”, etc.
To explain things – e.g. by writing out worked solutions on the whiteboard/smartboard and describing the rationale for each step of the process
To sanction students and have those necessary one-to-one conversations, and to use effective behaviour management techniques (such as building rapport and using questioning to bring students back on task)
As we can see from this list (and I’m sure there are more examples that you can think of), teachers need to talk A LOT during every lesson they deliver. In fact, one could really push some buttons within educational circles by stating an obvious truth – that effective lessons actually involve lots of TTT, as opposed just to the small amount we have been led to believe.
A shift in focus needs to happen within the teaching profession – from TTT to variety of tasks delivered in lessons. All too often, lesson observers cite excessive TTT as a weakness when, in actuality, lack of variety may have been a factor in lowering the effectiveness of a lesson.
TTT in-and-of itself is not detrimental to learning: it’s the ways in which we use our TTT that matter.
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Teenagers and young people really can be the agents of change the world needs when it comes to sustainability. Fortune Magazine, for example, recently told the story of how global giant UPS was started by two teenagers and a bike back in 1907, and how the company went back to being eco-friendly with its e-bike delivery service in Hamburg back in 2012 (a service which has now expanded to many more cities). Today, I’ve invited Claire Maguire from online student magazine, The Day, to describe some great ways in which teachers can teach sustainability to their students.
Accompanying podcast episode:
How do we teach sustainability to school students?
World news is dominated by reports of extreme flooding, droughts, forest fires and severe storms. It can seem overwhelming for young people; the generation who will increasingly shoulder responsibility for tackling climate change.
What can educators do to empower young people to take positive action?
With more global sustainability events happening around the world every day, it’s the perfect time to bring students into the conversation.
Whether it’s discussing world events such as COP27 or confidently tackling conversations around climate disasters such as floods and fires, there’s no rulebook on how to teach sustainability to school students. But there are a number of approaches that can be effective to really engage young people to take positive action.
The complexities and political implications of sustainability can make it a challenging topic to teach. By following this guide, we hope sustainability can be accessible for your classroom, and you can confidently learn how to teach sustainability to school students in a way that inspires and empowers your class to really engage with these critical issues.
Fortunately, there are so many resources out there to help you tackle these topics.
Online newspaper for schools, The Day, has a team of journalists covering the big issues behind the headlines in climate change in a child-friendly way that aids healthy debate and discussion in the classroom. For example, The Day’s free Build the Change resource, developed in collaboration with the LEGO Group, focuses on a sustainability news topic every week and challenges pupils to come up with creative solutions to environmental issues.
Keep it relevant
Students are much more likely to pay attention if something affects them directly, or it’s something they’ve heard about already. By using the news as a guide, it can transform conversations that might take place at the dinner table or on the bus into a learning experience. From discussions about veganism to debates on electric cars, by honing in on current issues, students are more likely to engage with topics that affect their everyday lives. As sustainability is so broad and intricate, by focusing on specific issues, it can be easier to teach and to digest as a student.
By using the news as a starting point, real-world events become an opportunity for learning. It might be learning that the eighth billionth person will be born and thinking about if the world can cope with the volume of people that really gets your class thinking. Or it might be discovering Sir David Attenborough receiving a knighthood for his sustainability efforts that engages a child who is particularly fond of the English broadcaster and biologist.
Let them have an opinion
Young people are going to be the most affected by the impact of sustainability issues. Encouraging them to form their own point of view on different issues is the best way to really ignite a passion for sustainability.
With the “you decide” feature of the Build the Change resources, students are posed with a thought-provoking question and an option to agree or disagree with the statement.
As sustainability issues are highly debated anyway, it offers the chance for students to work out where they stand on key issues affecting our planet.
Is climate change history repeating itself? Can children save the world? Can the planet cope with 8 billion people? Presenting students with questions like these is a great way to teach sustainability to school students as it allows them to think beyond the news and really analyse the facts, evidence and information in front of them.
You can set up a whole class debate or put students into groups to challenge each other’s way of thinking, and see if they can form a judgement on the topic.
Slot sustainability into the school day
83.1% of educators wish sustainability issues were more broadly implemented across the curriculum*. Time is a luxury most teachers don’t have, and with a jam-packed curriculum having to take priority, sustainability education tends to have to take a backseat.
Yet 45.4% of educators believe sustainability education is very important, and if we want to help students become agents of change, we need to give them the tools to make a difference.
The Build the Change weekly resources cover sustainability from a range of angles and allow you to pick and choose activities. This means it can be incorporated into lessons or the school day whenever makes the most sense. You might decide to weave this Build the Change resource on how smart computers can save forests into a technology lesson, or get your science class fascinated by the idea of lab-grown hamburgers. Yet it can also fit nicely into short pockets of the day, with short bursts of activity suited to form time or after lunch.
Source ready-to-go resources
We know lesson planning can be the bane of educators’ lives. Sustainability is a huge topic that young people have lots of questions on, so planning lessons can be time-consuming. But there are a whole host of engaging sustainability resources out there that you can simply get up on the interactive whiteboard or print off and use with your class.
Inspiring the next generation of changemakers starts by getting them to think about how they would tackle these issues. That doesn’t mean students need to solve global warming, but they can begin to explore solutions and ways of living that cause less harm to the planet, such as creating a habitat for endangered animals to survive.
The aim is to engage young people in the issues and inspire them to feel they can make a difference. By giving them practical design, problem-solving or creative challenges to address sustainability issues, they can begin to feel empowered.
Every Build the Change Tuesday article features a hands-on Build the Change challenge related to the news story. For example, an article about rising sea levels inspires students to think about how humans might one day live underwater and challenges them to build an underwater habitat using craft materials or LEGO® bricks. These ideas can be shown to real-life sustainability figures by entering the LEGO competition, where a photograph of students’ ideas just needs to be submitted to the gallery. You can download this pack to find out more.
Empowering your students
When you’re thinking about how to teach sustainability to school students, the most important thing to remember is that you’re preparing them to make a real difference.
Igniting a passion for sustainability where they understand the impact of human actions and genuinely want to make a difference is the best way to give students the tools to become agents of change. How does what they read in the news affect their local community, their home life, or their school?
Put learning into practice
When you’re thinking about how to teach sustainability to school students, think about your school. How sustainable is it? How can you make it more eco-friendly?
Giving students projects that can enable a change right away is a fantastic way to put their passion for sustainability into practice.
You can use students’ ideas to put real-life projects to improve your school’s sustainability by entering The Day’s competition with the LEGO Group. Winning entries can win £2,000 for their school to put towards these projects and take the next step in sustainability.
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