Answers to the Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management are being posted sequentially over the next few days.

The answers given here represent the author’s personal opinions and should be used to form the basis of discussion. You may have your own thoughts to share – why not comment at the Rogers Community Forum or on Richard’s blog?

Question time! Page 23

1. What is the purpose of marking? Why should we mark our students’ work anyway?

Marking provides students with acknowledgement for the work they have done. Without marking, students can feel that their efforts are worthless – that their hard work is not appreciated.

Marking also allows teachers to provide feedback – pointing out ‘mistakes’ and the methods to correct them. When this is done in a caring, non-confrontational way, it really can help students to enjoy the process of constant personal improvement.

Marking also allows the teacher to become intimate with the skills, attributes, abilities and needs of a particular class of students. By checking classwork and homework regularly, teachers can find out information about:

  • Key problems that seem to recur (e.g. calculation difficulties)
  • Presentation skills and artistic ability
  • Misconceptions picked up along the way (by individuals and by whole classes)
  • Skills issues (e.g. not labeling diagrams correctly, failure to use a ruler when drawing tables)
  • Effort and determination

On a final note we must not forget that marking should also aim to encourage and motivate students. A few genuine and specific words of praise can have a massive impact on a child’s sense of self-confidence.

2. Which ‘Golden Rule of Praise and Encouragement’ (page 18) is most important and why?

They’re all pretty important to be honest, but one does stand out as being particularly impactful: ‘Praise only works if it is sincere’. Praise should never be faked – we do our students a massive disservice when we over-praise, or use flattery.

The real world doesn’t hand-out participation medals for showing up, nor does it reward mediocrity. In order to train each generation for the trials of life we must ensure that they have earned their praise – that effort has been shown to achieve the positive feedback; the certificate; the medal.

In addition to this, sincere praise is quite simply more effective than flattery. Children are not stupid – they know when we’re being honest and when we’re exaggerating. Be specific – find something worthwhile to celebrate.

Question time! Page 28

1. For the five examples of marked work on pages 22, 23, 25, 27 and 28, what distinctive comments/features benefit the student who’s receiving the work back?

There are a number of positives that we can glean from the different examples:

  • The feedback is very specific: highlighting key terminology and concepts that the student must master. The comments on page 27, for example, say “It’s better to describe this as ‘the nuclear envelope disappears/disintegrates'” and “‘poles’ is a better word than ‘ends'”.
  • Key ‘success skills’ are acknowledged and praised in the feedback, which will serve to build-up the student’s self-confidence and determination. “An excellent piece of work, which clearly took time to complete. Well done for putting so much effort into this” the feedback reads on page 28, for example. Here we see that skills needed to succeed in life (i.e. putting time and effort into our endeavors) are reinforced.
  • Suggestions for further inquiry and study are given in the marked examples on pages 22 and 23, which is really handy for advanced/exam-level students. With comments like “You should probably review the following topics…..” (page 22) and “You should probably go over growth curves and global warming” (page 23) we give our students direction in a friendly, ‘I care about you’ way.

2. Are there any disadvantages of marking in this way?

It does take a lot of time to write lengthy comments like this on student work. I certainly wouldn’t advise that this be done for every assignment that the students submit. However, there are still ways to provide this depth of feedback without staying up late each night and using-up gallons of red ink:

  • Train the kids in the correct use of peer and self-assessment and get them to delineate detail in their feedback to themselves and others (you can read more about peer and self-assessment techniques here)
  • Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ – ask kids to come to your desk one at a time and mark their work in front of them, or walk around the class with a pen in hand and mark the kids’ work as they are doing it. This means that the marking gets done on-site, in class, in real-time. This saves you the hassle of taking piles of work home to mark on regular basis. You can read more about ‘Live Marking’ here.
  • Provide verbal feedback to your students, and get them to write a summary of what you said on the piece of work you discussed.

3. Are there any features of the students’ work I that failed to pick-up on in my marking?

There are probably quite a number of errors in some of the examples that I didn’t pick up on in my marking. Some that I can identify in hindsight are:

  • Overall presentation in individual cases, including the underlining of titles and dates, quality of handwriting and the size of diagrams
  • The level of detail apparent in some of the sketches
  • Formatting preferences, such as the use of arrows to show the steps in the meiosis sequence in the work on pages 25 and 27

However, it is important to note that I deliberately did not comment on these points as I was more concerned with the conceptual detail in the work (which is what will get the student most of the marks in the final exam).

In order to build-up self-confidence in our students we must remember to only correct SMALL clusters of problems at a time. Once a student has mastered the conceptual detail, for example, we can then focus on getting the presentation right. An overly-critical approach when marking can cause more harm than good – causing students to feel disappointed and resulting in hours and hours of your time lost in the process of marking.

Question time! Page 46

1. Why do games matter? How do they enhance our teaching?

Games serve to disrupt the monotony of a lesson and get kids excited about what they have learned, or are learning. They can offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Reinforcing key vocabulary and terminology
  • Building up relationships between peers and interpersonal skills
  • Creating suspense and healthy competition
  • Building a sense of accomplishment, which then creates memory
  • Getting the kids moving, sending oxygen to key parts of the brain to enhance learning
  • Disrupting tiredness and lethargy
  • Builds creativity by allowing students to think about concepts in unconventional ways
  • Develops fondness for the subject and builds-up that ever-crucial student-teacher rapport

So it’s clear – games are really beneficial and you don’t need a ton of money, resources or time to set them up.

2. Is there an age-limit at which games start to become ineffective? Are there particular game ‘types’ that appeal to older high-school students, but don’t appeal to younger ones?

In my personal experience, I’ve found that games work with kids at any age. You might get a few awkward grumbles from students aged 13 and upwards when they have to get out of their seats and move a bit, but once they get into the swing of things they tend have a jolly old time!

In terms of game ‘types’ and how this relates to age: I haven’t found any direct relationship in my teaching experience. I would imagine that games like Bingo and the Poster Game may require greater prior explanation for primary-school kids, and you may find that younger kids ‘fight’ a bit during games like ‘Splat’, but overall all of the game types appeal to high school kids of any age.

You can see the games mentioned in The Quick Guide to Classroom Management in full color here and here).

Question time! Page 81

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.