What We Should Be Teaching Children About Gender (Part 1)

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The topic of gender, and how children should be taught about it (and if they should be taught about it at all), has become a delicate, controversial and highly-provocative topic. Any writer who dares to even touch on this topic today is doomed to receive a barrage of hatred from people who come from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.

I know this, because I myself have been on the receiving end of that hatred on more than a couple of occasions in the past.

After writing and publishing a blog post entitled Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools: Some Research and Conclusions (which I thought was a pretty balanced and fair synopsis of some of the most pertinent research and history on this issue) I received nasty messages on social media, hateful reviews of my books on Goodreads and Amazon (by people who hadn’t even read the books) and even messages to family members and friends who had shown the audacity to like, or comment, on one or more of my photos or posts. This was my virtual ‘second-wave’ of acrimony: I had received my first after publishing On Gender Neutral Toilets in Schools.

For a community that claims to celebrate diversity, a small (but significant) minority of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals do themselves and their cause no favors by showing complete intolerance to diversity of opinion.

This leads me to today’s gargantuan mission: to describe what the published evidence states about what should actually be taught about gender in schools, and then (in the coming weeks and onwards) when and how it should be taught. I know that the hate will come to me by reflex-action by some individuals who won’t even read this far. All I can say is bring it on: we all show our true, ‘rainbow’ colours through our actions.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

What should we be teaching children about gender?

Before we can even begin to answer that question, we need to answer a question that is much more fundamental: What is gender?

Growing up as a primary school kid in the 80s was a fairly simple experience with regards to this issue, and the question of what gender was didn’t need to be asked (or so it seemed). My school friends were boys and girls, and nothing else. Boys looked and acted differently to girls. My parents and the adults I encountered in society were men and women – and they were all very easy to distinguish as such.

I guess what I’m saying is that the data from my life experience provided everything I needed to know about gender: There were boys, girls, men and women. Nothing else (or so it appeared).

Today, however, that assumption – that gender is binary, is thought by many to be inaccurate. Former elementary school principal Anthony Ciuffo sums up his awakening to this knowledge eloquently: in a recent ASCD report:

Perhaps the most important lesson we gleaned from our immersion in the literature was the idea that gender is not the binary concept (where someone is either a girl or a boy) that most of us have grown up believing it to be.

Anthony Ciuffo, 2019. Rethinking Conventions: Keeping Gender-Diverse Students Safe. ASCD.

This central, bold premise is rather a big one. I wanted to find out where Ciuffo was getting his information from. As a molecular biology graduate this statement made some sense to me initially: Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, with the only distinguishing feature between most males and females at the chromosomal level being that one of those pairs consists of an X and Y chromosome for males, whereas a woman has an X and X chromosome in that position within the karyotype (a karyotype is essentially a list of all of the chromosome pairs). Some rare exceptions to this rule do happen, however (some of which I was surprised to learn about during the course of my research for this blog post):

  • Klinefelter syndrome (XXY biological males)
  • Chapelle syndrome (XX biological males – described as an ‘intersex’ condition)
  • XYY males
  • Turner syndrome (biological females who have one X chromosome missing, or partially missing)
  • Triple X syndrome (biological females who have three X chromosomes)
  • Swyer syndrome (biological females who have the XY chromosome pair, normally present in biological males)

The fact that these ‘syndromes’/conditions/possibilities exist in the first place should surprise most people who assume that gender is binary – even the biological evidence suggests that numerous exceptions to that premise exist. This raises more questions:

  1. How many gender-affecting situations at the genetic-molecular level are we not aware of?
  2. To what extent do chromosomal arrangements actually affect gender?

That last question is a pertinent one that humanity will soon have to really get to grips with, as both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that that the ‘full story’ of gender is by no means determined by genetics alone. Take Sasha Komarova (a Russian model) for example: she has Swyer syndrome (XY), yet she would most certainly identify as a female (and many would argue a very attractive one, at that). At the chromosomal level she ‘should’ be a male, but the physical reality that has manifested is a female body.

Research-based evidence that supports the notion that genetics have a role to play in a wide-range of gender expressions is mounting by the year:

  • In September of 2019, the largest-ever genome-wide-association study of same-gender sexuality was published in the very well-respected journal, Science. The primary finding was that multiple genes are significantly associated with engaging in same-gender sexual behavior (Diamond, Lisa. 2021)
  • A large literature review by Polderman et al, 2018, came to this significant conclusion: “Based on the data reviewed, we hypothesize that gender identity is a multifactorial complex trait with a heritable polygenic component. We argue that increasing the awareness of the biological diversity underlying gender identity development is relevant to all domains of social, medical, and neuroscience research and foundational for reducing health disparities and promoting human-rights protections for gender minorities“.

Conclusion

One can only conclude from the karyotypic and genetic evidence that gender may not be binary after all, and that other chromosomal/gene-loci/genetic-molecular arrangements may exist that lead to a gender expression that does not match the binary that we’ve mostly grown up to believe is true. In fact, to hold steadfast the central dogma that gender is exclusively a binary phenomenon is not only old-fashioned, but it’s plain wrong according to the scientific evidence we have at present.

Next week

Next week I will explore gender from a brain chemistry and hormonal profile perspective. Following that, I will explore what should be taught to children, and at what stages in their development it should be taught.

Bibliography and references

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How to Develop a Passion for Reading in our Students

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The ability to read is possibly the most important skill that students should master whilst at school. It is so important, in fact, that a simple Google search of the phrase “The importance of reading for students” brings up hundreds of millions of hits (around 717 million at the time of writing this article, to be exact).

Do your students love to read?

There are numerous benefits of reading: for adults and children alike. I could choose to spend the rest of this article describing those benefits, but I fear that I would be preaching to the converted. As teachers, we already know that reading is important. I hope you will permit me, however, to at least include my favourite quote about reading from one of my favourite actors:

For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.

Will Smith

So, we know that our students must learn to read. However, what’s equally important is that our students learn to love reading. And this is what I want to explore with you today: How do we get our students, or our children, to enjoy reading? How do we prevent reading from becoming a laborious, dull part of their schooling and instead turn it into to a relaxing and, dare I say it, exciting past-time?

Tip #1: Turn reading into a collaborative task (with a creative output)

Reading is all-to-often seen as a solitary activity, which is most unfortunate. Set up times, or clubs, where students can read to each other and perhaps generate some kind of creative output – perhaps building a model of what they’ve read (Design Technology), calculating and mapping the frequency of different words (Mathematics) or even creating the costumes the characters might be wearing (Textiles). When reading becomes an active process, students realize that there’s actually a lot of ‘juice’ one can squeeze from a book, or even a short segment of text.

Perhaps you could couple collaborative reading with a technological task too – such as creating a Minecraft landscape of the setting for the story, or even setting up a Google Site online journal of learning.

My award-winning book for teachers is a popular choice for teacher book clubs.

The possibilities for collaboration in reading, coupled with creative outputs, really are limited only by one’s imagination. In fact, you may wish to ‘crowdsource’ ideas from the children themselves, perhaps by using a worksheet/prompt like the one below:

Could this be a tool to help your students read collaboratively?

If you like the above tool, then you can download it as a pdf here.

#2: Host reading and reading-related competitions and events

Some ideas to consider are:

  • Celebrate World Book Day by allowing students to come into school dressed as their favourite book characters. Perhaps offer special prizes for the best costumes, or even run a fashion show on the day. Award plus points/merits/whatever your school’s ‘reward tokens’ are for students who bring in their favourite books on the day.
  • Invite a local author to come into school to talk about their work. As an author myself, I know for a fact that the author will love the opportunity to gain some exposure, and if you ask politely you may even get some free, signed books for school out of it.
  • Run book clubs or events by genre – specialization can generate more interest in reading. Have a day for self-help books, one for non-fiction, one for animals – anything that the students are interested in.
  • Take the students to a reading-related place, such as a local library or actual location from a book. Students will often be unaware that these places exist in the first place, and their discovery may set in-motion some profound changes that result in a love of reading. My primary school took me to my local library as child, for example, and that place became my study-hangout in my teens. I just loved being surrounded by all of those books. It’s a feeling that’s very unique.

#3: Read with your students, and to your students, with passion

Get involved in all of the activities listed above. Join the collaboration groups, for example, even if only for 10 minutes at a time. Read topical news articles, extracts from books, quotes of the day or any materials that provide positive messages for students. Have a sign outside your door that tells students what you are reading at that time.

Bottom line – get stuck in yourself! Never underestimate the subliminal messages that students pick up on when they see us model positive behaviors.

Further reading (no pun intended):

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4 Important Tips for Using Videos in Lessons

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

This blog post comes with an accompanying podcast episode. Listen here:

Videos are a staple of the modern practitioner’s arsenal. They’re often easy to source, well-made and free.

Video hosting platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have allowed us, as teachers, to turn our classrooms into makeshift cinemas (and our virtual classrooms into large resource banks). This is a revolution of sorts – one that has been spurred on by many factors, not least the declining cost of smart boards, sound systems and data projectors as the years have gone by.

As a teacher myself I have made use of videos in my practice extensively over the past sixteen years: even earning the invisible badge of honour that comes with wheeling in a TV on a trolley with accompanying DVD player back in 2008.

Videos can offer great instructional material for students – but only when they are sourced and executed carefully by the teacher. Whilst this may seem like a simple and straightforward process, further analysis reveals that there is much to consider.

In today’s blog post I will draw upon my experience of using videos extensively over my entire career. My aim is to provide you with strategies and points to consider, so that you don’t make some big mistakes along the way (like I have!).

So, without further ado, let’s hit the ‘Play’ button and get right into these top tips for using videos as teacher.

Tip #1: ALWAYS watch the video yourself before you show it to your students

This can be a challenge when time is limited, but it is a crucial first step that we should always take. Watching the video beforehand allows us to check the following:

  • Is the content at the right level?
  • Is it age-appropriate? Are there scenarios within the video that could be culturally insensitive?
  • Does the video contain any swearing?
  • Is the volume of the video loud-enough?
  • Will I show the auto-generated captions/subtitles within the video? Are these subtitles an accurate reflection of the spoken words within the video? Do the captions contain any swear words by mistake (or on-purpose)?
  • Are there any points-of-interest that I can capitalise on? Are there any real-life examples or applications that I can think of that link directly to the video’s content?

One key mistake I’ve made a number of times as a teacher is sourcing a video quickly, only to find that much of the material was either too advanced or too basic for my students. Be particularly careful with captions/subtitles – a old colleague of mine got into some hot water for showing a video to students that contained clean spoken language, but subtitles containing swear words.

Surely it must be every teacher’s worst nightmare to show a video to students that wasn’t checked beforehand, only to hear or see crassness, immorality or inappropriate scenarios on the video when played in on a big screen in front of the students. The fear of embarrassment alone should be enough for us to remember the cardinal rule of using videos in teaching: ALWAYS watch the videos before we share them with our students.

Tip #2: Keep Videos Between 5 and 15 minutes long (as a general Rule of Thumb)

I’ve made the mistake on a number of occasions of finding a reputable, clean, amazing video, only to then play it to the class for 40 minutes or longer (e.g. in the case of lengthy documentaries). When the videos we choose are too long (or the segments we choose to play are too long) then many students will become disengaged and irritable. This is understandable – in today’s digitized social landscape students are more distracted than ever before in human history.

For me personally, I attempt to keep my videos to 15 minutes maximum. For this to happen, I have to choose videos (or video segments) very carefully. Sometimes I’ll source videos that get straight to the point (e.g. a laboratory demonstration of an experiment) and that take less than 5 minutes to play through.

In short – be aware of how much time the students spend watching the video. Is that time being efficiently used, or does the video explore topics that the students don’t need to know?

Tip #3: Watch the students as you’re watching the video

I once was blasted by my mentor during my teacher-training year. Why? – I had committed the atrocious crime of showing a video to my students, and then casually sitting down to watch the video with them.

Of course, any experienced teacher will immediately be able to identify the inadequacies of this strategy – when you don’t watch the students as the video is playing, then small pockets of chatter, disruptiveness and distraction can manifest.

My mentor put it bluntly: “When you show a video to your students you must watch the students. Don’t watch the video!”. I had been reprimanded (well, probably just advised, but it felt like a reprimand).

That was sixteen years ago. Today, I would have to say that I disagree with my old mentor, at least to some degree.

Check out my award-winning book on Amazon, Barnes &Noble and at all good retailers.

I believe that as a video is playing it is most effective for a teacher to watch the students AND watch the video. Consider the following:

  • Walk over to students who are chatting during a video, or who are being disruptive, and stand next to them. Normally this will bring them back on-task, but if it doesn’t, then a quiet one-to-one word should do the trick. “I really need you to focus on this video, Lucy”, for example.
  • Stand to the side or behind the class so that every student is within your field of vision.
  • If disruption becomes too pervasive, then don’t be afraid to stop the video and talk to the class. For example: “I’m so sorry to those students who were listening quietly to the video. It is unfortunate that some students are not paying attention”. Then play the video again ONLY when every student is focused.

However, why should we watch the video as we are watching the students? Well, there are many answers to that question, but the core principle is that you may wish to use key material within the video for discussion or tasks later. You may even want to pause the video at key points to discuss a real-life example or application, or even to re-phrase something the video has just described. Don’t be afraid of pausing videos at key moments like this, by the way – students learn a lot when prior concepts are linked to content that has been very recently covered.

Tip #4: Make sure the video has a purpose, and is utilized afterwards

We must not get into the habit of showing videos to students for the sole purpose of filling time, however. We must attempt to extract all of the juice that we can out of a video. Consider asking your students to do the following:

  • Make a list of key bullet points as the video is playing (which could be used as source material later in a group activity for example).
  • Complete a worksheet based on the video.
  • Use information from the video to complete exam-style questions or past-paper questions.
  • Follow the instructions within the video, step-by-step (e.g. if it’s a ‘How to’ video’). This could apply to tasks as diverse as coding, model-making, conducting scientific experiments, cooking, etc.
  • Collaborate with others to create a presentation, infographic, mind-map, news report or debating panel based on the concepts and information covered.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Sometimes we might want to show students videos as stimuli material, or to build passion for and interest in a subject. Recently, for example, I was teaching a physics lesson about forces and motion. The lesson covered pretty rudimentary calculations involving speed, distance, time and acceleration. However, I was presented with a most unusual gift – NASA had just landed a new rover on Mars. This was a golden opportunity to excite my students – so I played some footage from the Mars landing and initiated a short discussion about the physics involved.

Conclusion

I feel that we’ve become so used to the accessibility of high-quality videos that we’ve become somewhat complacent. We must always ensure that video content is sourced, planned and executed well. We do this by:

  • Watching the videos before we show them to our students
  • Being mindful of video duration
  • Keeping our eyes on our students, as we’re watching the video with them
  • Making sure that there’s some kind of activity or task included in the lesson that links to the video in some way (where possible)

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Excessive Screen Time is Harming Children’s Mental Health

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Parents and teachers have long been concerned about the mental health effects of excessive screen time on the children we care for, and teach. Oftentimes, we compare the lived experiences of modern day teens and young adults with what we went through at that age. Legitimate worries are attributed to questions surrounding disproportionate tech use – questions such as:

  • Are students today less fit and healthy than they were before the World Wide Web became mainstream?
  • What are the negative mental health effects of social media on adolescents?
  • Is there a causal link between tech use and mental health issues in teens?
  • Has technology usage increased the prevalence of mental health issues in teens?

The short answer to the last question is that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that tech use has increased mental health issues in teens – that, at least, is the conclusion of a recent Oxford University study. Unfortunately, however, the directness of this conclusion was lost on the BBC who made the unforgivable blunder of misrepresenting the study completely. Their headline shockingly reads ‘Teens, tech and mental health: Oxford study finds no link’

To most professionals in education this BBC headline, and indeed the conclusions of the actual study itself, seem premature, inaccurate and potentially misleading given evidence that has arisen from other studies that aimed to investigate causal links between screen time and mental health issues in children, teens and young adults.

So, what was special about the Oxford study? Were the researchers even able to come to such a broad, valid conclusion in the first place? I will answer these questions via a series of bullet-points:

  • The sample size was large, with 430,561 teenagers and high school children being involved in the study
  • Only UK and US students were studied
  • Participants were aged 10 – 15 years old
  • The data was collected by MTF (since 1991), UndSoc (since 2009) and YRBS (since 1991). Only 40,000 out of the 430,561 students were from the UK.
  • Only 139,264 of of the participants were asked about their social media usage (because, of course, much of the data was collected before 2009, which is when social media became accessible via mobile devices).

So, basically, what have the Oxford team done? That’s right – they’ve taken legacy data, overwhelmingly biased towards the American demographic, and analyzed the results using some statistical tests. Apparently, this is enough for the esteemed academics at Oxford to come to the conclusion that “There Is No Evidence That Associations Between Adolescents’ Digital Technology Engagement and Mental Health Problems Have Increased”. The BBC takes this adulteration further by boldly stating that “There remains ‘little association’ between technology use and mental-health problems, a study of more than 430,000 10 to 15-year-olds suggests.

A teacher’s perspective

I’m personally quite angry by the misleading messages that these inaccurate conclusions have transmitted to the masses. Anyone reading the BBC article, in particular, would think that there’s no need to be concerned about excessive screen time and social media usage in teens. The real story, however, is quite different:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in CanadaAmerica and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

However, these aforementioned studies focus on the physical effects of screen time on children: nearsightedness, obesity and sleep-deprivation. The Oxford ‘study’ focused on mental health issues, so what point am I am trying to make?

Do causal links exist between nearsightedness, obesity, sleep-deprivation and mental health in children and teens?

  • A number of studies have reported significant associations between obesity and poor psychological wellbeing in children but findings have been inconsistent. A 2007 study of 3,898 children from England concluded that “being overweight, rather than obese, had no impact on overall reported mental health.” However,17% of children with obesity were above the suggested screening threshold for emotional problems.
  • Perhaps the most obvious link occurs between sleep-deprivation and mental health, and numerous studies conclude that a causal relationship does exist. A 2013 study concluded, for example, that “early sleep deprivation in childhood may result in long-term behaviour issues” and even that “sleep problems impact core symptoms of common neurodevelopmental disorders”.

Studies such as these seem to have been ignored by the Oxford team. Maybe, however, I’m making tentative links between mental health and physical problems, and then linking those tentatively to screen-time and social media usage?

Hold your horses, because there’s more.

A report published by the Telegraph includes a headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

I could go on to explore more sources to support the argument that social media usage, and screen-time, negatively affect the mental health of teens and children. I fear that this blog post would become a behemoth of statistics if I were to do that, however, so I’ll leave you with a few links to peruse yourself:

  • Ofcom 2017 ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report‘. Amongst the key findings were the shocking revelation that 77% of 12-15 year olds play computer games for around 12 hours per week, and 99% go online for around 21 hours per week. The 2020 report suggests that screen-time has increased, with children using devices for a much wider-variety of purposes than in 2017.
  • A November 2020 study by the University of British Columbia found that “Longer screen time (more than two hours a day) was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.”

Overall conclusions

I think it was highly negligent of the University of Oxford to ignore the links that clearly exist between screen time and….

  • Nearsightedness
  • Obesity
  • Sleep-deprivation
  • Lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism [UBC]
  • Higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms [UBC]

As an influential university, Oxford should really have done it’s due diligence before releasing the paper. The message that has been interpreted: that no causal link exists between tech use and poor mental health, is just plain wrong. The BBC, also, should be held to account for their blatant dilution of the study’s findings: from “There’s not enough evidence to suggest that mental health issues have increased as a result of tech” (the Oxford conclusion) to “No link exists between teens, tech and mental health”.

If anything, today’s blog post has been an interesting expose’ of big institutions, and their overwhelming negligence despite their good public standing.

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3 Things That Make a School Outstanding

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The bell rang at 12.30pm to the typical sigh of relief from students who’d been sat in lessons all morning. Bustling through the corridors towards the school canteen, library, school field or some other designated ‘turf’ were the majority of my classmates at St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. I, on the other hand, had an appointment with my favorite teacher.

It felt like an easy journey to the German classroom. I was excited because I would be practicing my German oral phrases and responses with my teacher, who had been giving up a good portion of her lunchtimes for the past few weeks to help me become more confident and competent. She was always patient, and always willing to help.

Then, there was that time when my Biology teacher talked me through an end-of-unit test I had completed, so that I could know exactly where I had lost marks. I still remember the conversation word-for-word, almost thirty years later. I finally grasped some important concepts that day.

At the core of my good fortune to attend an outstanding school as a teenager was one most important thing: outstanding teachers. All of my teachers really cared for my wellbeing, and they often went above-and-beyond to provide me with extra tuition, or even to have one-on-one conversations with me to put me on-track, or to reprimand me when I had slipped up. Great teachers, I found, were more important than great facilities.

There are other factors that make a school outstanding, however. Even the best efforts of a team of outstanding teachers can be thwarted by the subterfuge of negligence, bad policies or even school culture. In this blog post, I will explore all of the key factors that work together to make a school outstanding.

#1: The school’s vision and mission are the starting points

A well-crafted mission statement that infuses everything the school does as a community can have a massive and profound impact on students’ lives.

At Saint Richard Gwyn, for example, our slogan was “Learning Together Through Christ”. This phrase was spoken at every assembly, written in many school publications (such as the school’s weekly newsletter) and was reinforced by teachers during some of our lessons. I don’t think I and my peers fully realized the power of this collective action by the school back then, but that statement was actually having a dramatic effect on the way we saw the world, and ourselves. Whether you are religious or not, you can appreciate that this statement sent home a bigger message than just those four words:

  • At our school we learn together. Our focus is serious, and we help each other.
  • We have faith in Christ at out school. We are expected to follow the moral principles outlined in the gospels.

America’s Center for School Change has the following to say about a school’s Vision and Mission:

Developing the school’s vision and mission are two of the most important steps toward creating a successful program. Done well, they give clarity and direction for a school. A muddy vision or mission can help lead to continuing conflicts, and a school that has difficulty identifying priorities.

Center for School Change

I like that last part about “identifying priorities”. What does your school’s vision and mission and say about your institution’s priorities, and how well-embedded are those priorities?

Over the years, many educational scholars have stressed the importance of the school’s vision and mission, and how well those ideas are communicated and transformed into expectations. A classic amongst these scholars is William Rutherford of the University of Texas who, as far back as 1985, stated that effective school leaders need to:

  • have clear, informed visions of what they want their schools to become; visions that focus on students and their needs
  • translate these visions into goals for their schools and expectations for their teachers, students and administrators

So it would seem that simply having a vision and mission for a school is not enough to make a school truly outstanding. That vision and mission must focus on students and their needs, be translated into workable goals and be formulated as expectations for teachers, students and all staff members.

#2: Outstanding teachers make an outstanding school

A school’s best resource, by far, is the body of staff that comprise that school. Get that right and a school will usually be able to cope with the ebb and flow of daily circumstance in an effective manner. However, still to this day, schools are focusing far too much on teachers’ qualifications rather than experience, references and reputations, in my opinion.

This is the point where I’m going to have to speak bluntly and directly: an advanced degree does not make someone an amazing teacher; nor does a degree or qualification from a top university. Those credentials, actually, are meaningless in the context of determining one’s ability to manage behaviour, plan lessons thoroughly, teach with clarity and teach at an appropriate pace. Those qualifications may, however, allow a school to better market itself to parents and potential clients/customers (particularly in the private sector), but those qualifications never, in my honest opinion, determine a person’s ability to teach properly.

Teaching is a vocation: plain and simple. It’s a profession that one has to be built for, and one has to be passionate about in order to succeed. Experience has taught me that qualifications alone are not enough to determine a teacher’s suitability to teach. I, for example, have worked with a number of Oxford, Cambridge and PhD graduates over the years who were awful teachers who couldn’t communicate effectively with students and, in a significant number of cases, couldn’t teach at an acceptable pace or keep students engaged for long periods of time. On the other hand, I’ve also worked many such high-level graduates who were excellent teachers and helpful team-players.

Have you experienced the same in your time as a teacher?

My message for schools is simple: Focus on what the students and colleagues think of the teacher you’re hiring. Place more emphasis on teacher-portfolios and references – evidence of actual teaching ability – rather than the quality of a candidate’s qualifications.

#3: Effective systems make a school outstanding

Systems are like the glue that holds everything together. When a school has a clear vision and mission that’s backed-up by outstanding teachers and effective systems, everything then falls into place and runs smoothly (most of the time).

The most essential systems that schools need to have in-place can be remembered by what I hope is a useful acronym: C.A.R.S.Communication, Action, Rewards and Sanctions.

  • Communication systems need to be easy to use, and suitable for purpose. Schools that use the same system to communicate with parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders tend to experience better overall harmony than those that do not. Many schools, for example, choose to use e-mail for these purposes as it is a professional system that everyone can access. However, some schools (e.g. those in China) prefer to use a more real-time system for staff (e.g. chat apps like QQ and WeChat) and more traditional systems, like e-mail, for communicating with parents. Systems like this can cause undue stress to teachers, however, as it can be easy to miss messages posted within a chat stream. Teachers can also feel under constant pressure to respond, even outside of official working hours.
  • Action systems need to be workable. Teachers need to do things every day in a timely manner. Printing and photocopying, for example, should never be problematic (massive headaches are caused when printers don’t work, or when teachers are restricted to quotas, for example). Reports need to written via systems that are shared, and easy to navigate and access. Mock exams and internal exams need to be delivered via systems that make it easy for everyone to get their papers printed and organized in a timely manner. Timetabling needs to be seamless. Student locker systems need to be accessible and workable. The role of the form tutor/homeroom teacher within the school, and the systems needed to fulfill that role, need to be easy-to-use (a house system can often help with this). Registration systems need to be workable. Assessment systems and instructional software need to be carefully chosen and subscriptions need to be renewed on-time. File-sharing systems need to be in-place so that teachers can share useful resources with one-another.

Which action systems do you use in your school, and how could they be made to be more workable and accessible?

  • Rewards and sanctions systems – with emphasis placed more on rewards than sanctions. The consensus on the approach that should be taken is pretty clear in educational circles, and has been for some time. The UK’s Department for Education and Skills summarizes the key components of such systems best in my opinion:

Rewards, or positive consequences, are likely to encourage pupils to repeat the associated behaviour. Systems that emphasise praise for positive behaviour or regular attendance are more effective in motivating pupils to make appropriate choices. These appropriate choices contribute to a positive ethos in the school, thereby creating an environment for effective teaching and learning. . . . [S]anctions might be used only as a last resort, because using every opportunity to reinforce positive behaviour will have a greater and longer lasting effect than the constant use of sanctions for negative behaviour.

UK Department for Education and Skills, “Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour.” pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

In fact, it’s been known for some time that rewards work better than sanctions for promoting positive behaviour. The most notable foundational statement on this matter, for example, was made in the concluding text of The Elton Report (1989):

Schools which put too much faith in punishments to deter bad behaviour are likely to be disappointed

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

Conclusion

Outstanding schools always have the following elements in place:

  • A clear vision and mission that’s student-centered and easily translates into goals and expectations for students, teachers and all stakeholders
  • Outstanding teachers, with a proven track record of excellence in teaching (not necessarily academic excellence)
  • Effective communication, action, rewards and sanctions systems

Bibliography and references (in order of appearance)

W.L. Rutherford. School principals as effective leaders. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 67 number1, 1985, pp. 31-34

UK Department for Education and Skills. Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour. pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

10 Ways in Which The Pandemic is Remodeling Education

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Students and teachers the world over faced unprecedented challenges as the pandemic raged through its first and second waves. Staff and children were sent home (and back to school) on multiple occasions in many cases, and teaching methodologies had to undergo a massive revamp out of the sheer necessity to adapt to the immediate situation schools were (and, in some cases, still are) faced with. This ‘jolt’ of circumstance has changed education forever.

In today’s blog post I will explore the main ways in which I believe teaching and learning have changed, and what the implications are for students and teachers today. Readers should bear in-mind that this is an opinion piece, albeit based on my experience in the field as a high-school science teacher (at an international school) and my own research.

#1: Students have realized that traditional university education offers little return-on-investment

Coronavirus had a double-whammy effect on universities and colleges:

  • Students were sent home and had to learn online, raising questions about the effectiveness of instruction delivered at traditional lecture halls crammed with hundreds of students.
  • Overseas students stopped applying for courses in the UK and the United States in large numbers, and sought local alternatives.

These issues have been further compounded by the fact that a university degree no longer prepares a person for a lifelong career.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), for example, surveyed about 400 employers and 613 college students about how prepared those students were to enter the professional world in 2015. Some key findings were:

  • 65 percent of the students surveyed felt their writing skills were strong enough for the professional world, but only 27 percent of employers felt the same way.
  • 55 percent of students felt they were well prepared to work with people in which they had little in-common, but only 18 percent of employers agreed.

You can download the AACU’s research paper as a pdf for free here.

The merits of a university-level education have been questioned for decades, and now that the pandemic has forced so-many to ‘learn from home’ we are experiencing a new realization that education needs to be modern and delivered in real-time. As a result, online courses are booming, and students are now quickly realizing that there are affordable, higher-quality alternatives to a traditional university degree.

#2: Practical skills training has gained in popularity

There are many skills that students can’t fully acquire via remote-learning:

  • Dangerous/specialized science experiments (e.g. dissections and chemical reactions)
  • Woodwork, metalwork, carpentry, plumbing and other vocational skills
  • Mechanical and electronic engineering and robotics
  • Specialized cookery

As a result, many schools focused heavily on practical-skills training when students returned to school after the first-wave subsided (in large part due to fear of losing this opportunity in the event of a second-wave, which many schools did actually experience later on). In my opinion, this has caused a renewed interest in the practical skills enrichment activities that are often non-compulsory, yet very useful, components of school courses. I believe that we will see schools incorporating more hands-on tasks and activities in the years to come as a product of this realization.

#3: High-quality online courses are booming

Remote-learning is all-the-rage right now, and the numbers are staggering:

  • According to a recent survey by China Youth Daily, more than 87 percent of Chinese parents have signed their children up for online tutoring sessions to enrich their education
  • Financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, rising to $12.58 billion worldwide in 2020 – up from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights

Students are becoming increasingly aware that short-certificate courses from high-quality providers like EdX and Udemy are not-only affordable, but will provide the very latest industry-leading, accredited information. This poses a big challenge for traditional schools that are somewhat stuck-in-the-past following syllabuses and curricula that are at least several years old. In my opinion, schools will need to adopt fluid schemes of work and modernize fast, so that students can learn relevant, current, topical information in a traditional classroom setting.

#4: EdTech used for remote-teaching is now being used in traditional classrooms

Video-conferencing skyrocketed during the pandemic:

  • Zoom’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5 million.
  • During the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, Google Meets was adding around 3 million users per day.

Schools are now using video-conferencing within the school buildings themselves for assemblies, staff-meetings, whole-school quizzes and even screen-share tasks (a newly realized application for many teachers).

Video-conferencing’s adoption will make teachers more accountable, in my opinion, as illness may not be accepted as a reason to miss meetings which can be accessed remotely from home (even if only audio is activated). Schools will also adopt new ways to allow students to showcase work in real-time, as the screen-share features offered by video-conferencing systems facilitate this process quickly and easily (especially as student-work becomes more and more digitized).

#5: Schools are appreciating the need for kids to catch-up

Gaps in knowledge and misconceptions acquired during the remote-learning phase are surfacing quickly as students return to classrooms. This is generating a renewed interest in traditional pedagogical techniques such as accelerated learning and differentiation. Another positive is that many teachers are realizing further the importance of pace, and how students often have to have information presented in a number of ways, multiple times, before it is truly embedded. These discoveries will challenge schools to adopt the very-best instructional techniques and offer catch-up camps and classes for students who fall behind, long after the pandemic is over. This may provide school teachers with extra sources of income, as well as offering students the enrichment they need to succeed.

The problems presented by students needing to catch-up are not easy to solve, however. The British government’s recent programme to help pupils who missed school to catch up may not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, according to a recent report by the National Audit Office. The issues here seem to relate to tutoring not being provided in the first place to disadvantaged children, as opposed to any flaws in the methodologies being used [BBC News]. Schools will therefore need to ensure that attendance for catch-up courses is being monitored, along with the methodologies being executed.

#6: Terminal examinations have lost some of their credibility

Many exam-boards have cancelled examinations for the 2020/2021 academic year, as was the case last year. Grades have been assigned on the basis of teacher-predictions and coursework, and I believe that this has caused many students to question the validity of terminal examinations as an effective assessment tool. This shift in thought has also rippled into the online-learning market, which is gaining in popularity due to the very fact that terminal examinations are often absent from key course assessment components. Qualifications and certificates that are awarded on the basis of a student’s portfolio of achievements (such as course assignments) are gaining respect and kudos, and I foresee this trend continuing well-into the future.

#7: Students and teachers have become more tech-savvy

Classwork, homework, coursework and exams are being assigned, completed and assessed by evermore creative means. Students have had to learn to how to use specific learning apps out of necessity, and teachers have benefitted from automated assessment systems such as Google Forms, Educake, MyMaths, Lexia Learning and others. If the pandemic has had only one positive effect on education, then it is this: computer literacy has improved across the board.

This emergence of teaching and learning software and disruptive EdTech systems is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. It threatens to destroy the very fabric of conventional teaching. It is not inconceivable, for example, to foresee human teachers being fully replaced with software, droids and surveillance systems within a decade from now (easily). The main takeaway for teachers, in my opinion, is this: skill-up in EdTech, coding and computer science fast – we may be out of a job if we don’t.

This gradual erosion of a teacher’s role from ‘sage on a stage’ to ‘guide on the side’, and perhaps even one day to ‘chieftaincy to see with infrequency’, is something I’ve written about before. I’ve also made a video about this very subject matter which I’ve embedded below.

#8: More support is being made available for staff and student mental-health and wellbeing

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on staff and student mental health. Reuters, for example, surveyed school districts across America in February 2021 to assess the mental health impacts of school shutdowns. These districts serve more than 2.2 million students. Of the 74 districts that responded, 74% reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students. More than 50% reported rises in mental health referrals and counseling. [Yahoo News].

One positive of this is that school leaders are recognizing that staff and student well-being matters, and that can only be a good thing. Schools would do well to recruit counselors to assist with student referrals. and staff workload should be monitored closely. Happy teachers make happy students, and downtime gives teachers time to plan better lessons.

#9: The dangers of excessive screen-time and gaming addiction have been highlighted

I’ve written about the dangers of screen-time before, and we must not forget that an EdTech revolution brings with it some nasty realities, highlighted by one expansive report:

  • On-screen behavior is often compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

The supervision of students whilst using EdTech is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as we move forward as educators. How many times, for example, have you walked around the classroom during some student-centered online activity to find students abruptly switching/closing some gaming/chat screens? I know I have, on much more than one occasion.

The solution may be a technological one – allow students to connect only through LAN or school WIFI and filter/monitor usage. Another solution may be surveillance systems inside classrooms, or perhaps even mandating that screens be always visible to the teacher (e.g. by having students sit in rows with their screens facing the teacher’s desk). There are obvious pros and cons to each of these proposals, and the decisions made will depend strongly on school culture and individual course/student aims.

#10: The pandemic pointed anew to blatant inequalities of income

Students in low-income areas have had to contend with less access to school counselors, technology and the training needed to access said technology. Some school districts in various countries around the world have responded by shipping laptops to schools and individual students.

As teaching continues to digitize, the needs of low-income students will continue to grow. Schools will need to address these issues, and that may put financial strain on districts and education authorities. Eventually, we may even see technology investment being pitted against the salaries of human teachers, and this will make our need to compete more immediate. As teachers, we are no longer fighting for jobs with each other – we’re contending with educational technology that threatens to completely replace us.

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10 Destructive Habits Every Teacher Should Avoid

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

In the quest to better ourselves on a daily basis we often consume self-help advice from places like YouTube, blogs and books. Most of this advice focusses on proactive things we should do to achieve success. With titles to choose from such as 4 Straight Forward Steps to Success and If You Commit to Yourself, Here’s What Will Happen, there’s certainly is no shortage of motivational and personal growth guidance out there.

Most of this self-help material, however, focusses on new things we should implement on a regular basis. Strategies that provide us with new things to do to improve productivity, health or wealth.

Many people use to-do lists to clarify priorities for the day, week or longer. How many of us, however, have thought to use not-to-do lists?

Few resources focus on what NOT to do, and this is a pity as such advice can often be the clearest and simplest to understand.

One video that really inspired me two weeks ago was 10 Habits You Should Stop Having with Ben Bergerson (embedded below):

This video resonated with me because of its simplicity, and my somewhat skewed opinion that it’s easier to stop myself doing destructive things than it is to implement a completely new habit. Perhaps I felt that I should stop doing destructive things first, and get used to that, before implementing some new strategies in my life.

So, let’s get right into how the past 14 days of trialing these 10 habit-stoppers went.

Habit Stopping Tip #1: Don’t hit the snooze button

This is something I’ve ashamedly preached about before, but in my daily life I’ve found it really difficult to implement. My warm bed entices me to climb back into it when my alarm goes off, and this is further compounded by an extreme feeling of tiredness for at least 10 minutes after waking (something that has gotten worse, I think, as I’ve grown older).

I managed to do this on 9 out of 14 days.

On those days that I did get right out of bed as soon as the alarm sounded, I found that I was in a much better mood during my teaching day (and in a state of better physical alertness) than on those days when I snoozed. I also found out that if I have an immediate ‘get out of bed’ ritual to follow, then I am much more likely to actually get out of bed. At the moment, that ritual involves switching off my alarm and immediately walking to the nearest 7-11 convenience store to buy coffee and breakfast – this acts as a kind of reward for not hitting snooze. If I were to snooze, then I probably wouldn’t have time for this.

As a result of not hitting the snooze button on 9 out of 14 days I was able to eat breakfast before school started, read over lesson plans and even avoid traffic because I left my home earlier, which brings me on to tip number 2…………

Habit Stopping Tip #2: Don’t get mad at traffic

Leaving home earlier (because I didn’t snooze) meant that there was less traffic to get mad at, so tip number one definitely rippled into tip number 2.

I have gotten mad at traffic many times in the past – and at my taxi driver for not driving fast enough; not turning quickly enough or even for going along a route I didn’t prefer. All of this mental complaining would put me in an angry frame of mind before my school day had even started.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

I managed to not complain at traffic for 14 out of the 14 days, and I found that I was in a better mood at school because of it.

Habit Stopping Tip #3: Don’t be late

This is one I’ve always advocated, and it’s significance will surely be obvious to the readers of this blog. When we’re late, then what we are saying is that ‘Your time is not valuable enough for me to be on-time’.

A good analogy I was once told is that if you had to turn up at a designated location to receive 10 million pounds in cash at 6am tomorrow, then you would certainly be there on-time, perhaps even arriving very early for this appointment.

We turn up early and on-time to those things we consider important enough to be punctual for. We therefore need to assign a high-level of importance to meetings, duties and any other activities/events that require us to be punctual.

Once again, tip number 1 (Don’t hit the snooze button) allows us to be on-time, every time.

Habit Stopping Tip #4: Don’t tolerate gossip

This is a principle I have (thankfully) had the sense to follow since day one of my teaching career, and I wrote about the devastating effects that gossip can have for teachers in my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management.

When we gossip, we show people that we cannot be trusted. Secretly, our coworkers are thinking “I can’t trust him – what if he gossips about me one day”. Gossip also circulates quickly, and so-called friends can very often be duplicitous: acting as ‘double-agents’ who pass on information to those who have been gossiped about.

Just don’t gossip – it’s that simple.

Not tolerating gossip takes this principle to another level – the advice being that if you hear gossip, then you should shut it down with, perhaps, a statement like “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this conversation to be happening”. This advanced-level step, however, requires bravery, and its consequences will depend on your workplace ethos and culture. You may just wish to take the easy way out by simply standing up and walking out of the room, or walking away from the gossip, whenever you hear it.

Habit Stopping Tip #5: Don’t watch the news

I found this one SO DIFFICULT to implement, and this really surprised me! By consciously attempting to stop myself from reading the news, I discovered that I often scroll through news websites because I’m simply bored. I’m hooked – and it was hard to break to this habit.

The idea behind this is that news is a distraction, and is very often biased anyway. The majority of the news we read is bad news, and most of it describes events that are beyond our control. Why waste our time and energy feeling sad about things we can’t change?

On those days that I stopped myself reading the news, I found myself with little else to distract me besides work. This increased my productivity.

Habit Stopping Tip #6: Don’t pass judgement

I’ve fallen out of the sky many times in my life. I started from nothing, and I know what it feels like to have nothing. I’m not trying to paint myself as someone special here – many people can relate, I’m sure. However, I try my best not to look down on people where possible because:

  • I never know the full story
  • I’m far from perfect myself
  • I know what it feels like to be inadequate – both in terms of skill and finances

Passing judgement is just another one of life’s energy drainers that we could all be better without.

Habit Stopping Tip #7: Don’t eat and scroll…….

…………and don’t scroll at any social gathering, for that matter.

When I see couples or families at restaurants and coffee shops, and all they are doing is playing on devices, it makes me very sad (but also happy that I have a great relationship with someone in which this never happens). People are quickly losing the ability to interact physically, in my opinion.

The principle behind this habit-stopper is presence – we should be present in everything we do if we’re to get the most out of it. As I write this blog post, for example, I’ve mostly ‘gone dark’ – my phone is out of reach as I know that if I check it I’ll never get this blog post finished.

I’m more productive and present when I’m not on my phone, unless I’m using my phone for a specific purpose.

Habit stopping tip #8 – Don’t check e-mail before noon

Does this apply to teachers? I’m not sure.

E-mail has become an essential part of my job, but some would say it is yet another distraction. I’m still on-the-fence about this one, as important announcements often come to me by e-mail, and they often need to be acted upon quickly. Are there e-mails that I don’t need to check before noon? Probably. E-mail is evolving quickly into a messaging tool, however, and as teachers we are fast-approaching a stage where we need to be reachable at all times at work. GMail, for example, is becoming more skewed towards Google Hangouts and instant messaging. As workplace messaging technology evolves, teaching will surely evolve with it.

Habit Stopping Tip #9: Don’t leave dishes in the sink

I loved seeing how this particular habit affected my life. It was very powerful.

I am typical ‘dish-leaver’, and once I started to pro-actively wash dishes as soon as I used them I found myself also doing laundry right away; tidying up after myself right away; putting my work clothes in my wardrobe instead of over the back of a chair; putting old cosmetics’ bottles in the bin right away, and on and on it went.

My home became tidier more quickly – and less clutter at home meant an overall sense of happiness.

I highly recommend this tip.

Habit Stopping Tip #10: Don’t wait for perfect

In the video provided at the start of this blog post, Ben uses the phrase “Jump, and grow wings on the way down”. As a result of this one statement, I found myself going to the gym more often, despite being in not-so-perfect shape.

That’s got to be a good start, right?

Have you grown your wings yet, or are they still growing?

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8 Ways to Increase Lesson Clarity

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management). Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video:

Our lessons need to be clear in order for students to understand the subject content they are expected to learn. This is particularly important for older students who are preparing for exams, and who are therefore expected to memorize, understand and apply vast amounts of information.

An unclear teacher who presents information in a confusing way can be a source of dread for students who are expected to perform highly on end-of-unit tests and exams. A clear teacher, on the other hand, can make students feel confident, relaxed and comfortable with the learning process contained within each lesson.

The good news for us is that it is easy to make our lessons clearer with just a few, simple, proactive tweaks. In today’s blog post I offer my top eight suggestions for maximizing lesson clarity: all of which have been distilled from just over 16 years of experience. Within these paragraphs I will present the conclusions garnered from the many mistakes I have made in my teaching career, so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself.

Lesson Clarity Tip #1: Share resources with your students in advance of each lesson

When we share instructional resources with our students in-advance of each lesson we provide an opportunity to read-ahead. And, of course, we should be encouraging our students to read-ahead before each lesson anyway, as this process will cement some foundational principles before greater detail is presented within each lesson itself.

Nowadays most teachers are competent in the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Google Classroom, Firefly, Moodle and so on. However, one aspect of this digital realm that’s not fully exploited is the ability to upload PowerPoints, Google Slides, PDF summaries, worksheets and other resources in advance of each lesson.

One big challenge that this poses for teachers is that these resources actually need to be ready and stored somewhere, in an organized fashion, before they can be uploaded en masse. This problem becomes further compounded when syllabuses change, and resources need to be adapted accordingly.

Where possible, we should have a sequence of slideshows, worksheets, summaries and other resources mapped out for a course before the course begins. Then, when day one of the course starts, all of the resources needed for the entire course can be ready for students to access right away. At the moment, for example, all of my PowerPoints for my entire two year IB Diploma Chemistry course are uploaded on the students Google Classroom, and are classified on there by topic.

Advantages to us, as teachers, when we do this are:

  1. We don’t have to scramble to upload resources on the day of teaching. Our time can be better spent on other things.
  2. We don’t have to scramble to find resources on a USB drive or some kind of shared folder. The resources are all in one place, online, ready to go.
  3. Students can view the presentations, worksheets, PDF textbooks and other materials on their individual device screens in real-time, as the lesson is happening. This aids our instruction, reduces note-taking time for students and even saves paper for printing (students can view worksheets on their screens, without the need for a printed copy, for example).

Lesson Clarity Tip #2: Don’t put too much information on slides

  • Keep text large and clear.
  • Make diagrams and illustrations as large as possible (as large as the slide is perfect, where possible).
  • Avoid ‘crowding’ slides with too much information. A slide filled with paragraphs of small text can be very off-putting for students, not least because the the text can be difficult to read when it’s so small.
  • Keep information digestible – present material in bitesize chunks. Avoid presenting tons of information all at once.

Lesson Clarity Tip #3: Avoid irrelevant information

It can be tempting to bring-in content that’s indirectly related to the material we are presenting: often to provide an extra dimension of fun and interest to the subject. A good example I can think of from my experience is when I was teaching physics to young teenagers some years ago. The topic they were learning was entitled ‘Sound and Hearing’, and the students had to learn about sound waves, the Doppler Effect and how human ears work.

In my youthful stupidity, however, I thought (for some bizarre reason) that it would be a good idea to teach the students about sign language. I thought that it would bring a bit of fun to the classroom and allow my learners to empathize with those in society who cannot hear properly. This proved to be a mistake on my part, however, as some students were confused about what exactly they needed to know for their upcoming test.

“Do we need to know about sign language for our test, Mr Rogers?” was a question I was asked.

The answer was no, of course. I had essentially wasted a good portion of teaching time bringing-in extra material that was unnecessary. That time could have been better spent reinforcing the foundational concepts needed to pass the test.

We must keep our lessons focused on the curriculum statements we are expected to teach. When we want to bring in topical information, then let’s do that after the students have learnt the main material. At the end of a recent physics lesson, for example, I played a short video of the recent Mars Perseverance Rover landing from NASA, as this was related to velocity, acceleration and distance (concepts we had been exploring in class). This NASA video didn’t form the main-body of the lesson, but was rather a short ‘treat’ for the students at the end of an hour of hard-work.

Lesson Clarity Tip #4: Always assign focused activities

Have you ever been in a rush at school and quickly found an online quiz or web-activity that relates to your topic, only to share it with your students and later find out that the activity wasn’t quit up-to-standard?

I’ve fallen into this trap many times in the past. I’ve assigned Quizlets, Wordwalls, Kahoot! activities and other online quizzes in a rush, only to later find the following errors:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.
  • Content mistakes (in some cases).
  • Too much information (more than the students needed to know).
  • Too little information (not enough for the task to be substantial).
  • Irrelevant information (content that the students didn’t need to know).
  • Poor usability (problems with software interactivity and the user experience).

It’s vital that we check our third-party content thoroughly before we assign it to our students. This level of due process needs to be extended to offline resources, such as textbooks, too.

Lesson Clarity Tip #5: Speak loudly and clearly

We must avoid the following:

  • Mumbling.
  • Using colloquialisms that our students may not understand.
  • Speaking with an accent that may be unclear to some learners.

I quickly learnt the importance of the above three points when I moved to Thailand in 2008 to teach Chemistry at an international school. My students mostly had Thai as their first language, so I had to lose my thick North Wales accent (which even native English speakers would find difficult to understand at times) and I had to speak classical, textbook English. I’m “sound as a pound” became “I’m fine, thank you”, “That doesn’t quite cut the mustard” became “This work is not up-to-standard”, and so on.

We must ensure that our speech is clear and, just as importantly: loud. This latter point is of more importance now than ever before as teachers all over the world are wearing masks and visors when speaking. One thing that surprised me when I wore a visor to teach last summer was that my voice sounded louder to myself when I wore the visor, then when I took it off (due to vibrations and bone conduction).

Lesson Clarity Tip #6: Speak slowly

Our students need time to process information: especially when it is presented verbally. We must include pauses in our speech, and check for understanding along the way. It may be necessary to repeat key sentences a few times too, especially if the concept being explained is advanced, or technically challenging to understand.

Lesson Clarity Tip #7: Reinforce key words

Technical vocabulary feature prominently in official mark schemes, and are often the core components of a well-formulated answer to an exam-style question. Consider the following strategies:

  • Ask students to say key words when they appear in your lessons. In a recent chemistry lesson, for example, I said “Everyone say the word ‘resonance'”, after which the whole class said it. Forcefully getting students to articulate key words through deliberate speech can be a good way to prime the brain to remember those words when they are used in some thought process later on in the lesson.
  • Use exam-style questions and official mark schemes to show students just how important it is to write key words within an acceptable context during an exam.
  • Differentiate texts to make key words more digestible.
  • Encourage students to highlight key words in their notes along the way.

Lesson Clarity Tip #8: Use everyday language to explain advanced concepts (where possible)

Rephrasing sentences that contain subject-specific vocabulary can be a good way to help students understand the underlying concepts being taught. Here are some examples:

  • The train accelerated = the train sped up
  • The bond enthalpy of the C-C bond is…… = the energy contained within the C-C bond is…….
  • The dinner was sublime = the dinner was superb

We can prompt this process by repeating technical sentences in an everyday format, and we can ask our students “What does ___________ mean?”. This can lead to meaningful discussion that will serve to reinforce key words (Tip #7) and clarify the underlying theory of the lesson.

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My Top 5 Tips – From an NQT During a Pandemic

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

We’re facing tough times as teachers during a pandemic right now. In today’s exclusive guest blog post, Tayla Elson (who’s a UK-based Newly Qualified Teacher and Blogger) shares her tips for succeeding as an educator during Covid. Enjoy!

Hey! My name is Tayla and I was asked my Richard to write a short piece on teaching from the NQT standpoint. It is not my full intention to write from a pandemic standpoint, but as someone who lost half of my training year to Lockdown 1, barely survived face to face teaching in Lockdown 2 and is now teaching online during Lockdown 3 – it’s all I’ve really got. And it’s been hard. So, I wanted to used this time to give you my top tips, from a realistic standpoint. We haven’t got the privilege right now to talk inspirational classrooms and a roaming classroom presence so I’m going to try and be a bit more practical and honest. 

#1: Remember how you got here. Just like your peers you trained hard to get here, and no one trained for this, and we’re doing the best we can. A year on, it is easy to forget that we are all living through a crisis, we cannot be expected to work and live ‘as normal’ right now. So, stop feeling guilty that you’re not.

#2: Be Creative. This is probably one of the hardest things, both right now whilst we are teaching online, but also when you’re faced with a really difficult group. It always feels safer to teach in a simpler, easier way, but often times it is when I have been a bit more creative and daring that it has paid off the most. Teach in a way that gets you excited, especially with the groups that are the hardest to teach. Smile, show them you care.

#3: Teach the basics. It almost feels criminal to add this as a tip as it is something I have only just (stupidly) realised for myself, but I wanted to include it in case, like me, you just had no idea. We are there to teach our students, we often know our subject well, and of course we know we need to teach students how to behave. But after focusing on how to improve my behaviour management, a book highlighted something pretty obvious to me. We need to teach students what good behaviour looks like. For some students, they simply do not know what it looks like, so how can we expect them to just do it when we ask? So, I have included this in the list, teach them the basics. This will be my sole focus when we return to face to face teaching. The basics. Right from the start, the simplest of actions. That’s something they really don’t teach you in your training year.

“An AMAZING Book!”

#4: This is a career. Remember what this job really is, no one is expecting you to become an amazing teacher in your first year. That’s why they say it is the hardest teaching year. Comparison is the thief of joy. I often find myself comparing my own teaching abilities to those around me, those that have behaviour management in the palm of their hand, those that are organised beyond belief and those that have simply been in the school for a much longer time. THESE THINGS WILL COME. They just take time; this career is not a quick fix – accept it and work hard to improve in the long run.

#5: Breathe. If you’ve made it this far through the blog post without breathing, then I really suggest you take a deep breath right now! Some days will be hard, some days will be so hard you cry after your first lesson of the day, or you cry at home wondering what the heck you are doing trying to be a teacher. And yes, I am totally speaking from personal experience. This job is hard. But we’re all here for a reason, so just breathe through it and keep turning up. And remember: we are living through a global crisis, this is not normal. No-one is expecting you to work as it is.

So, if you’ve made it this far (and taken that deep breath we talked about) then I would like to thank you! Thanks for taking the time to listen to the panic-stricken reality of a very much bewildered NQT. I am currently an NQT at a secondary school in Worcestershire, teaching Geography as my subject specialism as well as some History to year 7. I write on my own blog, which you may have guessed is more ramblings, and tweet sometimes too.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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Four tips to reignite your students’ interest in learning as they return to school

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Is it possible to rekindle our students’ interest in their subjects and a generate a love of learning when they finally return to school? Jessica Robinson of The Speaking Polymath believes so, and today I’ve invited her to share some expert tips on how to get our learners stimulated, on-task and determined to succeed. Enjoy!

As the number of active Covid cases has started declining globally and the vaccination processes have begun, lockdowns and other restrictions are slowly being lifted in various countries. As a result, educational institutions have also started reopening and again blooming with students’ presence. Although it is immensely joyous for us teachers to have our students back with us in schools, somewhere in our minds, there is a distant alarm that tries to draw our attention towards some impending challenges which we are likely to face. The loss of our students’ interest in learning is a major one of those potential challenges. 

No doubt online learning has helped us keep the flow of education somehow uninterrupted during the pandemic, but it has also led to many students losing their sincerity towards studies. Now that our students are back with us in school, we have a vast new responsibility to reignite their learning interest. We have to direct our efforts only towards effective teaching and ensure that our students get back on track and start learning efficiently. Yes, I know it will be challenging, but believe me, we, the teachers, have all the willpower and enthusiasm required to reestablish our students’ curiosity for learning despite all the hardships. 

So, ardent teachers, let’s embark on this new mission with courage and gaiety. Now, here are four tips to support you in the mission of reigniting your students’ interest in learning as they get back to school.

#1: Gamifying the learning process

The first tip we have here is to gamify the learning process. It involves converting the learning process into play for the students. This tip works well! The reason is the same as is already in your mind that children of all age groups love playing. You ask them to play a game at any time; they are always ready! So, if you gamify learning for your students, you’ll take a big step of success towards reigniting their interest in learning. Now, you may be wondering how you can add the play element to studies? It will just need a little bit of searching the internet and thinking. To help make things more transparent, let us consider an example.

Suppose you are a Social Studies teacher and you have to make your students learn about the location of different countries on the world map. You can then search the internet for popular games to play with students and then find one such game that can help you gamify world map learning. One example is Pictionary

You can first help your students identify different countries’ outlines as depicted on the world map. You can then give them around 5 to 10 minutes to remember the outlines of different countries and move towards playing Pictionary with them. For this, you can divide your students into two or three groups. Turn by Turn, one group will draw the outline of a country on the board, and the rest two groups will discuss among themselves, guess and write the name of the respective country on a sheet of paper. The team which gives the maximum number of correct answers will win the game. 

This way, you can gamify the learning process and make studies interesting for them. This gamification technique will, over time, enhance your students’ academic performance.

#2: Making things appear more effortless

Simple and easy things always attract us more. This is because the nature of our mind is like that only. For example, if given a choice to solve a word puzzle or a mathematical problem, most of us are likely to go with the form one as most find mathematics problematic. If we go with this basic understanding of the human mind, students are likely to be more interested in learning more straightforward concepts than complex ones.

One effective way to reignite the students’ curiosity for learning is to make things appear more effortless.  For example, in the initial days after schools reopen, we can start teaching more straightforward concepts. Along with this, we cannot spend the entire session on teaching. Instead, we can teach for some time and then indulge in interacting with our students. This will help them feel relaxed and not much burdened. Further, assigning less and more comfortable homework can also motivate them to learn effectively. This is again because students are more likely to do their homework with sincerity when they find it easy. Later on, as the flow becomes continuous, we can teach complex concepts to our students.

#3: Extend regular appreciation and rewards to your students

Appreciation and recognition are two of the biggest motivation boosters. If you appreciate a student for his class performance, you motivate him to perform even better and kindle in the rest of the students a wish to be appreciated. This wish further inspires them to start paying more attention towards studies. 

Here we have another effective way to rekindle our students’ interest in learning and extend regular appreciation and rewards to them. Whenever a student appears to be attentive in class, submits his homework in time, or gives the right answers to the questions you pose in class and does anything like that, you can try to shower words of praise on him.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

Moreover, you can also give rewards to the most receptive students weekly or fortnightly. To find out the most receptive students, all you’ll have to do is ask some questions regarding what you have taught on a particular day in class. The students who give the maximum number of correct answers during the decided period, maybe weekly or fortnightly, will be eligible to receive the reward.

#4: Reconnecting with the students at an emotional level

Students are more likely to exhibit a greater interest in learning when their favorite teacher teaches them. This implies that our emotional bonding is also a factor that impacts their curiosity towards studies. As a long period of physical separation during the pandemic might have caused damage to our emotional connection with our students, we’ll have to reconnect with them. For this, we can do two critical things.

The first is to portray open and cordial body language. It includes having a smile on our face, a relaxed body posture without much stiffness, and covering up more space with hand gestures. When we have open body language, we are perceived as friendly. This brings our students closer to us and makes them feel more comfortable.

The second is to have regular interactions with them. We can try to spend 5 to 10 minutes on alternative days, having informal conversations with our students regarding life, the problems they are facing, their life stories, etc. Such conversations are useful in making a way to children’s hearts. You can also share your childhood stories with them. As you keep having these interactions with your students, they’ll develop a strong emotional connection with you over time. This connection will be of great help in rekindling their interest in learning. 

Conclusion

Our students might have lost their interest in learning while staying back in the comforting ambiance of their homes for such a long period. As they start coming back to school, we’ll have to direct our efforts to rekindle their interest in learning. Otherwise, we won’t teach effectively despite giving our best. Further, we can utilize the different tips given above to make our students curious about studying again. I wish you All the very best and a good time with your lovely students.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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