Learning Journals: A Powerful Student Feedback System

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

I was 16 years old and had just gotten my GCSE results. The admissions tutor at Deeside College (now Coleg Cambria) was impressed with my grades and readily led me through the registration process. I had chosen to study ‘A’ – Levels (The British equivalent of the American SATs) in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics.

Studying at an F.E. college had an extra advantage over studying at school: I could enroll on night classes in the early evening after regular classes had finished. I decided to take the Open College Network class ‘Introduction to Basic Counseling Skills’, as I knew even back then that I wanted to be a teacher and I knew that this class would give me valuable tools that I could use with my future students.

talk n walk

The counseling skills I learnt on the course were amazing. I still make use of the ‘detached objectivity’, ‘active listening’ and ’empowerment’ tools from that with-ukedchatnight class in my daily practice as a teacher. However, something even more powerful and useful than I could possibly imagine, like a diamond of knowledge, was passed on to me in the most unpredictable of ways. 

Out of all of the classes I did at Deeside College, this was the only course in which I had to fill out a ‘Reflection Journal’ every two weeks. My teacher would ask me to write down all of my thoughts and reflections on what was learnt in class into this big book that she gave me, and every two weeks she would write comments in there to inspire and encourage me. It really was very effective, and made the learning process exciting and productive.

Memory is the residue of thought

Daniel Willingham wrote those iconic words in his famous book: Why Don’t Students Like School?’. I am utterly convinced that the Reflection Journal I had to fill out for the night class caused me to think deeply about my learning, which left it’s residue in my mind in the form of memory: memory of skills and knowledge which I still use to this day!

That’s powerful. That’s life-changing.

reading

The Thailand Experiment

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

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

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

2 MARCH

16 MARCH21 MARCH.jpg

25 MARCH

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

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

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

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

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

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

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

My updated (better) journaling system

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

Learning Journal System

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

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

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

So far the system is working really well. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly. 

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

Conclusion

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

Teachers can have journals too!

In this short video I explain how deciding to keep a professional journal was a life-changing moment for me. I show you how to keep a simple daily journal that will immediately transform your teaching and effectiveness at school. 

Recommended further reading/investigation:

Click on the image to take you to the Amazon purchase page.

Lakeshore Learning Materials: Lakeshore Draw and Write Journal

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  • Perfect for children aged 5-7
  • Gets young learners used to the journaling process from a very early age
  • Large, clear format
  • A staple and an essential for all primary teachers (in my personal opinion)

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Peer or Self-Assessment? Benefits and Challenges

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

Supplementary article to read (highly recommended): Effective Feedback – The Catalyst of Student Progress

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

walking around wt laptop

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

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

That’s quite a convincing list!

Peer assessment

Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

  • It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable
  • When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.

But how should we use self and peer-assessment?

There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:

  • Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with the a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular learning journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their learning journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Art class

Training students to assess themselves

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book!”

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

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

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

sitting on the carpet

Challenges when using self and peer-assessment

There are a few challenges, but these are greatly outweighed by the the benefits. I’ll offer some notes from my own personal experience and some solutions.

  1. Some students won’t want to swap during peer-assessment. This can be an issue in some classes. Some students can find themselves isolated and excluded by social groups, and may not be able to find someone to wants to swap their work with them. Whilst this kind of social exclusion is totally unacceptable, and must be dealt with through the appropriate school channels, there is a way to mitigate it in the first instance: collect in every piece of work and hand them out again randomly to different students. That way, they should all have someone else’s work to mark. 
  2. Different ability levels: There will be some students in the class who have such a limited knowledge of the subject that they won’t be able to effectively mark the work in front of them, even if they have access to the mark scheme. You could offer a ‘clinic-style’ system, where you sit at a special desk in the room and offer ‘consultation’: where students walk to see you to clear up misconceptions if they don’t understand the work or the mark scheme. You can also walk around the classroom and sit with individuals to have one-to-one discussions.
  3. Students being too generous: This is a common problem, especially for exam-level students who are new to past-papers and the peer/self-assessment process. At first, you might want to project the answers on the whiteboard and go through each question one at a time, but you’ll find that this takes ages (unless it’s an MCQ test) as students will have lots of questions to ask along the way, and you’ll have to answer verbally to the whole audience (which isn’t ideal in every case). Even better – you could collect in the assignments afterwards and double-check them. Speak to students who have lost marks after you’ve double-checked the papers and really make sure they understand the mark scheme and where they went wrong.
  4. Poor handwriting: This can be an issue for some students. It’s really important that examiners can actually read a student’s work. Students with poor handwriting need to be identified quickly and intervention measures put in place (e.g. special classes). You don’t want anyone to lose marks just because the examiner couldn’t read what the student wrote!

card games

Conclusion

The benefits of peer and self-assessment are numerous and incontrovertible. However, students must have access to official mark schemes and model answers for the process to work properly, and they must be involved in actually correcting their work (not just ‘ticking’ and ‘crossing’ and working out a score/percentage).

Students need to be trained in proper peer-assessment. Do not tolerate over-generosity: collect the work in afterwards and double-check that it was marked properly. 

Watch out for common misconceptions – these crop up a lot in a peer-assessment. See this as a good thing: you can use this information to inform your teaching. 

Use a wide-variety of technological means in the peer and self-assessment process. This will keep students on task and provide exposure to vital Information and Communication Technology: building skills that will be essential in the future.

Be on the lookout for students who refuse to swap their work (or accept another student’s work to mark) and address this issue promptly. No student should feel excluded by a peer group at school – this is tantamount to bullying and must be addressed appropriately.

Be aware that some students will not have the ability to peer and self-assess effectively, even when they have access to the model answers. Provide one-to-one assistance in these cases, either by walking around the room and helping out or having students walk to you for help. 

Recommended further reading

Click on the images to go to the Amazon page for the book. 

  • Peer Feedback in the Classroom by  Starr Sackstein. Great for gaining a deep understanding of what meaningful feedback looks like. Highly recommended!

peer feedback in classroom sackstein

  • The Perfect Assessment System by Rick Stiggins. Great for all educators and those involved in education management. Really puts assessment into a whole-school context and is a great read for anyone who wants to up their game and empower their students through effective feedback. 

Perfect assessment system.jpg

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Marking Week 2: What Should Teachers Actually Mark?

 

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

This article follows on from last week’s popularMarking: Why, What and How? blog post: A highly recommended read!

Week 2: What and How?

The long, dark journey of my PGCE was long over. Gone were the constant lesson observations, full-page lesson plans and intense work-scrutiny from my university tutors and in-school mentors. Now I had autonomy. Now I was trusted.

With the onset of my first year as a qualified teacher came the intense sense of duty that one acquires when realizing that this is your chance to ‘sink or swim’.

And swim I did: as hard as I could with the tools I had at the time. But it wasn’t enough.

At about this time of the year in 2006 I was entering my February half-term holiday with an absolute ton of marking to complete. I took inventory of my week’s stock of coffee-inducing baggage and found that it contained:

  • Classwork
  • Homework
  • Tests
  • Online work
  • Journals (which I’d just started after receiving the idea from a friend)
  • Classwork/homework in the form of loose bits of paper and worksheets
  • Coursework for GCSE Science
  • The data entry that would come with recording all of this stuff

with-ukedchatIt was quite a sight to see and I remember Friday drinks with my colleagues that week in which I brought a huge sports bag into the pub. “What’s in the bag, Richard” some said; to which I replied “Marking”. The place erupted with laughter as my friends saw the gritty and not-so-pleased look on my face!

I’m sure they sympathized with me deep-down inside as they were merrily propping-up the bar.

Get a Marking Timetable in Place!

Back then I didn’t have a marking schedule in place and that was a bad idea! Work would just come to me as and when I set the deadlines and I would let it accumulate until I had some semblance of free time in which I would mark, say; four notebooks!

It just wasn’t sustainable.

Nowadays, I follow a very strict marking timetable so that I spread out my marking evenly across a recurring two-week period. I’m happy because I’m getting things done, my students are happy because they are receiving acknowledgement and feedback and parents are happy because they can see measurable steps of improvement due to the way that I mark (more on that later).

walking around wt laptop

I know, for example, that on Tuesday Week 2 I am marking Year 10 IGCSE books. I see them that day so I can easily collect their books. I also know that I’m marking Year 13 IB Diploma books on Friday Week 1; so I’d best get those done on Friday otherwise I’ll have two loads to do the following Monday.

Get a marking timetable in place if you don’t already have one. It’s a self-discipline tool that will set you apart as an organized teacher who actually cares about the everyday work that your students do.

Prioritizing

Some types of marking must take priority over others. 

Take Year 11 GCSE coursework, for example. Now if you had a choice between marking that on-time or marking Year 7 notebooks, then you’re definitely going to go for the coursework. It’s a greater priority.

As teachers we are messing up our schedules and creating added stress because we do not ruthlessly prioritize enough. It’s absolutely essential.

All marking is important: every student must receive feedback and acknowledgement for their efforts. However, you may have to give your exam-preparation classes greater quality feedback that your younger classes at certain points in the year. You may also have to give it back in a more swift and timely manner too (e.g. when you’ve just finished the mock exams, or when you’ve had an end-of-unit test). 

High five

Learn to prioritize. I’ve known some teachers in their first year who were desperately trying to cover every single scrap of work with ‘two stars and wish’, ‘targets’ and literacy/numeracy feedback. This level of dedication is admirable, but it does not accurately reflect the differing needs of different classes. It may also cause long-term health problems for the teacher!

The Students Should be Doing More Work Than The Teachers!

Lazy teachers are the best teachers because they get the students to do all of the work

These words spoken to me in 2008 by a former colleague got me wondering about my workload as a teacher. Was I spoon-feeding my students too much? Was I giving them too much guidance without giving them the chance to think for themselves?

After a difficult self-appraisal, I took a rough-guess that I was somewhere in the middle.

It was at this point that I started to write questions on students’ work. “What is this part called” on a diagram, for example, or simply a “?” next to something that wasn’t clear. 

Mai's wprk
Have you spotted the question I wrote in this IBDP Biology homework? 

Make sure to check that students have actually improved their work! You can set ‘work-improvement’ as a short homework or classwork task. 

Use Marking as a Means of Encouragement and Motivation! 

We all love positive feedback: especially when it’s sincere.

Make your feedback useful and sincere by writing (or saying) “Well done for….” from time to time. It will help the student to store the concept in their long-term memory and will prop-up their confidence so that they enjoy your subject more and more in the future.

Be aware that this must be constantly reinforced. Once or twice won’t be enough – we should be praising the positive attributes of our students’ work on a regular basis for maximum effect. 

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 You should definitely use your school’s reward system for this. If your school doesn’t have one, then create one (stickers, class points, the chance to win chocolate at the end of the month, etc.)

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Showcasing

Placing students’ work on display is an excellent way to take the motivation and inspiration element a step-further.

In my current school we have a weekly ‘Science Stars’ noticeboard where every teacher pins up an excellent piece of work for that week. Students regularly stop by to see their friends’ work, and it offers a great sense of achievement for those students who have been selected to be ‘Stars’.

Showcasing provides a benchmark for other students to aspire too. It shows examples of work considered to be detailed, presentable and accurate, and should aim to teach about the importance of effort in achieving the desired outcome. 

Showcasing doesn’t have to be done on a weekly noticeboard. It can be done electronically on a VLE or school website or blog, and can even be as simple a task as standing in the middle of the class and showing the students an excellent notebook. 

Showcasing also adds an extra level of effectiveness that day-to-day marking doesn’t always reach – it shows that the teacher is noticing things! It makes it really clear what stands out and what does not, and raises the bar for all students to aspire too (when done regularly). 

Recurring Work (Very Powerful)

I use journals a lot in my teaching. It’s a shame they are not used more in the profession as a whole (I write about the amazing effectiveness of student journaling in an earlier blog post here)

Every Monday my Year 11, 12 and 13 Chemists bring me a journal filled with:

  • Revision notes
  • Answers to exam style questions and test corrections done in class
  • Mind maps and memory joggers, such as acronyms and mnemonics
  • A summary of what they’ve learnt that week

Journals used in this way are designed to instill self-discipline in students as they require one to regularly review work done in class. They are also a very excellent way for me to see and address weaknesses quickly, and I can provide feedback on a weekly basis, which helps a lot with focus and improvement.

The students bring their journals to class on Monday and sign their names on the big sheet on the wall. I then read through every book and write one sticky note of feedback in each (this keeps my feedback focused on the essentials, reduces my marking time and ensures that students get a rapid response).

Every Tuesday my students collect their journals from my room, read my feedback and hand them in again the following Monday. 

The kind of regular, recurring feedback is great for me and my students. Common misconceptions become clear very quickly (allowing me to address those issues) and my students feel that their teacher cares deeply about their learning (which he does). 

Conclusion

I’ve found that consistency is key; no matter what methods of marking I use. My students need to know that I care about the work they produce. Often, this sense of ‘someone actually gives two hoots about the work I do’ is the major factor in a student’s success at school.

I think John Hattie summarizes the importance of feedback as a tool for improving performance much better than I can: 

The aim is to get the students actively involved in seeking this evidence: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This includes evaluating their own progress, being more responsible for their learning, and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning. If students are to become active evaluators of their own progress, teachers must provide the students with appropriate feedback so that they can engage in this task.

Recommended books for further reading (click on the book images to go to their Amazon pages):

Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie. Includes excellent strategies for using feedback to dramatically enhance learning.

hattie.jpg

Formative Assessment by Margaret Heritage. Great for new and experienced teachers alike as it really shows how assessment can be used inform teaching in a practical and easy-to-understand way. 

Heritage

 

NEXT WEEK: Peer-assessment vs. Self-assessment – The Best Methods to Use

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Marking: Why, What and How?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Week 1: Why?

As a PGCE Student going through two school placements in North Wales back in 2005, I found it hard to keep up with daily admin. Just planning lessons and trying to deliver stimulating content and keeping the students engaged throughout, was challenging enough. Marking: I dreaded it, and found it almost impossible to fit it into my weekly regimen of teaching, planning and completing assignments for university.

graduation

Fast forward to today, and marking has become an enjoyable part of my job. I find it relaxing and I enjoy the thought of the motivational effect it will have when I write “Excellent effort. Well done for…..” on a student’s assignment. 

Marking is an essential part of a teacher’s job. Get it right, and you’ll have a massive impact on the success and emotional well being of your students. Neglect to do it, and students will become lethargic and lack-luster, and may even resent you personally (or, at the very least, dislike the subject). 

Why should we mark our students’ work?

#1. Acknowledgement

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

First and foremost: marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as all students need to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognised.

Whilst working in a previous school some years back I was immediately hit with the reality of this truth.

At the start of the academic year, students handed in reams and reams of homework that they had been assigned over the summer. Thankfully, none of it fell on my shoulders, as it was my first year there.

Stacks and stacks of Physics booklets, Maths past-paper questions and English assignments were handed in and piled on a large table in a special room. It was quite a sight to see. Lots of marking for many teachers and they hadn’t even taught their first lessons of the year yet!

Teacher-led assessment

Three months later and I remember walking in to that room just out of curiosity. I was shocked to see that many (but not all) of the student work was still there and hadn’t been marked at all. One student confided to the Head of Department that she would “Never do summer homework again. Teachers don’t even look at it!”. This was then passed on to us in a departmental meeting. Needless to say, there were some very sad-looking faces sat around the table that day. 

Students have to know that their teachers care about the work that they do. They need to know that it matters, and that their time and effort is appreciated.

If you’re finding it hard to get your marking done quickly because of other commitments, then at least give your students some specific verbal acknowledgement before they get their work back. “I was looking through your Chemistry homework on Acids and Bases, Jonathan, and I have to say that I was very impressed with your Kc calculations. Well done for learning the correct formulae. I appreciate your time and effort in doing this work. You’ll get it back at some point next week.”

#2. Praise

Every human being responds positively to sincere praise. It motivates us, keeps us working hard and provides us with a sense of validation.

studying with com

A nice personal story I experienced some years back illustrates this point.

I had just started as a Science teacher at a school in the U.K. and I was given a Year 9 bottom set class to teach, and they were quite a challenge both behaviorally and academically. 

Conversations about this class, and individuals in it, were overwhelmingly negative whenever it was raised in the staff-room coffee break. This negativity became quite infectious, and many teachers saw little hope for many of the kids in this class.

I decided on a different tactic. I had learnt on my PGCE that praise always works better than sanctions (NB. Excellent article from Trinity College London here.). I decided to find anything I could to praise these students for. I decided that for two weeks I would not reprimand them for anything unless it was serious. I would ignore low level disruption and just focus on praise. 

Quite a bold move some would say, but the effect was dramatic.

If a student drew a half-neat diagram, I would notice the straight lines and colors. If a kid underlined the date I would acknowledge that and say “Brilliant! I’m so pleased that you’re taking great care to present your notes properly”. Handing in homework – instant praise for being organised and responsible.

be enthusiastic

The result was that by the end of two weeks my students were literally running down the corridor to get to Science class (a little too excited!). They all worked well and behavior management became rather easy. There were marked changes in student attitude, and many confided in me to say that Science was their favorite subject. 

This was a good start, but it wasn’t enough to be sustainable.

#3. Correction

Overwhelming praise is great in the initial stages of getting to know a class, but eventually errors in work must be addressed.

So how do you do this in a way that isn’t confrontational or demotivating?

The best way I’ve found is to mention one improvement area first, before addressing a number of praiseworthy acts. This improvement area can be phrased as a ‘target’. This can be done verbally, one-to-one or can be written as a comment:

“Target: Your handwriting a little unclear. Try to make this neater next time. I love your description of solids, liquids and gases. Well done for making your particle diagrams so neat and clear!”

#4. Practice

Assessment for Learning pedagogy, which has been active for around 15 years now, identifies student self-reflection and a mindset of “taking responsibility for my own learning” as key impact areas for marking to be successful.

In short, it means that students should be encouraged to go back over their work, correct it, and formulate targets for improvement and growth.

snacking

It can be time-consuming to get the kids used to this and trained up, but once embedded it can be used throughout a child’s schooling as a very powerful way to catalyse improvement and encourage a ‘growth mindset’.

Try writing questions on pieces of student work (see below). “Whats the name of this part”. “How did the Montague’s react to this?”, “Well done for mentioning the word “deforestation’. How could this be a contributing factor in localised flooding”

Especially important for exam-level classes is repeated past-paper practice. Get your students familiar with the language of official mark schemes. Encourage them to correct the papers they’ve done by being very strict with themselves when following the mark scheme. 

Recommended Book: Mark, Plan, Teach

This is a great book that puts the importance of marking in it’s full context as a means to enhance teaching and learning. Full of great examples and practical advice. Highly recommended. By Ross Morrison McGill (Twitter: @teachertoolkit).

Available at Amazon.

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Back To School After Christmas: Teacher Survival Guide

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Firstly, may I say Happy New Year to all of my readers! May I wish you and your families a happy and successful 2018. May we all learn from the past, regret nothing (we can’t change it), and use our experiences to inform our decisions this year. Good luck to everyone!

sit n talk

2017 has certainly been eventful for me. A number of my articles have passed 10,000 views, including my pieces on Spatial Learning, The War on Masculinity in Schools and Efficient Lesson Planning. On top of this, sales of my book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, were up by 40% in 2017 compared with the previous year. The book also reached number one in the Amazon Bestsellers list for Classroom Management in December: a first for me! Thank you so, so much to all of my followers and fans – your support keeps me going despite the obstacles of life that we all face. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

I’m truly humbled and honored to be able to help so many teachers with my writing. I don’t always get it spot on, and I’m never perfect, but I do try to offer ideas that are easy to implement and quick to put into action in the classroom. 

Keep following my blog and social media channels (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for future book giveaways, Amazon promo codes (for discounts on my books) and the future release of my next book: Classroom Genius: Top Teaching Tips.

Back to school after Christmas

I happened to be very ill for almost the entirety of the three weeks that I was off school for Christmas. Bad luck I guess, but I still managed to squeeze in a 3-day trip to Jeju Island, South Korea (highly recommended). I didn’t get everything done on my list that I wanted too, but I did manage to get a few items checked off (including writing a reference for a former colleague – so pleased I could that done). 

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At Jeju Island with Nicki

Let’s go through a few checklist items for primary and secondary teachers: top priorities upon returning to school.

Secondary School Teachers

  • Mock exams: Make sure papers are printed and ready and are easy to read and that the rules, length of the paper and space for candidate details are clearly displayed on the front page
  • Have you already prepared the mark schemes for your mocks? Get those done ASAP because both you and your students will need those model answers for assessment and reflection.
  • Termly plan: for your own personal use. Do you know where you are up to and where you are going? Are you ahead or behind schedule with your teaching? Have you planned in adjustments? 
  • Personal targets: Is there anything you could have done better last term? For me, my marking of student notebooks was regular but I know it could have been better. My target for this term is to get a good weekly marking schedule in place so that I can provide my students with even more regular feedback to inspire and motivate them (and to plan ahead when I know that school events are going to affect my personal marking schedule). Want to improve your teaching skills? Check out this great book list on Amazon. 
  • Coursework: Do you know all of the deadlines? When will it be sent off for moderation/marking? What do you need to do to make the process as helpful to the assessor as possible? Are your students clear about what’s expected?
  • Revision: Term 2 will move like a steam train. Before you know it, your kids will be sitting their final exams. Have you worked revision time into your schedule? Maybe some after-school sessions will work for you?
  • Take a look at the primary school teacher list below: some things apply to us too. 

Primary School Teachers

I might need your comments and help with this one, as I’m not a primary specialist. However, after some careful research, the consensus seems to be that you should be focused on the following:

Start easy. Don’t overwhelm your kids. Many of them will have been waking up late in their pyjamas over Christmas. Starting the day with a printable worksheet reviewing 10 maths problems they’ve covered since September wont go down too well. Try the following open ended tasks to ease them in:

  • Blank paper to colour and draw on
  • Morning boxes to explore (unifix cubes, pattern blocks, play dough, lego, etc.)
  • Journaling
  • Drawing or writing about Winter break
  • Puzzles
  • “Make a list” (For example: Make a list of as many Christmas words as you can think of. Draw or write the words on your paper.)
  • Create a “Welcome Back” greeting card for a friend

I have to give credit to Christina Decarbo for these excellent ideas here. This article of hers is filled with great after-Christmas tips for primary teachers. It’s well worth a visit! 

alphabetic mat

Get organised. Plan your outfit –  for me that involves a lot of washing and ironing so all the better to start now! Pack your teacher bag. Clean out any remnants of holiday treats. You may find that the bottom of your teacher bag is pretty much coated in glitter from sweet cards from students and candy that escaped from cookies on the last day before break. It’s time to avoid an ant infestation! Plan and pack your meals and snacks for the first week and be sure to go to bed early.

Expect the worst. Some kids will be late. Some will not turn up for a few days. Some will forget things – they’re getting back into the swing of things too. Be prepared, Have extra pens and materials on hand for kids who forget stuff. Maybe plan for kids who forget their packed lunch. 

Once again – I can’t take credit for these last two ideas. This article at the Happy Teacher Happy Kids blog is filled with great advice for surviving the first few weeks back after Winter. 

Have a great second term everyone! Don’t forget to comment below or contact me if you have any questions or comments – your feedback is my lifeblood! 

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A Teacher’s Christmas Holiday

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The Christmas vacation is finally here. Many of us in the teaching profession can now look forward to a good couple of weeks of much-needed rest and recuperation. 

Our students deserve a break too.

jenga

I agree that time spent with family and friends is an absolute essential right now, but I’m also mindful of the workload and duties that will hit me like a tornado when I return in January.

When it comes to school holidays I always see them as time to ‘go at my own pace’. The way I see it, I have two choices:

  1. Do nothing for the whole holiday and totally chill out, returning to the normal barrage of work that hits every teacher at the start of Term 2
  2. Still have a holiday and some rest but do some little things to make my work more productive when I get back
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“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

I’ve always found that trying to do option 2 is the best, even if I don’t get through all of the ‘head-start’ work that I plan to do.

 

An admission of failure before I even begin? Maybe, but here are my plans made as realistic as possible: meaning that I can have a rest and do around 50% (minimum) of these things too:

  • Requisitions and orders: I’m a Science Teacher, so I need to order chemicals and equipment for my lessons each week. This Christmas my first priority will be to get all of my requisitions done for each week of Term 2, ahead of time. This will save me many a long night when I get back to school, and will help me to plan ahead and reinforce my long-term curriculum mapping.
  • Termly review: Every Christmas I make it a priority to evaluate where I am at now, and where I want to be with my classes by the end of the term. This kind of self-analysis allows me to see where I’m behind and where I’m ahead and how to address those issues. This is really important for final-level exam classes as they must have covered the whole syllabus and have revised by the time the terminal exams come along. 
  • Getting back to gym: I’ve been slacking off lately. No excuses this time. I’ve got every day free for a few weeks so I’ll be up early and out for a jog before hitting the weights later in the day.
  • Responding to student e-mails: Some students in my exam classes will be e-mailing me with questions about past-papers, coursework and subject-specific stuff. If I can help, then I will help. 
  • Clothes: I’m running out of a few things (such as shirts that actually fit me!). Time for a wardrobe mini-makeover so that I continue to look half-decent at work.
  • Writing my next book: My first book was quite well-received, so I’ve decided to have a go at writing my second. Classroom Genius: Top Teaching Tips will explore the themes of classroom management and assessment to inform learning in even greater depth and breadth than my first book. I see this as ‘downtime’ for me because I really love writing. Can I count this as ‘relaxation’?
  • Going back to karate: Another thing I’ve been putting off. Time to get a regular schedule set up.
  • Contacting people I should have contacted ages ago. Chasing up old leads and projects that I’ve allowed to slip.

on the bike

Of course, as well as all of this I plan to enjoy my freedom in Thailand as much as possible. A trip to the beach is compulsory, along with my long-awaited visit to the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (still haven’t done that yet – it needs to go on the list!),

How will you use your free-time this Christmas? Is it all one-big holiday or can you think of some small ways to make your life easier when you get back to school?

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Don’t miss the Christmas Giveaway for 2017! From 25th – 29th December, Richard’s book will be free to download on the Amazon Kindle store globally. Merry Christmas and enjoy (and tell your friends)!

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Mock Exams: Preparing Your Students The Right Way

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

For many of us the next few weeks will be very eventful. Christmas is just around the corner and we’re all looking forward to spending time with our families and enjoying the festivities.

Don’t miss!

For our final year students, however, the festive period will be very busy. They’ll be preparing for mock examinations in IGCSE’s, GCSE’s, ‘A’ – Levels, IBDP subjects and others. Many, unbeknownst to us, will also be topping up their revision time with private tuition and extra classes. 

The pressure is on: as it should be. 

My view point has always been that if students are going to give up a whole Christmas break revising and studying in this way, then they need to be doing it properly. 

As teachers, I feel we have a duty to train and monitor our students thoroughly as they get ready for the most difficult exams they’ve ever taken. 

In many schools, students are simply told that they have mock exams coming up in January and that they’d better revise or else! But is this really fair?

We sometimes assume that our students are old enough to take responsibility for their own learning. Sometimes we are content to take a back seat and let the students take ownership of their own revision.

snacking

I believe that standpoint neglects the true needs of our learners in terms of guidance and assurance. By adopting the idea that we can leave these kids to their own devices over the Christmas vacation, we are essentially being negligent in our duties. 

So how do we make sure that our students are really making the best use of their time? What can we do to truly help them achieve success in the mock exams?

#1: Provide Past-Papers

We must not assume that our students can, or will, find past-papers online.

We must not assume that our students can, or will, find mark schemes and model answers online.

a guy sitting

Consider doing the following:

  1. Print out booklets filled with past papers and mark schemes. Give these to your students just before they set off for the Christmas vacation. Perhaps set the papers as a homework? Between 10 and 15 past-papers usually suffices.
  2. If you’re conscious of the cost and/or environmental impact of printing so many past-paper booklets, then simply share the pdfs with your students. You can publish these online via your school’s VLE or even set up a padlet or bulk e-mail. 
  3. Encourage your students to complete the past-papers under timed conditions: this will train them to answer efficiently without leaving blank spaces.
  4. Provide the examiner’s reports for each exam paper: these offer rich information which the official mark schemes don’t offer. Show your students how to use these.
  5. Just prior to the mock exams (i.e. just after or just before the Christmas break), consider holding some past-paper ‘clinics’. These can be run after-school if class time is taken up with whole-school exams. Use these clinics to go through the mark schemes to specific papers. Whilst you’ll be sacrificing some of your time, the pay off is that you’ll be helping your students immeasurably and at exactly the right moment for maximum impact. 

#2: Teach your students how to revise

Just recently I held a very active Year 11 revision class. It was a summary session on polymers and plastics. 

Providing material for revision: such as websites and printed summaries, I gave the students a menu of options from which to complete their topic overviews:

  • Mind-mapping
  • Flash cards/revision cards
  • Writing bullet points
  • Recording notes on their phone (spoken verbally)
  • Creating a website summary
  • A Google slides presentation
  • Build a game or quiz
  • Past-paper question hunt
  • Anything else they could think of

Sessions like this encourage the students to find out what their preferred methods of revision are. They also show students new methods they may never have thought of before. 

studying with com

 

Try to increase the frequency of revision sessions like this as the terminal exams approach. Use tried-and-tested methods you already know about, and draw upon the ideas of your students for new creative inspiration. 

#3: Do your students know when to revise?

Have you done the research yourself? How many hours per night should students be revising? Are morning sessions better than afternoon sessions? How many breaks should they have? When should they have breaks? What should they eat? When should they eat? When should they sleep, and for how long? 

Surprisingly, the vast majority of educators do not know the answers to these questions. As a consequence, our students are often misguided and left to figure all this out by themselves. 

Whilst research in the area of effective revision and knowledge retention can be conflicting, there are many startling consistencies. I’ve summarised this research in my ‘Mock Exams Preparation!’ infographic below. Please feel free to share this with your students, colleagues and parents. They need to know this information!

mock-exams-richardjamesrogers

#4: Monitor their revision over the school vacation

Yes, I know that we’re on holiday too. 

Yes, I know that we deserve a break too.

What I’m suggesting is not massively time-consuming, but it will have a MASSIVE impact on the success of your students. 

Set up some kind of online journal, where the students can record a few sentences each day describing what they revised. Consider the following ideas:

  • Make the journal open for all students to see, maybe by creating a Google doc that every student has access to. This will provide other students with ideas as the vacation progresses and they see what their peers are revising. It also adds a thin layer of accountability, as it’s easy to see who hasn’t added to the class journal. Use your judgement of your students to see if this is appropriate. Maybe ask them for their opinion about it before you set it up. 
  • Make the journal closed, perhaps by setting up a Google doc for each student that you can check each day. Maybe an e-mail system works better for you: where students e-mail you a few sentences each day. 
  • Market the idea as a ‘help tool’: an online journal where students can record what revision techniques worked well for them that day, and ask any questions they have. The other students in the group can then answer those questions, comment on the suggestions and the teacher can even offer written guidance too. This ‘collaborative’ form of journaling can have an amazing motivational effect, and can even raise students’ enjoyment of your subject. 

There’s one experience in my sixth-form schooling that I’ll never forget as long as I live. It shows the impact that a dedicated teacher can have on his or her students.

on the bike

It was Christmas 2001. I was 17 and getting ready for my mock exams, but I was slacking off. One week into the holiday and I hadn’t done any ‘AS’ – Level Physics revision.

Then, the telephone rang. I picked it up and to my shock and embarrassment it was my Physics teacher.

“How’s the revision going, Richard?”

“Err, err, it’s going okay, sir” 

“Do you have any questions so far?”

“Err, no I think I’m good”

“Okay then. Don’t forget that the exam is only 10 days away”

“Okay. Thank you, sir, bye”

“Bye Richard”

If ever there was a wake-up call in my life, that was it. I was embarrassed to have to lie to my teacher. The revision wasn’t going well – I hadn’t done any.

That day I pulled up my socks and went at my studies like a steam train. It was the phone call that did it – a call from someone who cared. Someone I respected.

Sometimes a little bit of pain does a lot of good. Left to my own devices I would have crammed my Physics revision into the last few days of the holiday. 

Summary

  • Provide plenty of past-papers, mark schemes and examiner’s reports. Crucially: go through the papers when the students have completed them.
  • Teach your students the science of good revision. Feel free to share my infographic with them!
  • Monitor revision over the Christmas vacation (very powerful!). Set up some kind of online journaling system that suits your students. Ask for their input on it before you set it up. 

 

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Don’t miss the Christmas Giveaway for 2017! From 25th – 29th December, Richard’s book will be free to download on the Amazon Kindle store globally. Merry Christmas and enjoy (and tell your friends)!

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Developing Independent Learning Skills: Teaching Our Students to Teach Themselves

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The ability to learn independently is a key aspirational skill of all of our students; or at least it should be.

Not only do our top students need to learn how to study independantly when they get to university, but all of our students need to be prepared for careers that may not yet exist.

Empower students through marking

When you first meet your advanced learners, or when they are starting out on their ‘independent learning training’, empower them with encouraging comments on their work.

Take this recent example of mine for instance:

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“Excellent advice!”

This work is from a final year IBDP student. She’s done a good job of finding and filtering relevant information by herself. I’ve praised the things she’s done well, and offered tips on how to extend her research.

Over time, the amount of written comments I give on this kind of project work/research will definitely decrease. This is only needed in the initial stages.

For her next piece of work, peer assessment and some verbal feedback from me may be all that she needs to be encouraged to keep on track and continue to improve.

Design project work with a creative outcome in mind

Here are some ideas for group and individual projects:

  • Create an infographic about a particular topic, to be displayed on the classroom wall
  • Create a class presentation, perhaps on Google slides, to be presented to the class at some future date
  • Create a website summary of a topic
  • Build a model or a demo to show the class
  • Create a dramatized play/news report about a topic
  • Create a song/rap
  • Create a stop-motion animation of a process
  • Create a spatial Learning activity (kids might need some training for this one: see my blog post here for help)
  • Create a leaflet or brochure, to be distributed to another class or Year group (cooperate with other teachers on this one – perhaps a leaflet exchange is a good idea)

Can you think of more to add to the list?

Use Imaginative Evaluation

When people think of an ‘evaluation’ they’re often drawn to their early memories of their Science lessons at school.

In those kinds of evaluations students have to decide what worked well, what didn’t work well and what changes could be made to methods and equipment to make the experiment better next time.

With Imaginative Evaluation, students use their ingenuity to think of what they could do better if there were no limitations in terms of equipment, time, resources and technology.

In an attempt to create the innovators of tomorrow, Imaginative Evaluation aims to get kids thinking about what technology, currently not available, that they would invent to solve the problem they’re facing.

This excerpt from my book shows a planning and evaluation form that can be used with any assignment, in any subject, to encourage Imaginative Evaluation:

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

Build things

Get your students to build what they are learning in some way. You don’t need fancy equipment: straws, bottle caps, crumpled paper, cardboard, paints and even plastic bottles can all be mashed and mangled together by students to create amazing models.

I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models (a recent example is given below) to makeshift ‘eco gardens’.

Can you think of times where you could use this technique in your curriculum area?

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Spatial Learning: A Powerful Teaching Tool

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was a cold October morning in North Wales. I was a fresh, Newly Qualified Teacher at Denbigh High School. 

Young and inexperienced with rose-tinted goggles: I was mindful of my responsibilities as a new Science teacher. Expectations were high.

When the Deputy Head of the school suddenly asked to observe one of my Year 9 Physics lessons I knew I had to perform well. As a thriving school with a great reputation, Denbigh definitely set the bar high.

My Year 9 kids were typical 13 and 14-year-olds. Some days they were great and some days they’d just had enough. Keeping them on-task was a challenge for an unskilled teacher like me. 

Frantically thinking of ideas for this major lesson observation that was coming up, I thought about how to keep the kids interested whilst maintaining challenge at the same time. I was going to be teaching a lesson about series and parallel circuits, but I’d made the mistake of not ordering circuitry and equipment from my Science technician. A class practical was simply out of the question at such short notice, and the circuitry was booked by a number of other teachers that day anyway. I could only order enough equipment for a class demo.

What on Earth was I going to do?

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“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

Simulations and online learning was out of the question – this was 2006 and kids didn’t have the right mobile devices and they didn’t carry laptops. Online resources were also limited.

I felt uneasy about taking the kids to the computer lab, even though it was available. My Deputy Head wanted to see me teach, not watch the kids work on computers for 40 minutes (or so I assumed).

In a moment of despair and perplexity I was suddenly given a flash of inspiration: what if I could turn the lab into a giant circuit? The kids could become ‘model electrons’ and could walk around the classroom holding up little signs, pretending to be flowing around a circuit. I could even hold up a sign saying ‘cell’, and a few kids could be model ‘switches’ and ‘bulbs’. Hell, it might just work!

The day comes

I frantically printed a class set of A4 signs – just simple sheets which said ‘electron’, ‘switch’ and ‘bulb’ in big letters. 

‘This crazy idea might save my day after all’, I thought!

The kids came in and sat down. Back then I hadn’t mastered the art of giving students something quick to do as soon as they enter the door (see my three A’s in my book). I got right into this activity as a starter (which turned into a semi-main body of the lesson). 

robot

I lined all the kids up and gave them each a sign. Most of them would pretend to be electrons and a few would be switches and bulbs (‘switch on’, ‘switch off’, ‘bulb on’ and ‘bulb off’ signs were given to these pupils). 

The desks were arranged in rows, so I started with a series circuit. I explained the route the kids had to take and they started walking, holding up their signs. They smiled and giggled along the way. When the ‘electrons’ passed the ‘bulb’ it ‘lit up’, and when the ‘switch off’ student held up his sign, the ‘electrons’ stopped moving and the ‘bulb off’ sign was held up, proudly.

To my astonishment, the kids absolutely loved it. More importantly: they understood the concepts of the lesson brilliantly. They completed a short worksheet after the ‘circuit walk’ (which they all could answer with ease) and then I gave my short circuit demo with actual wires and bulbs and switches. 

Feedback

My deputy head was very impressed. She praised my creativity and said that the ‘circuit walk’ was very effective.

Not bad for a freshy who prepared in rush!

That day I became a hardcore Spatial Learning fan. Fast forward to today and all of my students will tell you that I use spatial learning in almost every lesson I teach. It’s effectiveness speaks for itself.

But what is Spatial Learning?

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

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

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

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

A human graph and true or false?

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

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

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

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

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

Human graph and true or false

Body numbers

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

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

Human numbers

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

Modelling

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

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

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

Modelling example one: Diffusion

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

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

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

Spatial Learning Diffusion Richard James Rogers

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

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

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

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

Spatial Learning ICT Richard James Rogers

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

Further reading

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

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

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Vocabulary Values: Helping Students Learn Key Words

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

“Feedback functions formatively only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in improving performance.” 
Dylan WiliamEmbedded Formative Assessment

A half-term has ended and so much has happened already! New students, new classes, new systems, new parents and maybe even a new school. 

walking around wt laptop

If you’re like me: following a British/American academic year, then you’ve probably given your older kids some mid-term exams. In my case, I’ve already had a parent’s consultation evening in which I could discuss the results.

This time of the academic year is a great opportunity to assess your students in some way. It allows you to identify problems early on, so that you can ‘nip them in the bud’, so to speak.

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“An AMAZING book! 5 stars!”

One key problem area for many students is their use of subject-specific language in examinations. Mark Schemes for external exams, such as iGCSEs, GCSEs, ‘A’ – Levels, the IB Diploma and many others, are often very rigorous with no room for compromise when it comes to key words.

In short, if students don’t use the correct subject-specific terminology, then they perform poorly in examinations. This is a problem that native English speakers often face, as well as students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). 

What follows next are my top three strategies for helping students learn key words. I hope you find them useful, and if you have any strategies that you really like then please do comment using the form at the bottom of the page. 

#1: Vocabulary Journals

I already have a number of students who I’ve identified as needing one of these. It’s such an effective way to boost confidence and performance, but it does require a bit of organisation and leadership from the teacher. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Tell the students to get a special notebook. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a cheap spiral bound one will do just fine. 

Step 2: The students should divide the first page into three columns:

  • Key word
  • Meaning
  • Pronunciation

For example: Moment, The force applied to a lever multiplied by the distance from the pivot, mo-men-t

For an EAL student you can include a fourth column:

  • Translation

In this column, the student can write the word in his/her native language.

Step 3: The students should write down the key words they learn every week into this journal, along with all of the other information.

Step 4: CRUCIAL! The key words and information must be CHECKED every week. Check the words, the meaning and the pronunciation (you can even get the students to say the words to you – this reinforces their memory of the terminology). 

Woman reading

For native translations you may have to simply trust the students with that one. You could possibly spot check these every so often with an MfL teacher, but that’s not always possible (e.g. if the native language of the student is Japanese, but the school doesn’t have a Japanese teacher).

To save you time, you could get small groups of students to check each others’ journals. This would also work well with groups of EAL students who all speak the same native language. 

JOUNALING IS SUCH A POWERFUL TEACHING TOOL, BUT IT IS SELDOM USED BY TEACHERS! Make use of it!

#2: Play Vocabulary Games

I’m a HUGE advocate of these. They are so much fun, and can be used by students of almost any age! Here are may favorites:

Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.

Splat

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.

Mystery word

Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts.

Who am I

There are some more games that you can play with too (no pun intended). Details can be found at my blog post here. Also, if you’re looking for a great book filled with practical and easy-to-implement vocabulary games, then check out this great book (one of my favourites): Vocabulary Games for the Classroom by Lindsay Carleton and Robert J. Marzano. 

vocab games for the classroom

#3: Highlight key words in your marking

Mai's wprkThere’s a number of ways that this can be done:

  • Refer to key words by writing questions on the piece of work (e.g. what’s the name of this part?)
  • You could highlight less technical terminology and get the students to make it more technical (e.g. ‘movement energy’ becomes ‘kinetic energy’)
  • You could circle key words that are spelt incorrectly and get the kids to look them up online or in a dictionary, and change the spelling
  • You could do some peer assessment and get all the kids to write down words spelt or written incorrectly on little bits of paper. These words can then be your ‘feeder vocabulary’ for the games given above.
  • Your school may have it’s own strategy for key words, so check that first!

 

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