5 Ways to Use Past-Exam Papers With Your Students

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)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

Past-exam papers provide teachers with the opportunity to train students in time-management, exam-technique and key skills, since they provide students with exposure to the same style of questions that they will encounter in their final exams.

Think about anything at which you’ve become proficient: be that riding a bicycle, martial arts, painting, yoga or anything – it was practice (and lots of it) that made you proficient at that thing. Natural abilities will, of course, contribute to mastery, but ultimately the greatest way to achieve superiority in any endeavor is through practice.

Past-exam papers provide students with the vital practice they need to succeed in the final exams, and today I would like to go through some ways in which we can use past-papers in the classroom with our students.

Tip #1: Create end-of-unit assessments from past exam paper questions

Whenever I reach the end of a topic I use past-paper questions to test my students’ knowledge and understanding of what they have learned. These questions can either be pulled off pdfs through screen captures, or they can be built using question banks. Currently, I teach KS3 Science, Edexcel IGCSE Physics and Chemistry and IBDP Chemistry – and all of these courses have great question banks for teachers to use: namely Testbase for KS3, ExamWizard for Edexcel, and the IB Questionbank for IB subjects.

Of course, these question banks are not free, but they are worth the slice into the school budget in my opinion as they provide teachers with a very quick way to build test papers from past-paper questions. Another massive advantage of question banks over full pdf past-papers, other than speed and efficiency of test-building, is that questions are categorized by topic or syllabus statement too. Question banks will also automatically add up the question scores for you, saving you further time as you calculate how much the test should be out of.

And on that point: total marks – make sure you calculate your mark-to-time ratio too. For Edexcel IGCSE Chemistry, for example, students have to complete 110 marks in 120 minutes – i.e. about 65 seconds per mark. This means that when I am assigning a 1 hour test for this subject, it needs to contain 55 marks of questions. Any less that this and I’ll be giving the students too much time to complete the paper, which won’t be an effective ‘model’ of the real exam.

Tip #2: Use past-paper questions for in-class structured revision

Create special test papers that are built from past-papers and give them to your students to complete during normal lesson time. This, of course, works great when students are preparing for an imminent end-of-unit test or terminal examination (e.g. an end of year exam). Consider the following:

  • Students should receive quick feedback during these sessions, and should know exactly where they have lost marks (and why). Include enough questions to be completed during the lesson, along with enough time for checking through the mark scheme in a final peer or self-assessment exercise. In my case, for example, most of my lessons are 1 hour long. This allows me to create a 40 minute paper, with 20 minutes left over for marking and feedback.
  • Always provide the official mark schemes, so that students become familiar with the language and skills needed to gain top marks.
  • If possible, allow for a 5 or 10 minute discussion at the end of class to go through difficult questions, common misconceptions that are tested by the paper and even command terms like ‘evaluate’, ‘describe’ and ‘explain’.
  • During the final feedback and marking part of a revision lesson, tell your students to be VERY STRICT when checking the answers. If the answer that is written does not match the mark scheme word-for-word, then it could be wrong, and the student should come and seek your advice.

There are some nifty ways that you can make lessons like this more active, engaging and spatial for learners than they would be otherwise. Some ideas you might want to try are as follows:

  • Cut up the questions and answers (i.e. physically, with scissors). Give students one question at a time, and when they have finished they can come and collect the official answer from your desk.
  • Provide students with the official answers, one at a time, and ask them to write the question that each answer pertains to.
  • Consider using live quiz-based apps that have quizzes built from past-papers on them.
  • Play learning games with your students and use past-paper questions, key vocabulary and command terms to create the questions.

Please be advised that when students reach a certain age (i.e. mid-teens and older), their exams become very content-based and, therefore, revision lessons need to be quite intense in order to be effective. The odd ‘fun’ lesson here and there containing learning games and competitive quizzes can offer a nice break from the intensity of completing whole papers. However, ‘fun’ lessons like these tend to be less efficient at embedding high-demand content than, say, a lesson in which students complete a 40-minute assessment filled with past-paper questions.

#3: Create homework assignments from past-paper questions

This is a great way to train students in time-management. Make sure your learners know the mark-to-time ratio for your subject (e.g. 1 mark per minute), and specify how long they should spend completing the paper at home (e.g. if it’s a 35 mark homework assignment, then the students would have to time themselves for 35 minutes, if the ratio is 1 mark per minute). You may even want to share a Google Sheet with your students in which they can type their names and exactly how long, in minutes and seconds, it took them to complete the homework. The aim of this exercise would be to improve efficiency over time, with (hopefully) a downward trend being observed – the more past-paper homework the students get, the less time each one should take as the weeks go by. Another adaptation of this, is that you could ask the students to write down how much time it took them to complete the work on the paper itself (if you’re collecting it in and marking it by hand).

#4: Use ‘reverse questioning’

I mentioned this briefly earlier – provide the answers, and ask the students to write what they think the questions are.

This is really good for getting students to think deeply about the knowledge and skills they need to master for the exam, along with deep consideration of command terms and the key vocabulary requirements of their upcoming assessment. For me personally, a common command term that comes up is the word ‘explain’, and it takes time for many students to realise that they need to state why something happens when they are told to explain something. I train my students to always use the word ‘because’ when the question asks them to ‘explain’. For your subject, you may have similar challenges that only be solved by regular past-paper practice and a heavy focus on key vocabulary and command terms.

#5: Use past-paper questions and model answers to create ‘frameworks’

Give students past-exam paper questions and model answers for them use as ‘frameworks’, or skeletons, for building:

  • Flashcards: A lot of research has shown that flashcards are a brilliant revision tool. They can be created digitally (e.g. on websites like Quizlet) or physically on paper. Make sure the students write/type the question on one-side of the flashcard, and the model answer on the other side. This could even be done as a group activity, with different groups swapping flashcards and testing their knowledge as a plenary session to a lesson.
  • Consider asking your students to choose a live quiz app and create multiple choice quizzes using past-exam paper questions and model answers.
  • Mind Maps: Do some research into this, as many educators think Mind Maps are something they actually aren’t. Mind Maps are a very well-defined psychologically favorable learning tool created by the late Dr Tony Buzan (with whom I was very lucky to have a one-to-one video call with just before he passed). Mind Maps need to be created in a certain way in order to be effective, so make sure your students know the rules. Once students know the rules, they’ll then need practice in order to put past-paper questions and model answers onto their Mind Maps. These will often need to be shortened in some way, and illustrated.
  • Learning Journals: This very popular blog post of mine goes through what learning journals are, and how they can be used as a great revision tool. When used correctly, they can be VERY effective.

Conclusion

Past-exam papers really are the bread-and-butter of effective revision and exam-preparation. Use them to:

  • Create end-of-unit assessments
  • Guide in-class structured revision
  • Create homework assignments
  • Create ‘reverse questioning’ tasks
  • Create ‘frameworks

Suggested further reading

Wade, N. (2022) Are past paper questions always useful? Available at: https://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/insights/are-past-paper-questions-always-useful-neil-wade/ (Accessed: 10th April 2022)

Tan, A., & Nicholson, T. (1997). Flashcards revisited: Training poor readers to read words faster improves their comprehension of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 276–288. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.89.2.276 (Accessed: 1st May 2022)

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5 Ways to Prepare Students For Exams

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 

Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):

Examinations really are the most visible culmination of what we do as teachers. They offer a no-nonsense assessment of student competency in particular subject areas and their results are still to this day considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of many schools: forming the basis of rankings’ systems, such as league tables, in many countries.

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that grades matter. They matter to parents; to the students taking the exams; to universities; to colleges; to employers and, unfortunately, to the teachers who are supporting the students (who may themselves be under pressure to raise attainment and get ‘good grades’).

I could have chosen to write about the great debate surrounding the real importance of grades, and the gracefully-aged topic of ‘skills vs knowledge’. That may be a good topic for another blog post, but today I’m going to get right down to the cold, hard-truth of what you really need to know: how to best prepare your students for their exams. So strap on your seatbelt: this is going to be a exhilarating ride!

Tip #1: Do past-papers under timed conditions

This is tip number one because, quite simply, it is the very best way to prepare your students for upcoming exams. Of course, you will have to have at least covered the content in-class before giving past-paper questions, but make sure that at some point your students do those questions!

Past-paper questions really give students the crucial experience of dealing with examination language and style – an experience that they can’t really get from any other source. You may wish to give past-paper questions covering a single topic for homework, or make your end-of-topic tests out of past-paper questions (highly recommended).

Available on Amazon now!

One technique I have started using with my IGCSE Physics students is the 20-10-20 technique: the students do 20 minutes of questions (which equates to 20 marks, in my case), followed by 10 minutes of peer-assessment using the official mark schemes. After this, I do a 20 minute review of the questions, going through each part in-detail.

This technique works for me because my lessons are all 1 hour long, so I can fit a 20-10-20 session into selected slots each week. For you, you may have to adapt this strategy to fit the timeframe of your lessons.

It is crucial that, at some stage, your students start doing past-paper questions under the same time-conditions of the exam. This will train them to write quickly and concisely – a massive key skill, as many good students lose marks simply because they run out of time in the real exam.

Tip #2: Use exam-prep software and websites

We really have to take advantage of all of the EdTech tools out there: many of which are available for free! Here are some great generic websites that I recommend (these can be used for any subject area, and all are free to use too):

  • Quizziz: Try the ‘live quiz’ and watch your students jump with joy as they compete with each other to answer examination questions. Quizziz contains many pre-prepared quizzes so you may find that you don’t even need to create one from scratch.
  • Quizlet: This is really awesome for reinforcing key words and definitions, and has a number of integrated games within the system that students can play (Hint: Try the ‘Match’ and ‘Gravity’ games – they’re awesome!). Don’t forget to try out Quizlet Live, which can be done in teams or as individuals – again, just like Quizziz, students compete with each other for points by answering questions.
  • Kahoot!: This is a great multiple choice quiz-based system: another spin on the Quizlet and Quizziz concept, basically. Again, students can compete as individuals or as teams.
  • BBC Bitesize: An old classic for a good reason – it’s awesome! The site contains some of the best revision notes on the web, and topics often have a multiple choice test at the end which is usually out of 10 (allowing for a quick percentage calculation). BBC Bitesize notes now have questions integrated into the notes themselves, making the website more interactive today than ever before.
  • Seneca Learning: I love this website! It’s like BBC Bitesize but more interactive, in my opinion. Students log in to the site (it’s free, but sign up is needed) and go to the course they are currently studying (e.g. GCSE German). Notes will then be displayed on-screen with questions throughout to test knowledge and understanding. One reason I love Seneca is that notes are divided by syllabus section and Seneca’s database keeps getting bigger each year (they now have some IB Diploma courses on there, for example).

Tip #3: Project work

Give your students revision projects to do: such as creating a Google Slides that covers a particular topic, and then presenting that to the class. Just make sure that when you do this you specify a strict time-frame and assign roles: does each member of the group know what their job is?

I recently did such a project with my Year 11 Physics students. They had to create an audio clip, Google Slides, worksheet and model answers covering the Magnetism and Electromagnetism topic in the syllabus. Every person had a distinct role (e.g. one person made the audio clip, one person did the worksheet, etc.) and this was a great skill-building task, as well as a great revision activity.

Tip 4: Offer designated revision time with suggested techniques

If you have time, then you may wish to use the lessons on the run-up to tests and assessments as ‘revision lessons’. This can be time in which students make flash cards, create Mind Map summaries, record audio notes, quiz each other or perhaps work through a Seneca section (see earlier notes). You might want to give your students some training in effective revision techniques prior to the session, and supplying materials (e.g. for making flash cards) is a good idea too.

Tip #5: Do a practice exam before the real thing

This is an awesome idea which I don’t think is used enough for low-stakes assessments. Even with younger learners who have an end-of-topic test coming up, a practice test can be a great way to offer a stark ‘wake-up’ call: shedding light on areas of strength and weakness, as well as providing the students with essential ‘exam technique’ experience. Students should be relaxed during this process and should know that this is not the final test, but is still important as it will inform them of what to focus on in their revision. For students who don’t finish on-time, it will offer a good opportunity to discuss strategies to speed-up, such as avoidance of ‘waffling’ and the importance of reading each question thoroughly (so that they don’t ‘go off at a tangent’ in their answers).

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Letting Them ‘Roll With It’ – The Power of Exploration

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video (well-worth a watch): 

I had this crazy idea, some years ago, to offer a Computer Games Coding after-school club for the students to take part in. I had absolutely no idea how to code, but I thought it would be pretty cool. 

I was rather the maverick back then. 

I picked up a book about coding with Scratch (check it out by the way – it’s brilliant) to read up on the basics, but I didn’t have the self-discipline to actually read that book.

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I picked up the book, but I didn’t read it!

I stopped after the first few pages. 

Around 20 students signed up for this club, making it one of the most popular in the school. I was two days away from teaching my first coding lesson and I was panicking – how could I teach this stuff if I didn’t even know how to do it? 

I decided on Emergency Plan B – I would share extracts from Scratch textbooks for kids (and my book that I’d bought) with the students through our school’s online learning platform. There were a number of games that the students could decide to build: Ghost Hunter, Boat Race, Space Mission, Chat Bot, etc. I decided to let them choose and build the games in pairs or small groups

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

In those early days I would call students to my desk one-at-a-time and I would ask them: “How’s the coding going? What have you done so far? Show me the blocks you’ve created.” – Guess what: the kids were teaching me how to code!

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As each lesson went by I picked up more and more tips and knowledge and I was able to help the students out with more complex problems. The club culminated at the end of the year with a big assembly in which my best coders shown the whole school the games they created. 

Go on the journey together

My message in this article is that it’s not always necessary to know everything about your subject, especially if you’re new to teaching it. When I first came to Thailand in 2008, I was much less knowledgeable about Chemistry than I am now (I was a Biology Teacher in the UK). The strategy I took was this – I will learn with the students

So, get some fundamentals under your belt and think of ways to get your students to explore the topics they are learning. Get your students to use source material to:

  • Create Google Slides presentations (these are great, by the way, as multiple students can work on the slides in real-time)
  • Create a class quiz (e.g. a Kahoot!)
  • Create infographics (don’t go with ‘posters’ – they’ve been done to death)
  • Create a website or blog (Google Sites is brilliant for this, and is yet another reason why schools should take on Google Suite)
  • Create models of the concepts (simple materials are all that’s needed – bottle caps, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc)
  • Create a table display (e.g. for a Science Fair)

Don’t forget to reward the effort in some way: house points, merits, certificates, etc. 

Try the I.E.S. Method

Introduce the topic to the students via some kind of engaging starter activity (see my blog post on starter activities for some ideas to get you started). Use the three As (Assign, Analyse and Ask) where possible.

Give the students a ‘menu’ of different ways in which they can choose to explore the topic in a creative way (e.g. by creating a collaborative Google Slides presentation, making a Kahoot! quiz for the class to complete, designing an infographic, etc.)

Showcase the work to the class (or allow students to showcase their own work) so as to provide acknowledgement. a sense of accomplishment and a useful opportunity for class reflection. Do this important step the next lesson if time runs out, Do not skip this vital step. 

Subject Knowledge Does Help

It is worth pointing out that it is always better to actually know the intricacies of the topics you are teaching. This always gives the teacher more confidence and more ability to help the kids.

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

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

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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How a TEFL Gap Year Will Benefit Your Future

You may be doing your TEFL course and teaching abroad as a ‘gap year’ before starting a career which you studied for at university. Many people will ask you ‘Why do you want to teach English abroad? Aside from a so-called year off, how will it benefit you?’. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her thoughts with us.

A year of teaching abroad can benefit you in number of ways:

You’ll gain confidence 

So many parts of this experience will help you to gain confidence – from travelling alone abroad to a new place, to experiencing new cultures, to doing something new, to learning to speak in front of people.

Your communication skills will improve

Techniques learnt on the course and practiced in the classroom thereafter, will improve your general communication skills. You will be far more aware of whether or not you have been understood, and will adjust the way you speak and listen to people in general. You will also become more confident speaking to large groups of people, as well as on a one-to-one basis.

Clay class

Your time management skills will improve

You’ll become the master of checklists! There’s nothing like leaving behind your materials and wasting all your hard work and effort to make you more organised! Carefully planning your lessons according to a time schedule will also be great practice for time management.

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You’ll become more aware of other cultures

As you’ve moved to another country and are teaching students who are not from your culture, you will become acutely aware of the differences between cultures, and the pitfalls of dealing with people from other cultures. These include misunderstandings, doing things in different ways, and knowing that what is acceptable in one culture, may not be so in another culture. In the corporate workplace one day, this will be a valuable asset to have, particularly in jobs where you’ll be dealing with international clients.

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Networking

You will make friends for life – after meeting people you would never have met back home. These could be your fellow classmates on the TEFL course, your fellow teachers while teaching, or neighbours and other locals, as well as your students. Having an international network of friends and past colleagues can also advance your career in ways you may never know – as you never know where the future may take you.

You’ll mature and grow as a person

All the challenges and hardships of living abroad will give you a tough skin and mature you in ways that staying at home in a familiar environment won’t do. Moving out of your parental home is testing enough for many young adults – but doing so in a different country really challenges!

Well there you have it. There are many more reasons to sail away from familiar shores, but these reasons are ones that you can proudly mention in interviews and cover letters. So what are you waiting for? 

If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

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Teaching Overseas for the First Time: Advice From Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps and The Rogers Pedagogical Planner: A Teacher’s Planner for Serious Professionals)

COVID-19 has clearly had a devastating effect on the aviation industry. With international travel brought to a virtual standstill, some airlines have found themselves laying off staff, downsizing and even going bankrupt

This is, of course, an unprecedented and horrific situation for the airline industry as a whole. In addition to this, restrictions on international travel have caused ripples to permeate throughout a wide variety of other industries: not least international education. Some effects that have been experienced by teachers (some of whom are my colleagues) are as follows:

  • Teachers who were appointed to roles overseas cannot leave their current country of residence to actually start their jobs.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, are often not able to move abroad with the appointed teacher as it’s difficult for many countries to get the necessary clearance and paperwork approved.
  • Teachers who were ‘on the fence’ about teaching overseas are now regretting the fact that they didn’t ‘take the plunge’ and move abroad sooner, as now their ability to travel has been restricted.

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That last bullet-point is an interesting one. It’s an ‘imaginary’ scenario based only on the anecdotal evidence I could currently acquire – a number of my readers have written to me to say that they regret not having made the decision to teach overseas sooner. 

Whilst I cannot be sure that this is a systemic or widespread regret that applies to the teaching profession as a whole, it is an understandable and logical emotional response to COVID-19 that we can consider. I imagine that when COVID-19 is ‘over’ (will it ever be really over?), and flight paths reopen, we will see a surge in applications for overseas teaching posts. 

Class Q and A

In anticipation of this, I’ve conducted a rather unconventional experiment this week. As a teacher with 12 years of overseas teaching experience (11 years in Thailand, 1 year in China), I decided to post my top 5 suggestions/tips for teachers who are considering moving overseas to teach. I posted these tips in the popular Teachers in Thailand Facebook group, to see what kind of responses I would get. After a bit of distillation (tallying up the responses with the most likes), I’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive and balanced list of pre-teach-abroad tips for all budding globe-trotters (I hope!):

Rule #1: Try to learn the local language – even a few words will show others that you are trying and you’ll be respected all the more for it.

In some countries, of course, this won’t be necessary. If you’re a native English speaker moving to Singapore, Australia, America or the UK (or another English speaking country), then you may only have to learn some of the local colloquialisms and get used to some unusual dialect. However, if you move to a country like China, for example, it’s a whole different story. 

Sometimes, learning the local language is essential. When I worked in Chongqing, China; for example; very few people could understand English (Starbucks baristas tended to be the best speakers – so hats-off to them). I had to learn some Mandarin just to survive. Learning the local language does have other benefits, too, however:

  • Language and culture are often very closely intertwined. Learning the local language can help you to understand why the local people think the way they think. This can lead to better relationships, less frustration and more common-ground and mutual understanding.
  • When you at least try to use the local language, you are showing that you have some respect for the local people and the country in which you are a guest (more on that later). In my experience, this goes a long way to building trust with others (e.g. that hairdresser you have to see every week, or that bar tender you see on the occasional Friday night). People tend to admire you more if you show that you are willing to learn, and you don’t just expect everyone around you to speak your language and accommodate you.

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Teachers in Thailand Response

This rule was generally well-received. A noteworthy response that offers some extra-insight is given below (of course, remember that this is Thai-centric, but could be applied to any native language):

“I had the advantage of a thorough pre-field language training (it leads to some interesting conversations with Thai adults — like “how can my English get as good as your Thai” — but even if you have much less Thai than that it can still be a bridge-builder that can make your life easier — and fortunately, there are now FB groups designed specifically for foreigners trying to learn Thai. Take it easy, and you will gradually get better at it.”  – Edwin Zehner

Rule #2: Do not leave home because you are trying to run away from problems – finances, crime, family issues – get any of these issues resolved first before you move overseas (or your problems might travel with you).

I must admit that this was a tricky one for me to phrase correctly in one sentence, and it did receive a little bit of backlash in the Facebook group. Before I include a noteworthy response or two, I’d like to add an extract from my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management (final chapter), which goes into this a bit more:

Extract from THE QUICK GUIDE TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

SECRET NUMBER 46: Your Problems May Follow You When You Fly Away

If your motivation to leave your home country revolves around personal
problems you have such as debt, a broken relationship or family
issues, then don’t assume that all of these problems are going to vanish
as soon as the landing gear hits the tarmac in your new city. Certain
problems, especially those concerning money, can actually be
exacerbated when you leave your home country. Here are my top tips
for making sure that a problem at home doesn’t become a nightmare
abroad:

  1. Money: Think long and carefully about any debt-related or financial issues you have, and aim to resolve them before you board the plane. Many expatriates find it difficult to transfer funds back to their home country once they’re abroad, and this can have consequences in terms of meeting credit card and bill payment dates. You must ensure that you’ve inquired beforehand about the ways in which you can deal with your finances abroad, and you must remember to follow through. When one is residing in a foreign country, it can be easy to forget about the financial commitments you have in your home country. In the early stages, this can manifest as an awkward message or letter from your creditor, progressing to international criminal action if the issue is not dealt with. It might be a good idea for you to leave some savings in your native bank account which you can use to pay your bills and loans in the first few months of your new adventure. You may wish to get a trusted friend or family member back home to help you with this.
  2. Relationships: Don’t burn any bridges before you fly away. You may be travelling to an exotic new country to start a wonderful new chapter in your life, but you never know when circumstances may force you to return home to your native country. Try not to upset people before you leave, for example, by venting your pent-up grudges that you’ve had for years. You may also want to keep in touch with people at your old school as you may need to call upon them for advice, resources and help.
  3. Health: Try to bring all of your medical records with you when you travel, and have them deposited at the hospital you plan to use when you start at your new school. Whilst medical care provided overseas can be of an extremely high quality (especially when your school pays for private medical insurance as part of your package), it can be very difficult for doctors to suggest a suitable course of treatment if your exact medical history is unknown. If you end up spending a great deal of time teaching overseas, then you may find yourself moving
    from hospital to hospital, or even country to country! It is essential that you do not underestimate the importance of keeping your medical records safe, accessible and updated. Unfortunately, however, this is the one aspect of international teaching that is most overlooked by teachers.
  4. Crime: If you’ve committed any kind of serious criminal offence in your home country, then you almost certainly will not get a job at a reputable international school overseas. Most will require you to complete a criminal records check before you leave your home country but even if your school does not require this, you must still be upfront and honest about any criminal history you have. The ramifications for you can be severe if your school finds out about it later.
  5. Online: Clean up your online profile. Look at all of the social media channels you have, all of your blog posts, forum replies, comments and any other material you’ve submitted online. Also, remove anything that puts you in a bad light: international school managers are using ‘internet screening’ more and more often these days. Additionally, be very careful about who you connect with through social media, and never connect with current students. Whilst it’s important to keep in touch with your former students (through school-authorized alumni channels), you still have to be careful about what they can read about you, or from you, online. Your former students may be connected with your current students, and they can pass on information easily. You’ll also find that the student world of international teaching is just as small as the teacher world, and students in different international schools do communicate and connect with each other.

Q & A

I received some interesting responses about this in the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group:

“I do not agree with your point 2. We left SA because of a few of your nr 2 reasons and we soooo happy in Thailand!”

“Sometimes it’s impossible to resolve problems at home. Nonetheless you can be an effective teacher.”

I guess a balanced viewpoint on the issue is needed. A fresh start in a new country can offer you the chance to leave the past behind, and build a new future. My point, however, is that you should try to solve as many personal problems as you can before you move over. Avoid ‘burning bridges’ too – you never know when you might need to cross them again. 

Rule #3: Remember that you are a GUEST in a foreign country. Be respectful, and remember that for every action you undertake you will be scrutinized more excessively than the natives.

I’m not sure if being ‘scrutinized more than the natives” applies in EVERY country, but that’s certainly been my experience in Thailand and China – and that’s understandable. I am a foreigner. I have to be respectful of the local rules, culture and environment. 

I think it is important to realise that the world is an incredibly varied place. If you’ve lived your whole life in one country (as I did before moving out to Thailand in 2008) you’re going to find that your new home will be different in many ways. The most profound of these differences, however, is that people probably won’t even ‘think like you think’ on many issues. 

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Being understanding and accepting of the host culture and environment kind of comes with the job of being an international school teacher. If it gets too much for you, you can always move back home later (or to another country). 

Rule #4: Get as many qualifications as you can (and as much experience as you can) back home before moving out – it’ll all look good on your resume/CV and you’ll definitely use the skills and knowledge you’ve learnt.

International schools tend to have more difficulties recruiting specialists than, say, a domestic school in western country would. This, coupled with the fluid nature of international education (schools at different phases of development) means that you may be asked to teach subjects outside of your specialism. 

Before moving out, try to get skilled-up in anything pedagogical – accelerated learning techniques, Assessment for Learning, teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms training, etc. The skills you learn on courses like these will definitely come-in handy when you teach overseas.

Online learning is, of course, great for this. There a large number of high-quality, inexpensive courses available on places like edX, Coursera and Udemy. You can also take my Classroom Management Fundamentals certificate course with UK Ed Academy.

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Some notable additions

“Make sure your social media accounts are private and that your profile pic is respectable. Recruiters often check you out on social media. Do an in-class or hybrid course. There is so much to be said for REAL PRACS with real students. Do an intro video if you can – either just introduction, or even better of you in the classroom showing your rapport with students. Be punctual for any interviews!” – Rose-Anne Turner, Founder of Destination TEFL

“Get someone to proofread your c.v and covering letter. The number of applications we get with poor punctuation and spelling mistakes…” – Kate Lloyd, Director of Studies at London School of English, Ukraine. Check out her website for teachers at What Kate and Kris Did.

“Expect things to go a bit wrong/unplanned from time to time but make sure you’re flexible and ok with that” – Stefan Hines, Secondary Science Teacher

Rule #5: Kinda linked to number 2: make sure you are going overseas for the right reasons – to inspire and help your students, to gain teaching experience and to gain a unique cultural experience. You’re not coming over to have a big, never-ending holiday, or to find a local boyfriend or girlfriend (although that last one might be a nice by-product).

This is quite an important one. If you don’t have the right mindset before you come out, then you could be in for quite a shock. 

International schools (and local public schools) tend to have very high professional standards. In addition to this, there often comes the added pressure of being expected to perform well. Thing about it: your school has most likely paid for your flight, immigration visa, work permit and maybe even housing and a competitive salary. You’ll be expected to measure-up. 

Have a holidays at holiday time. Experience the local culture and food all that good stuff, but remember that you must be just as professional at your job as you were back home. 

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Online Learning: A Risk-Assessment List for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

Teaching online can be a very productive and worthwhile experience for both the teachers and students involved. However, at this time of widespread school closures due to COVID19, many teachers have had to quickly adapt their skills to teaching online without full knowledge of the heightened risks involved. 

This blog post aims to educate teachers everywhere about the things we can do to protect ourselves when teaching online. I believe that this list is so important that I’ve included it in my upcoming book for teachers: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April 2020 on Amazon globally). 

100 Awesome Final Cover
Available on Amazon from 8th April 2020 onwards

‘The List’: What do we need to be aware of? 

  1. Anything we say or do online can be recorded, stored, edited and forwarded without our knowledge. Google Hangouts Meets, for example, can be set to autonomously record your meetings and auto-generate a transcript of what was spoken and by whom. We must keep every interaction with our students professional and clean. The same high standards of personal conduct that are expected of us in the classroom apply even more when we are teaching online.
  2. Know when your camera and microphone are switched on. When you start doing video conferencing for the first time, you might inadvertently set your students on a task after a live stream video briefing and then proceed to make a coffee; yawn and stretch in front of the camera; or even chat casually about how messed-up life is with your spouse who’s also working from home. Be careful. This is a very easy trap to fall into (I’ve come close to doing this myself on several occasions!). Make sure your camera AND MICROPHONE are switched off when you no longer need to engage with your students in real-time. In addition, be equally aware of video conferencing apps that can auto-generate captions. If you switch your camera off, but fail to switch off your microphone, then that next YouTube video that contains expletives and blares out of your mobile phone will not only be audible to your students, but captions may even appear on their screens!
  3. Parents will watch you teach, so be prepared for that. In my experience, many students like to switch off their cameras towards the beginning of a lesson and, unbeknownst to you, a parent could be watching. This places us, as teachers, under even greater pressure to deliver high-quality lessons than when we are snug and comfortable in our respective classrooms. Be professional and keep standards high. If we aim to be clear, caring and professional, then our students and their parents will respect and appreciate our efforts all the more for it.
  4. Be aware of chat features that are built into apps. These can contain casual emojis that one can choose to use; but we must be careful not to chat casually with any student (even by adding emojis to our messages). Keep all communication conducted through integrated chat as professional as you would in the classroom. I expand on this advice in a separate blog post (How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?). This section is well-worth a read if you want to see some real examples of teachers who lost everything because of their lack of alertness to this point!
  5. If you are not sure about an app’s appropriateness for use, then check with your school’s Senior Leadership Team or your line manager. Some schools like to keep all their prescribed online learning apps under the control of their domain (e.g. schools that use Google Classroom and Gmail may prefer to use Google Hangouts Meets as their video conferencing system, as opposed to Zoom). A great story that illustrates this point is a slight blunder that a former colleague of mine made several years ago. Knowing that Flipgrid was a popular video-exchange system used by many American schools, she recommended it to her colleagues in an upcoming collaborative teacher-training session. However, the school’s head of ICT followed up on that training session by e-mailing all the secondary teachers to tell them not to use Flipgrid – because it wasn’t a system under direct control of the school.
  6. Check student well-being on a regular basis. When students work from home they can feel lonely, extremely bored and anxious. At this very moment, for example, as I write this prose; the novel coronavirus pandemic has snared much of the world’s population with fear and confusion. This fear and confusion is certainly being felt to varying degrees by many of the students I currently teach. Check that your students are having regular breaks and are sticking to a routine. E-mail parents of the students you are responsible for to find out how things are going. Recommend any tips you can for working from home productively and maintaining a personal sense of happiness and wellness. Share any tips that your school counselor or Student Welfare Officer sends out. When interacting on a video-call, check how your students look and feel. Are they dressed properly? Are they tired or stressed-out? Are there any student-wellbeing issues that come to your attention? Is the technology working correctly for your students?
  7. Effective online teaching requires effective technology. This can be a challenge when using old hardware or software (or both) and when internet connections are slow. We must adapt: no matter what it takes. Set work via e-mail if video conferencing is not an option. Experiment with using the apps listed in my book (100 Awesome Online Learning Apps) on your phone if you don’t have a tablet or notebook/laptop. Figure out how your device’s integrated microphone works if you don’t have a headset. Go through the apps in this book that seem appealing and test the efficiency of each when setting tasks through the technology that’s available to you. Check-up on your students regularly – do they have the technology required to access and complete the tasks you are setting?

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100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April on Amazon Globally)

Release date: Wednesday 8th April 2020 on Amazon Globally [ISBN 979-8629490937]

Great news!: My GAME-CHANGING book, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps, is now LIVE on Amazon. Copies can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086PSMYRN/

The book covers:

1. Not-so-obvious things to be aware of when doing online learning
2. A big list of 100 Awesome Apps with suggestions for their use in online learning

100 Awesome Final Cover

Book description

2020 marked a definitive year in the world of teaching. For the first time in history, teachers and schools all around the world were forced to quickly apply their skills to online learning as a result of widespread school closures in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This book is timely and long-awaited, and meets the needs of educators who are required to deliver high-quality teaching via online apps and platforms. This book takes the reader through 100 tried-and-tested online learning platforms, with suggestions as to how each one could be used to enhance teaching or assessment. As a high-school science teacher and a Google Certified Educator himself, Mr Richard James Rogers has first-hand experience of using each platform and speaks from a wealth of involvement rather than from a lofty and disconnected position in elite academia. This is a practical book for those who want to make a difference in their students’ lives, no matter how volatile local circumstances may be.

About the Author

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Richard James Rogers is the globally acclaimed author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets that all High School Students Need to Know. As a Google Certified Educator, he utilizes a wide-variety of educational technology in his day job as an IBDP chemistry teacher at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Richard actively writes about all issues related to teaching at his weekly blog: richardjamesrogers.com

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The Importance of Planning

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

Accompanying video: 

My PGCE course was a long, dark road of pain. Not only was I new to teaching, and finding it difficult to teach in a way that was engaging and rightly-paced, but the paperwork was tremendous. 

studying with com

Back then, I was required to write out each lesson plan on an A4 piece of paper and have it checked by the main class teacher. I also had to submit the work to my PGCE mentor. 

The process was laborious but it did get me thinking about:

  • How to start my lessons quickly and appropriately.
  • Where students should sit at each point in the lesson and what equipment they would need.
  • How to work through the syllabus at an acceptable pace.
  • How to end each lesson with a stimulating summary.

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Nowadays, however, my lesson planning is done in a one-week-per-two-pages diary [this is the planner I use], and supported by departmental curriculum maps (which outline the topics to be covered for the whole year) and Schemes of Work.

It’s less work, and more ‘long-term’ in focus. 

Planning is a skill that outstanding teachers have mastered. In this article, I want to share my advice on how to best plan our:

  • Lessons
  • Marking
  • Homework schedule
  • Events
  • Free time

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Outstanding teaching is supported by outstanding planning – and this goes beyond the simple planning of one’s lessons. 

The Power of Praise
“Simply Brilliant!” – Readers’ Favorite

Let’s now go through each item in the above list together.

Lesson planning

Experience has taught me that time spent planning lessons always reaps rewards. It requires one to spend a good hour or two of non-contact time doing the following:

  • Looking over the week ahead and scheduling the topics that will be covered on each day
  • Thinking about when homework will be set, when it will be collected in and when it will be marked
  • Accounting for meetings, events and any planned (or possible) disruption to one’s timetable
  • Planning our resource-preparation time

Here’s a video I made about efficient lesson-planning, and in that you will see the lesson planner that I use:

For me, I use part of my Sunday morning each week to plan the week ahead. It always pays dividends in terms of:

  • Reduced stress during the week
  • Better lessons

snacking

Marking

Do we really need to assign so much homework?: If we’re not taking the time to sit with our students to provide high quality feedback, then is that homework assignment we’ve set really that useful?  

We need to think carefully about the quantity of marking we are creating for ourselves, and whether or not this is an effective way to enhance the learning of our students.

I believe strongly in the power of planning our marking. Every week I need to know:

  • When I will set homework, tests and assignments
  • When I’ll collect in homework, tests and assignments
  • When I’ll mark it all
  • How I’ll mark it (in-class strategies, such as a peer and self-assessment, can save us a ton of time)

This is another Sunday morning task of mine – I plan my week’s worth of marking. 

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Events and free time

As well as planning my work, I also know how important it is to plan my free time. 

Knowing that I have a badminton session on a Sunday afternoon, for instance, gives me the motivation to get my work done promptly. Scheduling a Friday night of relaxation gives me a reward for my hard-work during the week. 

Conclusion

I believe that productivity has to permeate and infuse into every cell of our bodies. Productivity must be a way of life – not simply a good habit to deploy at work.

By planning everything, we are more likely to implement the things that move us forwards. 

In the early part of my career my poor time-management and planning skills left me wasting my weekend time, wasting my mornings and creating undue stress for myself. 

Never again. I deserve better. My students deserve better. 

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Latest hybrid

The ‘Lazy Mindset’ – Some Teachers Don’t Even Try

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

It was a typical morning tea break in the school staff room. Typical morning grumbles. Typical morning camaraderie.

“It’s like talking to a brick wall with John”, piped in one colleague.

“Yeah he’s pretty distant isn’t he?”, said another.

“He just doesn’t try. I doubt he’ll even get a grade D in GCSE Maths”, says the colleague who started this conversation.

Then I make the biggest cardinal sin a teacher can make in such moaning contests. It was the ultimate point of flippancy for a 23-year-old like me: “He’s great in my lessons”, I arrogantly say.

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“An AMAZING book!”

The conversation went quiet.

Back then I wasn’t as polished in my speech as I am now. For some reason my colleagues still put-up with me, and I think they liked me. Perhaps I was given the benefit of the doubt because I was, essentially, a kid myself.

The truth, however, is that John was, actually, great in my lessons. The question is this: Why?

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Coursework Conundrum

Then there was that time when something I said went down like a lead balloon at a departmental meeting.

A challenging Year 10 class, who were completing Science coursework, were given to me to cover for a lesson. Their teacher was absent that day.

I write about this story in my first book as a classic example of how teacher organisation and rapport-building can generate dramatically different results to the status quo when applied consistently. Basically, I booked the ICT lab and simply walked around the class and helped the students with their work. I also took all of the loose bits of paper that were loosely organised in a blue tray (their ‘coursework’ tray), and put them in plastic wallets with each students’ name on.

A simple tactic, but it worked really well. It meant that the students didn’t have to fish through papers at the start of each lesson and complain that bits were missing – adding to disruption.

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I mentioned this story at that meeting, and whilst my Head of Deportment was impressed with me (he was, secretly, the person I was trying to impress anyway), the teachers of that class were not so happy with my ruthless expose’.

“If I was kid in that class and I had to root through a pile of mixed-up papers to find my coursework, then I’d be disruptive too” I said with a judgmental, 23-year-old voice.

I probably would use more tact and subtlety were I to raise the same issue today. Our colleagues are our allies, not our enemies.

So, what’s the point you’re trying to make?

Simply this:

A teacher’s behavior can have a profound, long-lasting effect on student behavior. 

Robert Greene, in his bestselling book The 48 Laws of Power describes something called the ‘Mirror Effect’. Basically, it’s a way of showing someone their faults and failures by mirroring their actions.

self-assessment

For teachers, the Mirror Effect works best by modelling the passion and determination we want to see in our students:

  • When we are passionate, our students become passionate
  • When we are relaxed, our students are relaxed [be careful how far you take relaxation, however. Relaxed demeanor: yes. Relaxed attitude to your professional role: no.]
  • When we strive for excellence ourselves, our students also strive for excellence
  • When we praise and encourage, with passion and real emotion, we inspire our students to work harder, and perform better 

One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when I was given a very shy young girl from Iceland to teach. Starting in Year 11 and studying IGCSE Chemistry with me, she had two main challenges to overcome:

  1. She had never learnt any chemistry before, and was due to take an IGCSE exam in Chemistry in 6 months time (that’s hard, by the way)
  2. English was not her first language, and I was teaching her through the medium of English

After my first lesson with her had finished she told me straight: “Mr Rogers, I didn’t understand anything you taught me this lesson.”

Discussing homework

That’s when I knew that this was serious, because I’d taught a lesson covering the basic fundamentals.

Her first test came back in two weeks – she got a grade U. She was devastated.

“I’m just going to fail Chemistry, aren’t I?” – she said

“No way. We won’t let that happen. Your target for your next test is an E, and come and see me on Monday lunchtimes so I can teach you the fundamentals. I believe in you.”

It saddens me to say this, but I received a massive public backlash about a year and a half ago when I suggested that one way that we can help exam-level classes is by giving up a few minutes at lunchtimes to tutor weak students on the run-up to the finals. One person went so far as to write damning review of my book (which, I assume, he hadn’t even read):

Luch is for losers
Another happy customer!

I’m not suggesting for one minute that top-up sessions are the only way to help students who are falling behind, but in the case of this student (who had zero prior knowledge of chemistry) it was an essential intervention move. 

That student, incidentally, went on to achieve a grade A* in IGCSE Chemistry six months later – beating almost everyone else in Year 11. 

This happened because:

  • The student worked really hard (this is the main reason)
  • The student wanted to work hard because I kept on pushing her, telling her that I believed in her (and I meant it), and because I gave believable and achievable targets for each test (she scored a U, E, E, D, B, A and then an A* in the final).

This is a living testament of the efficacy of my core philosophy, which is this:

I believe that ANY student’s success can be engineered by a great teacher

You’ll find that statement in my bio on Twitter – it’s the personal philosophy that has guided me for more than 15 years. It works, because I’ve seen it work.

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But how do we implement this philosophy?

Use the four-step T.I.P.S. method:

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

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

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

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

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

TIPS RICHARD JAMES ROGERS

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