News: Warwick University Fudges Exam Timetable

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Examinations are stressful for students at all levels of Further and Higher Education: whether it’s GCSEs, end of unit tests, IB Diploma exams, university assessments or any test that carries a significant weighting.

And that’s when the exams are scheduled properly.

Imagine how much more stressful it would be if you found out that you may have to take some of your exams six weeks earlier than you were originally told.

Surprisingly, this is exactly what has happened recently at Warwick University: one of the UK’s most prestigious institutions.

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According to the BBC report published yesterday, the university said that the provisional timetable had to be scrapped due to “significant” difficulties and students had been told to disregard it.

In some cases exams have been scheduled 42 days earlier than planned.

After scanning Warwick’s press releases page I could not find any official explanation or update from them. The new exam timetable was apparently shared on 17th April, but press releases on that day discuss regional investment and an explosion on a star.

Too much homework

Nothing about the new timetable.

I contacted Warwick for an official explanation and received this reply:

Due to significant, critical and unforeseen difficulties, the earlier provisional timetable was taken down and students informed it was inaccurate and to await updated accurate information.

The examinations team responded to feedback from academic departments and published the final timetable a week earlier than was originally planned.

Boards of Examiners and the Notification of Mitigating Circumstances process will operate as it has in previous years and the details can be found here:
https://warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/examinations/students/mitigatingcircumstances

The ‘tip of the iceberg’

When delving deeper into this story I discovered that the provisional exam timetable, apparently released by Warwick almost two weeks later than expected, was also riddled with issues.

According to this article written by Steph Campbell at The Boar (Warwick University’s Student Newspaper), the provisional timetable showed some final year students’ exams being timetabled in June and early July, when the students were expected to be finished by the end of May.

A game of exam ‘ping pong’?

It seems that students were originally told that they would have exams in June and July, only to be told on April 17th that these exams were being moved to May.

Ping-ponging students like this is not a good idea, especially when so much is at stake (i.e. their entire futures).

work overload
A MOUNTAIN OF REVISION TO DO IN SUCH LITTLE TIME: WARWICK STUDENTS TODAY?

My thoughts on this

Whilst Warwick doesn’t offer a course in Rocket Science (although their degree in Physics with Astrophysics comes close), they really didn’t need to assign this basic task to a rocket scientist.

If schools, colleges and exam boards can arrange exam timetables properly, then why not a top university?

It’s really simple:

Step 1: Find out which rooms are free and when

Step 2: Find out how many students can be comfortably accommodated into each room at once

Step 3: Find out the duration of each exam

Step 4: Match rooms and times with exams

Step 5: Tell your students

Step 6: Assign and hire invigilators

Warwick University may wish to take note of this process for future reference. It’s a tried-and-tested method that has been used successfully by schools and colleges for decades.

I contacted The Boar for an official comment but have so far not received a response.

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Secret Number 5: Run an ECA (Why, What and How)

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

My teenage years were brilliant, and one of the reasons for this is that I was involved in so many active clubs and hobbies. I was an army cadet, I did karate and I even tried hockey and acting for a short while.

Me as an Army Cadet, aged 14

The Extra-Curricular Activities I did as a kid shaped my character more than my lessons in school. I can say that with conviction.

In my ECAs I made new and lasting friendships and learnt cool skills (such as how to start a fire with potassium permanganate, and how to disarm an attacker with a pistol).

I still do karate to this day – it gave me self-discipline and the understanding that life can be painful; but instead of crying in a corner like a little wimp I need to man-up and fight back, and persevere through every storm that comes my way.

Yes: karate, and the Army Cadets, really taught me that.

Now, as a teacher, I warmly reflect on my childhood experiences and the enrichment that was brought to me through these extra dimensions in my life. I try, as best as I can, to offer modern and meaningful ECAs to my students in my current practice.

An AMAZING Book!

Why offer an ECA?

There are numerous benefits which compensate for the extra time it takes to run an ECA:

  • You get to build closer and more meaningful professional relationships with your students, and other students you might not teach
  • You become ‘that cool teacher‘ who goes the extra mile to run good clubs with the kids
  • You learn a few surprising things about the kids in your club – such as skills and abilities they have which you didn’t know about before
  • You will develop new skills along the way (e.g. I currently teach FinTech in one of my ECAs, which is a new area of knowledge that I’m learning about too)
  • You may change lives, literally. One of my former students 10 years ago attended a German language ECA that I ran. She’d never learnt German before, and absolutely loved the club. I later found out that she did a degree in German at university and now works as a translator here in Thailand.

What kind of ECAs can we offer?

Anything that’s:

  • Fun
  • Modern
  • Useful
  • Active

Good ECA types include:

  • Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
  • Gaming (e.g. retro computer gaming, chess, battleships, etc.)
  • Languages that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum
  • Anything practical and hands-on (e.g. robotics, cookery, Science experiments, etc.)
  • Exam and study support

I tend to go with things I’m interested in that will also be fun and useful for my students.

How can we offer ECAs if our skills are limited?

We don’t have to be experts in the things we want to offer as ECAs. In fact, some of the best clubs I’ve run have been dynamic classes in which I learnt new things with the kids.

Running an ECA can even be a good way for us to skill-up as teachers.

Take a club I’m running at the moment, for example: Platform Building and Money Management. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about these subjects, but I’m learning FinTech with the University of Hong Kong and I’m reading books to learn about digital marketing and personal finance. The good news is this – each week, when I learn something new in my studies, I can then pass this on to my students in the ECA.

It’s a great way to help me with my self-discipline in my learning, and it keeps my ECA modern and relevant. The kids love it!

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Secret Number 4: Use Positive, Specific Feedback

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.

However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.

Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)

Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)

University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent

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Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check out edX for amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).

Why were the best, the best?

There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.

I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.

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“An AMAZING book!”

There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.

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Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.

That was powerful.

Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.

I left feeling dignified and educated.

Specific praise is powerful praise

Last week I wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.

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But what does ‘specific’ mean?

I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.

That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.

When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:

1. The effort that’s gone into the work:

“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”

“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”

2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.

“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”

“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”

3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”

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Oh come on, that’ll take ages

You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.

Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:

  • Written comments
  • Verbally – very memorable and effective
  • Via e-mail
  • Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
  • By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
  • Certificates and awards
  • Assemblies
  • Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
  • Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
  • A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
  • Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)

Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.

It made me feel proud.

Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.

Further reading

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power

The Four Rules of Praise

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News: Schoolgirl Put in Isolation 240 Times

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m experimenting with a new format and schedule for my blog, and I hope that it will make my content even more interesting and useful for my readers (that’s the plan anyway!).

Every mid-week I’ll give my synopsis of a current education-related news story, along with my regular ‘teaching tips’ blog post on a Sunday. That’s two blog posts per week from now on.

This week I want to discuss my thoughts on a BBC News story that broke this week – that a schoolgirl in England had been sent to the ‘isolation room’ at her school at least 240 times since Year 7 (Grade 6).

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering

What’s an ‘isolation room’ anyway?

It’s a place where the naughty kids are sent, basically. If the teacher feels that a student is being so disruptive that their behavior is affecting the learning of other students, then some schools will allow the teacher to send that kid to the isolation room.

Many UK schools have isolation rooms. They’re designed to be quiet places where kids can sit and do work, often supervised by a special ‘isolation room monitor’ (who is normally a fully qualified teacher too).

Many prominent figures in UK education support the idea of isolation rooms. Take Tom Bennet, author of The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers, who has stated that using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, spent very little time actually working in a school.”

mess around in class

Well, Tom, I’ve spent many years working in schools (and yes, I worked in the UK in a school with an isolation room), and I can tell you: I don’t support this strategy at all.

Let me tell you why.

1. They’re too easy to use

I remember working in North Wales at school with an isolation room over a decade ago. I had a teenage girl in one of my classes who had spent 50% of a previous half-term in the isolation room. She missed a lot of school, and the resources in the isolation room were not up to scratch to match the curriculum she was following.

As a newbie back then I found the isolation room very supportive: if a kid played up I could just send him or her to the room. I filled in a slip and off the kid went.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

I found myself giving up on students at the first instance of misbehavior. This was especially true if a kid had a history of being sent out to isolation. If everyone else is sending this kid there, then I can do it too!

It became too easy to send kids out, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. I hated myself for it, to be honest, and I decided ‘no more’.

The next time that girl was chatty in class and a little disruptive was when we were learning about the extraction of chlorophyll from a leaf. Instead of sending her out, I got her involved.

“Come and help me”

She came and used the Bunsen Burner to heat up the solution. Everyone clapped. She felt empowered.

lab girls

I‘ve written tirelessly about the importance of making our students feel important and valued. It’s a core principle of good behavior management and overall student training. Isolation rooms completely subvert this solid fact and principle, and tend to cause more problems than they solve (such as leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in some cases, which we see in this particular case with the girl in the BBC report).

2. When is enough, enough?

After 240 times of being sent to the isolation room, one would have thought that someone in the school with at least two brain cells to rub together would have realized that the isolation room strategy isn’t working for this student.

What about counseling? Discussions with parents? Teacher-meetings to discuss strategies for this student? Extra time to complete homework? Collective praise when this girl did something great?

There are many ways to solve long-term poor behavior. Sending students to an isolation room is not the answer.

3. Since when did UK schools become prisons for kids?

With the advent of compulsory schooling in 1880, followed by fines for parents who didn’t send their kids to school beginning in 2004, and then later the advent of isolation rooms, one sees a rather grim picture emerging.

School is supposed to be a happy place for children. A place where they learn new skills and become better people. A place where they mature into adults.

When schools become like prisons, however, with more and more power being taken away from parents as the years pass, one wonders if home-schooling shouldn’t become more pervasive.

chatting in class

In the UK, parents can home-school their kids provided that they have permission from the school headteacher. However, government inspectors can make an informal visit and can serve a ‘school attendance order’ if they feel that the child is not receiving an adequate education.

Maybe homeschooling would have worked with this girl? Maybe it wasn’t feasible.

4. IEPs need to be considered

Sophie, the schoolgirl mentioned in the BBC article, had selective mutism and didn’t start speaking until she was 8-years-old. She also had autism.

Surely she would have had an IEP in place (an Individual Education Plan). Did this document recommend that she be sent to the isolation room every day from January to mid-March, as the BBC report states?

I very much doubt it.

What we learn from this story is that IEPs need to be well-designed and shared, proactively, with every teacher in the school. That means reading them, discussing them, and coming up with strategies as a team.

Isn’t that what INSET days could be used for?

Q & A

Isolation rooms should be banned

I am of the opinion that isolation rooms should be banned in schools. Put the kids on detention – yes. Send them to a senior manager. Phone home. Allow extra time for homework. Meet with parents. Use collective strategies.

But don’t let a kid spend half a term, each and every day, and all day every day, in an isolation room with poor-quality work to complete (and poor-quality guidance).

Schools are not prisons. Schools are supposed to be happy places where kids learn things.

If schools can’t achieve this, then give the kids back to their parents. They can probably do a better job.

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power!

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Getting a handle on how to give sincere praise on a regular basis, and giving it regulary to the same students (i.e. all of our students), is a skill that the very best practitioners have mastered.

Praise is not the cute fluff-ball it appears to be, however. It is complex, dynamic and works effectively through a variety of methods. Let’s begin with a true story that illustrates the massive power of praise in teaching.

Joanne’s story

Joanne had recently qualified as a secondary school science teacher and had just started her new teaching post at an English comprehensive school. She was excited about the new challenges she would face. and was ready to put all of her training into action. She had been given responsibility for a Year 11 (age 15 – 16) general science class. Their previous teacher had left her some handover notes, and had specified that she must be careful when dealing with one student in particular: Damon. This young man was notorious for being argumentative, aggressive and non-cooperative. She was told that she must not con- front him under any circumstances. Naturally, Joanne was more than a little apprehensive when she met this class for the first time.

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Damon walked into the science lab slightly later than the rest of his peers, and Joanne greeted him with a friendly “Welcome in young man, please take a seat”. This caused a giggle amongst the rest of the students, who were naturally expecting the same reaction that Damon’s other teachers would have given him – a good telling off! Damon sat down as instructed, but, being a feisty young teen ready to push the boundaries and test what he could get away with, he pulled out a can of cola and started to drink it at his desk (something that is generally not allowed in a science lab). Joanne, knowing what she had been told about Damon, decided on a very positive and useful approach: she decided to ignore this misdemeanor at that moment and proceed on with the lesson.

chatting in class

As the lesson proceeded, Joanne set a group work activity and walked around the classroom to see how the students were getting on. As she passed Damon, she noticed that he had a very neat and organized set of felt-tip pens on his desk, arranged in a very nice standalone display case. Joanne praised Damon with a “You’re so organised, Damon. It’s good to see that you’re prepared for your lessons. I wish that every student was as prepared as you are.”

What do you think Damon’s reaction was? – He was absolutely stunned! This was a young kid who was accustomed to being reprimanded, put on detention and confronted on a daily basis. Here was a new teacher who could actually see his worth, and what he could contribute. He lapped up the praise, and responded with an “Umm, err thanks. I always like to be ready for my lessons. I also love art”. This led to a short conversation about Damon’s love of drawing tattoo designs. Joanne subtly drew his attention to the artistic graphics on the cola can, and reminded him he couldn’t drink it in the science lab. He smiled.

Later that lesson, Joanne assigned him the role of ‘Work Presentation Chief’ for the class. Each lesson, from then on in, Joanne made sure that she praised Damon for his work, and allowed him to go around the class and assess the presentation skills of selected students. What was the effect on Damon? – He became Joanne’s best student. He felt empowered, because, like all human beings, he craved a sense of importance and he craved appreciation. When Damon achieved his grade C in GCSE Science that year (a massive accomplishment considering his turbulent history) he said to Joanne “It was all because of you, miss”. Even at that moment, Joanne praised him by responding with “You did all the hard work, Damon”.

Block building

Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain – and most fools do

Dale Carnegie

What do most people do when they are criticized? How do most people respond when their character or judgement is scrutinized? Answer: most people try to justify themselves, and this often leads to resentment felt towards the person doing the complaining. Your students are no different in this respect than you or I. We all love to know that we’re doing a good job, and we all want to feel appreciated and important. Make your students feel appreciated by praising them often, and make sure you mean what you say!

The 4 main rules of praise

Every student we teach is different, and our styles of praise will naturally adapt to suit the personalities of each child. However, there are some fundamental rules that all forms of praise should follow (written rules follow the YouTube video):

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.

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Rule #2: Praise must be specific

Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?

Be specific. Here are some examples:

“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”

“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”

Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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I’ve written about the power of this technique before, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.

Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.

On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.

Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on subtle reinforcement for more info about this powerful technique).

Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future

Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.

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Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.

Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.

“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”

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Secret Number 2: Use humor to enhance learning

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here

John’s Year 10 English class consisted of a cooperative and friendly group of students. One problem persisted though; a problem found in scores of classrooms the world over: low-level disruption.

This class was notorious for doing as they were told but having a lack-luster approach to tasks: often chatting when more ‘work’ should have been done. John, a man from a traditional British family, saw himself as a ‘staunch disciplinarian’, and he would often respond to student chatter and distraction by shouting at the students who he thought were responsible for it. He would hand out scores of detentions, all of which ate into his lunchtimes and his free time after school.

Had this have solved things, John might have been be forgiven for feeling proud of his vigilant approach. However, the problem didn’t go away, and students started to resent going to John’s lessons and they began to dislike him personally. John had effectively created a very negative environment in the classroom and this was not conducive to effective learning or positive behaviour.

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“An AMAZING book!”

As behavior got worse and worse, and students felt that they were being treated ‘unfairly’, John realized that he needed a radically different approach to his teaching methodology. He decided to attend a professional development course in accelerated learning, and after a day of various workshops his eyes were opened dramatically.

“I had been making fatal mistakes since I started working with this class” said John.

“I hadn’t shown them my human side, and I was too quick to criticize. I didn’t use my personality to generate humor and I created an environment of negativity”.

What do you think John did the next time he heard students chatting in his class? He used humor and his personality to ‘lighten the mood’ whilst, at the same time, getting the students back ontask.

“My student, Billy, was chatting to a girl called Sarah when he should have been listening to another student read a Shakespearean sonnet to the class. Normally, I would have responded to this by reading him the Riot Act and exploding, or putting both students on detention. Knowing that this could cause a backlash, or at least create an unhelpful atmosphere in the class, I decided on a different tactic. I said ‘Billy, please stop flirting with Sarah. You can do that at break time’ and I smiled. The response I got was a giggle from the class and a bit of teenage awkwardness from Sarah as she said ‘Ugh! I don’t think so’. After this, everyone listened attentively to the sonnet, and we proceeded on to our group activity”.

John’s story demonstrates the power that humor can have in making a lesson more palatable for students, and how humor can be used to keep students on-task. Again, it makes our human nature become visible to our students and, if used tactfully, it can even make lesson content more memorable and can help with behavior management. You have to be careful though, as some forms of humor will work with some students but not others. You need to have a good knowledge of your class before you employ the tactic that Josh used in the example above.

You really need to know your students well, as not every student you have will respond in the same way to the humor that you use.

I recall teaching a Biology lesson some years back in which we were studying inherited and environmental traits. One girl in the class asked to be excused to use the facilities and upon leaving she said something to her friend and was replied to with the word “retard!”.

Now I know that some people are going to tally disagree with I did in response to his, but in this particular situation it was definitely the right thing to do. I tackled this spontaneous outburst in a non-confrontational way by jokingly asking “Is that an environmental or inherited trait” and she said “both!”.

The whole class giggled, the situation was forgotten about and the students were back on task in a matter of seconds.

Had I have responded with some form of severe sanction, for what was essentially a typical exchange between two teenagers, then that would have created confrontation and a negative atmosphere in the classroom. This wouldn’t have helped anyone.

Word games: An idea worth exploring

Turn your key vocabulary into silly (bad?) jokes when talking to your students. Here’s an example: “I was sitting the staff room yesterday and Mrs Jones said ‘I like you, Mr Rogers, you’re funny’. I replied with ‘I alkalike you, Mrs. Jones: you are funny too’. This is the life of a Chemistry teacher, hashtag chemistrylife” (For those who don’t get it, I turned the word ‘alkali’ – a chemistry key word – into ‘alkalike’).

As bad as jokes like these are, I’ve found that students really like them, and they help the students to remember the key words they need for their tests and exams.

Suggestions: Ways to use humor in lessons

  • Tackle disruption with light-hearted comments that make the students aware that they need to be on-task, without being antagonistic. Use knowledge about student interests if possible (e.g. “David, I know you must be talking about the next ramp you’re going to fly off on your skateboard, but if you could please listen to me at this moment then I would be most grateful”, or “Simone, I’m sure that Diane already knows what a great dancer you are, so if you could please focus on the task in hand, then that would be great”). Remember, students may respond to this so be ready to be light-hearted and direct the conversation back to the task in-hand.
  • During group activities or short tasks, you can play some silly music (not too loud) to lighten the mood. You can start by saying something like “I’m going to play everyone’s favourite music”, and then proceed to play something funny and upbeat.
  • You can sing to your students. That’s right, I did just say that! You can make up silly songs about whatever the lesson content is and sing or rap them to the class. You can also get the students to do this too.
  • Use your whole physiology to generate laughter. A laugh eases tension and nurtures creativity. Use changes in your voice, funny personal stories, exaggerated facial expressions, dance moves and anything you can think of to raise a smile and a giggle.
  • Use learning games to make the atmosphere more happy and relaxed. If you’re a languages teacher, you may want to make your students formulate silly phrases, or use the vocabulary games mentioned in Chapter 2.
  • Make up rhymes, acronyms and funny mnemonics. For example, MR FAB is an acronym for Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians and Birds (vertebrate animals) and “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” is a mnemonic for “North, East, South, West”. Even better: get the kids to make up their own.

Conclusion

In summary, humour increases happiness in the classroom, removes inhibitions, makes the teacher appear more human and can even be used as a behaviour-management tool. To add to this, decades of methodical research have shown that humour can even help students remember key concepts for long periods of time, if it is used to illustrate a concept that has just been taught (Banas et al, 2011).

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Secret number 1: Have a genuine interest in the lives of your students

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here

Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.

Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:

• Build trust
• Use humour within lessons
• Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students
• Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties
• Create an environment of cooperation and compliance
• Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals
• Personalise our lessons

2-01

Becky’s story

Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.

One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

3.1-01

In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.

At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.

Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):

• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
• Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student
• Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students)
• Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened)
• Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
• Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.

Conclusion

It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.

Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.

Turbo Teaching: 5 Ways to Supercharge Learning

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Let’s admit it once and for all: teaching is hard-work! From choosing the right techniques to use and gradually building rapport with your kids over the academic year; to marking and admin – the teaching profession requires of its disciples skills like no other.

But is it possible to distill all the research, experience and mumbo-jumbo into just a few effective strategies that work like a treat?

I believe so: hence this blog and my books.

Here are what I believe to be the most effective ways to ‘squeeze the most juice’ out of each lesson:

Tip 1: Quick starters

Give the kids something to do as soon as they walk through the classroom door (or immediately as the lesson starts). This kickstarts momentum from the outset, making it easier to build up knowledge and understanding later in the lesson.

And that’s another thing – a good starter activity should either introduce a new concept, or build on things (or review things) that were learned last lesson (or recently).

My second most popular blog post ever,7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers‘, is well worth a read as it contains very simple games and activities that can be applied to any subject area.

The Lancashire Grid for Learning describes the successful elements of good starters really well in their online document,Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools‘:

During successful interactive starters:

• pupils engage fully in learning from the outset;

• they gain an understanding of the objectives and purposes of the lesson;

• there is a sense of pace;

• pupils spend most of their time on-task and focused on learning;

• there is an appropriate level of challenge that enables pupils to make good progress in their learning.

Unit 5: Starters and Plenaries, Lancashire Grid for Learning [Online]. Accessed 3rd March 2019

If I were to add anything to the above list, it would be:

  • the teacher exhibits a large amount of energy and enthusiasm
  • the students enjoy what they are doing

Without energy and enjoyment, starter activities are only partially effective.

Tip 2: Quick plenaries

Plenaries give the students a really good chance to review what they’ve learned in a lesson (or sequence of lessons). When used frequently, they can really boost retention of knowledge.

Another very popular blog post of mine is ‘7 Plenary Activites for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers’. Check it out – simple techniques that require very little prep and resources.

Tip 3: Break-up learning with questions

Some kids can get really switched-off when they are lectured to for a long time. use textbook questions, question banks from exam boards, online questions (e.g. the BBC Bitesize tests), software (e.g. Educake and MyMaths) and even integrated presentation and task technology (e.g. Nearpod) to break up the lesson into sections.

This is important because, contrary to popular belief, the human brain keeps developing well into adulthood. This means that, although teenagers may look like small adults, their brains are still developing and actually resemble closely the brains of smaller children (Source: The Guardian).

So keep students focused with variety. Include various types of questions within lessons to review content (or to develop research skills).

Tip 4: Use Spatial Learning

Turn your kids into the concepts they are learning!

Teaching diffusion? Great – turn the kids into ‘particles’ and get them to move across the room and ‘diffuse’. Teaching maths? – Try getting your kids to make number shapes using their bodies.

Two favorites to get you warmed up are ‘The Human Graph’ and ‘True or False Walls’ (shown below) – again, taking simple concepts and techniques and making spatial.

You can see more spatial learning techniques at my blog post here.

Tip 5: Differentiation

Do you know what the word ‘differentiation’ really means? Most teachers think it means adjusting the difficulty level of tasks in a lesson to meet the needs of the learners. This is wrong.

Modifying difficulty to suit individual learners in lessons implies that those ‘more able’ students will have higher objectives than those deemed ‘less able’.

This philosophy is very damaging in my personal opinion. If you’ve got a group of kids in a class that you teach, then your aim must be that all learners achieve the same objectives, no matter how aspirational those objectives are.

Our job is to get those kids there, no matter what it takes. Normally, it takes a bit of differentiation.

Here’s the very best differentiation definition I have found to date:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

COURTESY OF GREAT SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP [ONLINE]. AVAILABLE AT HTTP://EDGLOSSARY.ORG/DIFFERENTIATION/ (ACCESSED 21ST APRIL 2017)

So, we now see differentiation clearly defined (finally). All students should master essential skills and knowledge, but we should change our instructional methods to suit the kids’ needs. We shouldn’t make stuff easier for some learners, and harder for others.

It amazes me how slowly education systems all around the world are moving towards this. We must stop ‘boxing’ kids into ability brackets. In the absence of some pre-defined cognitive hindrance, all students are equally capable. We’ve just got to find the ways to inspire them.

You can read more about differentiation (with lots of suggested techniques to use) at my blog post here.

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5 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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My PGCE year was like a year of absolute hell. I thought I was ready to be a teacher before I embarked on the year-long course. I wasn’t.

I was kicked into shape, lesson-by-lesson, with merciless feedback from every lesson observation along the way (i.e. every lesson I taught). One day it got so bad that I wanted to walk out.

being-told-off

I didn’t, thankfully, and fourteen years later I’m still doing the job that I believe I was put on this planet to do: to help young people as best as I can.

I need to be a little merciless in this blog post. I need to tell you the unadulterated truth: not a fairy tale of what should make you better at your job, but the real stuff that actually matters. The stuff that changes everything.

img_0009-1“An AMAZING Book!”

These 5 tips are simple to do, but not easy to do. They take effort and will make you squirm at first. But they will work. They will change everything: guaranteed.

1. Get out of bed a lot earlier

I like to set my alarm clock to go off at 5 am. This gives me 2 hours before I have to leave for school.

That’s golden time.

I must admit, it’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

I set my alarms to ring so that I have to get out of bed to switch them off. I used to put them across the room, but now I put them in another room altogether.

When those alarms go off there are days when I feel like a total zombie – that’s the only adjective that accurately describes how I feel. My face is puffed up, my head hurts and my muscles ache. I can’t even walk properly.

But stumble, I do, to my dining table, where I sometimes sit in a daze for fifteen minutes or so. I will not climb back into bed – I’ve done that too many times in the past and paid for it severely.

You see, I used to be the ‘snoozer loser’ – the guy who kept pressing snooze multiple times because he was so exhausted. It made me wake up late, rush a shower, skip breakfast, arrive at school late and start my day in a big mood.

be enthusiastic

My body wasn’t physiologically ready for a day at school when I was a snoozer. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My head wasn’t ready.

Then, one night, there was a big thunderstorm in Bangkok. It was so loud and magnificent that I watched it on my balcony in amazement. When I tried to sleep that night I simply couldn’t. It was too loud. I decided ‘Forget it, I’ll just stay up’.

Bored and frustrated, I decided to pass the time in the early hours of that morning by ironing my clothes, reading through and modifying my lesson plans for the day and writing a list of tasks/goals for the rest of the week. I had some breakfast too.

That was an amazing morning because, despite my lack of sleep, I was more ready for my day ahead than any other day prior to that in my career. I knew exactly what my kids would be learning. I knew exactly what I had to do that day. I had time to prepare resources. Hell, I even had resources uploaded to the VLE in advance of the lessons for that day.

Q & A

Since that fateful night I’ve snoozed once or twice, but that’s it. I’ve been up early and ready for the day ahead on almost every occasion since.

If you only take one tip from this blog post today, then take this one: when you’re up early and fresh you’ll be more prepared for the school day than the overwhelming majority of your colleagues.

Your students will notice the difference immediately.

Note: It’s worth getting intimate with your sleep-cycles/circadian rhythms. The experts say that adults should get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night, but this varies from individual to individual. I know, for example, that if I only get 6 hours of sleep for several nights in a row then I won’t be able to function properly by day 3. I know that my body must have 8 hours of sleep per night, so I make sure I’m in bed early enough to get that.

2. Exercise

I told you these tips weren’t easy. But this one is definitely simple, for sure.

The strange thing about exercise is that it defies logic in it’s effects. When I wake up feeling like a zombie, for example, one would think that a 20-minute run around the streets would be a stupid idea – I’ll just be using tons of energy when I’m already exhausted.

It doesn’t work like that, however. After that 20 minute run/jog/walk (yes, sometimes I need to walk-out the last km or so), I feel fresher than ever. A cold shower afterwards really serves to electrify my nervous system too.

Singing class

Things went to the next level when I joined a gym, however. I currently train at Fitness First, here in Thailand, around 4-5 times a week. It’s expensive, I’ll admit, but I found that to be a good motivator: “I’ve paid so much for this damn gym membership that I’ll have to go, otherwise it’ll be a total waste of money”.

richard rogers gym 17th feb.jpg

As my body has become stronger, faster, leaner and more flexible over the years I have found that the same effects have happened to my mental faculties: I can think faster, clearer and stronger. I can recall information more quickly than when I was the lazy-NQT who never went to the gym.

I hate to tell you the bold truth, but if your body is out of shape then you’re going to get ill more often than if you were in-shape. Your mind is also not going to function as effectively, which will definitely have an impact on your teaching.

The photograph shows me at the gym today. I like to do a mix of boxing, cardio and weight training. 

3. Give equal focus to relationships and techniques

Teaching techniques (such as differentiation and quick starters) are important, but they lose their effectiveness if a good rapport/connection is not present between you and your students. Your kids have to like working with you, and they have to enjoy the subject, in order for you to be an effective teacher.

Art class

Try using the following techniques to build-up this essential rapport (links to separate articles given in the list):

4. Work with parents

Parents are our allies, not our enemies (most of the time).

I truly believe that the parental domain is not being explored enough by schools, as it can be a really powerful outlet for a number of benefits:

  • Sharing praise with parents can reinforce the love for your subject and your teaching style at home
  • Sharing points for improvement/disappointments (in a polite and respectful way) can sometimes cure a problem before it grows into something bigger
  • Parents often have a lot of skills and contacts that they can bring to the school, offering new opportunities for your students

shake-hands

I’ve recently seen the massive power that working with parents can have on my students.

I run a CREST Award ECA after school every week, and one of my students is now on her Gold Award. A big problem, however, is that she needed a university mentor to help her with her biochemistry project.

In a chance conversation with a parent at our school’s coffee shop, I discovered that another CREST Award student in Year 7 was getting access to lab time on weekends at a local university. I found out that his mum had a professional relationship with a team of scientists here in Thailand.

discussion-mother-and-daughter

After liaising with this parent over the course of a few weeks we finally got the green light to go along and see a famous scientist in his lab. The result of all this:

  • My school now has a professional connection with a great university
  • We have a mentor for my CREST Award student
  • The university will send staff and resources to our school to support our Science Week and STEM day
  • Our CREST students will be visiting the university in the very near future

And all of that from just one parent! The gratitude for her help goes through the roof for this.

I wrote a separate blog post about working with parents here (well worth a read)

5. Plan everything

It sounds easy and I apologize if it’s a little patronizing, but not every teacher plans their lessons in-advance. This is especially the case for the ‘snoozer losers’, of which I was once an active member.

Please see my video and blog post about efficient lesson planning for more in-depth tips.

When planning lessons, think about:

  • The long-term plan for this class (where they should be in three months time, for example)
  • The location of the students at different points in the lesson (will you bring them to the front? Where will groups sit? How will you assign groups?)
  • Incorporating
  • Using EdTech (see my blog post here and here)

making plans

Conclusion

Being a brilliant teacher (and a happy teacher) depends on three factors being in alignment:

  • Your physiology (is your body ready, biochemically and physically, for the day ahead?)
  • Your relationships with students and parents (and colleagues)
  • The teaching methodologies you use

Follow the advice in this blog post for immediate results. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

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5 Easy Ways to Help Exam-Level Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Exam-level students face unique challenges that we, as teachers, can often forget. They have to deal with:

  • Learning the techniques that work for them
  • Becoming organized in their revision
  • The stress and pressure of having to perform in exams that will follow them for the rest of their lives
  • Domestic pressures – expectations from parents, the responsibility of looking after siblings and, in some cases, the need to complete a part-time job

So what can we do to help our exam-level students achieve success?

img_0009
“An AMAZING Book!”

1. Tell them WHAT to revise

All exam boards have ‘specifications’, ‘syllabuses’ or ‘Course Guides’. These are usually documents aimed at helping teachers deliver the course correctly, but there’s no reason why students can’t have these documents too.

mess around in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Share the official syllabus for your course with your students. You can print it, share it on a VLE (such as Google Classroom) or even just provide the URL if the syllabus is available for free online
  • Many syllabuses contain unnecessary information for students (e.g. objectives of the course and key objectives). Extract the course content from the syllabus and turn it into a ‘kid-friendly’ revision list for the students to follow when revising.

2. Tell them HOW to revise

Many students require years of experience to discover their preferred (and most efficient) style of revision. For me, I found that dictating my notes to myself and playing them through my earphones when I lay in bed at night was effective, but this might not work for everyone.

Students really need a ‘menu’ of techniques to try out, but how often do schools actually provide this menu? How often is new technology taken into account? How often are students invited to share their best revision techniques with their peers?

chatting in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Hold a ‘committee meeting’ style gathering with your exam-level students. Sit them together in groups to share their ideas with each other about how to revise for tests and exams. Swap the groups around 3 or 4 times during the session, and get the students to write their techniques on the whiteboard at the end (or contribute to a Google doc).
  • Share what has worked for you personally when revising. Ask your colleagues to come to class and share their experiences. Get parents involved. Make it a community thing – if the ‘group mentality’ is directed towards exam success, then this will definitely rub-off on the kids.

lab girls

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to revise, but we must be pro-active in sharing this advice with our students.

Good websites that deal with the subject of revision techniques include:

For the interest of educators the BBC has also produced an excellent report in which revision techniques are ranked by effectiveness (well worth a read).

3. Tell them the BAD HABITS to avoid

When students know what to revise and how to revise, they often think that they now have every tool in their toolbox and are ‘ready for action’. This is a delusion.

snacking

There are negative influences, habits and distractions that can really mess-up even the most conscientious of students, and we must warn our learners about them. These bad habits include:

  • Procrastination: when students are revising from home during holidays or study-leave time, it can be very tempting for them to watch online videos or play computer games more frequently than they should be. For some students it’s better for them to get out of the house and go somewhere public (e.g. the school library) where they can’t take a nap and can’t get distracted as easily as they would at home.
  • Relationships and hormones: the ugly truth of this one needs to be revealed. Teenage sweethearts/lovers can lead to massive distraction on the run-up to exams. This is a delicate issue to deal with as a teacher, but I personally think it’s important to talk with individuals who are in teenage relationships and politely remind them that they have to be focused on their exams at this time, and not on each other so much. I’ll leave it there.
  • Sleep: It’s a balancing act. Students need enough sleep, but not too much. During school holidays and study-leave, many students fall into the habit of waking up late and messing up their sleeping cycles/circadian rhythms. This can lead to low productivity. I always teach my students the ‘Up Early and Out’ rule: get up early and go out to somewhere where you physically can’t nap during the day. The school library, a local library or even a coffee shop can be good options.

img_4889

Bad habits can destroy our students’ chances when revising for exams. We must tell them the negative behaviors to avoid, along with the positive actions to implement.

4. Tell them how to make a REVISION TIMETABLE

Even the very best students: those that know how to revise, what to revise and what habits to avoid, can get completely messed up by not being organized.

First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans, then transformation of those plans into reality. – Napoleon Hill

Organization is the key to exam success. Students should be starting their revision well in advance of their final exams (around 5 months works best). They should be sub-dividing their days into sessions, with each session focussing on a specific topic area.

A good revision timetable should include:

  • Enough sessions to cover each topic twice
  • A variety of subjects each day
  • Skewed weighting in favor of the what the student is weakest at (i.e more time spent on reviewing weak topics than reinforcing strong topics)
  • Practice questions, exam-style questions and lots of past-paper practice for each subject they are taking.

reading

Below you will see a great video about how to create a revision timetable (created by a student). Feel free to share this with your students:

5. Show students WHERE to find past-papers and which specification they are following

In my work as a Science Teacher and home-tutor over the past 12 years, I’ve met too many exam-level students who simply do not know:

  • The exact exam-board and exams they are taking
  • Exactly where to find the past-papers for their exams

A lot of exam boards (but not all) provide their past-papers for free (e.g. BMAT and Edexcel). Share the URLs with your students, or share the papers via a VLE.

Crucially: encourage your students to complete past-papers under timed conditions. Four example, if paper 1 mathematics is 1 hour long, then make sure your students know that they should time themselves for one hour when doing the past-paper at home for revision.

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering
Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe – rendering

Consider the ‘Multiple Mock Exam (MME)’ rule too: why just have one mock exam? For my IBDP Chemistry students, for example, mock number 2 (in class) has traditionally happened in February. Mock number 3 in March. Finals in April/May.

MME can really help students to get used to the rigour of the exams, as well as the command terms language and time-constraints.IMG_5938richard-rogers-online

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