Tina’s Top Tips for Effective Classroom Management

Accompanying podcast episode:

The best definition I have found for what Classroom Management’ actually means comes from Carol Weinstein and Nancy Schafer at Oxford Bibliographies:

Classroom management can be defined as the actions teachers take to establish and sustain an environment that fosters students’ academic achievement as well as their social, emotional, and moral growth. In other words, the goal of classroom management is not order for order’s sake, but order for the sake of learning.

When order breaks down in the classroom, student learning is affected and teachers’ stress levels, burnout and anxiety rise – which sometimes leads to teachers making the decision to leave the profession (McCarthy et. al., 2022). It is therefore in every teacher’s best interest to master the fundamental techniques of effective classroom management.

Today, I have invited Tina Hennessy, Head Trainer at Destination TEFL‘s Siem Reap centre in Cambodia, to share her top tips for teachers who want to improve their classroom management skills.

I’m not sure if what they say about classroom presence is true or not – either you’ve got it or you don’t! If you do, it’s likely that you won’t have too many problems with classroom management, because more than half the battle is won just by your presence in the classroom. Students look up to you, and you have complete control over the class because you demand high standards from them.

If you need help, here are five tips that may assist with classroom management. As with most ailments: prevention is better than cure. Once you’ve lost their attention, it’s harder to rein them back in. 

Here’s how you could prevent problems from cropping up: 

  1. Be prepared: Being prepared for your lesson shows in your body language and this reflects in your delivery of lessons, conversely being under-prepared shows too! A good plan, a complete set of resources (from working whiteboard markers and flashcards, to crib notes) – anything you need should be organised and ready for use, without you having to worry about them. As you segue from one stage to the next, your students shouldn’t have time for distractions. If, however, your transitions lead to dead time (time with your back to the class), you’re likely to have bored students who will find something else to do.
  2. Use students’ names: calling out their names ensures they’ll do what they need to do, to not be “called out” for negative reasons. Rather than pointing and saying, “You at the back, please be seated”. (‘YOU’ will probably turn his/her head and pretend to look at another student and pretend they’re not at fault.) Using their names will leave no room for doubt. Learning their names also shows that you care, and knowing that their teacher cares, will give them more reason to stay engaged.
  3. Limit distractions: This could mean anything from distractions on a student’s desk, to visuals in a classroom, to views outside the classroom, to sounds. Try to limit whatever is within your control. Establish classroom routines where students start the class with cleared desks – or have only what is required on their desks – no extra books, stationary, or even water bottles. If your students have phones, request them to turn OFF vibrate mode, or put their phones inside their bags, rather than in their pockets.
  4. Use non-verbal hand signals: Avoid students calling out aloud to request permission to use the toilet, for example, by having a hand signal for the same. Design similar signals for other circumstances too. When the student gets your attention by doing the signal, a simple nod of your head will grant permission. Rather than him asking you a question and having you answer it – thereby distracting the entire class and possibly diverting your train of thought. 
  5. Call and response: We know all too well that even at the best of times, you’re going to have situations when you’ve lost their attention, the class is loud and they’re bouncing off the walls and you do actually need to try and rein them in! Here are my favourites: 
    • T (teacher): “Yo! Yo! Yo!” Ss (students): “Yo! What’s up!” (Great for middle-schoolers.)
    • T: “1-2-3” Ss: “Eyes on me” T: “1,2” Ss: “Eyes on you

Start the chant and continue till the whole class is responding. The first few times you do this, maybe some students won’t join in. Carry on – even if it means you’ve said it 8-10 times, and the rest of the students will egg on the “stragglers”. 

And, finally, when all else fails, and your voice won’t work – stand still and silent with your right hand raised over your head. As you make eye contact with the students they must raise their right hand, stop doing whatever they’re doing and stop speaking. They make eye contact with the others who must in turn do the same. Think of this as the opposite of a flash mob. Once the entire gathering is quiet, you have their undivided attention.

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A Teacher’s Christmas Holiday

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 

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Originally posted December 2017. Updated December 2022.

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

Our students deserve a break too.

jenga

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

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

  1. Do nothing for the whole holiday and totally chill out, returning to the normal barrage of work that hits every teacher at the start of Term 2
  2. Still have a holiday and some rest but do some little things to get a head-start on things before I return to school

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

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

  • Requisitions and orders: I’m a Science Teacher, so I need to order chemicals and equipment for my lessons each week. This Christmas my first priority will be to get all of my requisitions done for each week of Term 2, ahead of time. This will save me many a long night when I get back to school, and will help me to plan ahead and reinforce my long-term curriculum mapping.
  • Termly review: Every Christmas I make it a priority to evaluate where I am at now, and where I want to be with my classes by the end of the term. This kind of self-analysis allows me to see where I’m behind and where I’m ahead and how to address those issues. This is really important for final-level exam classes as they must have covered the whole syllabus and have revised by the time the terminal exams come along. 
  • Getting back to gym: I’ve been slacking off lately (I said this back in 2017 too!). No excuses this time. I’ve got every day free for a few weeks so I’ll be up early and out for a jog before hitting the weights later in the day.
  • Responding to student e-mails: Some students in my exam classes will be e-mailing me with questions about past-papers, coursework and subject-specific stuff. If I can help, then I will help. However, if not urgent, then I will deal with these queries when I am back at school.
  • Clothes: I’m running out of a few things (such as shirts that actually fit me!). Time for a wardrobe mini-makeover so that I continue to look half-decent at work.
  • Writing my next book: My first book was quite well-received, as was my second (The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback) so I’ve decided to have a go at writing another.  Ten Techniques Every Teacher Needs to Know will explore the themes of classroom management and assessment to inform learning in even greater depth and breadth than my first book, and will build upon the fundamentals covered in one of my most popular blog posts. I see this as ‘downtime’ for me because I really love writing. Can I count this as ‘relaxation’?
  • Going back to karate: Another thing I’ve been putting off. Time to get a regular schedule set up.
  • Contacting people I should have contacted ages ago. Chasing up old leads and projects that I’ve allowed to slip.

on the bike

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

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

Happy New Year from richardjamesrogers.com

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The Truth About Teacher Talking Time (TTT)

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

An unfortunate stigma has been attached to Teacher Talking Time (TTT) in recent years. A common misconception is that the more a teacher talks, the less effective their lesson will be. This is simply not true. Teachers MUST talk to their students during lessons – for many and varied reasons. In today’s blog post I will describe the best ways to make use of Teacher Talking Time within the classroom. 

Accompanying Podcast Episode:

The official consensus

Unfortunately, the official advice published by much of world’s most respected educationalists is misleading at best, and downright inaccurate at worst. Just take a look at these examples:

  • TTT often means that the teacher is giving the students information that they could be finding out for themselves, such as grammar rules, the meanings of vocabulary items and corrections. Teacher explanations alone are often tedious, full of terminology and difficult to follow. There may be no indication of whether the students have understood.” – British Council
  • “Some EFL/ESL researchers say that students should speak for 70% of the lesson. Teachers should speak for 30% of the time. Of course, some lessons may require longer explanations on the part of the teacher. Or other lessons may only require a minimal amount of explanation, and 90% or more may be devoted to conversational activities. But this 70/30 figure works well as a goal in most classroom situations.”Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al, International Journal of Applied Language and Cultural Studies

The majority of the research on TTT has been carried out in English teaching/EFL/EAL settings – yet the conclusions derived are overwhelmingly extrapolated to other subject areas. This, in my opinion, presents everyday teachers with a double-edged sword: bad conclusions to begin with, applied to subject areas beyond the scope of the available research.

Teachers MUST talk to students

Let’s address the British Council’s statement on TTT first – that TTT replaces student-led inquiry all too often, and that teacher-explanations can be tedious, and that there may be no indication of whether the students have understood the content.

This simply isn’t true for most teachers. We are not robots that deliver monotonic talks from lecterns. We use voice inflections, quick-fire questioning, repetition of key words, movement and mannerisms and we are vigilant in checking that students have understood content along the way by providing directed tasks, such as worksheets, learning games and live quizzes.

Let’s also address the student-led research point the British Council makes. Project work, group explorations and directed investigations that encourage students to discover content for themselves work well for low stakes classes that have moderate, or simple content to get through in a large amount of time. Problems arise, however, when teachers try to do these exploration/student-led discovery tasks on a regular basis with advanced-level students who have massive amounts of content to get through in a limited amount of time. Such teachers often find that they fall behind schedule, because such tasks take up large amounts of time, and that students pick up big misconceptions and incomplete knowledge along the way. This time could be better spent on teacher-directed tasks, such as slide presentations, focussed explanations using the smartboard and past-exam papers, that offer clarity in a timely manner.

The 70/30 rule proposed by Kostadinovska-Stojchevska et. al. is also impractical in most subject areas, most of the time. Just think about all of the reasons why teachers may need to talk within a lesson:

  • To welcome students into class and begin starter activities, or to provide initial instructions – e.g. “Good morning, Year 10. Please take your seats and please log on to Google Classroom”
  • To offer verbal feedback in real-time via the live-marking process
  • To praise and encourage students
  • To provide instructions for project work, such as experiments, practical work, model building, group creation tasks, homework, etc.
  • To prompt students in real-time as we’re walking around the room – e.g. “Joshua, don’t forget to underline the title”, “Marisa, please highlight the key equation”, etc.
  • To explain things – e.g. by writing out worked solutions on the whiteboard/smartboard and describing the rationale for each step of the process
  • To sanction students and have those necessary one-to-one conversations, and to use effective behaviour management techniques (such as building rapport and using questioning to bring students back on task)
  • To direct and manage spatial learning tasks
  • To teach! (I know, what a shock!). We need to talk when describing, explaining, comparing and evaluating the content that the students need to learn for their tests and assessments (especially for advanced-level students).

As we can see from this list (and I’m sure there are more examples that you can think of), teachers need to talk A LOT during every lesson they deliver. In fact, one could really push some buttons within educational circles by stating an obvious truth – that effective lessons actually involve lots of TTT, as opposed just to the small amount we have been led to believe.

Conclusion

A shift in focus needs to happen within the teaching profession – from TTT to variety of tasks delivered in lessons. All too often, lesson observers cite excessive TTT as a weakness when, in actuality, lack of variety may have been a factor in lowering the effectiveness of a lesson.

TTT in-and-of itself is not detrimental to learning: it’s the ways in which we use our TTT that matter.

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How Can Flipped Learning Be Used in the High School Classroom?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The phrase ‘Flipped Learning’ means exactly what it implies: things are flipped.

For instance:

  • Homework is done prior to a topic introduction, rather than after it. Children are assigned some reading or research to do prior to a lesson and they then bring questions to class which can be used in follow-up activities.
  • Pace of learning is more student-controlled, rather than teacher-controlled

Flipped Learning was first conceived as a pedagogical technique in 2007 by Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams who set out to answer a big question: What is the best way to use face-to-face class time? The answer they came up with, in essence, was that students should be involved in some well-designed discovery tasks at home/outside the lesson prior to deeper exploration (in which the content they’ve learned is reinforced, related and extended) in the classroom.

One reason why Flipped Learning has gained extra traction in the past five years especially is that it has been demonstrated to enhance metacognition, if used periodically.

Putting theory into practice

Most teachers have a good understanding of what Flipped Learning is as a theoretical concept, but difficulties arise when the time comes to apply the theory to a real lesson.

Is it really just as simple as getting the kids to read-ahead?

In today’s blog post I aim to aim to answer that question (the short answer is no, by the way). I will also describe some practical, actionable ways in which Flipped Learning can be utilized across subject areas.

One little warning I’d like to make about Flipped Learning before I start is that I do not believe that it should be used every single lesson – that would overload the students with too much independent study (especially if they are in lower secondary school or below). However, regular Flipped Learning (e.g. on a bi-weekly basis) can be a great way to facilitate deep learning in your subject (as opposed to just surface learning).

The 6 Steps of Flipped Learning

I cannot take the credit for creating or even describing the six steps you’re about to read – that goes to this excellent web page by Michigan State University. What I will do, however, is give my own spin on the steps as you read them. Enjoy!

  1. Plan your lesson – an obvious first step, but make sure you’ve thought about learning outcomes and the resources you will use. See this separate blog post of mine about the planning process.
  2. Record or supply a video – videos seem to be a kind of cornerstone of the Flipped Classroom/Learning model. In my opinion, it’s not always necessary to to actually make a video yourself – you may be able to find something perfect that’s been made already on sites like Vimeo and YouTube.
  3. Share the video with your students. Make it clear that the video will be discussed and utilized in class, so it might be a good idea to make a few notes on it.
  4. Change: Leave the video behind. We’re not watching that again. Now the students have to use what they’ve learned from the video in some kind of deep learning activity.
  5. Group the students and do some kind of activity that allows greater exploration. Ideas are given below.
  6. Regroup – get the students to present their individual group work to the whole class in some way. This could be a Google Slides presentation, a drama/acting session, an infographic, etc.

Once all of these steps are complete, reinforce the content with review tasks, revision and repetition.

Collaboration Activities suitable for the Flipped Classroom

Put the students into groups (before the pre-reading, videos, simulations or other prep work, if possible) and when the students come back to class get them to create something from the information they’ve already researched. This creative process will naturally involve further exploration. Consider these activities (and let the students choose what they would like to do, if possible):

  • Podcasting/recording an audio clip: Once the sound file has been created, the students can then send that to the teacher in any way that seems appropriate – via e-mail, Google Classroom, uploading to YouTube (which requires another process that the students will have to learn), etc. This blog post describes some steps students should take to create the audio file.

  • Groups create a short lesson that contains some kind of practical element: Interestingly, some research shows that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach the topic that you have to learn. So, quite simply, ask your groups of students to prepare a lesson which they must teach to the whole class. To spice things up, the students could build a model, demonstrate an experiment, pass objects around the class or do anything that stimulates touch, smell, and, maybe, taste.
  • Groups create a quiz: Quizzes can be a really fun way to test student knowledge, and when done via a group-creation project they can be much less stressful for students than traditional testing. Furthermore, there are a number of great, free multiple choice and graphic quiz creation tools available on the web, such as Kahoot!, Quizlet, Blooket, Quizizz and Wordwall. Perhaps each group could be given a different quiz app to use, or perhaps each group could choose two or more platforms to create several quizzes for the class to complete.
  • Groups create models from everyday materials: Get your students to build things. Materials like plastic bottles, bottlecaps, cardboard, coloured paper, plasticine/modelling clay, straws, shoeboxes, egg cartons and even old rope/string can all be used creatively by students to make models of the concepts they are studying. I’ve used this technique across my teaching in Science to get students to create everything from atomic models to figurines of predators and prey in Biology. Furthermore, this is a great way to reinforce ideas about sustainability, reducing single-use plastic and recycling.

These are just some ideas you may wish to consider (and they happen to be some of my favourite ones!). For a more comprehensive list of group activities you can use, with detailed descriptions, please see this blog post I wrote on the subject.

Other Activities Suitable for the Flipped Classroom

  • Class debate – this is perfect when there are polar opposites to discuss (e.g. ‘For’ and ‘Against’) or two different ways of solving a problem (e.g. factorisation or the quadratic formula in maths). Just make sure that every team member has a role to play in the debate. Get as many students talking as possible (this is so crucial in these post-pandemic years).
  • Peer instruction – Get groups to teach each other, especially when each group has explored something slightly different.
  • Get your students to implement some spatial learning activities, such as the ones listed here. These are great for getting your students moving and grooving!

Recommended further reading

Ojjeh, D. (2020) ‘How to implement flipped learning in 2021’, Royal Society of Chemistry. Available at https://edu.rsc.org/ideas/how-to-implement-flipped-learning-in-2021/4012120.article

Michigan State University. ‘What, Why and How to Implement a Flipped Classroom Model’. Available at https://omerad.msu.edu/teaching/teaching-skills-strategies/27-teaching/162-what-why-and-how-to-implement-a-flipped-classroom-model

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Effective Feedback: The Catalyst of Student Progress

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

Updated: May 2021

Updated again: Nov 2022

It was a mid-spring morning in 1996. I was 13 years old enjoying Science class with one of my favourite teachers up on the top-floor lab at North Wales’ prestigious St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School

I loved Science. The feel of the lab, decorated with preserved samples in jars and colorful posters and periodic tables and famous Scientists on the walls, along with the cool gas taps and Bunsen burners that rested on each desk. This was my favorite part of the school.

Today’s lesson was special though, and I remember it for a very unexpected reason.

We were receiving back our Forces and Motion tests today. I loved getting my tests back, not least because I always revised really hard and was used to getting at least 75% on each one.

Q & A

I always used to do two things whenever I got my tests back:

  1. Check that the teacher had added up the scores correctly
  2. Check how to improve my answers

On this particular day I had lost marks on a question that was phrased something like this: ‘If a rocket is travelling through space, what will happen to the rocket if all of the forces on it become balanced?’

In my answer I had written: ‘The rocket will either continue travelling at a constant speed or will not move at all.’ 

Now, how do I remember this seemingly obscure moment in a sea of moments from high school, most of which I cannot recall? Well, that’s simple: My teacher came over and took the time and effort to verbally explain where I’d gone wrong.

I should have just written that the rocket will continue at a constant speed, not “or will not move at all”.

Giving feedback
A one-to-one conversation that I’ll remember forever

This moment of personal, verbal feedback from my teacher was powerful and precious. Not only did it serve to maintain my momentum in Science learning, but it left me with visual impressions of the memory itself: My friends in the Science lab, the posters on the wall and even the sunlight shining over the glistening Dee Estuary which was visible from the Science lab windows. 

This little story shows us the power of verbal feedback, and therefore the caution we should place on what we say to our students. Young girls and boys grow up to become men and women, and their teachers leave a number of impressions on them, some of which are permanent.

The trick is to ensure that the permanent impressions are useful, positive and productive: As was the case with my conversation with my teacher that day. 

And not all impressions need to be verbal. Written feedback can be just as memorable.

Explaining
Do you empower your students with the feedback you give?

Let’s now explore the fundamentals of effective student feedback that are easy to implement, and useful.

Peer Assess Properly – The Traditional Method

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark. 

At first, I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK, that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments.

teaching with laptop
When students reflect on their work they develop a ‘growth mindset’

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen canalso work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Experiment with automated assessment

I wrote a blog post about the effective use of ICT in lessons some weeks back, and I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths. 

It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life. 

Why? That’s simple. Students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:

  1. All of the students were focused and engaged
  2. All of the students were challenged
  3. The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems
  4. The content was relevant and stimulating
  5. No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working
  6. No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.

it integrated
Instructional software can provide quick and comprehensive feedback to students, with little involvement from the teacher

There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from, Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a big and effective part of your teaching arsenal. 

Give verbal feedback the right way

Verbal feedback is a great way to have a personal one-to-one conversation with a student. It can help you to address systemic, widespread issues (e.g. not writing down all of the steps in calculations) and it can be a great way to motivate each student.

However, many teachers are only going so far with verbal feedback and are not using it as the powerful tool it is.

Take this piece of KS3 Geography work for example:

Geography not marked
Geography work from an 11 year old, shown to me on 21st June 2016

I received this work from a parent at dinner, who knew I was an educational author, on 21st June 2016.

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed the dates on the work: 1st December and 8th December 2015. I’m sure you’ll have shuddered upon the realization that this work hadn’t been marked in seven months! No peer-assessment, no self-assessment and no comments from the teacher. There aren’t even any ticks! Add this to the fact that this boy’s entire notebook was completely unmarked, just like this, and you can begin to understand why I nearly had palpitations in front of several avid noodle and rice connoisseurs!

When I asked the boy about why it wasn’t marked, he said that this teacher never marked worked, he just gave the occasional verbal feedback. My next obvious question was to ask what verbal feedback he’d received about this work. He said he

With teacher workloads increasing globally, this kind of approach is, unfortunately, not uncommon, However, verbal feedback need not be time-consuming and can be executed in a much better way than is seen here in this Geography work. Here are my tips:

  1. 1. Set your students a task to do and call each student one-by-one to have a chat about their work. Be strict with your timings – if you have a 40 minute lesson and 20 students in the class then keep each conversation to two minutes.
  2. Mention the points for improvement and use sincere praise to address the good points about the work. Ask the student to reflect on the work too.
  3. Once the conversation is over, write ‘VF’ on the work, and ask the student to make improvements to it. Agree on a time to collect it in again so that you can glance over the improvements.

As you can see, this simple three step approach to verbal feedback generates a much more productive use of time than simply having a chat with the student. Action has to be taken after the discussion, and this places the responsibility of learning solely in the hands of the student, which is where it should be.

Be specific in your comments

Sometimes it is appropriate to collect student work and scribble your comments on it with a colored pen. When you do this, make sure your comments are specific and positive, Take a look at these examples, which all serve to empower the student:

Slide2
A piece of IBDP Biology homework. Comments are designed to empower and motivate the student, and address areas of weakness

Slide1
An end of semester test. Comments refer to specific progress made, and areas that require further attention.

Krishi Classnotes 1 electricity marked
This piece of work was sent as a photograph via Skype. The teacher has added word-processed comments and an encouraging smiley. 

Peer Assess Properly – The Technological Method

A growing trend that is proving popular with teachers is to use Google forms in the peer assessment process. I wrote about this in my book, and I’ve included the extracts here:

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Google Doc 3.jpg

Google Doc 2.jpg

A good form for students will look something like this:

Using Google forms in education-page-0

Using Google forms in education-page-1

Using Google forms in education-page-2

There are many alternatives to using Google forms. For example, you may wish to create a form via your school’s VLE, or even get the students to send each other their work through e-mail or a chat application (although this will remove anonymity). Either way, peer assessment with technology will save you time and provide your students with quick, detailed feedback.

Make sure students improve their work

A common theme you may have spotted in this week’s blog post is that of improvement. Students should always improve the work that’s been marked or assessed. This serves two purposes:

  1. The student will get into the habit of giving their best effort each time. After all, a great first attempt means less effort needed in the improvement phase
  2. The process of improving a piece of work serves to firmly cement concepts in the subconscious mind of the student, aiding memory and retention

Don’t forget to use rubrics, mark schemes and comments – students can’t possibly improve their work without these. 

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Homework: A Headache We Can All Easily Cure

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 has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Updated: October 2022 (Originally posted May 2017)

I received a message from a very stressed out Newly Qualified Teacher a few weeks ago. It pertains to a problem that many educators face: dealing with homework. When I told her that I was planning to write an article about this very issue, she agreed to share her message with all my readers:

Dear Richard. I’m about to finish my first year in teaching and I’m really ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to mark my students’ homework on time each week. In fact, I’ve set so much homework that it has just piled up and piled up over the course of this year, to the point where I now have a literal mountain to deal with! I’m kind of hoping that most of my students will forget that I have their work, and this seems to be happening as some of it is months old. I’m so stressed out! How can I make sure that this never, ever happens again?! – G 

work overload
A letter from a stressed-out NQT. Are you facing similar challenges?

Being overwhelmed with marking, particularly that caused by homework, is a common problem for new and experienced teachers alike. In this article, I’ll examine the best ways to design and organise homework, as well as ways to avoid being bogged down and ‘up to your eyeballs’ in paperwork. If you would like an audio version of my strategies, then please listen to this excellent UKEdChat podcast (highly recommended for anyone who wants to get better at assigning and organizing homework) here.

with-ukedchat
An AMAZING book! A must read for all teachers!

Consideration #1: Homework is not pointless

It’s really important to make this point from the outset. A number of articles have come out in recent years causing us to question the merits of setting homework. At one point, this mindset became so mainstream that I remember sitting-in on a departmental meeting in which a number of teachers suggested that we shouldn’t set homework at all, as it is totally pointless!

This might be a nice excuse to use to avoid some paperwork and marking, but unfortunately it’s not true at all.

In my experience, homework is only pointless if the kids never ever receive feedback, or if the homework doesn’t relate to anything on the curriculum. Then, of course, their time has been wasted.

Marking work

I’ll always remember one school I worked at where all of the teachers had set summer homework for their students. Piles and piles of homework were set, including big, thick booklets full of past-papers. Guess what happened when those students returned to school the next academic year; many of the teachers had changed, and the work was piled up in an empty classroom and never marked. What a tragedy!

We’ll explore some ways in which we can give feedback in a timely manner today, as well as ways in which we can design our homework properly. 

Consideration #2: Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of homework you set

This is crucial. Ideally, all homework should fall into one of four categories:

  1. To review concepts covered in class
  2. To prepare students for new content they will cover in class
  3. To prepare students for examinations (e.g. with exam-style questions, revision tasks and past-papers)
  4. A combination of two or three of the above

If the homework you are setting does not fall into these categories then you are wasting both your time and the students’ time by setting it.

Consideration #3: Think carefully about how much time the students will need to complete each piece of homework 

Explaining
Homework affects whole families, not just the kids you teach

This is an important consideration. Put yourself in the students’ shoes. Is this homework too demanding, or too easy for them? Will they actually have enough time to complete it? Is your deadline reasonable? 

Consideration #4: How much self-study or research will your students have to do to complete your work? Where will they get their information from?

If the piece of work you are setting involves preparation for content or skills soon to be covered in class, then your students might have to do some research. Is the level of self-study you are asking of your students reasonable? Are they old enough, and mature enough to be able to find this information on their own? If not, then you may need to give some tips on which websites, textbooks or other material to look at.

Too much homework

Consideration #5: Can you mark this work?

This is such an important consideration, but can be overlooked by so many teachers who are in a rush. 

self-assessment

Think carefully: if you’re setting a booklet of past-paper questions for ‘AS’ – Level students, then how is it going to be marked? Crucially, how will the students receive feedback on this work? And remember: homework really is pointless if students don’t get any feedback.

Be honest with yourself. If you honestly don’t have enough time to mark such large pieces of work, then it’s much better to set smaller, manageable assignments. At least that way your students will get some feedback, which will be useful to them. 

Peer assessment

Also, don’t try and do everything yourself when it comes to marking. Use peer-assessment, self-assessment and even automated assessment (such as that found on instructional software) on a regular basis. Be careful though –  make sure you at least collect in your peer-assessed and self-assessed assignments afterwards just to be sure that all students have done it, and so that you can glance over for any mistakes. Students can be sneaky when they know that the teacher is trusting them with self-assessment each week by simply providing the answers to the work. 

Automated assessment.jpg

Another good tip is to spend some time on the weekend planning your homework for the week ahead. What exactly will you set, and when, to allow you enough time to mark everything? How can you set decent homework that’s not too big to mark? An hour spent planning this on a Saturday is much better than four hours cramming in a marking marathon on a Sunday because you didn’t think ahead. 

Consideration #6: Are you organised enough?

Not to sound patronizing, but are you, really? 

If you’re a primary school teacher then you’ll be collecting in assignments relating to different subject areas each week. If you’re working in the high school, then you’ll you’ll be collecting in work from potentially more than a hundred students on a regular basis.

You need to have some kind of filing system in place for all of this work. Maybe a set of draws? Folders? Trays? Electronic folders?

Teacher-led assessment.jpg

One strategy that absolutely works for me is that I get all of my students to complete their homework on loose sheets of paper, not their notebooks. Why? Because if they do it in their notebooks, and I haven’t had time to mark their work by the very next lesson, then it’s a nightmare having to give back notebooks again and collect them in continuously.

With loose paper its easy. I collect it in, and put each group’s assignments in a set of trays. I have one set of trays for work collected in, and one set for work that is marked. It stops me from losing students’ work and losing my sanity at the same time! The students then glue the work into their notebooks afterwards.

In addition to organizing my paperwork, I also organise my time. I use every Saturday morning for marking, which really saves me lots of headaches during the week. Do you set aside a fixed slot each week to do your marking? 

Summary

  1. Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of work you set
  2. Don’t set work that will take the students too long, or too little time, to complete
  3. Think carefully about the demands of any research that students will have to do. Maybe you need to point them in the right direction?
  4. Use a variety of assessment strategies to mark student work. Don’t make assignments so big that you just don’t have time to make them.
  5. Make sure you have some kind of filing system in place, so that you don’t lose work.
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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 Awesome Live Quiz Apps You Can Use in The Classroom

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:

Children love competition – be that through sports, online gaming, traditional learning games, puzzles or even the drive to acquire more house points/plus points than their peers. Quiz-based apps, however, are unique in that they have finally allowed teachers to bring a healthy level of technology-driven rivalry into the remote, hybrid and traditional classrooms.

One big positive that we can attribute to these apps is that they have become very easy to use, and quick to set up – often requiring the students to simply type in a code on a website to begin the game. For the teacher, there’s the added benefit that games created by other teachers from around the world are often freely available to use on these platforms – saving you tons of preparation time.

What follows next is a list of the top five apps that I use on a regular basis with my students in my high school science classes. They are fun, easy to use and are great for reviewing prior knowledge.

#1: iSpring QuizMaker

With this extremely handy desktop tool, you’ll easily create graded online quizzes and surveys and receive insightful reports on students’ progress.

Choose from 14 question templates for comprehensive knowledge assessment, including matching, drag-and-drop, multiple-choice, and essay. The tool is highly flexible — customize everything from the background to the fonts. Set the number of attempts and time limits, specify a passing score, and even group your questions to assess them separately.

iSpring QuizMaker‘s benefits aren’t only about effective assessment but also about great teaching opportunities. It has branching scenarios and directs students to another question if they give a correct answer or sends them to an explanation slide with detailed feedback if they make a mistake.

#2: Blooket

I’ve only recently discovered Blooket but, I have to tell you: I’m already hooked!

Blooket distinguishes itself from other quiz-based apps in that there are actually ten types of game that you can play with the students (at the time of writing), all based on the much-loved multiple-choice quiz format. My personal favorites are:

  • Crypto Hack: With a dark theme and Bitcoin-centric atmosphere, Crypto Hack is one of the students’ favorites. After answering a series of questions correctly the students are then able to guess fellow students’ passwords (passwords are chosen from a pre-determined list that the game provides). A correct guess allows the player to hack the other player and steal imaginary crypto currency from them.
  • Fishing Frenzy: This one’s a bit crazy – hilariously so! Students, again, answer multiple choice questions but this time they cast a virtual fishing line into the water after answering correctly. What they pull out are usually different types of fish, but they can pull out junk and other crazy objects too. Players are ranked by the weight of fish they pull out of the water. Players can also ‘plunder’ other players’ fish and steal their poundage. It gets very competitive and you can expect to hear a lot of laughter in the classroom as this gets going!
  • Tower Defense: According to Blooket themselves, this is their most popular game. In this mode, the students answer multiple choice questions and are then presented with a map. On this map, the students must place towers in strategic positions to shoot enemies that appear on-screen. In this sense, Tower Defense is more similar to the kind of computer games that children are playing in their free time than all of the other game modes provided.

The main reason why Blooket is number two on my list is that you can replay the same multiple choice questions with the students but in different game modes. This can cause excellent knowledge recall and understanding to take place, especially after three or four attempts. This could be done in quick succession within a lesson (most of the game modes are exactly seven minutes long) or you could even play the same questions but in different game modes over a series of lessons. As with most quiz-based systems, there’s a searchable database of quizzes that other teachers have made – saving you tons of preparation time.

To summarise: I love Blooket.

#3: Quizlet Live

Hidden within Quizlet‘s excellent flash card system is a little-known activity called Quizlet Live. When the teacher selects this, the students in your classroom join the game (by entering a code on their devices) and are then placed into random teams. Once the game begins, all of the players in each team are given different questions to answer, so they MUST help each other (usually) if they want to win. The first team to pass twelve rounds of questions is the winner, and the teacher’s screen shows the real-time position of each team (1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and so on).

Quizlet Live has two features which I believe make it a very unique learning tool:

  1. Students can read through the flash cards for the game as they’re waiting for other students to join. This, I believe, gives Quizlet Live a big advantage over many other quiz-based systems as students are not sitting around doing nothing as they’re waiting.
  2. Quizlet Live provides each team member with a different question, making the game more thorough/rigorous than some other quiz-based systems. Every member of the team has to answer their question correctly before the team can move to the next round.

The only disadvantage I’ve found with Quizlet Live is that it doesn’t lend itself very well to hybrid/remote teaching, as the students have to physically be next to each other in teams in order to interact quickly. I guess it could be feasible to put students into Google Meet Breakout rooms, or even hangout groups, to do the Quizlet Lives. However, I’ve tried this and have found it to be quite problematic and difficult to execute in real time (not least because you, the teacher, has to manually put the Quizlet Live teams (chosen at random) into Hangout/Breakout Rooms, and even then interaction between team members tends to be poor.

Quizlet has an immense database of flash cards created by other educators from all over the world, so it’s highly likely that you’ll find a question set that is suitable for your topic. If not, then you can make a set yourself.

#4: Quizziz

Quizizz is a simple but very effective multiple choice question system. Students log in with a code and answer questions – that’s it really. However, there are a few bells and whistles, such as excellent graphics, good music, power-up tools available for students on winning-streaks and a real-time leaderboard display that the teacher can present to the class.

One unique feature of Quizizz, which could be seen as either a disadvantage or an advantage, is that the game only ends when every person has answered every question (the teacher can set time limits for each question of between 30s and 5 mins). I quite like this feature of Quizizz, because as soon as one student is finished I ask him or her to go and help a student who isn’t finished. This can be a great way to build a sense of community within the classroom, and reinforce any work you’ve been doing on sympathy/empathy with your students.

Quizizz has many cool integration options with Google Classroom and even MS Excel. Read this excellent overview by TeachersFirst for a more in-depth analysis of how Quizizz could be utilised in your classroom. Of course, Quizizz has a large, searchable database of ready-made games that will allow you to set up a suitable quiz in seconds.

#5: Mentimeter

This is another simple and effective system that is somewhat similar to Kahoot! (an honorable mention on my list) but with a higher-quality user-interface, in my opinion. One interesting feature of Mentimeter is that it supports multiple question types (not just standard MCQs) such as ranking, scales, grids and open-ended questions.

Mentimeter is well-worth a try if you’re looking for something different.

Honourable mention

Kahoot!

Kahoot! is the original behemoth in the EdTech Hall of Fame, and we cannot ignore the influence it has had on the classroom app-development landscape. Kahoot! is simple, but very effective, and took the teaching world by storm when it first came out in 2013. Almost all modern live quiz-based systems have been inspired by Kahoot‘s innovative approach to game-based learning, and that’s why I wrote about Kahoot! in my award-winning book for teachers: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. Kahoot‘s can be set as homework, or self-paced tasks too, which is handy if you want to help individual students in real-time.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to put Kahoot! as an honourable mention on my list as the system hasn’t really evolved much since 2013. Let me be clear: it’s awesome, but the other apps I’ve described today (such as iSpring QuizMaker) have additional features that make them somewhat more special than Kahoot! (in my humble opinion).

Conclusion

Use these game-based systems: it’s that simple! Students love them, and can gain a lot from their implementation when we plan their use carefully. They act as great starters, plenaries or even ‘chunks’ of lessons.

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How to Become a Leader in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know.

Teachers are expected to demonstrate high competency in a range of skill areas. Some skills that may come to mind are personal organisation, classroom management, behaviour management and confidence in the use of educational technology. One skill that may not immediately come to mind, however, is leadership: yet this is vital, as teachers are required to be good leaders of their students (and, sometimes, other teachers). Today, I’ve invited Mitch from Destination TEFL, Bangkok, to to share his tips on how to be a good leader in the classroom.

This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Truly great teachers must also be leaders. By devoting time and energy towards developing leadership skills, along with technical teaching skills, teachers can make a profound impact on their students that transcends the information they teach.

Leadership seems to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but maybe there’s a reason for that.

Just take a look around. In government, the corporate world, and yes, in education too, our world seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership. We have a surplus of bosses, managers, and influencers, but not enough true leaders.

But together we’re going to change that.

The classroom is your domain, one place in the world where you truly can make a difference. You may not be able to fix the government, or even the overall culture at your school (toxic bosses tend not to take feedback well), but you can absolutely change your classroom and, in so doing, your students’ lives.

Here’s how to do it.

What is true leadership?

In order to become great leaders in the classroom, we need to really nail down what leadership actually is. And more importantly, what it isn’t.

Good leadership is NOT:

  • Being right all the time
  • Never making mistakes
  • Making all of the decisions
  • Always being strong, confident, and outgoing

Surprising, right? Many of the usual stereotypes we have about leadership (ones that many leaders today try a bit too hard to represent) aren’t actually what leadership is about at all.

True leadership, especially in a classroom full of students, is much more nuanced and, honestly, more accessible than many are led to believe.

In contrast to the list above, true leadership in the classroom looks a lot more like:

  • Being human, and acknowledging mistakes
  • Letting your students make decisions, and teaching them to make the right ones
  • Being the best version of yourself, not fitting into boxes
  • Focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence

Real leadership is about putting others first, and doing your best to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. As teachers, this is something that probably sounds familiar to us!

So now that we know what leadership is, how do we grow in these areas and incorporate them into our classroom?

Becoming a leader in the classroom

The first step in becoming a better leader is to know that you can!

People are conditioned to believe that you are either born with leadership qualities or not, and this is true for something like being naturally outgoing. But that’s not what great leaders are really made of.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

Emotional intelligence is something you can work on. Taking responsibility and acknowledging mistakes is something you can work on. Becoming the best version of yourself is something you can work on. 

Real leadership is accessible, and it’s accessible to you.

All becoming a leader in the classroom takes is recognizing areas you want to grow in as a leader, focusing on developing yourself in those areas, and (most importantly) finding opportunities to implement what you’re working on in the classroom.

Maybe you want to work on developing your emotional intelligence. So you take the first step and start reading articles about improving your EQ.

You listen to their advice and start doing things like labeling your emotions, practicing empathy, and opening yourself up to feedback. The more you do this, the more you notice your sensitivity to other people’s emotions increasing.

Now it’s time for the most important step: bringing it into the classroom!

What better group of people to practice empathy and emotional intelligence with than your students? You start looking for root causes of misbehavior, and the emotions that underlie them. You teach your students to become aware of their own emotions, and the emotions of their classmates. Most importantly, you provide an example of how to do this.

Congratulations, you have not only become a better teacher, but you’ve also become a true leader. You are now impacting your students not only through what you teach them, but how you teach them.

You’re no longer just teaching them about English, now you’re teaching them about life.

Final thoughts

Becoming a great leader, and a great teacher, takes time. It isn’t something that can be done in one semester: it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-improvement.

However, as people teaching abroad, we’re no strangers to this process. Living and working abroad is a journey of self-discovery, finding new and exciting pieces of yourself in different contexts and cultures, growing in ways you never thought possible.

Leadership in the classroom is another one of those ways, and it’s an area of self-improvement that will end up changing not only your own life but the lives of others.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about!

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The Value of Fresh Starts in Education

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

When students underperform in some aspect of their schooling (whether that be behaviour, attainment, progress or something else) a fresh start can often be a useful way to draw a line in the sand and leave the past behind. In today’s exclusive guest blog post, Tayla Reynolds shares her ideas on the how, what and why of fresh starts for teachers. Tayla is a second year Geography teacher in the UK. She writes about the realities of teaching and how to overcome the daily challenges from a practical but realist standpoint.

Tayla Reynolds

One of the most surprising things about the teaching career for me is perhaps the constant changeable dynamic of it all. For some, there is an assumption that once that initial teacher training phase is complete, you evolve as a fully fledged professional, but in reality it is a career full of reflection, mistakes and fresh starts.

I think that these may be my favourite parts of the profession (aside, of course, from the multitude of personalities and events you may face in a day, or even a single lesson). It is the constant opportunities for fresh starts. There is nothing quite like the excitement, nerves and potential of a new September, that new year feeling you really can’t explain. But in reality, that feeling comes several times a year, after each seasonal break, each half term, each Sunday night and for those harder groups, after each day.

And it is these fresh starts where teachers can evolve the most. When teaching, planning and behaviour management is becoming frustrating, unmanageable and overwhelming, then slowing down should be the priority. Which I know is a lot easier to say than do, and unimaginably hard for those with growing families and other commitments. But those should always come first, you cannot give your best, to anyone, if you’re running on fumes. And for that to happen, sometimes something has to give, and some weeks that might be marking, and for others that might be all singing and dancing lessons you want to create. Because those take time, passion and energy.

So for me, fresh starts are all about restoring, reflecting and prioritising. Immediately restore that overwhelming feeling, spend your time wisely and how you want to. There should be no guilt in putting yourself first. People are often quick to mock the amount of holiday time within the teaching profession, but the days and weeks go quick and you are expected to sustain a very high level of energy and enthusiasm, toppled with early mornings, late nights and a never ending to-do list. It is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding jobs, so take the time to fill your cup back up. Fill it until it overflows, fill a bucket or a bathtub if you need to! For me that is switching off from work: I close that to-do list and relegate that to Monday morning’s problem. I go out and meet friends if I want to, other times I shut myself away and recharge my social battery. For you that could be family time, walks outdoors or losing yourself in a game or book. Who cares, you do you!

“An AMAZING book!”

Now for reflection, what are you happy with? What are you not? I always try to think of a singular thing I want to focus on. Is it that one group (you know the one I’m talking about)? Is it that one unit you’re putting off, or maybe one new thing you’d like to try? It can be the simplest and smallest things, because it is those small habits that will be the most effective. It is always in the small things, because they are the most effective and consistent to maintain. So my advice is to simply choose one thing, big or small is up to you. Will you focus on more restorative language, or positive behaviour management with those students or perhaps introducing a new habit to your lesson routine such as retrieval or reviews?  That decision will be based on what you want to focus on the most. But just pick one, there will be plenty of opportunities to try everything else. 

And finally, for a fresh start to be as effective as possible, you need to prioritise. No one can do it all, so let’s stop pretending we can. What needs doing first? What is absolutely a necessity to complete? That’s where you start. Yes, sometimes it is easier to do the quicker stuff, but that is the reality of procrastination and quickly encourages your full bucket to spring a leak. Next, use your working time as well as possible. Use absolutely any spare time, is a group completing a test? Use that time to get one of those quick jobs done. Use those planning periods for marking, and take those quick to-dos home. For me, this has meant that I spend two nights a week doing around 45 minutes of work, rather than bringing books and exam papers home for hours of marking. This works for me, but might not for you, so think about how you want to use your time. And try to stick to it, but always be ready to accept that life may get in the way of this but it is important here to simply go with the flow.

Fresh starts are a really valuable tool in the teaching profession, and that is because they serve as opportunities for teachers and school staff to restore, reflect and prioritise. You cannot spend time and energy on developing better lessons and improving learning when your cup is empty. See every break as an opportunity for a fresh start. Bad day? Prioritise yourself, not your to-do list. Chaotic term? Focus and prioritise on what will really create the impact you want, and stick to those small, effective habits. Teaching; it’s a marathon not a sprint. So let’s treat it that way. 

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