Cognitive Sandwiching: A Method for Teaching Difficult Topics

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Memory is the residue of thought

 – Daniel Willingham

This is one of my favorite pedagogical quotes and I’ve found it to be 100% accurate over the years. 

As an International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry teacher at an international school, I often have to teach topics to my students that are really, really difficult. Furthermore, the students will be examined on these topics at some point in the future, and those grades really mean something: the students will be using them to apply to study at universities all around the world. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

A key question I often ask myself is how can I get my students to think deeply about the topics they are learning, so that they remember enough details to get excellent grades on their exams?

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I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, but I think I’ve finally nailed-down a system that works with every difficult topic I teach:

  • Explore
  • Question
  • Teach
  • Test

Hopefully you’ll see that this is a system that can be applied to your subject area/teaching context too. 

Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)

Provide the stuff you want the students to learn in multiple formats. Some that you may wish to use could be:

  • Online videos
  • Websites
  • Simulations
  • Textbooks
  • Podcasts
  • Magazine entries
  • Revision guides

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Get the students to work in groups or pairs to produce some kind of creative, collaborative output. Examples include:

  • Create a Google Slides presentation about…..
  • Create a stop-motion animation about……
  • Create a large infographic about…….
  • Create a digital animation about…..

At the end of this exploration step, the students should present their work to the class in some form. This simple act of articulating what they have learned will cause deep-thinking (and therefore, memory) to take place. 

Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)

Give the students a series of exam-style, challenging questions on the topic to complete under timed conditions. The students can work together on this if you wish, and may use the resources they have for help. 

When the time-limit is over, provide the model answers (and make sure you actually have model answers available). Students can go through these answers via peer-assessment, self-assessment or even automated assessment (in the case of online teaching systems, like MyMaths and Educake).

Discussing homework

As a teacher, I also like to go through any particularly difficult questions with the students so as to clear up any misconceptions. This is especially true if, for example, nobody in the class can do question 2. 

Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)

This acts as an incredibly useful review for students after what has been an intense exploration and self-assessment of stuff that was, essentially, self-taught (with a bit of help from the teacher).

Go through the key points of the topic traditionally, perhaps using a slide-based presentation, video, animation or even notes written and explained on the whiteboard.

Make use of a few learning games to spice things up a bit, especially if key vocabulary needs to be learned. Spend time going through common misconceptions: those things that students get wrong year-after-year. 

Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)

Test the content covered using the most difficult questions you can find. Don’t go beyond the syllabus or above what’s been taught (obviously), but use past-paper questions that really do get the students to apply what they’ve learned to unusual contexts. 

Prior to the test, you might want to provide questions of similar difficulty (with model answers provided) for the students to go through at home. 

chatting in class

Make sure you go through the test afterwards too. Provide the mark scheme and make it really clear where, and how, marks have been lost.

Fluctuations

By fluctuating the intensity of thinking in this way (2,3,1,4) we’re exercising the brain in a similar way to how we exercise the body – gradual increases in intensity, followed by rest, followed by higher intensity. 

I’ve found that this model works really well for getting students to understand really difficult topics. 

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Exciting New Online Course for Teachers!

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The Fundamentals of Classroom Management: An online course designed by Richard James Rogers in Partnership with UKEd Academy 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been busy building an online course that covers all of the fundamental concepts in my widely acclaimed debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, in partnership with my good friends at UKEd Academy. Details are given below:

Course link: https://uked.academy/product/cmf/

Price: £30.00 (which includes a copy of my book) or £20.00 if you’ve already got a copy of my book (you’ll have to enter a discount code found within the book)

Launch date: October 21st 2019 (but you can start the course at anytime)

End of course certificate?Yes, endorsed by UKEd Academy and Richard James Rogers 

Course structure: Videos, quizzes, study notes, reflections and activities

Course schedule: Flexible (work at your own pace)

After successful completion of this course you’ll earn a certificate that will look very impressive on your C.V. and you will gain lots of knowledge, new techniques, tools and skills.  

I look forward to mentoring and guiding you through the key concepts that make an excellent teacher, well, excellent!

If you have any questions at all about this exciting course, then please e-mail me at info@richardjamesrogers.com

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The Disconnect: How Over-Rewarding Fails Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Reading time: 3 minutes

A dangerous culture has quietly found its way into a large number of American and British schools in the past decade. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seems pretty on the surface but harbors malice within; over-rewarding continues to take hold like a malignancy to this day. 

Betty Berdan was an American high-school junior at the time of writing this excellent opinion piece in the New York Times. She eloquently summarizes her thoughts on over-rewarding as follows:

Like many other kids my age, I grew up receiving trophy after trophy, medal after medal, ribbon after ribbon for every sports season, science fair and spelling bee I participated in. Today the dozens of trophies, ribbons and medals sit in a corner of my room, collecting dust. They do not mean much to me because I know that identical awards sit in other children’s rooms all over town and probably in millions of other homes across the country.

Rewarding kids with trophies, medals and certificates for absolutely everything they do, including participation in a sports event, seems harmless at first glance: what’s wrong with encouraging kids to take part, right? 

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My thoughts on this are simple: the real-world doesn’t reward mediocrity, and if school’s are designed to prepare kids for the real world, then they shouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity either. 

Your boss doesn’t give you a pay-raise or certificate for turning up to a meeting: it’s a basic expectation. You don’t get instant recognition and brand awareness for starting an online business: you have to slog your guts out and make it happen.

The world is cruel, but it’s especially cruel to high-school graduates who’ve been babied right the way through their schooling and come out the other side believing that they’re entitled to everything: that they’ll receive recognition for doing the bare-minimum. 

Some teachers may feel that rewarding everyone, but keeping ‘special rewards for winners’ is a good way to go. But what benefits can be extrapolated from removing first, second and third place prizes at a sporting event, or even removing winner’s trophies completely?

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According to Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: 

A key takeaway here is that awards aren’t bad just because the losers are disappointed; everyone (including the winners) ultimately lose when schooling is turned into a scramble to defeat one’s peers

Really, Alfie? So awards are bad because losers and winners feel bitter? I think school culture has got a lot do with that. In school’s where students are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements, and aspire to do their best, overall achievement and attainment increases.  A massive study by the University of East Tennessee, for example, found that classroom celebrations of achievement enhanced:

  • Group solidarity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Teacher’s ability to find joy and meaning in teaching

I don’t see much about bitterness there, Alfie. 

Here’s another one I pulled-up: A meta-analysis of 96 different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta found that (look at the last sentence especially):

…….reward does not decrease intrinsic motivation. When interaction effects are examined, findings show that verbal praise produces an increase in intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect appears when expected tangible rewards are given to individuals simply for doing a task.

This confirms what teachers have known for years (at least those with brains in their heads): that awards have no value when they are given to everyone, but have lots of value when they have to be earned. This coincides with the Four Rules of Praise that I wrote about in 2018 (supporting video below). 

Conclusion

Teaching profession, some words of wisdom: Awards and rewards only work to improve motivation, attainment and achievement when the students have had to earn them. Foster a school culture of collective celebration when students achieve success (such as using awards assemblies), and articulate the skills and qualities needed to achieve success to those students who sit and watch the winners, hopefully with smiles on their face and pride in knowing that one of their own made it happen, and they can too. 

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Digitizing the Learning Experience: EdTech 101

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A number of interesting trends in the automation and computerization of education have taken place in the past twelve months. These innovations build on the tech boom seen after the dot .com crisis recovery in the early 2000s and include:

  • Coding
  • Online learning
  • Robotics and AI
  • Cloud computing
  • Smart devices and the Internet of Things
  • FinTech
  • Data Logging
  • Adaptable ‘Smart Spaces’

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To put all of this into context one only has to look as far back as last week’s edition of the Economist. Page 11 presents a daunting synopsis of the digital web we find ourselves in via an article aptly entitled A Planetary Panopticon [print edition]:

In a world in which more things are computerized, more companies will come to resemble computer firms. In expensive, high-tech industries, where the economics of the IoT have made sense for decades, the results of this are already visible. Rolls-Royce, a big British maker of jet engines, launched its “Power by the Hour” service in 1962, offering to maintain and repair it’s engines for a fixed cost per hour. It’s digital transformation began in earnest in 2002, built around the ability to do continuous, real-time monitoring of its products.

The article goes on to describe how:

  • Data is becoming the new currency of developed countries (and even some developing ones, such as China, which has basically already become a cashless society)
  • Surveillance is set to become more pervasive as firms set-out to monitor consumer behavior more closely in an effort to improve products, services and marketing strategies
  • Smart-tech companies will become ever-more protective of their data: a valuable commodity. Apple, for example, “is famously unwilling to allow its customers to have broken iPhones repaired anywhere except in its own shops, going so far as to use software updates to disable replacement touchscreens installed by cheaper, third-party fixers.”

bean bags

I would even go so far as to say that teachers, everywhere, need to skill-up in computer science quickly, or else we could find ourselves out of a job! I talk about this in my video below:

From the perspective of helping our students make the ‘digital transition’, I’ve written two blog posts with some tips here: 

You may also want to check out these great blogs and websites:

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

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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

I was rather the maverick back then. 

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

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

I stopped after the first few pages. 

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

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

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

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

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

Go on the journey together

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

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

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

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

Subject Knowledge Does Help

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

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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A ‘Gender Neutral’ School Uniform – Mainstream Lunacy

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

There are few issues that come up in education that literally enrage me. This issue, however, has done exactly that.

Browsing through my twitter feeds last week I came across this:

 

Paul’s original tweet contained video footage showing schoolgirls being refused entry into their school because – shocking as it sounds – they wanted to wear skirts! The police were even there enforcing this idiocy. 

The lunatics are well-and-truly running the asylum in the UK. 

Sussex Police made this statement via Twitter:

I’m not surprised that the original video was taken down. It caused an uproar on social media. David Icke, for example, describes his view on this event perfectly with this meme:

David Icke Sussex School Gender Neutral

The Daily Mail, a British mainstream newspaper, ran an article about this in which they stated:

Police and teachers have been criticised for locking school gates to schoolchildren who protested a new ‘gender neutral’ uniform policy this morning, leaving pupils to wander the streets of a Sussex town.

Angry pupils and parents protested outside the gates of Priory School in Lewes over the clothing policy for the new school year. 

But teachers and Sussex Police officers locked the gates on pupils and refused admittance to girls in skirts – and according to one eyewitness officers were actually involved in selecting which students could enter and which would be barred.

He said: ‘It was like they were bouncers – they waved some through and stopped others.’ 

Police acting like ‘bouncers’ to stop skirt-wearing girls entering school? This certainly contradicts the official explanation given by Sussex Police.

This story also makes a few points perfectly clear:

  • The school is more concerned about pushing its leftist, pansy, wimpy and idiotic agenda than ensuring that proper teaching and learning takes place
  • Safeguarding is clearly not a priority at Priory School – they’d rather let teenagers roam the streets than let them enter school (for no good reason, I may add)

Good Morning Britain even picked up the story, and ran a short scoop on September 9th. You can watch some of the students and parents tell their side of the story here:

The school’s official response

The Priory School sent this official press statement to me via e-mail:

Priory School uniform is designed to be a practical uniform which encourages students to be ready to focus on their school work and activities. Our uniform also helps us to dilute the status placed on expensive clothes or labels and challenge the belief that we are defined by what we wear. Instead, we encourage individual beliefs, ideas, passions and wellbeing and an ethos of camaraderie that is reflected in this shared experience.

We believe that a uniform worn without modification is the best way to ensure equality. We do not want children feeling vulnerable and stressed by the pressure they feel to wear or own the latest trend or status symbol.

Priory school is not unusual in having a trousers as the uniform item for all students. There are at least 40 other schools which have a similar uniform requirement. Our core purpose remains the quality of teaching and learning and we aim to achieve this by maximising the time spent on planning, delivering and evaluating the quality of provision.

At what point do we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?

It’s about time that teachers everywhere rose up and spoke out, and took action, against malevolent individuals and organisations that wish to enforce their agenda on our students and our children. My concern is this – what’s next? Gender neutral uniforms for teachers? Imprisonment for criticizing the policy of a school or local authority (such as me writing this blog post, for example)? Compulsory lessons for kids on how they should ‘question their gender constantly’ and how they might not ‘really be a boy or a girl’? (That last one is already happening in some schools, by the way).  

No more. I’m not tolerating this lunacy anymore. 

sitting on the carpet

A call to action

I would like to encourage my readers everywhere, please, to share this article with others in order to spread awareness of what is happening in some UK schools. Comment on this article and let’s get the discussion going. When people take action in large numbers to spread awareness then real change can happen. 

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The Power of Praise: My Second Book

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m very happy to announce that my second-book, which has (to my shame) been in the pipeline for many years, has finally been published on the Amazon Kindle store. The paperback will be released in mid-September. If you click on the image below, it’ll take you directly to the Amazon sales page. 

The Power of Praise

My new book is split into three sections:

  • The philosophy of praise (why praise is important and what its effects can be)
  • The mechanics of praise (how to actually implement the various tactics available)
  • Ways to accentuate the efficiency of praise (how to ensure that praise and feedback only takes up the time and effort that it needs to)

From the outset I make the point that praise in the form of marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as every student needs to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognized.

The implication of this statement is that quick turn-around of work is necessary so that students understand the reasons behind their feedback, gain empowerment maximally and receive positive reinforcement of the skills, knowledge and concepts that they are currently learning in class.

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Teachers (me included) can find it a challenge to provide high-quality feedback in a timely manner, however. This is where praise mechanics and efficiency come into play. 

There are a number of techniques that teachers can employ to save time whilst providing excellent feedback. In this new book, you’ll find sections on:

  • Peer-assessment
  • Self-assessment
  • The effective deployment of verbal feedback 
  • Automated assessment – the use of software to test our students 
  • Live marking
  • Many others

You can purchase my book here if you’d like a good, deep exploration of of a variety of praise-based techniques. As a little teaser for you, however, I’d like to share a particularly powerful technique with you.

‘Diffusive’ and ‘Absorptive’ live – marking

Diffusive live-marking is when the teacher walks around the classroom when the kids are working on a a task, pen-in-hand, and marks student work in real-time (i.e. ‘diffusing’ through the students).

Absorptive live-marking is when the teacher sits at a designated point in the classroom and calls the students to his or her desk. one-at-a-time, and marks work in real-time (i.e. figuratively ‘absorbing’ the students).

Coupled with verbal feedback, both techniques can be incredibly powerful. If you train the students to write “Mr Rogers said that………….(insert feedback here)” in a different color on their work, then you allow the students to process your feedback on a very deep-level, and this builds long-term memory. Obviously, use your name instead of mine!

Eventually, students will remember key mistakes that are repeating in their work and they will act to rectify those (they won’t like writing the same things over and over again). 

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Curriculum Clarity: Making Things Clear for Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video:

Preparing resources for students can be a really massive job: especially when you have the responsibility of getting kids ready for external exams. 

They’ll need:

  • Presentations (usually a series of PowerPoints)
  • Worksheets
  • Homework
  • Exam-style questions
  • Practical activities (for Science, D.T. and other practical subjects)
  • Learning activities along the way to make things ‘fun’ and ‘engaging’

mess around in class

In the olden days I used to source a ton of stuff from the web and make some stuff from scratch. The problems this caused were as follows:

  • An inconsistent teaching method/approach for each topic 
  • Inconsistent format and detail of resources (some PPTs were excellent. others only skimmed the surface of the topic)
  • Inconsistent direction and focus of the class (i.e. the ‘road ahead’)

Kids need to be very clear about what they need to learn for their exams, and in what order/topic sequence. So please sit back and relax as I share my consistency-generating tips for exam-level students. 

The Power of Praise
Richard’s new Kindle book. Only $3.99

Share the syllabus with the students on day one 

This will really help to make the ‘road ahead’ clear. Some teachers like to make a ‘kid friendly’ version of the syllabus – using language that is more easily understandable. In my experience, however, I find that this isn’t generally necessary – syllabuses tend to be clear enough. 

In addition to sharing the syllabus, map out the sequence of topics you will teach for the year ahead and share this with your students too. Some more able and hard-working kids will definitely read ahead, and it’ll help prepare your students for end-of-unit tests too. 

snacking

Keep the format and detail of all PPTs the same

I realized the importance of this when I was lucky enough to find Merinda Sautel’s amazing IB Chemistry PPTs on the internet. 

Check them out if you want to really understand the importance of this aspect of Curriculum Clarity – her PPTs follow the same format and layout for each topic and are all detailed enough so that a complete course is created. 

IB Chemistry is split into distinct topics that follow the Course Guide – there’s a PPT at Mindy Sautel’s site for topics 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, etc. Everything is sequenced and clear.

Keep homework and questions consistent and linked to the syllabus 

Maybe your syllabus is split into topics A,B,C and D with subtopics for each section. Do you have exam-style questions for topics A1, A2, A3, etc?

Organizing your questions by topic in this way will really build-up the subject knowledge that your students need to pass the final exam.

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News: Students Must Learn to Outwit Robots

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Robots are taking over. Teachers everywhere need to skill-up, and fast.

This assertion, which I’ve been making for years, was further compounded by a news article I read from the Asia Pacific Entrepreneur on Tuesday.

The article, aptly entitled ‘Robots Are Stealing our Jobs, cites a report by the world-famous McKinsey Global Institute (and when they speak, businesses listen). Their estimation is that robots will replace 73 million jobs by 2030. (Secondary sources used, as McKinsey report link appears to be broken at the time of writing).

That’s only ten years away, by the way.

This got me reflecting on a recent experience I had.

Singapore, April 2019

I had the opportunity to spend a few days of the sweltering Songkran vacation in the beautiful island city of Singapore last week. It was a nice break from things, and a chance to see the wider-world a bit.

As soon as one lands at Singapore’s Changi Airport, one feels as though they are in a king’s palace – carpeted floors, an amazing array of shops and restaurants and one more thing: automation.

Checking in at Changi is easy – your thumbprints are scanned and you’re waved along. And there’s extra convenience when you leave Singapore – no need for any stamps in your passport anymore. You simply use your entry thumbprints to check out again when you leave.

I thought that was cool.

Then, as I was going down a random escalator at Changi I saw a robot cleaning the floors. No, not one of those small circular robo vacuums that some people might have at home – a big, industrial floor sweeper that was fully automated.

People stopped to take photos.

It was a weird feeling to be honest. Part of me thought this was so high-tech and unique. Another part of me thought: ‘someone has lost their job to that robot’

The hotel

I checked in at Studio M hotel in Singapore’s upscale Robertson Quay area.

Located next to a calm river and a cool spectrum of eateries and cafe’s (including the Book cafe – an author’s favorite, located just opposite), Studio M strikes you as a modern ‘hipster-style’ hideout.

I certainly got the hipster feeling in full dosage that night when I asked for some extra tissue paper. I dialed ‘0’ and asked for a resupply from the receptionist.

Two minutes later I opened the door to bleeps, flashy lights and a disco of childhood surprise – a cute robot was waiting with my order.

I and Nicki were in hysterics, and we took a video and photos (as you’ll see below). However, we took too long to video the robot and it ran away! We had to phone it to come back.

Colleges teaching students to outwit robots

Singapore validated my long-held suspicions that began when I started using MyiMaths – that technology will soon replace humans in almost every area of employment and business (including teaching).

Robots are efficient and cool, and they don’t require a salary. Call me pessimistic and a party-pooper, but I see that as being quite appealing to the typical business owner.

For teachers, we are already seeing the impact of technology on our roles. Computers are teaching our students at an ever-increasing frequency, and we are being increasingly relegated to the role of ‘facilitator’.

Imagine a panopticon-style school with super-surveillance, and a full suite of computer labs and robots to teach both practical and theoretical subjects. How many human ‘facilitators’ would that school need then?

Oh, but parents would never accept that, right?

Wrong – by 2030 most parents of school-age children will be

That’s why I am urgently warning all teachers, everywhere, to skill-up in any ICT-based field, and fast. I chose FinTech, because it interests me. You may wish to choose another field.

The rising state of anxiety about this issue has become so intense that some colleges are even considering ways in which they can teach students to ‘out-compete’ robots.

The Hechniger article cites Aoun as recommending all students to skill-up so that they can ‘outwit’ robots by:

  • Becoming exceptional public speakers
  • Optimizing non-robotic skills such as creativity, empathy and a sense of ethics
  • Understanding technology and data

He also argues that the era of getting a degree and being set-up for life is over. Universities now need to provide short courses that skill students up throughout their lives (hence my current enrollment in the Professional Certificate in FinTech course with HKU)

Conclusion

MyiMaths, Singapore, the Open University and HKU taught me something important – that automation is becoming cheaper and better as each year goes by. 

Teachers would be wise to keep this in mind, and take action now. 

Further viewing

An early video I made back in 2017 about this very issue:

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Tips for Organising Homework

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student. 

That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations. 

Explaining

I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me. 

That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.

With UKEdChat

I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was. 

“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”

She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”

That felt good. 

award

Juggling many things at once

Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.

I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.

I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:

  • I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
  • Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
  • The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all

So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!

discussion-mother-and-daughter

So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.

Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returning timetable

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).

Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.

always learn

And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.

Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:

Homework setting, marking and receiving timetable

Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish. 

Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals

Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:

  • They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
  • They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
  • The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
  • They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
  • Students receive quick, effective feedback
  • Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal. 

So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
  • Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.

25 MARCH

  • Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
  • Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:

learning-journal-system2

  • I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:

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  • The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students

In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific. 

Strategy #3: Live marking

‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.

I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:

I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.

Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.

work overload

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniques hereSome general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:

Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment

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 seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of 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 teh traditional way.

teaching with laptop

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 can also 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 doing the marking.

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.

Self-Assessment

Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

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

self-assessment

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

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

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

Class Q and A

Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’

Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.

Intangibles include:

  • Revising for tests and quizzes
  • ‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
  • Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
  • Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students. 

Conclusion

Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:

  • Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
  • Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
  • Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
  • Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
  • Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them

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