Subtle Reinforcement: Techniques to Gradually Build Confidence and Character in our 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)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

He pulled me aside at the end of class as we were getting ready to go home. I had tremendous respect for my sensei and his words, though few, always hit-home hard.

“You a look a mess, Richard. Why isn’t your gi ironed”

“My mum didn’t have time to iron it today”

“Your mum shouldn’t have to iron it for you. What are you: a man or a weasel? Take responsibility for your own life. Iron your own flippin’ gi and make sure you look tidy next lesson!”

A ‘gi’ is a karate suit, just in case you didn’t know. It’s made typically of heavy cotton drill and it’s plain white. Easy to get dirty and hard to clean. Even harder to iron.

However, I wanted to win my sensei’s approval. I wanted to ‘be a man’ and take responsibility for my own karate, my own personal dress and personal presentation.

box seats

Short conversations

It’s funny when I think about it now, but that short conversation with my sensei totally changed my life. It felt like I’d gone down a peg or two in his sight and opinion.

With UKEdChat
“An amazing book!”

I worked harder than ever before to train and to be the ‘perfect’ student: My gi was freshly washed and ironed every time (I asked my mum not to help – I was 11 years old and my sensei wanted me to ‘man up’). 

Years later, when I went to a local karate shop to buy a new karate suit, I happened to bump into my old sensei there that same day. 

“Richard, it’s flippin’ great to see you!”

“Me too, how you doing”

“I’m good. You still training?”

“Yeah I joined a Shotokan Club at uni”

“That’s flippin’ great. You know, I remember the kid who didn’t iron his gi and was very clumsy. Remember that conversation we had in the changing rooms that day?”

“Wow! Yes, sure. I remember you telling me off”

“Haha, yes. Well, I noticed a massive difference in you after that day. I was sorry to lose you when you left for uni – you were the best brown belt in the dojo”

Wow!!!

Clay class

That felt good. The fact that my old sensei remembered me, and remembered our conversation. That he genuinely took an interest in me – that was inspirational.

It reminded me of who I was, which brings me to my first tip of Subtle Reinforcement.

Subtle reinforcement tip 1: Remind your students of who they are

This is different to reminding students of their achievements – it involves reminding students of their character.

As an NQT I was full of enthusiasm, as we all are. I wanted to change the world ‘one student at a time’.

Suddenly, my chance came like a clap of thunder.

Walking down the corridor one day I passed one of my Science students. He was looking very depressed, and divulged to me that his girlfriend had just dumped him.

High five

“John, I know how you’re feeling right now. Trust me, I’ve been there. But see this as your baptism by fire. This is the moment where you realise how strong you are. This is the moment where you gain back control and focus on what you’ve been letting slide in your life. It’s her loss and your gain – now you have more time to perfect your BMX biking and become the best geographer in the whole school.”

We part as men – his fist punches mine in a sign of solidarity. The lightning begins to fork in his soul. Already his mind is tuned-in to my words. Already he starts to fight back.

He comes to class extra early, and gives 110% to each lesson. There’s a renewed respect for me as his teacher – he knows that I actually care. 

Five months later his final exams are approaching and he’s getting stressed out. I ask him how his revision is going.

“To be honest, sir, it’s going badly. I’m just so stressed with it all”

To which I reciprocate: “I remember the man who who didn’t let life beat him down when his girlfriend decided to walk away. I remember the man who achieved grade As and Bs across the board and impressed everyone in school with his complete turnaround.”

Then I lower my voice.

“I remember the man who came second place in the BMX  showdown at Westminster Park” 

“You know about that?”

“Your mum told me”

He walks away trying his best to hide a grin that cannot be hidden. He remembers who he is. He remembers how all it took was a change of focus to create vastly different results in his life.

He went on to get 96% in his End of Year Science exam: the highest in his year group.

projector interactive

Reminding our students of who they are renews their faith in themselves. This can have a dramatic impact on their lives.

Subtle Reinforcement tip 2: Remind your students of their skills and achievements

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the skills and achievements that students display outside of our subject areas are not relevant to us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Benjamin was struggling in Science class. He found experimental work difficult because his fine-motor skills were limited. His Special Educational Needs also affected his retention of written information in class. 

I started an ECA at school one year – website design. It was a very simple and easy ECA – the kids picked topics they loved and basically made websites about them. Each week they would update their content and share what they had done with the group.

Benjamin signed up for that ECA and absolutely took to it like a duck to water. I was actually quite surprised – his website was by far the best in the class. He just happened to have a ‘knack’ for it. 

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

After the Christmas break I gave Benjamin a unique task:

“Benjamin – you are now my class Online Learning Chief. This is an important responsibility which I have not handed out lightly”

“Wow. Me? Why?”

“Because you are brilliant at web design. I’ve seen your great images on your site. I remember your portfolio of Minecraft tactics that you wrote in such a comprehensive way. From now on, I want you to do all of your homework online. When you’ve built up your website to a sufficient quantity, we’ll share it with the rest of the class as a revision resource. Deal?”

“Wow. Deal”

I follow through. For once in his school life, Benjamin actually gets recognized for something valuable. This wasn’t a participation medal for turning up on Sports Day. This was recognition of something significant that Benjamin actually possesses.

He goes on to raise his achievement by two grades that year – from an E to a C. This amounts to his biggest step-up in progress he has made in school, ever. 

robot

By reminding our students of their skills and achievements, we offer them solutions to daily problems. In a similar mission to that of differentiation, we aim to inspire the inner genius through methods that appeal to each student’s learning style.

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 3: Take the time to discuss progress

A quick two-minute chat is all it takes. Bring the student to your computer and show him his grades for the year thus far.

Use this to congratulate or to offer advice for improvement.

This shows each student that you are ‘on the ball’: that you are alert to their progress and that you care about their grades. 

This approach is guaranteed to have positive outcomes, if dealt with in the mood of ‘passing on information’ rather than dishing-out criticism. 

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 4: Be the person you want your students to be

This is the part of the article where I must try my best not to sound like a patronizing ignoramus. I’ll have a go.

Kids notice things about us. 

They notice the things we do, the way we look and the things we say, even when not spoken directly to the students who are listening.

Drawing upon our own life experiences can be a great way to get our students focussed on the right path.

The Science teacher who pulls out his vitamin box to show the students his daily supplementation for good health – this teacher is ‘living’ the subject. 

The maths teacher who takes part in World Maths Day along with the students shows that maths is fun – not just something for kids to do.

The P.E. teacher who genuinely stays in shape by hitting the gym a few times per week sets an excellent example for her students to follow, and respect. 

I want the very best for my students, but if my mouth is saying one thing whilst I do the exact opposite then I’ll end up becoming a laughing-stock. 

That’s not a good place to be.

robot

Student Reinforcement Tip 5: Be there when they need you to be there

My IB Chemistry students were an amazing cohort of hard-working individuals. 

They needed my help a lot though.

It was not uncommon for random students to turn up at my room at lunch times and after school to seek help with questions, homework and coursework.

I could have chosen the easy option and made myself unavailable – I would certainly have gained more time and less work that way. But what’s the point in living like that?

I wanted my students to do well. I was happy to help when I could. 

There was a limit, of course, and they knew that. I wasn’t prepared to stay all night and help them – I had a life of my own too. But I was prepared to stay for a significant and suitable amount of time to help them out when needed.

The results were profound – they worked harder, enjoyed the subject more and made better progress. 

To be honest, I also felt a sense of satisfaction too. To me that’s the best reward of teaching – the knowledge that you’ve touched someone else’s heart. The knowledge that you’ve really made a difference. 

IMG_5938

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

The Effective Use of Detentions

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some
instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’
privacy.

He opened his laptop and started playing around, again. I hadn’t quite noticed until I’d gotten the rest of this Year 7 class to get their books open and start completing the questions that were on the whiteboard.

It took a good five minutes for them all to settle down.

They’d just been learning about the human body in the best way I could think of: They took apart a life-sized model of a human female (filled with plastic, life-sized organs) and completely rebuilt it.

It had gotten them quite excited; especially the boys, who thought that the mammary glands inside a female breast were completely hilarious!

The class then had to cut and stick a paper human body together – organs included. But he was taking too long.

mess around in class

Christopher was a happy and talkative kid, but his work-rate was slow. On two occasions that lesson I walked over to his desk to help out and remind him to speed up, as everyone else was ahead of where he was. He should have been able to get that work done quickly. He had no Special Educational Needs and his English proficiency had increased so much in three months that he had graduated from the E.L.D. programme.

with-ukedchat

The only thing slowing him down was his chattiness.

I should have moved him sooner in the lesson – my mistake. 15  minutes before the end of the class I moved him to the front to sit next to me, where he couldn’t chat with friends and be distracted.

It wasn’t enough time.

I pondered the idea of giving him a detention. Break-time was straight after this lesson, so it would be easy for me to keep him behind for ten minutes to get that work done. 

The concept and purpose of detentions

Before we can fully understand how to use detentions effectively, we must first remind ourselves of what detentions are and, therefore, what their purpose should be. 

A detention is a period of time that is purposefully taken away from a student’s extra-curricular or non-curricular time. It may involve a teacher-supervised activity during a morning break, lunch or after school. 

Detentions are given to students for a wide-variety of reasons; some of which are more logical than others. Reasons for detentions (starting with the most logical and useful) can include:

  • Failure to complete homework or classwork
  • Poor attendance
  • Persistent lateness/lack of punctuality
  • Disruption to class activities through poor behaviour
  • Receiving a certain, set number of ‘warnings’ or ‘demerits’

Christopher’s case as an example to follow

The most logical and useful way to use detentions is time-for-time: time not spent completing homework or classwork should be compensated by time spent on detention.

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

In Christopher’s case I decided to give the break-time detention. Here are the reasons for my choice:

  1. The Science lesson ended at break-time, so it was convenient for me to keep him behind in my class (I didn’t have the problem of, say, giving him a lunchtime detention for the next day and then having to remember that he is coming and maybe chase him up if he doesn’t come along). 
  2. Christopher would be exchanging his breaktime for time spent completing his classwork. He must do this, as he will fall behind if he doesn’t.
  3. The detention serves as a reinforcement of the teacher’s authority, and a stern reminder that a poor work-ethic just won’t be tolerated. It turns out that after only two such break-time detentions, Christopher pulled up his socks and began working at a reasonable pace during lessons. 

General tips for detentions that will save you many problems

Every detention must attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for.

Consider the following:

  • Detentions eat up the teacher’s time as well as the students, so we really should only be giving out detentions when it is absolutely necessary (as in Christopher’s case above)
  • For homework that’s not done on time: call the perpetrating student or students to your desk for a quick one-to-one discussion at the end of class, or during a class activity. Express your disappointment, and why meeting deadlines is important. Relate it to the world of work, for example “If I didn’t write your reports on time, what would happen to me? That’s right, I’d be in big trouble”. Allow the students an extra day or so to get the work done. No need for conflict, no need to spend your precious lunch time giving a detention.
  • If students still don’t hand in the homework even after extending a deadline, then it is necessary to give a detention. CRUCIALLY, however, the purpose of the detention MUST be to complete that homework. Print the sheet again if necessary, provide the necessary resources and get the student to complete the work. This makes the detention less confrontational and reinforces the reason why it was given in the first place. 
  • The same goes for classwork: give students the chance to take their books home and complete classwork if it isn’t done on-time in class. Persistent slow work-rates in class, if not caused by reasonable circumstances (such as Special Educational Needs), should be met with detentions that allow the student to catch up. In almost every case you’ll find that the students will cotton-on to the fact that they can’t get away with distraction and laziness in class, and they’ll soon improve. For those that don’t improve even after focused detentions, further action will be needed and may involve parents and senior/middle management. 
  • For poor behaviour, detentions need to be planned and crafted really well. Remember: the detention should attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for. I remember a couple of years back when two boys got involved in a bit of a scuffle in the science lab. It wasn’t anything major, but one kid said a nasty word to the other and that kid decided to punch his mate in the arm quite hard. As a Science Teacher, this is something I must absolutely nip-in-the-bud because safety in the lab is paramount, and kids just can’t scuffle or fight in there: period. I gave them both a detention for the next day at 1pm. They came, and I spent the time explaining to them why their behavior was unacceptable. They wrote letters of apology to me and each other, and left the detention understanding exactly why I had taken their time away from them. I didn’t have a problem with them again.
  • Lessons that end at break times work well for giving detentions if necessary, as you can easily retain the students when the bell rings. If you do assign detentions for the next day or at a later time, then pencil those into your diary – this will serve both as a useful reminder and as a record of who’ve you’ve given detentions to and how often. 

Recurring work 

I’m a massive believer in the power of recurring work and journaling, and have written about it in detail here and here

Learning journals are just great for giving regular recurring feedback and for consolidating and reviewing cumulative knowledge gained throughout an academic year. But did you know that Learning Journals save you many a supervised detention too?

Many schools provide homework timetables for students and teachers to follow. With the very best of intentions, these timetables aim to distribute student and teacher workload evenly and fairly. However, they can prove difficult to follow when units include different intensities of work, and when school events get in the way.

That’s where Learning Journals come in!reading

Set Learning Journals as homework each week. The basic idea is that students buy their own notebook and fill it with colorful revision notes on a weekly basis (although they can be done online too: through Google Sites, for example). Perhaps your Year 10 class could hand-in their learning journals in every Wednesday, and collect them from you (with feedback written inside, see the articles cited above) every Friday. By setting up a register of collection that the students sign, you can easily see who hasn’t handed in their journal that week.

Then……follow the guidelines given above for dealing with late or un-submitted homework. You’ll find that after a few weeks of initiating Learning Journals you’ll get a near 100% hand-in rate, because the students are really clear about what is expected each week, because it is a recurring homework. 

Whole school considerations

Many schools adopt a popular (but massively problematic) ‘mass-detention’ system of some sort, which works something like this:

  1. The student receives the requisite number of ‘warnings’ in a particular lesson which lead to a break or lunch time detention being given
  2. The student is sent to a room with other students from the school who’ve also received detentions
  3. Teachers supervise the ‘detention room’ on a rotating basis, thereby (in theory), sharing the workload across the staff body
  4. The students are given generic tasks to do during the detention time, which may include filling in a form, completing homework or in the very worst cases just sitting still and being quiet for twenty minutes or so.

The problem with systems like this is that they are not personal to the students receiving the detentions. They do not follow the ‘golden rule’: that detentions should address or solve the problem that they were given for.

What’s much more effective in the long-term is to trust individual teachers to administer their own detentions. Perhaps provide a quick training session based on good practice (feel free to use this article if you wish), and allow the teachers to then use their judgement to decide when and how detentions should be given.

Conclusion

Student detentions are only effective when they have the ‘personal touch’. When detentions address the original issue by allowing more time to complete homework or classwork, or allow for a one-on-one discussion about behaviour, the following magical things happen:

  • The detention is given from a standpoint of care and concern, not confrontation and aggression
  • Students realise the reason why the detention was given as this reason is reinforced by the activities given during the time of the detention
  • Students improve. It’s that simple. Mass detention systems rarely work because they don’t pinpoint the personal reasons behind why the student is under-performing. Detentions with the ‘personal touch’ cause students to realise their errors and most, if not all, will improve in a short space of time. 

IMG_5938

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

The ‘Care Factor’: Changing Lives One Student at a Time

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

They were each given a stack of small cards as they entered the classroom. Each set was unique. No two students had the same stack of cards.

The kids were intrigued.

with-ukedchatAttached to the classroom walls were ten large diagrams of different human body systems – the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system and so on.

The kids had to stick their cards to the diagrams to effectively label the different organs.

Some cards had names, some had descriptions.

It was a lot of fun. The kids were moving, talking about the work and learning new things just by doing this activity.

Following this the students played some learning games, completed a textbook question and ended the lesson with a ‘Think, Pair, Share’ plenary activity. 

Some would say that this was a great lesson. But why?

alphabetic mat

The push protocol

Is a grade D an acceptable grade for any student?

Keep that question in mind for a minute or so.

A 2013 study by researchers at the University of California found that increased student engagement and excitement in class can, actually, lead to less effort being put into assignments and homework. In striking and surprising addition to this, increased engagement within lessons did not lead to increased results on tests and assessments. 

This study is corroborated by what I’ve found time and time again: that singing, dancing and keeping the kids entertained is just not enough (but we need to do it anyway, because it still serves an important purpose).

Teacher’s in Western pedagogical systems have unfortunately been conditioned to believe the following:

  1. That as long as the kids are engaged, well-behaved and enjoying the lesson then that’s all that matters (especially for a formal observation)
  2. That progress, not attainment, is the defining factor in a child’s success and the benchmark against which teacher-quality should be assessed. If a 16 year-old student, for example, has achieved a grade E in Term 1, and then gets a D in Term 2, then good progress has been made.

In fact, what I’ve found is that active engagement strategies coupled with effective and regular feedback and coaching/mentoring are the ingredients needed to push students to achieve top grades. 

Relentless vigilance

So for that kid who’s not on the S.E.N. register and who’s not operating with English as a second language: is moving from an E to a D in one term in the final year of IGCSE studies really acceptable?

box seats

We often try to quantify predicted grades with ‘intelligence tests’ too, such as ALIS, CAT4 and CHEM. Certainly, if a student is achieving lower than their predicted score from these tests, then that is a cause for concern. But what if a student is meeting their target: is that enough?

In my honest opinion, we can all get students to exceed their targets by genuinely showing our care for them through Relentless Vigilance. But what is that?

Imagine the kid who rushes a homework and hands in an incomplete mess, when normally he hands in good stuff. Do we let it go with just a low grade and brush it off as a ‘one-off’, or do we take more action?

How about the kid who consistently scores poorly on tests for no apparent reason? Do we just record the grades, spot any minimal progress the student might be making and leave it at that? Do we consign ourselves to the belief that’s “She’s just a low achiever”, and leave it there?

The answer to all of this is that student achievement should bug us so much that we simply cannot allow or accept poor achievement to take place at all.

Continent Investigation

Relentless Vigilance is when we follow everything up. The messy homework? – a one-on-one conversation and the chance to do it again is appropriate. If we allow the mess to happen once, then it’ll happen again. 

The kid who consistently scores poorly on tests – set up an intervention strategy. Maybe get the student to keep a learning journal every week, so that he or she absolutely must revise for the tests. Set up a weekly meeting with him to record progress and discuss learning. Set differentiated work that matches the child’s learning style (but don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time on this). Find out what his or her learning style actually is. Explain the importance of regular revision. Get the student to e-mail a paragraph to you every day to describe what they’ve revised in their own time and at home.

Professional Intelligence and The Care Factor

I’ve written about professional intelligence before but I believe its power requires a second mention.

I’ll illustrate its use with a true story.

Just the other week one of my students came to see me to show me a video of her dancing in a local dance competition. She described the people there, how long she had trained and the upcoming competitions and her future goals. I asked her questions about the whole thing. I was genuinely interested.

studying with com

Now you might be thinking “Okay, so what the hell does that have to do with her attainment in Chemistry”. Answer: everything!

  1. Why did she come to show me the video? – She saw me as an approachable teacher. She likes me. She wanted a sense of validation through praise from someone she respected (whether consciously or unconsciously). She wanted to share a life experience, and her goals for the future.
  2. How does this help with her attainment? – I have written her achievement in my Professional Intelligence Journal  – a catalogue of all of the professional things I learn about my students. In a few weeks time I’ll ask her about her dancing, using vocabulary that is specific to her context. I may even be able to use her interest in dancing in a future science lesson (e.g. by delivering a lesson on forces and motion acting on a break-dancer).

What does this all boil-down to in the end?:

Students perform well in subjects in which they like the teacher, and in which the teacher genuinely likes them and enjoys teaching them. Students respect a teacher who follows things up, provides regular feedback and is genuinely and profoundly concerned abut their future welfare and success. 

Stories personal to me

Two tales that illustrate the above emboldened proverb (okay, that’s a generous self-appraisal ;-D ):

My mathematics teacher in high school – Strict as hell and scared the living daylights out of anyone who dared to disrespect him. Excellent teacher. Gave clear and concise lessons each time, marked work quickly and spoke with you face-to-face if there was an issue. Most of his students got A’s and A*s.

Me at 22 years old – I was at a high school reunion and I boyishly wanted to tell my old teachers about my success in getting my degree and being accepted onto a PGCE course. Even in my early adulthood I was seeking validation from people who I knew would care, would listen, who I respected and, at least in my imagination, would be proud of me. 

img_5938

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

What is an ‘Authentic’ Teacher?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was lunchtime but I didn’t mind. Neither did my German teacher.

I ran upstairs and entered her room. She was free – success! I pulled out my listening exam script: a set of learned responses to verbal questions that could come up in my GCSE exam.

With UKEdChatI’m sure she was hungry and I’m sure she wanted lunch. I didn’t think about that when I was 16 years old. I probably should have. 

She sat with me and helped me with my responses. Her dedication lunchtime after lunchtime was a major factor in the grade ‘A’ I achieved in the final exams. She went on to praise me publicly for my efforts and nominate me for a prestigious school award, which I won.

What makes some teachers go beyond the call of duty?

Not every teacher was like my German teacher, and understandably so. As teachers we work long hours and often give up parts of our weekends and school holidays for planning, marking and perfecting our work.

If I could write one phrase to describe my German teacher it would be this: She really cared.

Art class

That’s not to say that my other teachers didn’t care – they did. But my German teacher really cared.

The desire and drive within her to help one of her students had a profound effect on me – so much so that it acts as a huge reminder to me of the duty of care I have to my students today: almost two decades later. 

poll everywhere

How does ‘authenticity’ manifest itself?

I’ve been fortunate to receive wholehearted care from a number of great teachers in my life. I think their authenticity can be summed up in these main ways:

  • They don’t just teach their subject: My best teachers tried to help me out with problems I was having in life, not just in my studies. When I broke up with my girlfriend, my Biology teacher gave me some great advice and told me not to let it bother me. “It’s her loss”, he said. When I came into school looking exhausted because I’d had no sleep the night before, a number of teachers expressed concern for me and asked how I was and recommended that I get some sleep. When I was pelted with snowballs and came into my Head of Year’s office crying, he put his hands on my ears to warm them up and helped me to calm down.  
  • They take their duty as ‘role models’ seriously: “There’s no such thing as an off-duty teacher” – words spoken to me when I was an NQT. I think those words are true. I never saw any of my teachers drunk or smoking, and even on my graduation evening when some teachers came out for a drink at a local restaurant with the students, they acted responsibly.
  • They remember you after you leave: At high school reunions and when bumping into each other in the street, authentic teachers and former students talk with each other like it was yesterday. “How are you getting along, Richard”. “I’m doing fine”, I said. “I always knew you would be a success, you were always a very dedicated student”, my old physics teacher responded in 2006. That felt great. It was a reminder of who I was at my core, and a motivator to keep me on track for the future. 
  • They leave no student behind: I was in Year 10 when me and my classmates took a ‘formulae of ions’ test in Chemistry. About half of the class, including me, failed the test. To this day I still don’t know why that happened, but my Chemistry teacher just couldn’t let it go. She pulled aside all of us as a group, had a talk with us and made us resit the test the following week. On the second attempt, we all got above 80% (and it was an equally difficult test). Afterwards she said “Can you now see that the concept was really simple”. We all agreed. 
  • They give up some of their free time: I already know that this is not going to be a popular one with some of my readers, but it is true. Authentic teachers care so much about their students that they are happy to run classes or tutoring after school or at break and lunch times to help students out. They know that this dedication will pay dividends in terms of the rapport they are building and the results the students will get in the final exams. These payoffs are more valuable to them than their free time, which is very admirable. 

instructional software

What are the effects of ‘authenticity’?

Authentic teachers literally change their students’ lives. They realise that their influence doesn’t just last a day, or an academic year. They know that they are part of a mission to mold their learners into happy, responsible, good adults of the future. 

There’s a saying that was used in a Teacher recruitment campaign in the UK in the early 2000s – No One Forgets a Good Teacher.

I would say that no one forgets an authentic teacher, because only authentic teachers can be good teachers. 

img_0071

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

richardjamesrogers

 

 

 

World Book Day: Every Teacher is an English Teacher

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

Related article –  Vocabulary Values: Helping Students to Learn Key Words

He waddled his way through the corridor like a happy duckling. Amid the giggles and cries of small children he looked liked a giant orange with tentacles as he waded through the masses on his way to the library. Mr Jones was dressed as ‘Mr Tickle’ from the ‘Mr Men’ series of books. 

The outfit must have taken an astronomical amount of time to create. With orange fur and controllable arms it was clear who was going to win the ‘Best Dressed Teacher’ competition. 

I, on the other hand, tend to be a little too lazy with my outfit on World Book Day. This year was no exception. Can you guess who I am?:

James Bond World Book Day

If you said ‘James Bond’ then well done: you’re right! It’s a quick (and a little too lazy) conversion for me: change my tie to a bow, add a dinner shirt and a white pocket square and I’m ready to serve on Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

“Who have you come as?” one of my friends says to me as I walk into the staff room on Friday (we had our World Book Day a day later as Thursday is a religious holiday here in Thailand). “I’m James Bond” I say (rather upset that I wasn’t instantly recognizable). “Is that even a book” he says. “It’s a whole series of books, written by Ian Fleming”

“Wow. I had no idea”

Costume Capers

World Book Day is great for getting people to ask good questions. Often, the characters we dress up as are in fact movie stars which we never knew existed in books. This can really get kids inspired to read more as they gradually realize that good books are often the basis for their favorite movies or TV shows. Good examples include:

  • Harry Potter – The all-time legendary series of fantasy books written by J.K. Rowling. These books have formed the basis for a whopping 8 different movies!
  • The Hunger Games – These action packed dystopian novels featuring stoic and passionate heroin: Katniss Everdeen, have been transformed into five excellent films. 
  • Twilight – Popular with teenagers and young adults: these fantasy/romance novels were brilliantly conceived and written by legendary author Stephenie Meyer

What message does all of this send to kids when they are fully aware of the facts? That’s simple: Books are cool! Books are inspirational. Books change lives. Read books!

With UKEdChat
“An AMAZING book!”

Command Terms

It’s a shame that World Book Day is only once per year. In reality, every day should be a World Book Day as we should encourage our kids to read books and enjoy learning English on a daily basis. 

As a teacher at an International School in Bangkok, I have the unique privilege and pleasure of working with classes where, in many cases, more than 90% of the students are working with English as an additional/second language. One of my unique missions every day is to help my students to see why English is a beautiful language. To help them notice patterns and sounds. To ensure that they use the correct language in their answers to exam-style questions.

Examination language

Try putting up a ‘command-terms’ display in your classroom (like the one below):

Command Terms Blooms Display.JPG
A command terms hierarchy display that follows Bloom’s Taxonomy

I use this display on a daily basis to teach my students how to phrase their answers. I like to turn the command terms into kid-friendly language when going through exam-style and past-paper questions. For instance:

  • Describe: Tell me ‘what’
  • Explain: Tell me ‘why and how’
  • Deduce: Work out the answer and show every step in your work

Eventually, the students can build up a long list of command terms in their Learning Journals or notebooks, coupled with their ‘kid-friendly’ descriptions. The display also follows Bloom’s Taxonomy, with command terms demanding more sophistication in written responses as you go up the pyramid.

The result: Students learn good English vocabulary and score better on exams. What could be better than that! 

Command terms are so important, in fact, that many textbooks are now emphasizing them as students work through the chapters. Take this extract from a book my students were using in one of our Science tutoring sessions this week:

Command Terms Hw
Command terms emboldened in a Science textbook

As I was helping these students, I found that explaining the command term first, before tackling the question, really helped in getting a suitable answer. The two girls who I was tutoring would say “Ah, I get it now” when the command term was made clear.

Do you think that students will use these command terms in their daily and future lives? Absolutely! Command terms come up in a range of contexts when operating through the medium of English. For example: “How can we justify this business decision?”, “On the basis of the previous two-years sales, can you predict likely sales for the first quarter of this year?”, “How can we determine who is the best candidate for this role?”, and on we could go ad infinitum.

Isn’t this what language-learning is all about? Getting students to learn key words, then to enjoy using those words and then to apply them to a range of contexts?

sit n talk

In my honest opinion, command terms offer the ultimate key in cross-curricular learning and should be explored by curriculum leaders as a way to really ‘gel’ their subjects together. The result of this: deep learning and an added sense of importance attached to each subject as students see how they link together. 

Learning Journals

I have a system set up where students in Year 11, 12 and 13 (approx. ages 15 – 18) bring me a journal filled with revision notes, key words, past-paper questions and answers every Monday. It’s such an effective way to boost confidence and performance, but it does require a bit of organisation and leadership from the teacher.

If you have identified students who could use such a journal to focus specifically on learning key words and command terms, then here are the steps to take:

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

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

  • Key word
  • Meaning
  • Pronunciation

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

For an EAL student you can include a fourth column:

  • Translation

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

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

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

Explaining

Don’t forget to reward students for good work too: use your school’s points/merits system, write nice comments on their work and even think of special rewards: a ‘star of the week’ for example, where you display the student’s work on the class noticeboard. 

Use voice inflections

Science is great for teaching kids new words. When we, as teachers, genuinely love to pronounce and say key words then our kids will love doing that too.

I have quite a funny little system I use in class. When a key word comes up, I’ll give it a rank:

“Precipitate. Precipitate. Such a beau-ti-ful word. Say “Pre-ci-pi-tate”

Class: Precipitate

“Excellent! Precipitate is number 3 on my ‘Favorite Words in Science’ list”

Student: “What’s number one”

“That’s a secret! One day you’ll find out! A prize to first person to e-mail me my number one Science word when they hear it!”

new doc 27_2

Of course, my number one word will come at the end of the academic year when the suspense and excitement has been building up for two terms. 

Use vocabulary jokes

I’ve recently started experimenting with this and it’s working like a treat! It does take some planning and skill though, and is best described through some examples:

Vocabulary Joke 1: ‘Formal Charge’

I recently used this joke with my Year 13 students to reinforce the term ‘Formal Charge’ – a concept in Organic Chemistry. 

“I was walking to the coffee shop yesterday and Mr Davies asked me “Mr Rogers, what is your favorite F.C.? Is it Liverpool F.C.?’ And guess what?”

Class: “What?!!!”

“I said ‘No. My favorite F.C. is ‘Formal Charge'”

Class: (laughing)

I then laugh and say “This is the life of a Chemistry Teacher.  Hashtag #chemistrylife”

Class: (giggles and laughter)

This has long-term effects outside of the classroom too. Effects which fully embed the phrases. For example: when I was actually walking to the coffee shop one of my Year 13 students passed me and I said “What is your favorite F.C.?” and she said “Formal Charge”.

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

Vocabulary Joke 2: ‘Alkali’

An alkali is the opposite of an acid, having a pH higher than 7 (think of soap, for example). I used this joke recently with my Year 10 students:

“A student of mine in Year 9 asked me: ‘Mr Rogers, do you like my homework?’, and guess what happened!'”

Class: “What?!!” (they know that a joke is coming!)

“I said I more than like your work, I ‘alkalike‘ your homework”

Class: (laughing)

I then laugh and say “This is the life of a Chemistry Teacher. Hashtag #chemistrylife”

Class: (giggles and laughter)

Clean and fun jokes can like this can be very powerful. The kids will say them to their parents and friends, and if you refer to them outside of the classroom (e.g. John, do you like my new notebook? John: I ‘alkalike’ it), then you can really embed these key terms. The result: Kids will love English, will repeat the words you say and will eventually use these key terms frequently in their written responses. 

Other strategies

There are many more strategies you can use to get your learners to enjoy learning the English language. Check out my blog posts on Learning Journals and Vocabulary Values for more tips. 

Conclusion

Our aim must be to get our students to LOVE English – speaking it, reading it, listening to it and writing it. Encourage good language learning by:

  • Taking part fully in English-themed events such as World Book Day
  • Using and embedding command terms
  • Creating a Learning Journals system
  • Pronouncing key words in a funny way and getting students to repeat them out loud (elocution)
  • Making full use of powerful ‘Vocabulary Jokes’
  • Using other strategies, such as vocabulary games, which you can find on my blog posts here and here.

IMG_5938

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

A Teacher’s Christmas Holiday

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

Our students deserve a break too.

jenga

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

on the bike

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

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

cropped-facebook.png

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

richard-rogers-online

Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

 

 

 

Developing Independent Learning Skills: Teaching Our Students to Teach Themselves

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

Empower students through marking

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

Take this recent example of mine for instance:

img_1470

with-ukedchat
“Excellent advice!”

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

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

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

Design project work with a creative outcome in mind

Here are some ideas for group and individual projects:

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

Can you think of more to add to the list?

Use Imaginative Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1

Slide2

Slide3

Build things

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

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

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

cropped-facebook.png

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

Spatial Learning: A Powerful Teaching Tool

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

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

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

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

What on Earth was I going to do?

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

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

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

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

The day comes

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

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

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

robot

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

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

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

Feedback

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

Not bad for a freshy who prepared in rush!

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

But what is Spatial Learning?

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

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

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

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

A human graph and true or false?

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

A human graph might be the right tool for you!

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

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

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

Human graph and true or false

Body numbers

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

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

Human numbers

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

Modelling

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

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

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

Modelling example one: Diffusion

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

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

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

Spatial Learning Diffusion Richard James Rogers

Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network

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

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

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

Spatial Learning ICT Richard James Rogers

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

Further reading

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

61rOmEopr7L._SX397_BO1,204,203,200_

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

51W5tQ-Y1ML._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_

 

IMG_5938

cropped-facebook.png

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

Vocabulary Values: Helping Students Learn Key Words

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

walking around wt laptop

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1: Vocabulary Journals

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

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

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

  • Key word
  • Meaning
  • Pronunciation

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

For an EAL student you can include a fourth column:

  • Translation

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

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

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

Woman reading

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

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

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

#2: Play Vocabulary Games

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

Splat

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

Splat

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

Mystery Word

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

Mystery word

Who am I?

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

Who am I

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

vocab games for the classroom

#3: Highlight key words in your marking

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

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

 

image1 (8)

IMG_5938

cropped-facebook.png

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid

Falling Behind Your Teaching Schedule: Prevention and Cures

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati (a former student of mine, and a key illustrator in my book). You can e-mail her at popslittlespace@gmail.com if you’d like her to do some beautiful illustration work for you!

The start of a new academic year at any school is usually very hectic, especially if you’re starting somewhere new. With fresh classes, new systems, new students, new workload demands and a new timetable, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

out-of-control

Falling behind on your teaching schedule (i.e. the topics you’re supposed to cover and when), is easily done. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when the floods hit Bangkok in 2011 and schools were closed for two weeks, or when you have to go on a residential or field trip. Sometimes it’s a symptom of getting used to life at school, and adapting to new changes.

Don’t feel guilty

Falling behind schedule happens to every teacher at some, or multiple points, in our careers. Don’t beat yourself up – accept what’s happened and use the prevention and cure strategies in this article to solve the issue quickly and easily.

Fundamentals: The Curriculum Map

In order to know whether you’re behind schedule in the first place, you’ll need curriculum maps set up for each of your classes.

A curriculum map is basically a long-term plan for each class for the whole academic year. It doesn’t have to be fancy – even a table drawn on paper is enough. However, a good curriculum map should show the topics you intend to teach each month, or week, of the academic year. These topics should be linked to the textbook you are using in class or the syllabus you are following or both.

 

making plans
A curriculum map doesn’t need to be complicated

 

Once your curriculum maps are set up, and you know what you should be teaching and when, you can start using these prevention strategies which will enable you to keep on schedule for the rest of the year.

Prevention Strategies

These can be used at any point in the year, as you may be behind, or ahead of schedule (a topic for another blog post?), at multiple points during the academic year.

Set time aside each week to plan ahead

When I first qualified as a teacher I used to plan my lessons day-by-day. This was not a good strategy, as I found it hard to gain a long-term focus for my planning, which sometimes caused me to fall behind.

Now I set aside time every Sunday afternoon to plan all of my lessons for the week ahead. However, I don’t just simply scribble activities into each and every box in my planner. I ask myself these five questions for every class:

  1. Let’s take a look at the curriculum map. Am I on schedule?
  2. Where are the kids up to now?
  3. Where do they need to be by the end of the week?
  4. Has anyone missed any lessons (including me?). How can we catch up?
  5. Which new activities or games should I use this week, which I haven’t used for a while? (Great ideas for learning games and differentiation tips can be found here, here and here).

always learn

Going through these five steps allows me to not only plan lessons which are enjoyable, tailor-made and meaningful, but also allows me to keep up with the pace of the curriculum.

I addition to this, some extra strategies are sometimes needed to fully answer to above five questions. Let’s take a look at those strategies now.

Set up a marking timetable

I know this is probably not a popular way to phrase a sub-heading, but please stay with me and you’ll see the immense benefits that this strategy has.

For this current academic year, I am teaching 8 different classes. Obviously, I see those classes at different points during a typical week, so I spread out my marking as follows:

  • Year 11 on Monday
  • Year 9 and 10 class 1 and 2 on Tuesday
  • Year 13 on Wednesday
  • Year 7 and Year 10 class 3 on Thursday
  • Year 12 on Friday

Okay, so you get the idea of what a marking timetable looks like. How does this help you to keep your teaching on schedule?

discussing-homework

  1. You’re constantly checking the students’ books to see if they have covered exactly what you think they’ve covered. Sometimes it can be easy to lose track of where your kids are at, especially if you have multiple classes to teach. Sometimes planner or VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) records are not enough – you need to check if the kids have actually UNDERSTOOD what you taught them.
  2. It doesn’t take long to do if you do it each day and spread it out. A quick glance may be all you need to see where the kids are at.

My grandad was a very keen and competent gardener. He lived by the Little And Often Principle: “I do a little bit of gardening, every day, so that I don’t have a load of weeding and pruning to do every Sunday” is what he used to say.

I like that idea.

Make sure that your marking timetable fits in well with your school’s homework timetable (if they have one) and your free-time.

Other benefits of having a marking timetable are as follows:

  1. You’ll get to know the writing, presentation and artistic styles of your new students really quickly.
  2. Checking through the students’ books and homework yourself is one way to quickly memorise new names
  3. It allows opportunity to provide written and verbal praise, which helps you to build rapport

Set meaningful and robust cover work

Whether you’re out on a school trip, ill with the cold or attending PD overseas, your cover work should aim to minimise re-teaching when you come back.

instructional software

Some teachers fall into the common trap of setting work that keeps students occupied or entertained, rather than work that challenges the students or covers new material.

It is understandable why some teachers are reluctant to give new content as cover work – if you’re a subject specialist who’s away from school, then it’s likely that your class will be supervised by a non-specialist.

But does that mean you should make your cover work easy?

If you want to avoid being behind schedule, then set cover work that covers some of the syllabus that the kids would normally learn if you were at school. 

For example, I was just recently away for three days on an Outdoor Expedition trip. I asked my Year 12 class to complete the End of Chapter questions on Atomic Structure – a challenging task since they haven’t quite learnt everything about successive ionization energies yet. When I go back to school tomorrow, I’ll check their books to see how far they got and to see if they could do the successive ionization energies question.

bean bags

If they could all do it, then congrats – the kids have taught themselves some new knowledge whilst I was away. I can quickly go through that question and move on.

If some couldn’t do it, then I’ll take those individuals aside during a class activity and go through it with them.

If they all couldn’t do it, then I know that my cover work was too challenging (or the kids chose to slack off whilst I was there). However, now that I know the kids really well, I can gauge that my cover work wasn’t too challenging (a skill that takes experience to master). If all of the kids couldn’t do it, then I’ll have to spend time to teach that topic to them again. 

Bottom line – Cover work should aim to teach, not just to entertain. 

Keep spares

A basic one this, and more for individual kids who have missed classes.

If you’ve handed out worksheets or paper-based homework in class, then keep the same sheets in some kind of filing cabinet or folder. When the kid comes back, you can hand him or her the work that he or she needs to catch up on.

Even better – put everything on a VLE. Good systems include Google Classroom® (which is virtually free of charge), Firefly® and Moodle®. 

Stick to the syllabus

We all want to enrich our lessons with real-life examples, practical work, field-trips, case-studies and projects (which are all great and all have their place in teaching). However, it can be easy to get carried away a bit.

tablet activity

I made the mistake of doing this in my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year – my first year of teaching. I was going through genetic diseases with a Year 11 Biology class, and I decided to teach them about Huntington’s Chorea when it wasn’t on the syllabus. 

with-ukedchat
An AMAZING Book!”

Whilst it was nice for these kids to have another example of a genetic disease in their toolkit, and they found it interesting too, they weren’t going to be examined on it. I basically wasted a lesson teaching them this. 

The odd lesson here or there of additional material isn’t usually a major problem, but large periods of time need to be considered more carefully. Do your kids really need one week to complete a recycling project, or will one lesson give them enough material for their test or exam?

Plan your enrichment material carefully. Make sure it fits into your curriculum map without disrupting the flow of the main syllabus content. Ideally, enrichment activities should embed and enhance the curriculum, not digress from it. 

Use focussed resources

Have you ever produced a worksheet or resource that was designed for a slightly different course, but you had little time so you set it anyway? I’ve done this in the past, especially when I was just starting out as a teacher, and it usually has one or more consequences:

  1. There will be a question or two that the kids can’t do, and you’ll need to spend extra time explaining the theory behind those questions
  2. The kids may spend too long on the worksheet or activity, eating into valuable teaching time
  3. The kids will get confused about what they actually need to know, and what they should revise for their test or exam

poll everywhere

There is a flip-side to this though – some resources designed for the same topic but other exam boards can be used as extension material – stretching you’re best learners to excel in the lesson. Just be sure to specify though – “Everyone should do questions 1-5 in 10 minutes. Questions 6 and 7 are bonus questions if you finish early”

Behind Schedule Cures

But what if you’re already behind schedule (whether or not it is your fault)? How do you get back on track?

Play accelerated learning games

There are some activities you can do in class which speeds up the amount of content learnt per lesson. My two favourites are marketplace activities, and the Poster Game (given below). 

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

Set homework

Can some of the simpler stuff be given as homework? If you’re behind schedule with your teaching, then this could prove to be a useful tactic. Just be sure to check the work quickly to make sure that no-one is left behind.

Sharing a class? Speak to your partner!

If you share a class with another teacher, then be open and honest and tell them that you are behind schedule. Two heads are better than one, and together you may be able to find a creative solution to the problem (e.g. the other teacher might be able to cover the missed material, while you progress to the next topic).

Assign extra time

This might be your only option if you are far behind and exams are approaching. Sometimes this happens through no fault of our own, and sometimes we’ve just gone too slow (which could be the result of multiple causes, some of which may be beyond our control).

it integrated

You may need to find out when all of your kids are free, and give them some extra sessions. After school, lunchtimes, school holidays and weekends can often be used.

The last resort, but still an option.

Speak with your head of department

If you are really struggling to keep up and are finding that the pace of your lessons is not adequate to meet the demands of the curriculum map (despite trying the tactics I’ve mentioned), then speak with your line manager as soon as possible. 

You’ll be seen as more mature, focussed and trustworthy by owning up to the problem than trying to sweep it under the carpet. What’s worse – a discussion with your HoD at the beginning, or multiple problems towards the end the academic year?

Your HoD should sympathize with you and offer a suite of solutions, some of which you may never have thought about. You may be going too slow because behavior management is taking up too much time, or maybe your kids just find learning a challenge in general.

Speak up and don’t be afraid. You’ll be respected for doing so. 

Facebook

richard-rogers-online

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

Latest hybrid