A Teacher’s Reflections on 2020: The Year of the Coronavirus

2020 has been an unforgettable year for the teaching profession. In many countries around the world schools were closed and teachers had to quickly adapt their knowledge and skills to deliver effective lessons remotely. Today, I’ve invited Dr Andreas Economou, Head of Science at The American International School in Cyprus, to share his reflections on 2020, along with some suggestions for teachers as we enter the New Year.

2020 is now gone, and what a year this has been. If you spent some time in social media looking through education/teacher dedicated accounts, you would have been exposed to the perception of the hive mind in this particular year. The consensus is that it was mostly doom and gloom. 2020 was “the worst”, and you will be reminded of the lockdown, all the issues of remote teaching such as the staring at blank screens in the chat rooms, the chronic student absenteeism, the lax in assessment and so on. But, there are those voices that point out that this was in-fact a great year because “we did it”. We all became online instructors overnight. We managed to persevere and provide the best, under the circumstances, education we could, and this should be celebrated.

In a way, perception is key. One of my favorite authors, Nikos Kazantzakis has stated “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes that see reality” and these words cannot ring truer this year. Both cases described above about 2020 are true. It’s the way that you perceive reality that can make 2020 “the best” or “the worst”.

If we take this a step further, consider, how important is your own perception about your surroundings, and most importantly about your students?

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Setting high expectations signals to your students that you perceive them as able, intelligent and smart. Giving hard tests and challenging assignments signals the same. The opposite, easy tests, low expectations or half-backed lectures instead of a well-planned lesson signals to your learners that you perceive them as less able. And this perception, both by the educator as well as the learners is important. Anyone who has taught an “Honors” vs a “Standard” class in the same year can attest to that. The labeling of the classes as such is a self-fulfilling prophecy because the students perceive themselves more or less able because of it.

So how do we set high expectations? If you are a seasoned teacher, you already know that that this is a delicate issue. Setting the bar too high can lead to disappointment and disengagement. You need to make sure that you know your learners and set the bar a little bit higher day by day. Just enough, so when a student “fails” to clear the bar, he/she feels not disgruntled but instead convinced that they know exactly what they need to do to clear it in the future. And remember to cheer them for doing so. And keep on going.

Will your kids like you for this? Yes, and no. They will dislike every step of it. They are going to dislike the work you put them through, they are going to dislike the feedback demanding more of them, but in the end, when they realize how much they have learned and accomplished, then they will like you. And maybe, along the way, they will also realize the value of perception themselves.

Have a great 2021 every one. Let’s make it a good one!

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

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

Accompanying video:

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘COVID-19 Will Change EFL Teaching Forever’: An Interview with Tatyana Cheprasova

We all know how important it is to maximize the progress and attainment of our students, but how do we work to ensure that we make progress as teachers? What are the key strategies that teachers should deploy in the classroom? Today, I’ve invited Tatyana Cheprasova (Senior Lecturer and EFL/TEFL instructor at Voronezh State University, Russia) to share her insights and tips for educators.

Accompanying video (very compelling and interesting, and goes into more detail than the written responses below. Well-worth a watch!):

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Tatyana. I am a senior lecturer and EFL/TEFL instructor at Voronezh State University, Russia. I have been teaching English for more than 15 years to various groups of students with a diversity of learning needs and backgrounds. I am also doing my MA in ELT: online at the University of Southampton. I love cycling and swimming, and training my Akita Inu dog when I have some free time.

Why did you choose to become a teacher in the first place?

I think it mostly happened due to the fact that when I was a student and was doing TEFL as a part of my major I was lucky to have a fantastic instructor. She was a brilliant lecturer, a very charismatic one, and she somehow managed to inspire many of my course-mates to become EFL teachers and to launch our teaching careers once we got our diplomas.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching?

Presumably, there is very little advice to be given here as we all operate in very different teaching settings and cultural contexts. I do think, though, that all a novice teacher needs to gain in the first place is experience – as much as possible. Not to be afraid of making mistakes can become the order of the day, too. Self-reflection and self-evaluation are also very important here. In my opinion, these are the two vital skills a novice teacher needs to develop on their way towards professionalism. Hence, working in close cooperation with more experienced colleagues can be an effective practice.

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What is your personal teaching philosophy?

So far I haven’t given it a particular thought. I tend to think that it resides in many aspects in the main populations of Positivism as a philosophical paradigm, where experience and observation play an important role. EFL teachers often find themselves at the forefront of ideological confrontations, be it a never-ending struggle with language policymakers or the government. Anyway, we often find ourselves striving for learners’ equity and the protection of their rights, hence, enhancing positive changes in the society.

What changes do you see happening in the future with regards to the teaching profession?

I am convinced that the world of TEFL will never be the same once the situation with COVID-19 gets back to normal. What I mean here, is that EFL teachers worldwide will no longer be able to neglect the need to actively implement the digital constitute in their teaching procedures. No longer will they be able to exclude the development of digital literacies as the vital component of their CPD. The era of Digital Natives has arrived and it is here to stay, so teachers will have to customize and adjust their teaching strategies in many ways.

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What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your journey as a teacher?

Not to let yourself become rusty. For me, this means to stay always curious, to be quick to pick up new skill sets, to challenge myself with something totally new and unexplored. Once you start to think and look like Master Yoda, you are lost for this profession.

What’s next for you and your career?

I would love to take part in an international research project and to have its results published in a TEFL journal. This would be an absolutely unforgettable experience for me!

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Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers

Thank you, Tatyana, for taking the time to share these really helpful and insightful tips and experiences with us. Some key takeaways for me personally were:

  • A great teacher can really have a massive and profound effect on his/her students’ lives (as exemplified by your reasons for becoming a teacher in the first place – you and your classmates were inspired by a great instructor).
  • Don’t become stagnant (or ‘rusty’, as you aptly phrase it): continue to develop yourself and learn new skills along the way. Be a ‘reflective practitioner’.
  • Gain as much experience as you can and don’t be afraid of making mistakes along the way. I can personally endorse this wonderful advice – I’ve made a tonne of mistakes in my time as a teacher! I think it’s a good idea to write mistakes down in a journal of some form (so you don’t forget them!) and read over this journal on a regular basis – it’s a great way to ensure self-reflection and constant progress. Don’t forget to record ‘victories’ in your journal too – things you did well and personal successes.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of the EFL/TEFL ‘edspace’, and teachers really do need to skill up, or face being left-behind. One place I would suggest that all teachers start is by becoming Google Certified – it’s a cheap, yet prestigious qualification and the training you receive is great for bringing practical edtech into the classroom.

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Assessing Students Through Online Learning: Four Ideas to Consider

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

Accompanying video:

In the wake of school closures resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic came a global frenzy of remote-teaching. Teachers all around the world were immediately presented with two major challenges:

  1. How to teach students effectively using online tools
  2. How to assess and give feedback to students accurately and efficiently via remote-learning technology

Most of the books and blogs I’ve read deal primarily with the first of these two challenges. In fact, I even jumped on this bandwagon with some blog posts of my own (here, and here and here) and by publishing my latest book: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (which also includes some advice for assessment when teaching from home).

100 Awesome Final Cover

This focus was understandable in the early days of COVID-19: teachers had to adapt quickly and schools had to put systems in-place that were safe and efficient to use. We’ve now reached a point, however, where we need to start thinking seriously about the ways in which we are going to assess our students and provide high-quality feedback whilst teaching from home. 

Thankfully, I’ve done some of the serious thinking for you. I’ve been testing a number of methods with my students over the past two months and I’ve distilled the mix down to to a few methods that seem to work best. 

Tip #1: Use screen-share functions to quickly assess, give feedback and offer guidance

Any kind of screen share in a video-conferencing tool can be amazing for providing quick feedback. I currently use Google Meet with my students, and I use the screen share in the following ways:

  1. To quickly see student work and offer some verbal feedback and encouragement (students share their screen with me).
  2. To guide students through a process, because by seeing their screen I can show them where to click and where to navigate.
  3. By showcasing excellent work with the class. Oftentimes I’ll do this by asking exceptional students to share their work via screen-share with the whole class.

Tip #2: Get your students to build website ePortfolios

Do you know what an ‘ePortolio’ is? It’s basically a website that each student creates. To this website each student uploads their work, either as photographs of their notes or more complex pieces such as Google Sheets, PDFs and Google Slides. 

Provided that you, the teacher, has the URLs for each students’ site, marking becomes a doddle. All you have to do is click through the list of URLs and mark the student work. With New Google Sites you can actually type comments onto the students’ websites (if the student clicks ‘share’ and then shares the site with you). With other platforms (such as Wix and WordPress), an e-mail to each student after checking the sites would work well. 

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Tip #3: Use automated assessment programs for your subject

I personally use MyMaths (for mathematics), Educake (for Science) and I have used Lexia (for English) in the past. Software like this often has to be purchased by the school, but the investment is nearly always well-worth it. Automated assessment programs usually come with detailed reports post-testing which can be ‘auto-emailed’ to the class teacher. 

Tip #4: Have you tried exam.net?

Exam.net is a place where you upload end-of unit tests or assessments, and students complete them at home, remotely, at an allotted time and for a set period of time. The students submit their work via a word document. 

Exam.net can be used at high-functionality for free, but also has some premium options available for schools who wish to use the software with multiple classes.

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Top 5 Apps for Online Learning/Remote Learning (Coronavirus School Closures)

By Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

In today’s video I list and describe my top 5 apps for remote learning (all beta tested with my students for efficiency, engagement and user interface). In the video, I describe:

  1. Google Meets
  2. Nearpod
  3. Google Sites
  4. Kahoot!
  5. Flipgrid

Watch the video here:

Tip: Jump to the end of this article for questions I’ve received (plus answers) on these apps.

In addition to the above video, I highly recommend that you watch my ‘sequel’ to this, which goes through welfare, safeguarding and practical issues you’ll need to deal with when doing online learning (includes some not-so-obvious things to consider):

Your questions answered

Question about Nearpod from Mirian (via Facebook):

Sorry to ask but Nearpod seems to be really useful. Is it an app I have to download or a webpage? Because I logged in but then I couldn’t create my lessons or it didn’t generate a code for my students. Probably I didn’t do things properly 😕

Answer:

It’s a website. You’ll need to create an account, upload a slide presentation (as a pdf – just click ‘save as’ on your ppt and convert to a pdf.). Once your slide show is uploaded and saved (Nearpod will ask you to choose the subject and age level), you then need to click on ‘Live Lesson’. This will generate a code. Share the code with your students and you are good to go.

I have made a video describing how to create an awesome, free Nearpod lesson here:

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COVID-19: Advice for Teachers, School Administrators and School Nurses

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

UPDATED 17TH MARCH 2020

It’s the story that everyone is talking about, and that also has many school leaders concerned: COVID-19. 

The recent outbreak of this novel strain of coronavirus has caused a domino effect resulting in school closures, travel restrictions and a general, heightened sense of anxiety for many people. For schools, three major priorities now exist:

  • Protecting the student and staff body from infection
  • Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure
  • Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and which may add to anxiety

In this week’s blog post I aim to tackle all three of these priorities in a non-biased, objective way. Original sources will be hyperlinked and a full list of citations can be found at the end of this article.

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Priority 1: Protecting the student and staff body from infection

This has to be a school’s first priority right now, as not only do the symptoms of COVID-19 infection vary slightly from person-to-person, but the resulting disease caused by the virus can progress to a serious stage in some people. A community in which high numbers of people work in close proximity to one another (such as a school) is also an ideal place for human-to-human transmission to occur, should an infected person be on-campus. 

The latest official information about COVID-19 allows us to evaluate risk to some extent:

  • Transmission can occur from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient through droplet transmission. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. (World Health Organisation)
  • Current estimates of the incubation period range from 1-14 days with a median estimate of 5 days (World Health Organisation)
  • At the time of writing (March 17th), official confirmed cases globally stand at 185,067 infected with 7330 total deaths and 80,236 official recoveries (Johns Hopkins)

This interactive map from John Hopkins University is a clear a quick way to track the official numbers. 

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According to the Washington State Department of Health, schools should be doing the following to protect their communities:

  1. Develop, or review, the school’s emergency operations plan. Review strategies for reducing the spread of disease and establish mechanisms for ongoing communication with staff, students, volunteers, families, and the community. Collaborate with local health departments and other relevant partners.
  2. It is advised that students, staff, parents and guardians, are excluded from sites if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  3. When possible, regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening on arrival at school) of students, staff, and visitors. Those who are symptomatic should be excluded. For students experiencing homelessness, use your current procedures to ensure their safety.
  4. Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 are encouraged not to come to the child care and food service setting (including employees).
  5. Practice social distancing (i.e., limit contact of people within 6 feet from each other).
  6. Provide adequate supplies for good hygiene, including clean and functional handwashing stations, soap, paper towels, and alcohol‐based hand sanitizer.
  7. Follow environmental cleaning guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).
  8. Plan ways to care for students and staff who become sick and separate them from students and staff who are well. Use face masks as needed should this occur. Staff should go home immediately if they become sick. Contact the student’s parent or guardian immediately if they show symptoms of COVID-19.

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Priority 2: Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure

I’ve come up with what I believe to be a simple method to facilitate learning in the event of a school closure:

The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]

Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.

Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.

Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)

Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student. 

You can read more about this method at my blog post here. I also made an accompanying video:

I’ve done some recent research with my own students about which online learning platforms work and my findings are given below (please share this image far and wide):

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Priority 3: Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and may add to anxiety

Keeping good communication lines open and providing regular updates is always a good idea at times like this. Consider the following ideas:

  • Send out a weekly newsletter to parents that goes through the steps the school is taking to protect the community from infection and general advice about good hygiene and best practice.
  • Encourage parents to e-mail any questions or queries they have to a designated person, or to their child’s homeroom teacher.
  • Assemblies and meetings with students and staff to go through good hygiene measures and offer advice and reassurance.
  • Find out where everyone in the community is travelling to during school vacations (Google Forms is great for this – send it out and collect responses). Analyse the data received and plan accordingly.

References and Sources

  1. World Health Organisation Q&A on Coronaviruses [https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses]
  2. Johns Hopkins University Interactive Map of COVID-19 Cases [https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6]
  3. Washington State Department of Health: School Resources for Novel Coronavirus [https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus/Schools?fbclid=IwAR1N5BPyPXKhK-aCTQqEnYSsVca3QzjY5ejuHgc-vm6v-U4YsrG7er_gsng]
  4. Online Learning That Actually Works! Richard James Rogers [https://richardjamesrogers.com/2020/03/17/online-learning-that-actually-works/]

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