Here’s a video I made about the ‘Three As’, which should act as a nice supplement to this blog post:
Firstly, please accept my apologies for missing my scheduled blog post last Sunday. Last weekend was a little crazy, and this past week was busy as I was perfecting, editing and preparing end-of-year exam papers for my Chemistry students. I also wanted to write a genuine blog post (which requires time), rather than just copy and paste something and make do with that.
Hopefully the seven-day delay (I know, I feel bad about it too!) is compensated with a better reading experience for you.
Enough groveling. Time for the nitty-gritty.
That’s a word that most teachers and students have heard. The idea of making our kids aware of the ‘mission’, ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ of the lesson, right at the start of the lesson, was drilled into me hard during my PGCE placements back in 2005 and 2006.
‘The kids must know where they are going, in order to realise how to get there’, seemed to be the central dogma of the time.
So, I followed the parade of keen twenty-somethings who were eagerly trying to inspire their new students. I wrote my objectives on the whiteboard every single lesson, or I projected them onto a screen. This ticked my appraisal boxes brilliantly, and gave my observers something positive to write about.
The strange thing was, however, that this ritual seemed to help me more than it helped the kids. It helped me to know what I must cover that lesson, but when I forgot to write those objectives I didn’t notice any detrimental effect on my pupil-enagagement. In fact, my lessons were often better when I didn’t follow the ritual of writing those objectives – I was more relaxed, and I think my kids were more relaxed too.
I learnt later that my personality, and effort/attention during the lesson itself and in the planning process, were the key determining factors in how successful my lessons were. When I realised this, I boldly allowed myself to be more creative with my starter activities, and therefore more fun in my approach to each lesson.
The ‘Three As’ stand for Assign, Analyse and Ask. It’s a simple three-step process for starting each lesson, and allows for the teacher to be as creative as he or she wishes when articulating lesson objectives:
Assign a starter activity, that links to the topic somehow. This can be as simple as a video playing on the screen as the kids walk in, a worksheet or even a learning game.
Analyse the starter activity: This may involve peer-assessing the task, having a class discussion, quick-fire questions or a ‘True or False’ activity
Ask the students: What do you think we are learning about today? This may generate some discussion, but if the ‘Assign’ and ‘Analyse’ parts have been designed properly, then it should be obvious.
This three-step method ensures that the students discover the lesson objectives by themselves, hopefully in a fun and interesting way, which makes those objectives far more memorable than if they were simply written on the whiteboard for the kids to copy down.
Let’s look at a real example of the ‘ Three As’ in action.
Year 9 Volcanoes Lesson (Science, the Rock Cycle)
Assign: National Geographic video on volcanoes (with subtitles enabled for extra clarity) plays for five minutes as the students enter the room and settle down
Analyse: I choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall, one wall to be the ‘False’ wall. I ask true or false questions about the video and the kids move to the corresponding wall (see the bottom half of the picture below):
Ask:“So, everybody, what do you think we’re learning about today?”
“Volacanoes” chirps one kid
“Kind of, but what comes out of volcanoes?”
“Lava” say a few kids
“Yes, and lava cools to form…?”
“Igneous rock” say another group of kids
“Yes, correct, we’re learning about igneous rocks. Give yourself a clap for figuring that out!”
Lesson objectives are more memorable when the kids have discovered them, rather than when they’ve been told them
Use the ‘Three As’ to make your kids aware of the lesson objectives in a fun and interesting way
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Examinations are stressful for students at all levels of Further and Higher Education: whether it’s GCSEs, end of unit tests, IB Diploma exams, university assessments or any test that carries a significant weighting.
And that’s when the exams are scheduled properly.
Imagine how much more stressful it would be if you found out that you may have to take some of your exams six weeks earlier than you were originally told.
Surprisingly, this is exactly what has happened recently at Warwick University: one of the UK’s most prestigious institutions.
According to the BBC reportpublished yesterday, the university said that the provisional timetable had to be scrapped due to “significant” difficulties and students had been told to disregard it.
In some cases exams have been scheduled 42 days earlier than planned.
After scanning Warwick’s press releases page I could not find any official explanation or update from them. The new exam timetable was apparently shared on 17th April, but press releases on that day discuss regional investment and an explosion on a star.
Nothing about the new timetable.
I contacted Warwick for an official explanation and received this reply:
Due to significant, critical and unforeseen difficulties, the earlier provisional timetable was taken down and students informed it was inaccurate and to await updated accurate information.
The examinations team responded to feedback from academic departments and published the final timetable a week earlier than was originally planned.
When delving deeper into this story I discovered that the provisional exam timetable, apparently released by Warwick almost two weeks later than expected, was also riddled with issues.
According to this article written by Steph Campbell at The Boar (Warwick University’s Student Newspaper), the provisional timetable showed some final year students’ exams being timetabled in June and early July, when the students were expected to be finished by the end of May.
A game of exam ‘ping pong’?
It seems that students were originally told that they would have exams in June and July, only to be told on April 17th that these exams were being moved to May.
Ping-ponging students like this is not a good idea, especially when so much is at stake (i.e. their entire futures).
My thoughts on this
Whilst Warwick doesn’t offer a course in Rocket Science (although their degree in Physics with Astrophysicscomes close), they really didn’t need to assign this basic task to a rocket scientist.
If schools, colleges and exam boards can arrange exam timetables properly, then why not a top university?
It’s really simple:
Step 1: Find out which rooms are free and when
Step 2: Find out how many students can be comfortably accommodated into each room at once
Step 3: Find out the duration of each exam
Step 4: Match rooms and times with exams
Step 5: Tell your students
Step 6: Assign and hire invigilators
Warwick University may wish to take note of this process for future reference. It’s a tried-and-tested method that has been used successfully by schools and colleges for decades.
I contacted The Boar for an official comment but have so far not received a response.
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My teenage years were brilliant, and one of the reasons for this is that I was involved in so many active clubs and hobbies. I was an army cadet, I did karate and I even tried hockey and acting for a short while.
The Extra-Curricular Activities I did as a kid shaped my character more than my lessons in school. I can say that with conviction.
In my ECAs I made new and lasting friendships and learnt cool skills (such as how to start a fire with potassium permanganate, and how to disarm an attacker with a pistol).
I still do karate to this day – it gave me self-discipline and the understanding that life can be painful; but instead of crying in a corner like a little wimp I need to man-up and fight back, and persevere through every storm that comes my way.
Yes: karate, and the Army Cadets, really taught me that.
Now, as a teacher, I warmly reflect on my childhood experiences and the enrichment that was brought to me through these extra dimensions in my life. I try, as best as I can, to offer modern and meaningful ECAs to my students in my current practice.
Why offer an ECA?
There are numerous benefits which compensate for the extra time it takes to run an ECA:
You get to build closer and more meaningful professional relationships with your students, and other students you might not teach
You become ‘that cool teacher‘ who goes the extra mile to run good clubs with the kids
You learn a few surprising things about the kids in your club – such as skills and abilities they have which you didn’t know about before
You will develop new skills along the way (e.g. I currently teach FinTech in one of my ECAs, which is a new area of knowledge that I’m learning about too)
You may change lives, literally. One of my former students 10 years ago attended a German language ECA that I ran. She’d never learnt German before, and absolutely loved the club. I later found out that she did a degree in German at university and now works as a translator here in Thailand.
What kind of ECAs can we offer?
Good ECA types include:
Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
Languages that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum
Anything practical and hands-on (e.g. robotics, cookery, Science experiments, etc.)
Exam and study support
I tend to go with things I’m interested in that will also be fun and useful for my students.
How can we offer ECAs if our skills are limited?
We don’t have to be experts in the things we want to offer as ECAs. In fact, some of the best clubs I’ve run have been dynamic classes in which I learnt new things with the kids.
Running an ECA can even be a good way for us to skill-up as teachers.
Take a club I’m running at the moment, for example: Platform Building and Money Management. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about these subjects, but I’m learning FinTech with the University of Hong Kong and I’m reading books to learn about digital marketing and personal finance. The good news is this – each week, when I learn something new in my studies, I can then pass this on to my students in the ECA.
It’s a great way to help me with my self-discipline in my learning, and it keeps my ECA modern and relevant. The kids love it!
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Illustrated byTikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati
I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.
However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.
Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)
Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)
University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent
Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check outedXfor amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).
Why were the best, the best?
There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.
I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.
There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.
Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.
That was powerful.
Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.
I left feeling dignified and educated.
Specific praise is powerful praise
Last weekI wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.
But what does ‘specific’ mean?
I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.
That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.
When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:
1. The effort that’s gone into the work:
“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”
“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”
2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.
“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”
“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”
3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”
Oh come on, that’ll take ages
You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.
Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:
Verbally – very memorable and effective
Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
Certificates and awards
Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)
Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.
It made me feel proud.
Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.
Illustrated byTikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati
I’m experimenting with a new format and schedule for my blog, and I hope that it will make my content even more interesting and useful for my readers (that’s the plan anyway!).
Every mid-week I’ll give my synopsis of a current education-related news story, along with my regular ‘teaching tips’ blog post on a Sunday. That’s two blog posts per week from now on.
This week I want to discuss my thoughts on a BBC News story that broke this week – that a schoolgirl in England had been sent to the ‘isolation room’ at her school at least 240 times since Year 7 (Grade 6).
What’s an ‘isolation room’ anyway?
It’s a place where the naughty kids are sent, basically. If the teacher feels that a student is being so disruptive that their behavior is affecting the learning of other students, then some schools will allow the teacher to send that kid to the isolation room.
Many UK schools have isolation rooms. They’re designed to be quiet places where kids can sit and do work, often supervised by a special ‘isolation room monitor’ (who is normally a fully qualified teacher too).
Many prominent figures in UK education support the idea of isolation rooms. Take Tom Bennet, author of The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers, who has stated that “using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, spent very little time actually working in a school.”
Well, Tom, I’ve spent many years working in schools (and yes, I worked in the UK in a school with an isolation room), and I can tell you: I don’t support this strategy at all.
Let me tell you why.
1. They’re too easy to use
I remember working in North Wales at school with an isolation room over a decade ago. I had a teenage girl in one of my classes who had spent 50% of a previous half-term in the isolation room. She missed a lot of school, and the resources in the isolation room were not up to scratch to match the curriculum she was following.
As a newbie back then I found the isolation room very supportive: if a kid played up I could just send him or her to the room. I filled in a slip and off the kid went.
Problem solved, right?
I found myself giving up on students at the first instance of misbehavior. This was especially true if a kid had a history of being sent out to isolation. If everyone else is sending this kid there, then I can do it too!
It became too easy to send kids out, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. I hated myself for it, to be honest, and I decided ‘no more’.
The next time that girl was chatty in class and a little disruptive was when we were learning about the extraction of chlorophyll from a leaf. Instead of sending her out, I got her involved.
“Come and help me”
She came and used the Bunsen Burner to heat up the solution. Everyone clapped. She felt empowered.
I‘ve written tirelessly about the importance of making our students feel important and valued. It’s a core principle of good behavior management and overall student training. Isolation rooms completely subvert this solid fact and principle, and tend to cause more problems than they solve (such as leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in some cases, which we see in this particular case with the girl in the BBC report).
2. When is enough, enough?
After 240 times of being sent to the isolation room, one would have thought that someone in the school with at least two brain cells to rub together would have realized that the isolation room strategy isn’t working for this student.
What about counseling? Discussions with parents? Teacher-meetings to discuss strategies for this student? Extra time to complete homework? Collective praise when this girl did something great?
There are many ways to solve long-term poor behavior. Sending students to an isolation room is not the answer.
3. Since when did UK schools become prisons for kids?
With the advent of compulsory schooling in 1880, followed by fines for parents who didn’t send their kids to school beginning in 2004, and then later the advent of isolation rooms, one sees a rather grim picture emerging.
School is supposed to be a happy place for children. A place where they learn new skills and become better people. A place where they mature into adults.
When schools become like prisons, however, with more and more power being taken away from parents as the years pass, one wonders if home-schooling shouldn’t become more pervasive.
In the UK, parents can home-school their kids provided that they have permission from the school headteacher. However, government inspectors can make an informal visit and can serve a ‘school attendance order’ if they feel that the child is not receiving an adequate education.
Maybe homeschooling would have worked with this girl? Maybe it wasn’t feasible.
4. IEPs need to be considered
Sophie, the schoolgirl mentioned in the BBC article, had selective mutism and didn’t start speaking until she was 8-years-old. She also had autism.
Surely she would have had an IEP in place (an Individual Education Plan). Did this document recommend that she be sent to the isolation room every day from January to mid-March, as the BBC report states?
I very much doubt it.
What we learn from this story is that IEPs need to be well-designed and shared, proactively, with every teacher in the school. That means reading them, discussing them, and coming up with strategies as a team.
Isn’t that what INSET days could be used for?
Isolation rooms should be banned
I am of the opinion that isolation rooms should be banned in schools. Put the kids on detention – yes. Send them to a senior manager. Phone home. Allow extra time for homework. Meet with parents. Use collective strategies.
But don’t let a kid spend half a term, each and every day, and all day every day, in an isolation room with poor-quality work to complete (and poor-quality guidance).
Schools are not prisons. Schools are supposed to be happy places where kids learn things.
If schools can’t achieve this, then give the kids back to their parents. They can probably do a better job.
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Illustrated byTikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati
Getting a handle on how to give sincere praise on a regular basis, and giving it regulary to the same students (i.e. all of our students), is a skill that the very best practitioners have mastered.
Praise is not the cute fluff-ball it appears to be, however. It is complex, dynamic and works effectively through a variety of methods. Let’s begin with a true story that illustrates the massive power of praise in teaching.
Joanne had recently qualified as a secondary school science teacher and had just started her new teaching post at an English comprehensive school. She was excited about the new challenges she would face. and was ready to put all of her training into action. She had been given responsibility for a Year 11 (age 15 – 16) general science class. Their previous teacher had left her some handover notes, and had specified that she must be careful when dealing with one student in particular: Damon. This young man was notorious for being argumentative, aggressive and non-cooperative. She was told that she must not con- front him under any circumstances. Naturally, Joanne was more than a little apprehensive when she met this class for the first time.
Damon walked into the science lab slightly later than the rest of his peers, and Joanne greeted him with a friendly “Welcome in young man, please take a seat”. This caused a giggle amongst the rest of the students, who were naturally expecting the same reaction that Damon’s other teachers would have given him – a good telling off! Damon sat down as instructed, but, being a feisty young teen ready to push the boundaries and test what he could get away with, he pulled out a can of cola and started to drink it at his desk (something that is generally not allowed in a science lab). Joanne, knowing what she had been told about Damon, decided on a very positive and useful approach: she decided to ignore this misdemeanor at that moment and proceed on with the lesson.
As the lesson proceeded, Joanne set a group work activity and walked around the classroom to see how the students were getting on. As she passed Damon, she noticed that he had a very neat and organized set of felt-tip pens on his desk, arranged in a very nice standalone display case. Joanne praised Damon with a “You’re so organised, Damon. It’s good to see that you’re prepared for your lessons. I wish that every student was as prepared as you are.”
What do you think Damon’s reaction was? – He was absolutely stunned! This was a young kid who was accustomed to being reprimanded, put on detention and confronted on a daily basis. Here was a new teacher who could actually see his worth, and what he could contribute. He lapped up the praise, and responded with an “Umm, err thanks. I always like to be ready for my lessons. I also love art”. This led to a short conversation about Damon’s love of drawing tattoo designs. Joanne subtly drew his attention to the artistic graphics on the cola can, and reminded him he couldn’t drink it in the science lab. He smiled.
Later that lesson, Joanne assigned him the role of ‘Work Presentation Chief’ for the class. Each lesson, from then on in, Joanne made sure that she praised Damon for his work, and allowed him to go around the class and assess the presentation skills of selected students. What was the effect on Damon? – He became Joanne’s best student. He felt empowered, because, like all human beings, he craved a sense of importance and he craved appreciation. When Damon achieved his grade C in GCSE Science that year (a massive accomplishment considering his turbulent history) he said to Joanne “It was all because of you, miss”. Even at that moment, Joanne praised him by responding with “You did all the hard work, Damon”.
Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain – and most fools do
What do most people do when they are criticized? How do most people respond when their character or judgement is scrutinized? Answer: most people try to justify themselves, and this often leads to resentment felt towards the person doing the complaining. Your students are no different in this respect than you or I. We all love to know that we’re doing a good job, and we all want to feel appreciated and important. Make your students feel appreciated by praising them often, and make sure you mean what you say!
The 4 main rules of praise
Every student we teach is different, and our styles of praise will naturally adapt to suit the personalities of each child. However, there are some fundamental rules that all forms of praise should follow (written rules follow the YouTube video):
Rule #1: Praise must be sincere
If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.
Rule #2: Praise must be specific
Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?
Be specific. Here are some examples:
“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”
“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”
Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher
Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.
I’ve written about the power of this techniquebefore, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.
Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.
On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.
Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on‘subtle reinforcement‘for more info about this powerful technique).
Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future
Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.
Praise must becollectiveif it is to be trulyeffective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.
Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.
“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”
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Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.
Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:
• Build trust • Use humour within lessons • Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students • Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties • Create an environment of cooperation and compliance • Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals • Personalise our lessons
Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.
One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.
In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.
After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?
One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.
At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.
This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.
Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):
• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet) • Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student • Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students) • Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened) • Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so. • Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.
It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.
Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.
I started my conquest to save my ‘marking time’ when I moved to Thailand, back in 2008.
Starting out as a relatively new teacher in one of Bangkok’s most prestigious international schools, I was first struck by the fact that expectations were very high and students, parents and line-managers required the very highest levels of service.
Feedback, being a key game-changer when it comes to student performance, has always been a personal priority of mine. However, I have always wrestled with the problem of giving high quality feedback without sacrificing too much of my free time.
This was a difficult balance to control at first.
The fresh-faced Richard in 2008 (who didn’t need to use as much facial moisturizer, or drink as much green tea, to look young back then) would respond to the school’s ethos of promoting excellence by taking home piles and piles of student work every weekend and covering every page with red-inked scribble after scribble.
The kids would get their work back and the process would repeat itself the following weekend.
It just wasn’t sustainable, and life became a struggle, rather than a happy experience (which is what life should be, when designed properly by the person living it).
Shortly after this I vented my concerns in the staff room. One of my colleagues suggested doing more peer-assessment, and that was a real life-changer for me.
I’ve written a separate blog-post about peer-assessmenthere(highly recommended if you’re struggling to cope with your marking workload).
After putting peer-assessment and self-assessment strategies into place for a few years, I then learnt about the idea of giving ‘verbal feedback’. The idea was to simply sit with each student, talk with them about their work and write ‘Verbal feedback given’, ‘VF’ or even stamp the work with a special ‘Verbal feedback given’ stamp. No need to physically ‘mark’ the work.
It sounded great in theory – the teacher saves time and the student gets good feedback.
After 10 years of actively seeking the best verbal feedback methods, however, I’ve discovered the ugly truth about verbal feedback: that it is not as simple as it seems to be.
So make a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the ride as I tell you the ‘iron rules’ of using verbal feedback with your students.
#1 – The stamp is useless, unless it’s followed up
The idea of stamping a student’s work after having given some verbal feedback is a nice one for teachers – it means that we cut down on our marking dramatically. However, what we’re not told is that any feedback we give is useless unless the student actually remembers the feedback that was given.
Try this – stamp a student’s work with ‘Verbal feedback given’, and then 3 months later ask that same student: “What did I tell you to improve for this piece of work”.
Most students will only be able to remember a few things, if any.
This is why, crucially, we must tell the student to write down the verbal feedback we have given, with a different colored pen (or using a different colored font/style if it’s ICT based) immediately after we’ve given the feedback.
When we force our students to delineate the feedback we have verbally given them, we ensure that they:
Have to think carefully about the feedback we gave (i.e. process the information)
Remember the information (because by processing and thinking about the feedback, this will automatically create cognitive associations and memory)
One of my favorite quotes from a pedagogical book is this one:
Memory is the residue of thought
Daniel Willingam, ‘Why Students Don’t Like School’, Jossey-Bass (2010)
So we must get our students to remember their verbal feedback, and one great way to do this is to make sure they write it down. Always collect their work in (again) to check that they have actually done this.
#2 – Combine ‘Live Marking’ with Verbal Feedback
Do you know what ‘Live Marking’ is? – it’s real-time marking done in-class, as opposed to at home. There are two main ways to do “Live Marking’:
Walk around the class with a colored pen in-hand and mark the students’ work as they are doing it
Call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and ‘live mark’ their work in front of them
I wrote a whole article about ‘Live Marking’here. You may also like this video I made.
It is also possible to combine verbal feedback with ‘Live Marking’. Try these ideas:
As you are walking around the class and giving verbal feedback to your students, why not train your students to write ‘Mr Rogers told me this……(use your name, obviously!)” in their books, so that they record the feedback you’ve given them?
Again, call the students to you desk one-at-a-time and look through the work with them. Point out areas of strength and weakness. Get each student to write down what you have said in a different color.
Using this technique brings a number of benefits: you build up rapport with your students, save time whenmarking and you provide high-quality feedback that the students will remember.
#3 – Give reasons for the feedback
Students need to know why they need to improve, not just what to improve.
Always tell your students why – “It’s really important that you make your diagrams large and neat because in the exam the examiner needs to be able to clearly see every piece of apparatus”
By giving reasons we allow our students to see the ‘bigger picture’ – the final destination. This can, when used frequently by a range of teachers in the child’s life, allow the student to formulate goals for the future.
Verbal feedback must be internalized – students must process the feedback they have been given. Get them to write down what you have told them. Write questions in their books for them to answer. Check that this has been done.
It is important to remember that it is still necessary to use ‘traditional’ marking from time to time: e.g. when marking large tests and when collecting in books. Students still do need some acknowledgement for their efforts with encouraging comments, but these do not need to be strewn throughout every page of the notebooks.
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Our cover teacher was late to class and we were having a right old laugh! It wouldn’t be allowed these days, but we walked into the empty chemistry lab and sat at our seats.
Some of us were chatting, some were making silly noises that inspired a raucous of laughter. We were chilling-out like pros!
Then he walked in.
As the most notorious maths teacher in the school all he had to do was walk in with a grumpy look on his face to cause instant retreat into silence.
“Oh no!” was the look that was plastered across everyone’s faces.
“Get up off your backsides!” He snarled.
We stood, and gulped, and he stared at us. He waited until absolutely everyone was paying full attention. It didn’t take long.
“You all know what you’re supposed to be doing, don’t you?”
“I can’t hear you!”
“Yes” we all synchronistically chimed.
We got on with our work without a fuss. Some of us itched with the desire to chat, but we didn’t dare to.
Fightingfire with water
This maths teacher had what only the best teachers possess: presence. One of his defining techniques was the power of waiting, or more succinctly, pausing.
Pausing provides the modern teacher with a number of distinct benefits:
It can be used as an effective behavior management tool
It can be used to make concepts and content really clear
It allows students time to articulate their answers
It generates that enchanted and mysterious teacher quality known as presence
It can increase the perceived seriousness of a situation, which may be appropriate in certain situations
It de-escalates conflict
That last point is an important one: as a new teacher all of those years ago I would often try to ‘fight fire with fire’, which almost always failed. If a class was chatty I would shout at them to calm them down (N.B. – it had the opposite effect).
Sometimes I would even shout on a one-to-one basis with individual students.
I soon learned that shouting was almost always a bad idea. It creates an atmosphere of instant negativity, and that affects everyone: even the compliant, hard-working, ‘good’ kids.
Ways to use pausing as a behavior management tool:
For whole-class low-level disruption (e.g. at the very start of a lesson, or at the end of a task), simply wait, silently. Look at the students with a look of “I’m waiting” on your face. After waiting a short-time, you can say something such as “Thank you to those who are listening, and thank you to those who are facing me. I’m still waiting for one-or-two.” Normally, in this scenario, the students will say ‘shh’ and ‘be quiet’ to each other, removing the need for the teacher to get loud and aggressive (which usually doesn’t work as a long-term strategy anyway).
At those times when you need to have a serious one-to-one talk with individuals or small groups, pausing can really have a dramatic effect and can emphasize the seriousness of the situation. A good example I can think of from my practice happened a few years ago. A group of boys had been chatting for a large part of the lesson, instead of doing the work I had assigned them. They thought I hadn’t noticed, but I had.
I called the boys to my desk at the end of the lesson and waited for them, silently, to sit and listen. I then asked to see their work, which they reluctantly gave me. I must have stared at the dismal trash that was handed to me for a good minute, not saying a word. The boys looked mortified.
”This simply isn’t good enough” I said.
”Err, sorry. Sorry sir” piped in one of them.
”We’ll hand it in tomorrow”
”Yes, you’d better, and it had better be a lot better than this” I concluded.
They left the classroom and I got that work back the next day. I said “Thank you, let’s have a fresh start next lesson”.
That’s important isn’t it – a fresh start. We all need one of those at some point in our lives.
I rarely had a problem from those boys after that. Sure, I had to reel-them-in once or twice, but generally they got on with their work because they knew I was serious, and they knew that I wanted what was best for them.
The ‘Shouting Myth’
Is it still a myth? I’m not even sure.
I, like many teachers, have found that pausing works much better than shouting, almost every single time. In fact, unless a student is in an emergency situation (e.g. about to fall down the stairs), shouting is never effective.
Here are the problems I have with shouting:
Over time, it ruins the teacher’s health. It creates internal stress that permeates the body tissues deeply. Stress is not good for us – it even accelerates the ageing process.
It immediately creates an atmosphere of negativity in the classroom, and it can be hard to flip-that later on when you have control of the kids and you want them to approach you and ask questions.
When shouting is adopted as a consistent teacher behavior, it loses its effectiveness over time. Like a drug that one has become dependent on, larger doses are needed to maintain control in the future. It’s intimidating and can make students fear you, rather than respect you.
There are many advantages of using pauses as a behavior management tool (such as avoiding the consequences I just listed above), but the main reason pausing is so effective is that it creates an atmosphere of willful clarity, where excellence is achievable and desirable, rather than mandatory and burdensome.
Pausing as an instructional tool
One obvious adavantage of pausing in an instructional context is that it allows students time to think and process information. When used effectively it can also be a great way to ‘coax’ answers and responses out of students who would otherwise be shy or disinterested (or simply too tired to focus in the moment).
Try the following techniques and watch miracles happen!:
Pause halfway when saying a key word or phrase, and coax the rest of the word from the students. “The stomach produces digestive en, en…………., enzymes! Yes, well done. Enzymes is correct”. This technique aids memory and gets kids focused on the content.
Stop part-way through a lesson and do a quick review. Bring the kids to the front of the class if you must. Ask individual students some pertinent questions. Pause and allow enough time for the students to answer.
Pause and check that the students understand what you have said thus far. “Okay, put your thumbs up if you understand everything so far. Does anyone have any questions? (Pause). Okay, in that case can I move on? Thank you.”
Did you just notice the pause after asking if anyone has any questions? That’s important isn’t it? We must pause for ‘question time’ at least once every 30 minutes. Sometimes our pace can be very fast (especially with exam-level classes) and students may not feel confident enough to ‘butt-in’ and ask questions when you are mid-sentence. Allow them time to ask. Make yourstudents feel that asking questions is a good thing, and that you are happy, veryhappy, to help when needed.
Pause between topics and sub-topics, and allow students to think for a moment. When you’re teaching at the pace of a steam-train it can become quite overwhelming for your students.
Look at your students and notice how many have finished writing their notes. Pause to allow time to finish the note-taking. If you’re not sure who’s not finished, then you can simply ask “Does anyone need more time?”.
Pausing is a very powerful technique, when it is used properly. Use pausing to:
Get your students focused and listening without being confrontational in the process
Reinforce the seriousness of a situation (e.g. when homework isn’t handed in)
Aid instruction through response ‘coaxing’, pausing for ‘question-time’, checking that students understand everything, allowing students to think between topics and subtopics and allowing adequate time for note-taking
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I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student.
That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations.
I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me.
That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.
I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was.
“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”
She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”
That felt good.
Juggling many things at once
Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.
I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.
I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:
I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all
So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returningtimetable
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).
Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.
And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.
Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:
Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish.
Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals
Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:
They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
Students receive quick, effective feedback
Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal.
So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:
Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.
Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:
I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:
The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students
In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific.
Strategy #3: Live marking
‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.
I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:
I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.
Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment
I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand.
As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark.
At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.
These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.
I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.
I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.
Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.
Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.
Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength
You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:
Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot– great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’
Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.
Revising for tests and quizzes
‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students.
Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:
Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them
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