Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Today is a remarkable and unique day. The suspense and the emotion fills the air. It surrounds us. We can even taste it.

A daring and incredibly dangerous rescue mission has been given the green light to go ahead. Today is the day that Royal Thai Navy Seal divers will begin the attempt to rescue the 12 schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach who’ve been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, for two weeks.

Thai Cave Rescue
The boys and their coach inside the cave, accompanied by a Thai Navy Seal diver. Image courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

Being based in Bangkok, Thailand, I have a close association with Thai people from all walks of life. This event has truly gripped the nation, and the world.

Before I talk about today’s subject matter, I’d like to ask all of my readers to please join me and all Thai people by praying for the safe rescue of all 12 boys and their coach (and the safe return of the rescuers).

Humans are natural carers

This cave rescue in Thailand has given me a fresh perspective on the topic of empathy. It’s made me ask the question: do children really need to be taught how to care for one another?

The outpouring of help for these trapped boys and their coach has been truly inspirational. I won’t even begin to attempt to write a list of all of those who have helped because that list would be so huge it would take months, maybe years, to research and collate. But it has been remarkable. People from all over the world have literally sacrificed their time, money, health and energy to do everything possible to help these boys.

One man even sacrificed his life: Petty Officer Saman Gunan, who fell unconscious and died shortly after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave complex.

When times are at their worst, humans will do everything they can to help. Mr Saman Gunan is a true hero who selflessly did the best he could to help people who were in desperate need.

Surely this is our highest and most prized quality as humans – selflessness. Few people, however, are both incredibly brave and selfless, as Mr Gunan was.

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

I personally believe that the vast majority of people are natural carers. We empathise naturally – it’s part of who we are.

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

According to Samantha Rodman (Clinical Psychologist and Author), however, there are six keys ways in which we can teach kids empathy. This would seem important in a world where youngsters are being increasingly detached from physical interactions with one another by the barriers of mobile technology.

Materialism also doesn’t escape the jury’s verdict.

According to research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University, materialism is socially destructive. It is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships.

jenga

To further compound this issue a more startling picture of human empathy is portrayed by the research conducted by Sara H. Konrath and colleagues of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Her team conducted a 30-year study between 1979 and 2009 and discovered that Emphatic Concern and Perspective Talking is declining rapidly in college students. 

Maybe we do need to teach kids how to care, after all. 

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

  1. Teach kids about emotions: Children need to know what emotions are, and how to identify them. Once kids have identified those emotions, they can then learn how to manage them. Progress in this area has been heavily fueled by the Mindfulness in Schools strategy, which teaches the importance of observing one’s thoughts and emotions, rather than reacting by reflex-action. Check out their website – it’s well worth a look!
  2. Read and watch TV with your children: I guess this could work in a parent-student, teacher-student and student-student dynamic. The key is to get the kids thinking about and discussing how the characters feel in different parts of the story. It still amazes me when I watch a movie in the cinema and people laugh when some character gets killed or something bad happens. Movies are strange entities because in some cases they play on human emotion positively by creating more empathy, but in some genres repeated watching can lead to desensitization. 
  3. After conflicts, have a reflection: This is a classic tried-and-tested technique, and it works well. “How do you think Sarah felt about what you said? How would you feel if someone said that about you?”. Getting young people to reflect on the emotional consequences of their actions can have profound, long-term effects on their character and personality.
  4. Set an example by resolving conflicts in your own life: Probably more applicable to parents than teachers, or teacher-parents, but well-worth mentioning. If you have an argument with your wife in front of your kids, for example, you must also make-up in front of them too. With your students in school, you could get them to shake hands after an argument and get them to say sorry to one another.
  5. Express feelings on behalf of those who cannot speak: Babies, pets and, in some cases, disabled people, cannot express their emotions verbally or through other means. Discuss with your students or children what the feelings of these individuals might be when the opportunity arises. 
  6. Be a good role-model of respect and decency: Show courtesy. Be respectful of people who have different opinions or beliefs than you do (unless those beliefs threaten life, health or safety – then you’ll have to take action in a sensible, emotionally-detached way). Let your students see you showing respect for those around you who may have a different religious belief system, or political opinion, than you do. It’s very sad to see politicians arguing on TV, for example, when they should show greater respect for one another. 

Conclusion

  • Research has shown that empathy is decreasing in young people
  • Materialism is associated with anxiety, depression and the breakdown of relationships
  • There is a case to be made for the rigorous and broad teaching of empathy to kids in schools
  • There are ways to deliberately teach empathy to children, and six have been identified here

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Don’t Be A ‘Mediocre’ Teacher

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

They stood at the front of the audience: seemingly ready to dazzle us all. They were all 18 years old and in the final term of high school. I was much younger then too – 26 years old and in my third year of teaching.

It was a Biology revision presentation. I’d invited my colleague to come along to watch (also a Biology teacher).

The presenters began their talk.

When it was over, I needed to take a paracetamol tablet. I was rather perplexed.

I let my colleague chirp in with some feedback first, thinking she would cover most of the points I wanted to raise.

“A great presentation. I loved the level of detail and research. Well done”

That was it?

studying with com

Now I found myself clenching my fist. I thought back to the late 90s when my dad received a ‘stress reliever’ doll one Christmas. It was basically a squishy, red, head-shaped rubbery thing in a pot that you could squeeze when you got a bit mad. It was joke gift of course: designed to cause a giggle or two; but I wished I had one right now.

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“An AMAZING book!”

“Mr. Rogers. What are your thoughts?” Asks my colleague.

After a barrage of questions which the students responded to with nervous looks and blank stares, I decided to give my merciless, but honest, feedback:

“Whilst I agree with my colleague that your research skills were good, there are still a few issues I’d like to address.

I’ll start with the negatives, then share my thoughts on what, if anything, was positive. All of you were reading directly off the slides and not making eye-contact with the audience. We can all read, so your method of presentation was not only boring but it was also patronizing. There was too much text on each slide. The material had not been properly referenced and the images you did use, though few, were of very low quality. You also superficially skimmed the surface of the topic, and didn’t even touch on issues such as splicing, introns and transposable elements.

On the positive side, you showed us all that you are very good at copying and pasting. You were also able to describe some of the concepts in some detail.

Please speak with me tomorrow morning during registration so that we can arrange a time to do this again”

Giving feedback

The ‘respect’ factor

Unfortunately, many of us in the teaching profession have been conditioned to dish out praise all day long for the most minuscule of things. A kid hands in a complete dog’s dinner of a homework and it’s “Well done for handing this in on time. Meeting deadlines is important”. 

I could go on with the spectrum of ‘non-confrontational’, politically correct garbage that I was conditioned to spew for another 1000 words, but I think that would be tedious.

I used to be one of those ‘praise everything’ teachers. Guess what I found out:

  • Praise only works when it is sincere
  • Praise only works when it recognises significant, meaningful achievements that have taken some work to accomplish
  • Praise is extra effective when preceded (NOT followed by) points for improvement

And guess what else I’ve found out – students respect us more when we are honest. They respect us when we tell them that they need to improve. They respect us when we are vigilant.

Explaining

Lots of research supports these findings. Here are two good examples:

  • A 2016 summary by Vanderbilt University found that praise works well when it is behavior-specific, and that a ratio of 4 praise statements to one reprimand works well for improving performance (if 4 praise statements are available for the work being assessed). Here are some examples of language changes we can make to turn praise into a kind of ‘disguised reprimand’ or ‘behavior enforcer”:
BSP Vanderbilt
Behavior Specific Praise. Courtesy of Vanderbilt University, 2016. See the publication entitled ‘Behavior Specific Praise in the Classroom’. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project.

Whilst this table is useful, I think it’s important to remember that reprimands must be specific and direct. “We don’t take other people’s property, because that causes suffering to another person. When you’re older, you can also get into big trouble with the police for that. You’ll need to write a letter of apology to Simon for what you did.”

  • A 2015 blog post by Brian Gatens at the University of Portland made the point that when teachers show honesty and compassion, they build trust with their students. Compassion doesn’t mean making kids feel good all the time – it means letting them know when they’ve under-performed, and caring enough to do something about it! It also involves celebrating and recognising significant progress, performance and attainment.

‘Mediocre’ Versus ‘Vigilant’

Here are some statements I’ve come up with which sum up the ‘Mediocre’ teacher, versus the ‘Vigilant’ teacher. I don’t mean to offend anyone here – I was once the Mediocre Teacher. I share my findings as a means of self-reflection for all of us. I still get a bit ‘mediocre’ at times, but at least I’m aware of how to spot that now:

  • Mediocre teachers record attainment and progress. Vigilant teachers record attainment and progress, quickly identify under-performance and then intervene to improve that.
  • Mediocre teachers praise the smallest of things. Vigilant teachers reserve their praise for significant, meaningful displays of effort, attainment and progress.
  • Mediocre teachers sometimes bring up points for improvement with their students. Vigilant teachers leave ‘no stone unturned’, and relentlessly monitor their students’ weaknesses and do the best they can to improve those.
  • Mediocre teachers don’t feel the need to be a ‘role-model’ for their students. Vigilant teachers understand that their words, actions and subliminal cues will act as points of reference for their students for many years to come.
  • Mediocre teachers mark their students work. Vigilant teachers provide feedback that’s meaningful and specific. 

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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
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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?

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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)!

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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:

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“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

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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?

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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?

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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:

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

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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.

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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!

 

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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. 

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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. 

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Your First Few Weeks Back at School: Are You Doing These Six Things?

An article by Richard James Rogers

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!

So you’ve been at school for a short while. You’ve settled in, got to know some (maybe all?) of your new students and are using the school’s new systems. You’re hopefully getting settled in and used to the new routine.

That’s great!

This article is designed to be a self-check for you – to see if you’re on track and doing the very best things you can do to be effective as you start the academic year. 

#1 Professional Intelligence Gathering

A large part of your time has probably already been spent trying to get to know your new students. I’ve personally just started at a brand new school, so all of my new students really are, well, new. 

A good way to quickly get to know your kids is to do some professional intelligence gathering. I wrote about this last week, so hopefully, you’ve already got your notebook set up! ;-D

Marking work

To cut the explanation short, you should get a notebook and keep all non-confidential information about each student you teach in there. Write down their dreams, aspirations, hobbies, ECAs, talents and significant events that have occurred, or that are coming up in their lives.

alphabetic mat

This information can then be used to generate good professional rapport – the key cornerstone of all great teaching. Kids will learn most effectively when they like and respect their teachers. There’s only one way to get your kids to like and respect you – build up a rapport with them.

Use your professional intelligence to:

  • Strike up conversations with your new students during lessons when activities are happening or even at impromptu times such as when you’re on duty or walking around school. This will show that you’re interested in their wellbeing and that you remember what they’ve said. Kids and young adults love being listened to and, deep-down, they all want to recognised and admired for their skills and abilities. 
  • Inform your lesson planning by dividing the class into skills groups for activities, or even link the hobbies and interests of your kids to the content. 
  • Speak with students when they slip up or fall behind. I remember once having a one-to-one conversation with a 17 yr old boy who wanted to be a restaurant manager one day. His attitude and focus had been slipping in class, so I had a one-to-one chat with him. I reminded him of the dream and goal he once told me – that he wanted to be a restaurant manager. The effect was profound and deep, and he quickly put himself back on track. 

#2 – Settling-In Assessments

with-ukedchat
“The book that transformed my teaching!”

If you’ve got new kids doing new courses, then you’ll need to know their strengths and weaknesses.

I recently gave my IB Year 12 Chemistry students a full IGCSE exam to act as a baseline test for the course. It allowed me to quickly identify students who needed help so that I could start tutoring and support measures to get these kids up to the right standard. It also helped me to see who the high flyers are so that I can prepare suitable extension work to push these high-achievers. 

Get some kind of assessment done at the start of the year. It will provide valuable intelligence which you can use to inform your lesson planning and feedback. 

#3 – Extra Curricular Activities

Getting involved in your schools ECA programme is a great way for you to get to know your kids, some of which you may not teach in your mainstream curriculum. It also sets you aside as a contributor to the school community, which reinforces the level of trust that your students will have in you (and you’ll need to build trust quickly if you’re at a new school, or teaching new kids). 

robot

Think of things that the kids will enjoy and benefit from:

  • Sports 
  • Languages
  • Special certification courses (e.g. CREST Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, St. John’s Ambulance First Aid, etc.)
  • Crafts
  • Music 
  • ICT clubs (e.g. coding, animation, game design, app building)

#4 – Marking 

Not everyone’s favourite but, nevertheless, a staple for the new teacher at a new school. Last week I wrote about how your first few weeks should involve slightly more teacher-led marking than peer, automated or self-assessment because:

  1. You’ll quickly get to find out about your kid’s strengths and weaknesses (e.g. classwork presentation, homework completion, creativity, numeracy, language proficiency) which can all go into your professional intelligence notebook?
  2. You’ll learn new names more quickly
  3. It’ll give the parents a good impression of you when they see your comments on their kids’ work
  4. It can be used as a POWERFUL opportunity to provide sincere and meaningful praise, which will empower your students right from day one

Read my blog post here about marking and assessment strategies if you’d like some advice or ideas for ways to implement this key strategy. 

#5 – Have Energy

Are you pumped up for every lesson? Do your kids see you as enthusiastic and upbeat, or just an old bore?

be enthusiastic

Sorry for the direct statement, but it is important to make the point that ENERGETIC TEACHERS MAKE THE BEST TEACHERS.

Of course, you’ll be adjusting your activities and intensity to suit each year group (post-16 kids need more content delivered per unit time than younger kids, for example), but your energy should be high every single lesson.

Here are some tips for you to create high-energy lessons, every time:

Play Games

I mentioned some learning games last week that will help you to get to know your students (‘Mystery Word’, ‘Splat’ and ‘Who Am I’), but there are so many that you can play on a regular basis.

Here is a high-energy clip of me playing some learning games with my kids in China:

I’m currently in Week 6 at my school and my kids are already trained up and loving a variety of games that I play with them. They’re all easy to do, are inexpensive, provide deep learning and keep the students interested and focused. 

As well as the games I mentioned last week, try the following high-energy lesson transformers!:

The Poster Game

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

Bingo

Got some equation symbols or mathematical problems to teach your kids? Perhaps the symbols of the periodic table is more your thing? Whatever it is, this simple game can be adapted to suit any subject.

Bingo

Vocabulary Musical Chairs

You’ll need a good rapport with your kids to use this one, as it needs to be controlled really well by the teacher (e.g. to avoid kids bumping into each other). However, it is simple, fun and worth the effort!

Vocabulary musical chair

Mystery Picture

This one takes some imagination on the part of the teacher and some training of the kids beforehand. However, it’s really, really good for encouraging higher order thinking skills.

Mystery pictures

Be Eccentric

You’ll come across as boring and monotonous if you aren’t, well, yourself. 

You don’t need to put on a fake persona. Be wacky and quirky and be yourself (just don’t break any school rules – obviously).

One thing I love to do is sing and rap to my kids. They love it! I also use voice inflexions and funny noises to make the content a bit light-hearted and funny. It loosens up the mood in the room and gets the kids giggling a bit.

One thing that I’m a big fan of is modelling. No, not the cosmopolitan cat-walk modelling, I mean getting your students to BECOME THE CONCEPT YOU’RE TEACHING.

Just last week I had my kids stood in circles and spinning, pretending to be electrons orbiting a nucleus. The week before they were spreading around the room randomly pretending to diffuse like gas or liquid particles would.

The possibilities for modelling are endless. Here are some ideas that can be applied to any subject:

Human numbers.jpg

Human graph and true or false.jpg

Memory Mind bender.jpg

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