My Teacher Promises for 2019: Part 2

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

This week’s blog post is going to be rather concise and direct, so that I can publish it with adequate quality in the one-hour ‘window’ that I have.

It’s been an incredibly busy week for me. After completing my online IBDP Chemistry Category 2 course on Wednesday, it was straight on to discussions with Catherine (my book editor – she’s amazing!) on The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner.

Maybe you are even reading this article in the planner right now? If you are, then thank you for your purchase and I really hope this planner has been useful for you!

For web-users, please read this exciting update here.

This planner promises to be more advanced and more useful than any other teacher’s planner out there and leads me nicely on to my first promise for 2019……..

I promise to push beyond mediocrity

I could have easily took a short trip to Pattaya, just up the road from Bangkok (where I currently work as a high school science teacher), and took the remaining two weeks of my holiday off.

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Sunny beaches and the tastiest food the world can offer awaits me there.

I probably will find time for a short holiday before I go back to school, but in order to push myself beyond my body and mind’s natural tendency for mediocrity, I have had to impose the following duties upon myself

  • To get my IB chemistry course finished (done)
  • To annotate all of my Year 13 student coursework before I go back to school (this is going to save me many a rushed lesson and sleepless night upon my return)
  • Get all of my requisitions done for the term ahead (i.e. ordering all of the chemicals and apparatus I need for my science lessons)
  • Planning and resourcing all of my lessons for the first few weeks back

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m not very popular in some circles of education.

Q & A

I do not subscribe to the idea that a teacher’s holiday should be completely holiday time (now, please remember, I did say completely). When I go to school every day I like my lessons to run like well-oiled machines: everything ready; everything in place.

This saves me many a headache, and all it takes is a little bit of work in the holidays.

As part of this promise I also make a vow to push beyond mediocrity by:

  • Always providing good feedback to my students
  • Being on time, every time
  • Making detailed notes in meetings, and always following through on commitments
  • Preparing resources thoroughly
  • Planning lessons properly
  • Keeping the fact that, as a teacher, I’m a role-model to all of my students, in mind at all times. Keeping this thought in mind will allow for correct decision making when it comes to everyday activities.
  • Reading-up, listening to audio-books and improving my game

How will you ‘push-beyond’ the natural tendency towards mediocrity that we are all plagued with, but very few ever acknowledge?

I promise to work productively with my colleagues

sit n talk

I work with one of the best teams I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I’ve also reached an age where I recognize that:

  • Gossip is the death of all productive colleague-colleague relationships. I will avoid gossip like I would infectious diseases, and I’ll be sure not to contribute whenever (if ever) I hear gossip. 
  • If I can help, then I will help. If I can’t, then I won’t. I’ve been guilty of falling into the ‘favor’ trap all too often in my professional career. “Richard, can I ask you a favor?”, to which I would automatically reply with “yes”. Sometimes my mouth would commit me to things I couldn’t do, and I would end up letting people down (and getting stressed out along the way). Now, when someone asks me “Richard, can I ask a favor?”, I politely respond with “It depends what it is”. I then proceed to assess whether or not I can actually do what I have been asked to do.

I’ve written before about how we can work productively with our colleagues, especially when dishing out ‘productive praise’ to our students (praise must be collective to be effective). Please read my article about that here.

What are your promises for the New Year?

I believe that we need ‘Professional Promises’ along with ‘Personal Promises’. If you could change anything about the way you teach or how you work at school, then what would go on your list?

Wishing all of my readers, fans and followers a very Merry Christmas and a successful and happy New Year!

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The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner: An Update

The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is really coming on nicely. Catherine, my editor, is doing a great job of making the book look professional and tidy. It’ll be ready for purchase in the New Year. Here’s the official Amazon description:

“The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner is the ultimate lesson-planning and teacher-training tool. Developed by Richard James Rogers: author, blogger and high-school science teacher, this planner offers what no other planner can:

+ 45 weeks of double-page lesson planning templates for you to write all of your lesson plans on

+ A full ‘notes’ page for every week of lesson planning

+ 45 pedagogical articles from Richard’s blog (richardjamesrogers.com)

+ Review questions for each article to be used in teacher-training, discussion and personal professional development

+ Model answers for every review question

+ The opportunity to use the content in a free online exam an earn and earn official certificate signed by Richard himself

The Rogers’ Pedagogical Planner offers tons of planning and note-taking space along with useful, engaging articles about multiple areas of teaching for personal professional development.”

Please note: the planning pages themselves will actually contain less boxes than shown in order to allow for more writing space.

Watch this space for exciting updates!

My Teacher Promises for 2019 (Part 1)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’ve also made a video to go with this blog post here:

At this time of the year we start thinking about possible ‘New Year’s Resolutions’: things that we resolve to do better next year. Targets we aim to achieve. New goals that we set for ourselves.

I believe that teachers should have a separate set of ‘teacher resolutions’, and I’d like to share mine with you for 2019. Maybe some of my New Year Teacher Promises can become your promises too?

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1. I will provide high-quality feedback to all of my students

Feedback is everything in teaching. It is the best way to help students improve. However, do we always give the best feedback we can?

John Hattie knows the power of good feedback:

Ask why we ever set tests; indeed, the best answer to this question is ‘so that we, as teachers, know who we taught well, what they mastered or failed to master, who made larger and smaller gains, and what we may need to re-teach’. Tests are primarily to help teachers to gather formative information about their impact. With this mind frame, the students reap the dividends.

The way I would put it is this: Students need to know WHAT they’ve done wrong and HOW to fix it. They also need to know what they’ve done well, so that they can keep doing that in the future.

I was rather alarmed in 2015 when the son of a family friend brought home this maths homework that had been returned to him from his school:

71C110A2-4C63-4EA4-8094-0BC5B337C558

From this we see that the student had been told which questions were wrong, along with the correct answers, but had not been shown HOW to get those answers.

He hadn’t been shown the mode of operations needed to calculate the areas (the formula you see on the work, consequently, is my annotation as I was tutoring him that day).

The teacher who marked this work was probably very busy, as most teachers are. However, there are a number of well-established methods for showing students how to fix their problems which don’t eat into our free time:

  • Peer-assessment: providing students with the official worked solutions and allowing them to swap work and make full corrections
  • Self-assessment: same as peer-assessment except the student marks their own work
  • Automated assessment: this is when a computer programme marks work for the student. Programmes and websites like Kahoot!, MyMaths, EduCake and ProProfs are becoming more and more popular because they provide instant feedback and require zero marking time from the teacher.
  • Live-marking’: this one is simple. Go around the class whilst the students are doing a task and mark their work in ‘real-time’. Alternatively, call students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, then-and-there.

Live-marking, the last one I mentioned, is so powerful that I made a whole-video about it here:

Giving feedback

There’s no way around the issue of marking – it’s vital. Marking doesn’t always have to be written traditionally by a teacher, but somewhere along the line the feedback needs to be written somewhere – whether that’s on a Google Doc by another student, on a test by the student who took it or on a piece of homework by a teacher.

My first promise is an important one – my students will always receive deep, meaningful feedback. It’s the only way they can improve.

2I will care and I will show that I care

Caring is possibly the most important thing a teacher does every day. We entered this profession because we care, and when we care we have the following effects on our students:

  • We raise their self-esteem
  • We increase their enjoyment of our subject
  • We remind them of their achievements and character, which builds self-identity and resilience

We can show that we care in very simple ways:

  • Saying ‘Hi’  and “Good morning’ to our students and having conversations with them: this builds up rapport and shows that we value them and that we have a genuine interest in their well-being
  • Gathering professional intelligence: remembering our students hobbies, interests and life-events and capitalizing on those in the lesson-planning and assessment process
  • Being vigilant: remembering the things they’ve done well and immediately addressing and slip-ups and ‘falls’ in attainment. Providing ‘second-chances’ for students to redeem themselves. Following up. Monitoring progress on a regular basis.

3. I will communicate effectively with parents

discussion-mother-and-daughter

  • Parents are our friends, not our enemies. They generally want the best for their children, which is what we want too.
  • Our parents are our customers, and we have a duty to provide the highest-level of service to them.
  • When parents feel valued and encouraged to contribute to the life of the school, they can often bring amazing logistical help, resources, ideas and contacts to the school-community

shake-hands

I honestly believe that the full deployment of parents in the teaching profession has the power to make big changes to schools.

Some ways that teachers can build-up good professional relationships with parents are as follows:

  • Email: After any chat or parent’s evening/consultation, e-mail the parent to summarise what was discussed (just like you would with an important business client or customer)
  • SayThank you’: I recently received some beautiful Christmas presents from a number of students and parents. It was a lovely gesture and a lot of thought (and expense) went into those gifts. I had to e-mail my gratitude.
  • Chat: When we see parents at school or out of school, we should take the time to say ‘hi’. Conversations like these can yield very interesting insights into the ‘home-lives’ of our students and can often provide new information and open new doors.

A good example of the ‘fruits’ of a good chat came to me only last month.

I bumped into a parent in my school’s coffee shop and we had a short conversation. I found out that she worked with a number of scientists in her professional life, and as a result of our conversation she agreed to put one of my CREST Award students in touch with a scientist to act as her mentor.

Who knows where that contact could lead in the future?

How about you?

What are your ‘teacher promises’ for 2019? Have my promises inspired you to make some of your own? Feel free to comment in the box below and please share this article!

Happy holidays!

Richard

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The Power of Pausing

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Check out the new……

Rogers forum

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!

chatting in class

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.

Q & A

Fighting fire 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:

  1. It can be used as an effective behavior management tool
  2. It can be used to make concepts and content really clear
  3. It allows students time to articulate their answers
  4. It generates that enchanted and mysterious teacher quality known as presence
  5. It can increase the perceived seriousness of a situation, which may be appropriate in certain situations
  6. 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).

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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.

new doc 20_5

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.

PC activity with mouse pen

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.

it integrated

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.

sit n talk

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 your students feel that asking questions is a good thing, and that you are happy, very happy, 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?”.

Conclusion

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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Teaching Key Words: Part 1

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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Rogers forum

Key words are those vital elements of any subject that determine whether or not students…..

  • get the best grades in exams
  • understand the content properly
  • articulate the content effectively
  • master a language they are learning

Key words are essential components of subject knowledge that both native speakers and E.A.L. learners find challenging to master. 

In my 13 years of teaching I have found that there are many effective ways to teach key words to students, with the techniques falling into 5 main categories:

  • Interactive: Games and spatial learning
  • Proactive: Writing frames, scaffolds and models
  • Teacher-driven: Vigilance in pointing out key-words and encouraging action during teacher-led instruction
  • Automated: through software
  • Documented: Through exam-paper mark schemes and model answers, and command-terms exposure and training

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In today’s blog post I’ll describe (there’s a ‘command term’ to begin with!) the most effective interactive and proactive ways I have found to reinforce key vocabulary. You may have more to add to this list – please contribute to the new forum or add a comment below this post!

So, let’s begin our journey with….

Interactive methods

There are a number of vocabulary games you can play with kids of any age. My favorites are ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’ and ‘who am I?’

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. Students sit in a circle, you stick notes on their heads with key words on them, and the students explain to each other what the key words are without saying the key words. 

Who am I

Spatial learning can also be a great interactive method to teach key words.

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 for emphasizing key words. 

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

Why not try out these great spatial learning activities with your students?:
lab girls

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?

And with ‘true or false’ questions – instead of getting students to put their hands-up for ‘true’, or their hands-up for ‘false’: get them to walk and move. Choose one classroom wall to be the ‘true’ wall, and one to be the ‘false’ wall,  and get them to walk. 

Human graph and true or false

Modelling

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

Proactive Methods

Take the following body of text from my book, for example. How would you differentiate this so that all of the students in your class could understand and use it?:

Rapport

I had a great professional development session with a group of colleagues this week. We came up with some great ways to differentiate texts, which I’ve included below. Study the images carefully: I’ve linked them to the text above.

Technique #1: The Funnel

Basically this is a filtering system where the students take all of the key words in a text and filter them down into, first, a few sentences; and then, just one sentence:

Dif1

Technique #2: True or False Questions

Nice and simple and can be done in a number of ways:

  • Write the true or false questions yourself, and get the kids to answer them
  • Get the kids to write true or false questions and give them to each other (recommended for high-ability students, as this one is a little more difficult to mark/assess and takes more time and effort to complete).

Dif2

Technique #3: Flow chart

Kids create a flow chart that either describes the process involved, or the reasoning behind the text. Questions can be used as connectives:

Dif3

Technique #4: Fill in the blanks

This is a simple one and can be used to reinforce technical vocabulary, elements of speech (such as interjections and conjunctions) or anything else that’s important.

Technique #5: Cartoon Strip

The kids will need to be quite creative with this one, as they may need to illustrate the concepts using an actual example. Great fun, and can get quite entertaining!

Other techniques

There are lots of creative ways in which students can be assigned to decipher and breakdown texts. Consider these suggestions:

  • Stop-motion animations (takes a lot of time but acts as a great mini-project)
  • Drama and role-play
  • Music
  • Website creation
  • Infographic creation (much better than ‘make a poster’)
  • Make an instructional video

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Tips for Organising Homework

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

Explaining

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

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

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

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

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

That felt good. 

award

Juggling many things at once

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

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

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

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

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

discussion-mother-and-daughter

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

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

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

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

always learn

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

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

Homework setting, marking and receiving timetable

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

Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals

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

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

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

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

25 MARCH

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

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

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

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

Strategy #3: Live marking

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

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

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

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

work overload

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark. 

At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.

teaching with laptop

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Self-Assessment

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

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

self-assessment

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

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

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

Class Q and A

Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’

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

Intangibles include:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Stop Devaluing Your Students

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

She started at my school around a month later than all of the other Year 11 students.

“I’ve never studied chemistry before. I don’t know anything” she said.

As an E.A.L. student from overseas she was faced with three monumental challenges in Thailand:

  • Adapting to a new climate, culture, environment and school
  • Continuing to learn English
  • Learning advanced chemistry through the medium of English, having never learnt any chemistry before

Most mature adults would find these three challenges incredibly difficult to overcome. 

This girl was only 15.

Her peers had been learning chemistry since Year 7: a whole 4-years of prior training. She was at a massive disadvantage.

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

Bruce Lee

Many of our students learn best when they are faced with tough challenges like this girl was. Some students don’t realize they are in the ‘deep-end’ until they are thrown in and asked to swim. This new Year 11 girl was visibly stressed in the three days before her first chemistry test: a paper that covered the bare fundamentals. 

“I’m just going to fail this test aren’t I?” she said. 

She did fail that test. She got a grade U. 

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With only seven months to go before the final IGCSE exams, I was tempted (but only tempted) to think like most other teachers would: that there was little hope of her getting a decent grade in her final exams.

I chose not to think that way. 

I scheduled weekly 15-minute meetings with this student, in an attempt to teach her the basics and to encourage her.

“You can do this! With regular practice and good revision you can get an excellent grade in Chemistry”

This is the mantra that I would repeat to her on a frequent basis. By providing her with extension work, tailored help and the verbal expression of my sincere belief in her (and anything we do as teachers must be sincere, otherwise it is ineffective), she started to believe she could achieve too.

“Goals. There’s no telling what you can do when you get inspired by them. There’s no telling what you can do when you believe in them. And there’s no telling what will happen when you act upon them.” 

Jim Rohn

She gradually climbed the ladder of grades as her assessments kept coming in: first achieving grades Es, then Ds, and then the magical grade ‘C’ came along.

“Wow! I got a grade C!” she said.

lab girls

This was quite a monumental moment – this was the stage when the ‘veil lifted’ and she finally realised that she had the power to do anything she wished, if she had a goal in mind and worked towards it. She was now getting grades comparable to an average student in the class.

But it didn’t stop there.

During her mock exams, four months before the finals, she got a grade ‘A’. 

“This is outstanding. Now you have shown all of the other students that effort is what really matters when achieving results in life. You’ve beaten most of the other students, and all because you worked hard and set your sights high.” – she walked away with a smile when I told her that.

It was a real pleasure for me to she this young girl transform from a shy and scared new student to a really confident and happy person. She beamed with smiles when she came to Chemistry class on the run-up to the final exams – she understood all of the content now.

chatting in class

Our parting words before she took her finals went something like this:

“You’ve helped me so much, Mr Rogers. I’ll never forget it”

“You did all the hard work” I said. “Now go for it! Enjoy the exam and show everyone in the world what happens when a person works hard towards a goal they’ve chosen. Show the world how great you are.”

Her results came through in August of that year – she got a grade A* (the highest grade achievable).

Not bad for 8 months of work by a student who had never learned chemistry before.

graduation

The ‘belief’ factor

This girl’s story is one of so many that I have found to be typical in the teaching profession. Just one of many experiences of a similar nature that I have had along the way. However, an ugly culture has formed in many schools around the world which I’d like to address here:

  • A student’s past does not equal their future: contrary to popular belief
  • If a student does not have any cognitive difficulties, or Special Educational Needs, then that student is capable of getting an A* in the final exams (provided there is a reasonable time-frame). It really is that simple.
  • As teachers, we have to adopt “I will not accept mediocrity” as our personal mantra. When we only accept the best, we get the best.
  • If a student goes down a grade in a test or assessment, I’ll make them re-do the test a week later. It’ll be different questions, of course, but it will cover the same content. I simply will not allow grades to slip. When students realise that you will not allow them to drop in grades, they then are motivated to push themselves. This also builds up belief, because when a student sees that their grades increase in the re-test, they realise that poor grades are the result of poor effort; not difficult questions. They hold themselves accountable.
  • Disappointment works better than anger – it shows that you care about your kids. If a student produces shoddy homework or or simply hasn’t revised enough for a test, then I’ll sit them down at my desk and have a talk. I’ll genuinely be disappointed, and my words will be carefully chosen. I’ll tell the student that their work just isn’t acceptable (oops – isn’t that taboo these days!). If we don’t tell our students the truth, then we’re really just deceiving them, aren’t we? I’ll remind them of their past achievements, however small, and I’ll tell them, sincerely, that they can achieve greatness.
  • Too many teachers put the burden of total responsibility on the shoulders of the student but do little to address that responsibility. “He just doesn’t care”, “He just doesn’t get it” and “It just doesn’t sink-in” are phrases that are spoken all too commonly in school staff rooms. When we hear comments like this, our response ought to be something like “Okay, so what are we going to do about it?”. Guess what – there’s a lot that we can do to turn things around. We’re not miracle workers, but we really can make a massive difference when we deliberately try to, and when we believe we can. 

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Thank you to all of my regular readers and followers for your kind and continuing support – I love you all!

Richard

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How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

In this compulsive age of one-click logins, left and right ‘swipes’ and selfie auto-sharing, it can be easy to let our guard down and cross the line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate when using social media.

This danger is further compounded by the ‘blurry’ lines that exist in the first place. For example:

  • Concordia University, Portland, advises teachers to “not get too chatty with students on their personal profile”, implying that teachers can become ‘friends’ with students on social media
  • The General Teaching Council for Scotland advises that teachers should “only use official channels of communication e.g. GLOW and work e-mail addresses and be aware of and comply with employer’s policies and guidance”. This implies that teachers should never connect with parents or students via personal social media accounts.

it integrated

I’m now in my 13th year of teaching. I taught before social media exploded in popularity, and afterwards. In this article, I will aim to give all teachers a very clear and direct guide as to how social media should be used.

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Some pills will be hard to swallow.

Rule #1: Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want a parent, boss or student to see

This includes:

  • Foul language and/or any expletives (be especially careful with tweets)
  • Photographs showing behaviors that we encourage our students not to undertake: this includes that we-fie with the 20 empty beer-bottles in the background, binge drinking and smoking.
  • Inappropriate dress

If you have old photos containing any of the above on any social-media platform, then stop reading this article and delete them now.

bean bags

Inappropriate social media posts can damage a teacher’s reputation in a number of subtle ways. Just take a look at these shocking examples:

  • A teacher from California was reprimanded by her school district in 2014 for a number of tweets, including one that read “I already wanna stab some kids. Is that bad? 19 more days.” Moral of the story – don’t use social media to vent your frustrations!
  • In 2016 a teacher from Baltimore was disciplined for posting a picture of her students on Instagram with the caption. “Field day with my little [expletives] that I somehow still love.” The teacher probably thought that she was posting a light-hearted joke, but the school leaders and parents didn’t see it that way. 
  • A PE teacher from Wales was given a formal reprimand in 2017 for exchanging Instagram messages with two students which contained “swear words and ‘winky faces'”.

The consequences of posting anything inappropriate on social media, whether privately or publicly, are very serious for teachers.

Another factor to consider is that the three examples I have just mentioned are not even the tip of the iceberg. A quick web-search is all you need to find hundreds and hundreds of stories just like these.

teaching with laptop

Future employers, parents, students – they can all search online and find this information. One silly mistake with social media can be enough to totally crush a teacher’s reputation, forever.

Rule #2: Never, ever add students or parents as ‘friends’

The stories just mentioned above should be enough to convince any teacher that it is simply far too risky to add any parent or student as a ‘friend’ on social media.

Use official school channels for communication only.

Rule #3: Be careful when adding colleagues on social media

You may think your colleagues are your friends, but don’t forget – they work with you. 

If you post anything on social media that may offend or upset a colleague, directly or indirectly, then you run the risk of being reported to senior management.

That’s a risk that’s too high in my opinion. Colleagues are colleagues – communicate with them via professional channels or setup professional social media accounts that are purposefully designed for clean and appropriate networking. 

Chapter 7 - sending emails

Rule #4: Never post pictures of your students 

Take photos with your school’s permission only, and share them with the school to share on their own social media channels if they wish. Delete the pictures after taking them.

You see, when sharing pictures of students you expose yourself to the issue of permission. Do you have parental permission to publish the nice we-fie on Instagram? Do you have each students’ permission?

Clearly not, so don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

Further Reading

Here’s a link to a great article by We Are Teachers entitled ‘Should Teachers Accept Facebook Requests from Parents?’. Well-worth a read!

Your thoughts?

Teachers’ lives can be dramatically and devastatingly affected by the incorrect use of social media. What advice would you give to a Newly Qualified Teacher who may not be aware of these issues?

Please comment below. 

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Five Ways to Organize Information

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

I’m an avid reader and, at times, a ferocious information consumer.

Whilst I try my best to avoid the compulsion of checking my social media feeds every five minutes, I do find myself engrossed in a number of books at different points during a typical day. 

One of the old adages that I attempt to live by is the notorious ‘life is too short to learn from your mistakes, so make sure you learn from other peoples’. However, I know that I’m going to make mistakes just like anyone else, so I guess I’m going to have to learn from my own mistakes whether I like it or not, right?

Well, kind of. 

Dif2

For quite a while now I’ve been writing about the idea that we can only learn from mistakes (ours or other peoples’) if we remember those mistakes. 

And that’s the problem isn’t it? – memory.

Organizing the information we receive from life can help to solve the problem of mistake memory, as well as help with our studies, build relationships with colleagues and clients and even help us to build up skills and new personality traits. 

As a high school Science Teacher I am constantly encouraging my students to organise their notes and resource-information effectively, so that they can revise successfully for tests and exams. However, these techniques can also be used to plan for, and solve, a plethora of day-to-day problems that we all face. 

#1: Bullet-points

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Easy and simple: bullet-points list the important parts of a text or information piece in a somewhat-sequential order. Great for summarizing large processes. 

#2: Concept Maps

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Concept maps are artistic and highly visual representations of concepts that link to a central theme.

Although concept maps have be used for centuries by people from all walks of life, they were first popularised by British psychologist Tony Buzan in the 1970s and given the name ‘Mind Maps™’. Buzan’s suggestions for creating the most effective Mind Maps™ are as follows:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least three colors (I’ve clearly missed that in the example above, oops!)
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters
  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line
  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The lines become thinner as they radiate out from the center.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support
  7. Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also for encoding or grouping
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy or outlines to embrace your branches

For more information about Mind Maps™ you can visit this website.  

#3: Mnemonics

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These are fun phrases that help you to remember sequences, hierarchies or concepts. Here are some random examples:

  • Naughty Elephant Squirts Water: North East South West (starting at 12 and working clockwise)
  • King Prefers Cheese On Fresh Green Salad: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species (classifiers in evolutionary biology)
  • My Very Energetic Maiden Aunt Just Swam Under North Pier: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto (Order of the planets in the solar system starting at the Sun – yes, I know, Pluto isn’t a planet anymore it’s a dwarf planet – change pier into ‘Dark Purple Pineapple’ and you’ll have ‘Dwarf Planet Pluto’, I guess.)

#4: Acronyms

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These are a little different to mnemonics – you just use the letters for these (no need to invent a new word sequence).

Here are some examples:

  • MR FAB or “Mister Fab” (when spoken): Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians and Birds (vertebrate groups in the animal kingdom)
  • MRS GREN: Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion, Nutrition (the 7 functions of life)

Now this is where I reveal my weird side: you can actually use this technique to reinforce core beliefs and value systems.

In my case, my wristwatch is an ORIS Aquis:

Oris Richard James Rogers

Now, to me, ORIS means Order, Respect, Integrity, Strength: four life-principles that I try to live by. This means that every time I look at my watch, I am reminded of my core-values and that drives me forward to succeed a little more, every single day. 

Are there ways that you could use the acronyms in your life to drive you onwards and upwards?

#5: Infographics

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Do you remember when teachers used to ask students to make posters? Well there’s a new kid on the block: the infographic.

An infographic is basically a detailed, organised poster and can include all of the organisational methods I’ve method, but all together on one page.

One of my favorite websites for making infographics is picktochart. You’ll have to sign up, but it’s free to use once you’re in.

Here’s an infographic I made over there:

mock-exams-richardjamesrogers

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The ‘Four Pillars’ of Time-Saving Marking

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

At 23-years-old I was a fraction of the man I am today. I was fresh-out-of-uni and completing my P.G.C.E. (Post Graduate Certificate in Education – it’s one way to become a teacher in the UK).

My life was hell for that year of my P.G.C.E. course. Trying to keep my students engaged and on-task was challenging enough for an inexperienced teacher. However, my largest challenge was by far this one thing: marking and assessment

In those early days I found marking to be exhaustive and really boring. I hated carrying a bag of heavy books home and reading through page after page of the same material. I found it really hard to mark my student work regularly too – in large part because I was making life harder than it had to be for myself.

I’m now in my thirteenth year of teaching and, finally, I have reached a stage where I can honestly say that not only do I enjoy marking, but it also takes up very little (if any) of my free time. 

If you’re a teacher who’s struggling to keep on top of your marking, or if you want to claim back some of the ‘me time’ that you spend looking at student work, then please read on. I don’t want you to go through the same sleep-deprivation that I went through learning all this stuff!

#1: ‘Live’ Marking

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

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

work overload

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

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

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

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

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

#2: Learning Journals

Shortly after getting my PGCE and completing my NQT year in the UK, I came to Thailand to work as a Chemistry Teacher at an international school in Bangkok. I was lucky enough to have been given a very able and hard-working class of Year 10 students to teach. In fact, the illustrator of this blog and my books: Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati, was in that class. 

I decided to try Learning Journals with these IGCSE Chemistry students. The idea was that they were to buy a special notebook (not their normal class book) and fill it with revision summaries, mind-maps, key words and anything learnt in class each week. I wanted it to be a ‘living journal’, and not just simply a replica of the students’ class notes. 

The students mainly took to it very well. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:

2 MARCH

16 MARCH21 MARCH.jpg

25 MARCH

Highly-motivated students like Pop would always hand in beautiful notes, every single week. In fact, CfBT inspectors came to that school that year and they said that Pop’s notes were the best they had ever seen!

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

However, some students didn’t take to it that well and I found out why: I wasn’t giving feedback regularly enough. Some weeks I would be too busy with other school things, so I would sometimes (to my shame) collect in the journals and simply give them back the next day with some simple verbal feedback only.

I discovered that when students were given some written feedback on a weekly basis, however small, they was a marked improvement in the quality of the journals I received each week. 

Back then, when I realised this at 26 years of age, I would write multiple comments on every page in a student’s journal. This almost killed me when I had 20 journals to mark. I soon gave that up and came up with a better way.

Oh, but did the journals work? Well…that class went on to get 100% A*-C in their Chemistry IGCSEs.

Did the journals help them achieve this? I believe so.

My updated (better) journaling system

I’ve set up a Learning Journal system with my Year 11 IGCSE and Year 12 and 13 IBDP classes. Every Monday they must bring their journals to my room and place them in the right place, as shown below:

Learning Journal System

Then, after school every Monday I write one and only one post-it note of feedback for each student; which I stick in their journals. This keeps my feedback focused on the essentials and increases my productivity.

An example of what this feedback might look like is given in this reconstruction below:

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Students pick up their journals (with post-it note feedback inside) every Tuesday, meaning that they are getting recurring, weekly feedback as well as regular, meaningful homework.

I’ve been using this system successfully for a few years now. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly. 

A little ‘tweak’

I did find that the Monday evenings were becoming quite hard because of all of the journals I was marking. Now, I spread out the days to match my timetable:

  • Year 11 give me their journals on a Monday
  • Year 12 on a Wednesday
  • Year 13 on a Friday

The system allows me to give regular feedback to my students, and it seems to be showing in the progress they are making in tests and assessments.

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. 

Learning Journals Conclusion

  • Journaling is a powerful tool when used correctly
  • It can be applied to any subject area
  • It’s great for exam-level classes doing revision
  • Recurring feedback and meaningful homework come as part of the package
  • The students can be creative and present their journals in any way they choose (online is an option too)
  • The feedback process allows the teacher to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses very quickly
  • The Learning Journal is a permanent record that the students can treasure and be proud of
  • Journaling is not used enough in the teaching profession. I aim to change this. 

#3: 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 seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark. 

With UKEdChat
“An AMAZING book”

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.

teaching with laptop

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

#4: Self-Assessment

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

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

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my 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 – more on that next). 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 processGoogle 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. 

Conclusion

Stop spending your free time marking classwork, homework and tests: it really is a pointless exercise.

Sometimes you may have to do marking the traditional way (e.g. when it’s the exam period and you have ton of papers to mark). Most of the time, however, you should use the Four Pillars:

  • Live Marking
  • Learning Journals
  • Peer-Assessment
  • Self-Assessment

Happy marking!

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