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?
1. Iwillprovide high-quality feedbacktoallofmy 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:
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, EduCakeand 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:
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.
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
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
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:
E–mail: 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)
Say ‘Thankyou’: 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?
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!
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I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student.
That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations.
I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me.
That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.
I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was.
“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”
She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”
That felt good.
Juggling many things at once
Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.
I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.
I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:
I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all
So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returningtimetable
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).
Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.
And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.
Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:
Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish.
Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals
Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:
They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
Students receive quick, effective feedback
Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal.
So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:
Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.
Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:
I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:
The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students
In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific.
Strategy #3: Live marking
‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.
I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:
I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.
Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment
I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand.
As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark.
At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.
These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.
I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.
I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.
Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.
Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.
Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength
You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:
Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot– great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’
Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.
Revising for tests and quizzes
‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students.
Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:
Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them
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I had an embarrassing experience in France when I was 16-years-old.
No, it wasn’t my French that was the problem (although I’m sure I made lots of pronunciation mistakes). It was my knowledge of English!
Sat around in a communal circle of newly-found friends, I was at Taizé: a Christian retreat in Burgundy. At many points during the week-long pilgrimage, I found myself conversing with people from all over the world. It was my first truly ‘intensive’ exposure to so many people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“You must have felt humble” states a friend during a conversation of which I cannot remember the theme.
“What does ‘humble’ mean?” I asked.
Then the laughter came. “Are you sure you’re British?” asked one of the group.
I was sure I was, and I was the only native-English speaking person in the group. It was rather a bashful moment to be honest, and it spurred me on to read more and more books and get better at articulating myself.
My friends brushed-it-off and were very light-hearted and amused by the matter.
I wasn’t amused though.
English is a massive language
Here are some facts about the English language that I recently discovered:
A new word is added to the English dictionaryevery 2 hours!This means that, in one complete year, 4380 words will have been added to the dictionary!
About 360-million people speak English as a native language. This ranks Englishthird in the world: behind Spanish (400 million native speakers) and Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers).
Despite the common belief that English has more words than any other language in the world, this is actuallyimpossible to prove. However, English is definitely larger than continental European languages, due to the absorption of German and Latin throughout its history.
The difficulty of English language learning depends upon the native language of the student. The closer the native language to English in terms of letter shapes, sentence structure, grammar, syntax and logic, the easier it will be to learn. Additionally, in astudyconducted by Philip Seymour of Dundee University and his team, it was found that English was the toughest European language to master. Children learning other European languages as a mother-tongue typically master the basic elements within one year. British kids, however, typically take 2.5 years to reach the same level.
Conclusion: English is a pretty difficult language to learn!
Helping our kids to master the language
I’m a high school science teacher. I also have a duty to teach English through my subject.
I have an additional responsibility too: as an international school teacher in Thailand, I must model the very best elements of English pronunciation so that my students pick up the language quickly and efficiently. The local colloquialisms, dialect and accent I picked up from North Wales has to go out of the window (at least to a certain degree).
Here are my top-ten tips for teaching English through your subject:
#1: Book the school library and choose your books beforehand
Getting the kids out of the classroom provides a nice change for them and, if we choose our books wisely, we can get our kids to read around the subject and absorb lots of great information and facts.
Try to make the library task productive too. It shouldn’t just be a ‘sit and read silently for one hour’ task. Give the students a worksheet to complete where they have to source the info from books. Perhaps get the kids to write a one-page summary of what they’ve read in their books.
#2: Be a model of good speech and get your kids say words out loud
Most subjects have key words that the kids have to remember. My subject – Science, has many!
When a key word comes up, get the kids to:
I’ll often get all of the kids to say words out loud:
Me: “So what’s the positive electrode called, please?”
Class: “The anode”
Me: “Excellent. Say, ‘an-ode”
Me: “Not everyone said it. Again please”
All of the class: “An-ode”
I’ve also written a blog post about reinforcing key vocabulary, which you may find helpful, here.
#3: Use ‘Learning Journals’
I wrote a massive blog post about thishere, but I’ll explain the process briefly again.
Basically, get your students to write revision notes in a special, ‘non-school’ notebook of their choice. Perhaps one they’ve bought for themselves.
Every week, collect the books in on a fixed day. Write one post-it note of feedback on each book and hand it back the next day.
This gets kids into the habit of regularly reviewing their work and delineating their understanding of the concepts covered by the course.
It’s an EXTREMELY POWERFUL tool, but it is rarely used in teaching profession (sadly).
#4: Play vocabulary games
I’ve written extensive articles about thishereandhere. Learning games are very easy to set up and require very little planning. My two favourites are ‘splat’ and ‘corners’, which I’ve included here:
Here’s a short video of me playing ‘splat’ with some of my former students:
#5: Talk face-to-face with students when giving feedback
Marking can be powerful when used properly. Personal, face-to-face feedback is even better though.
About once every two weeks I like to set my kids a task and then speak to each student one-at-a-time at my desk.
I’ll look at his/her notebook and point out the things that could be improved upon (as well as the good stuff). By doing this every two-weeks I can ensure that the changes the student has agreed to make are being implemented. This includes spelling mistakes and the use of key vocabulary.
Making our lessons more ‘English intensive’ doesn’t have to be intense for us!
By making some minor adjustments to methodologies and feedback systems, we can dramatically increase the English acquisition of our students.
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