Secret Number 7: The ‘Three As’

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers 

Here’s a video I made about the ‘Three As’, which should act as a nice supplement to this blog post:

Firstly, please accept my apologies for missing my scheduled blog post last Sunday. Last weekend was a little crazy, and this past week was busy as I was perfecting, editing and preparing end-of-year exam papers for my Chemistry students. I also wanted to write a genuine blog post (which requires time), rather than just copy and paste something and make do with that.

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“An AMAZING book!”

Hopefully the seven-day delay (I know, I feel bad about it too!) is compensated with a better reading experience for you.

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Enough groveling. Time for the nitty-gritty.

Objectives

That’s a word that most teachers and students have heard. The idea of making our kids aware of the ‘mission’, ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ of the lesson, right at the start of the lesson, was drilled into me hard during my PGCE placements back in 2005 and 2006.

‘The kids must know where they are going, in order to realise how to get there’, seemed to be the central dogma of the time.

So, I followed the parade of keen twenty-somethings who were eagerly trying to inspire their new students. I wrote my objectives on the whiteboard every single lesson, or I projected them onto a screen. This ticked my appraisal boxes brilliantly, and gave my observers something positive to write about.

The strange thing was, however, that this ritual seemed to help me more than it helped the kids. It helped me to know what I must cover that lesson, but when I forgot to write those objectives I didn’t notice any detrimental effect on my pupil-enagagement. In fact, my lessons were often better when I didn’t follow the ritual of writing those objectives – I was more relaxed, and I think my kids were more relaxed too.

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I learnt later that my personality, and effort/attention during the lesson itself and in the planning process, were the key determining factors in how successful my lessons were. When I realised this, I boldly allowed myself to be more creative with my starter activities, and therefore more fun in my approach to each lesson.

The ‘Three As’

A turning point in my personal teaching philosophy came when I devised the ‘Three As’ and delineated them in my bestselling debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management.

It seemed to make sense to people.

The ‘Three As’ stand for Assign, Analyse and Ask. It’s a simple three-step process for starting each lesson, and allows for the teacher to be as creative as he or she wishes when articulating lesson objectives:

  • Assign a starter activity, that links to the topic somehow. This can be as simple as a video playing on the screen as the kids walk in, a worksheet or even a learning game.
  • Analyse the starter activity: This may involve peer-assessing the task, having a class discussion, quick-fire questions or a ‘True or False’ activity
  • Ask the students: What do you think we are learning about today? This may generate some discussion, but if the ‘Assign’ and ‘Analyse’ parts have been designed properly, then it should be obvious.

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This three-step method ensures that the students discover the lesson objectives by themselves, hopefully in a fun and interesting way, which makes those objectives far more memorable than if they were simply written on the whiteboard for the kids to copy down.

Let’s look at a real example of the ‘ Three As’ in action.

Year 9 Volcanoes Lesson (Science, the Rock Cycle)

Assign: National Geographic video on volcanoes (with subtitles enabled for extra clarity) plays for five minutes as the students enter the room and settle down

Analyse: I choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall, one wall to be the ‘False’ wall. I ask true or false questions about the video and the kids move to the corresponding wall (see the bottom half of the picture below):

Ask: “So, everybody, what do you think we’re learning about today?”

“Volacanoes” chirps one kid

“Kind of, but what comes out of volcanoes?”

“Lava” say a few kids

“Yes, and lava cools to form…?”

“Igneous rock” say another group of kids

“Yes, correct, we’re learning about igneous rocks. Give yourself a clap for figuring that out!”

[Class applauds]

Conclusion

  • Lesson objectives are more memorable when the kids have discovered them, rather than when they’ve been told them
  • Use the ‘Three As’ to make your kids aware of the lesson objectives in a fun and interesting way

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Secret Number 6: Start Lessons Promptly

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers 

As a 17-year-old ‘A’ – Level student I was a typical lovesick teenager. I was easily distracted, and if I got the chance to slack-off, then I was sure to take it! I look back at those days and, to my embarrassment, I sometimes have to cringe! However, one question does come to mind quite often – which lessons were the most productive for me at a time when my human nature (and my attitude) led me to be quite a disillusioned and lazy teenager?

The answer: it was always, without exception, those lessons that began promptly and had a definite focus.

As teachers we’re always very, very busy. There’s so much to do in such a small amount of time, and it can be tempting for us to take a rest whilst we’re working. Whilst a relaxed environment is generally conducive to the learning process, there is a danger that we can cross the line and create an atmosphere that’s too relaxed: one that encourages our students to be unproductive. To illustrate this I can use an example from my personal journey.

Perhaps you have had a similar experience?

As a pre-university student all those years ago, I remember some of my chemistry and biology lessons particularly well, but for all the wrong reasons. These lessons would typically begin with the teacher having a nice, casual chat with all of the students in order to create a ‘relaxed feel’. Sometimes we would even begin by making a cup of tea for each other, and this made myself and my peers feel ‘adult’ and ‘special’: reinforcing the fact that we were the big kids in the school and that we had a certain status.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

This ritual would sometimes last for 15-20 minutes before any real learning took place, with one of my teachers in particular discussing anything that came to mind: whether it was a story from her past or an incident with another pupil. After this long ‘introduction’, in which approximately a quarter of the lesson had been eaten up, we would begin the lesson properly.

But were we motivated at this stage?

How had this casual entry into the lesson content affected our ability to learn thereafter?

The answer is that for many of us it had generated a lazy frame of mind, and it was difficult to come out of a relaxed state and go straight into a learning activity (which was often rushed, because of the time wasted at the start of the lesson).

Charles J. Givens, author and once a multi-million dollar business owner, summarizes this problem very eloquently:

Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.

Charles J. Givens (Author of Wealth Without Risk and Financial Self Defense)

 

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From this we’re able to understand that for students to achieve results, they need to gain momentum within the lesson.

However, momentum can only be achieved if the teacher initiates it with an appropriate starter activity that requires at least some effort.

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University describe the start and end of the lesson as being “important moments” of instruction. They describe the signifiance of these critical times of the lesson in rather bold terms:

The events that occur during these windows can influence the engagement of students in their learning as well as their ability to synthesize major concepts.

So, as soon as the lesson starts (or better: as soon as the kids walk through the classroom door), give your students something to do!

This can be:

  • A quick quiz or worksheet (requiring around five minutes to complete)
  • A question written on the board that the students have to answer
  • A quick vocabulary game (more on games here)
  • An ICT based task (e.g. using iPads to find out how Oliver Cromwell died, completing an online quiz about dinosaurs or writing a short blog post)
  • A role-play or conversation starter with students working in small groups (particularly good for language classes)
  • A practical construction activity (e.g. ‘Use the coins to make fifty-five pence’, or ‘Use the molecular modeling kits to make a molecule of glucose’)
  • Cut and stick activities (e.g. matching words to descriptions, adding labels to diagrams, making pictures out of shapes, etc.)
  • Surprise scenarios (e.g. turning your classroom into a ‘crime scene’, and getting your students to take samples and follow clues)
  • A QR code treasure hunt (these are particularly good fun, and are also a great way to build ICT into your lessons).
  • A Kahoot! quiz

I’m sure that you’ll probably have other ideas to add to this list too, and that’s fantastic! If not, then don’t worry; formulating quick and productive starter activities is a learning process but the good news is that the more you do it, the more ideas you’ll have!

Remember: after the starter activity has finished, always review what was done. Get the students to mark each other’s quizzes, or comment on each other’s blog posts, or whatever assessment method you feel is appropriate for the activity.

Once that’s been done, you can move on to the next crucial step in the teaching and learning process: defining the learning outcomes (to be covered next week).

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News: Warwick University Fudges Exam Timetable

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Examinations are stressful for students at all levels of Further and Higher Education: whether it’s GCSEs, end of unit tests, IB Diploma exams, university assessments or any test that carries a significant weighting.

And that’s when the exams are scheduled properly.

Imagine how much more stressful it would be if you found out that you may have to take some of your exams six weeks earlier than you were originally told.

Surprisingly, this is exactly what has happened recently at Warwick University: one of the UK’s most prestigious institutions.

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According to the BBC report published yesterday, the university said that the provisional timetable had to be scrapped due to “significant” difficulties and students had been told to disregard it.

In some cases exams have been scheduled 42 days earlier than planned.

After scanning Warwick’s press releases page I could not find any official explanation or update from them. The new exam timetable was apparently shared on 17th April, but press releases on that day discuss regional investment and an explosion on a star.

Too much homework

Nothing about the new timetable.

I contacted Warwick for an official explanation and received this reply:

Due to significant, critical and unforeseen difficulties, the earlier provisional timetable was taken down and students informed it was inaccurate and to await updated accurate information.

The examinations team responded to feedback from academic departments and published the final timetable a week earlier than was originally planned.

Boards of Examiners and the Notification of Mitigating Circumstances process will operate as it has in previous years and the details can be found here:
https://warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/examinations/students/mitigatingcircumstances

The ‘tip of the iceberg’

When delving deeper into this story I discovered that the provisional exam timetable, apparently released by Warwick almost two weeks later than expected, was also riddled with issues.

According to this article written by Steph Campbell at The Boar (Warwick University’s Student Newspaper), the provisional timetable showed some final year students’ exams being timetabled in June and early July, when the students were expected to be finished by the end of May.

A game of exam ‘ping pong’?

It seems that students were originally told that they would have exams in June and July, only to be told on April 17th that these exams were being moved to May.

Ping-ponging students like this is not a good idea, especially when so much is at stake (i.e. their entire futures).

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A MOUNTAIN OF REVISION TO DO IN SUCH LITTLE TIME: WARWICK STUDENTS TODAY?

My thoughts on this

Whilst Warwick doesn’t offer a course in Rocket Science (although their degree in Physics with Astrophysics comes close), they really didn’t need to assign this basic task to a rocket scientist.

If schools, colleges and exam boards can arrange exam timetables properly, then why not a top university?

It’s really simple:

Step 1: Find out which rooms are free and when

Step 2: Find out how many students can be comfortably accommodated into each room at once

Step 3: Find out the duration of each exam

Step 4: Match rooms and times with exams

Step 5: Tell your students

Step 6: Assign and hire invigilators

Warwick University may wish to take note of this process for future reference. It’s a tried-and-tested method that has been used successfully by schools and colleges for decades.

I contacted The Boar for an official comment but have so far not received a response.

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News: Students Must Learn to Outwit Robots

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Robots are taking over. Teachers everywhere need to skill-up, and fast.

This assertion, which I’ve been making for years, was further compounded by a news article I read from the Asia Pacific Entrepreneur on Tuesday.

The article, aptly entitled ‘Robots Are Stealing our Jobs, cites a report by the world-famous McKinsey Global Institute (and when they speak, businesses listen). Their estimation is that robots will replace 73 million jobs by 2030. (Secondary sources used, as McKinsey report link appears to be broken at the time of writing).

That’s only ten years away, by the way.

This got me reflecting on a recent experience I had.

Singapore, April 2019

I had the opportunity to spend a few days of the sweltering Songkran vacation in the beautiful island city of Singapore last week. It was a nice break from things, and a chance to see the wider-world a bit.

As soon as one lands at Singapore’s Changi Airport, one feels as though they are in a king’s palace – carpeted floors, an amazing array of shops and restaurants and one more thing: automation.

Checking in at Changi is easy – your thumbprints are scanned and you’re waved along. And there’s extra convenience when you leave Singapore – no need for any stamps in your passport anymore. You simply use your entry thumbprints to check out again when you leave.

I thought that was cool.

Then, as I was going down a random escalator at Changi I saw a robot cleaning the floors. No, not one of those small circular robo vacuums that some people might have at home – a big, industrial floor sweeper that was fully automated.

People stopped to take photos.

It was a weird feeling to be honest. Part of me thought this was so high-tech and unique. Another part of me thought: ‘someone has lost their job to that robot’

The hotel

I checked in at Studio M hotel in Singapore’s upscale Robertson Quay area.

Located next to a calm river and a cool spectrum of eateries and cafe’s (including the Book cafe – an author’s favorite, located just opposite), Studio M strikes you as a modern ‘hipster-style’ hideout.

I certainly got the hipster feeling in full dosage that night when I asked for some extra tissue paper. I dialed ‘0’ and asked for a resupply from the receptionist.

Two minutes later I opened the door to bleeps, flashy lights and a disco of childhood surprise – a cute robot was waiting with my order.

I and Nicki were in hysterics, and we took a video and photos (as you’ll see below). However, we took too long to video the robot and it ran away! We had to phone it to come back.

Colleges teaching students to outwit robots

Singapore validated my long-held suspicions that began when I started using MyiMaths – that technology will soon replace humans in almost every area of employment and business (including teaching).

Robots are efficient and cool, and they don’t require a salary. Call me pessimistic and a party-pooper, but I see that as being quite appealing to the typical business owner.

For teachers, we are already seeing the impact of technology on our roles. Computers are teaching our students at an ever-increasing frequency, and we are being increasingly relegated to the role of ‘facilitator’.

Imagine a panopticon-style school with super-surveillance, and a full suite of computer labs and robots to teach both practical and theoretical subjects. How many human ‘facilitators’ would that school need then?

Oh, but parents would never accept that, right?

Wrong – by 2030 most parents of school-age children will be

That’s why I am urgently warning all teachers, everywhere, to skill-up in any ICT-based field, and fast. I chose FinTech, because it interests me. You may wish to choose another field.

The rising state of anxiety about this issue has become so intense that some colleges are even considering ways in which they can teach students to ‘out-compete’ robots.

The Hechniger article cites Aoun as recommending all students to skill-up so that they can ‘outwit’ robots by:

  • Becoming exceptional public speakers
  • Optimizing non-robotic skills such as creativity, empathy and a sense of ethics
  • Understanding technology and data

He also argues that the era of getting a degree and being set-up for life is over. Universities now need to provide short courses that skill students up throughout their lives (hence my current enrollment in the Professional Certificate in FinTech course with HKU)

Conclusion

MyiMaths, Singapore, the Open University and HKU taught me something important – that automation is becoming cheaper and better as each year goes by. 

Teachers would be wise to keep this in mind, and take action now. 

Further viewing

An early video I made back in 2017 about this very issue:

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power!

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Getting a handle on how to give sincere praise on a regular basis, and giving it regulary to the same students (i.e. all of our students), is a skill that the very best practitioners have mastered.

Praise is not the cute fluff-ball it appears to be, however. It is complex, dynamic and works effectively through a variety of methods. Let’s begin with a true story that illustrates the massive power of praise in teaching.

Joanne’s story

Joanne had recently qualified as a secondary school science teacher and had just started her new teaching post at an English comprehensive school. She was excited about the new challenges she would face. and was ready to put all of her training into action. She had been given responsibility for a Year 11 (age 15 – 16) general science class. Their previous teacher had left her some handover notes, and had specified that she must be careful when dealing with one student in particular: Damon. This young man was notorious for being argumentative, aggressive and non-cooperative. She was told that she must not con- front him under any circumstances. Naturally, Joanne was more than a little apprehensive when she met this class for the first time.

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Damon walked into the science lab slightly later than the rest of his peers, and Joanne greeted him with a friendly “Welcome in young man, please take a seat”. This caused a giggle amongst the rest of the students, who were naturally expecting the same reaction that Damon’s other teachers would have given him – a good telling off! Damon sat down as instructed, but, being a feisty young teen ready to push the boundaries and test what he could get away with, he pulled out a can of cola and started to drink it at his desk (something that is generally not allowed in a science lab). Joanne, knowing what she had been told about Damon, decided on a very positive and useful approach: she decided to ignore this misdemeanor at that moment and proceed on with the lesson.

chatting in class

As the lesson proceeded, Joanne set a group work activity and walked around the classroom to see how the students were getting on. As she passed Damon, she noticed that he had a very neat and organized set of felt-tip pens on his desk, arranged in a very nice standalone display case. Joanne praised Damon with a “You’re so organised, Damon. It’s good to see that you’re prepared for your lessons. I wish that every student was as prepared as you are.”

What do you think Damon’s reaction was? – He was absolutely stunned! This was a young kid who was accustomed to being reprimanded, put on detention and confronted on a daily basis. Here was a new teacher who could actually see his worth, and what he could contribute. He lapped up the praise, and responded with an “Umm, err thanks. I always like to be ready for my lessons. I also love art”. This led to a short conversation about Damon’s love of drawing tattoo designs. Joanne subtly drew his attention to the artistic graphics on the cola can, and reminded him he couldn’t drink it in the science lab. He smiled.

Later that lesson, Joanne assigned him the role of ‘Work Presentation Chief’ for the class. Each lesson, from then on in, Joanne made sure that she praised Damon for his work, and allowed him to go around the class and assess the presentation skills of selected students. What was the effect on Damon? – He became Joanne’s best student. He felt empowered, because, like all human beings, he craved a sense of importance and he craved appreciation. When Damon achieved his grade C in GCSE Science that year (a massive accomplishment considering his turbulent history) he said to Joanne “It was all because of you, miss”. Even at that moment, Joanne praised him by responding with “You did all the hard work, Damon”.

Block building

Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain – and most fools do

Dale Carnegie

What do most people do when they are criticized? How do most people respond when their character or judgement is scrutinized? Answer: most people try to justify themselves, and this often leads to resentment felt towards the person doing the complaining. Your students are no different in this respect than you or I. We all love to know that we’re doing a good job, and we all want to feel appreciated and important. Make your students feel appreciated by praising them often, and make sure you mean what you say!

The 4 main rules of praise

Every student we teach is different, and our styles of praise will naturally adapt to suit the personalities of each child. However, there are some fundamental rules that all forms of praise should follow (written rules follow the YouTube video):

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.

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Rule #2: Praise must be specific

Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?

Be specific. Here are some examples:

“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”

“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”

Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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I’ve written about the power of this technique before, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.

Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.

On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.

Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on subtle reinforcement for more info about this powerful technique).

Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future

Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.

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Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.

Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.

“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”

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Secret Number 2: Use humor to enhance learning

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here

John’s Year 10 English class consisted of a cooperative and friendly group of students. One problem persisted though; a problem found in scores of classrooms the world over: low-level disruption.

This class was notorious for doing as they were told but having a lack-luster approach to tasks: often chatting when more ‘work’ should have been done. John, a man from a traditional British family, saw himself as a ‘staunch disciplinarian’, and he would often respond to student chatter and distraction by shouting at the students who he thought were responsible for it. He would hand out scores of detentions, all of which ate into his lunchtimes and his free time after school.

Had this have solved things, John might have been be forgiven for feeling proud of his vigilant approach. However, the problem didn’t go away, and students started to resent going to John’s lessons and they began to dislike him personally. John had effectively created a very negative environment in the classroom and this was not conducive to effective learning or positive behaviour.

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“An AMAZING book!”

As behavior got worse and worse, and students felt that they were being treated ‘unfairly’, John realized that he needed a radically different approach to his teaching methodology. He decided to attend a professional development course in accelerated learning, and after a day of various workshops his eyes were opened dramatically.

“I had been making fatal mistakes since I started working with this class” said John.

“I hadn’t shown them my human side, and I was too quick to criticize. I didn’t use my personality to generate humor and I created an environment of negativity”.

What do you think John did the next time he heard students chatting in his class? He used humor and his personality to ‘lighten the mood’ whilst, at the same time, getting the students back ontask.

“My student, Billy, was chatting to a girl called Sarah when he should have been listening to another student read a Shakespearean sonnet to the class. Normally, I would have responded to this by reading him the Riot Act and exploding, or putting both students on detention. Knowing that this could cause a backlash, or at least create an unhelpful atmosphere in the class, I decided on a different tactic. I said ‘Billy, please stop flirting with Sarah. You can do that at break time’ and I smiled. The response I got was a giggle from the class and a bit of teenage awkwardness from Sarah as she said ‘Ugh! I don’t think so’. After this, everyone listened attentively to the sonnet, and we proceeded on to our group activity”.

John’s story demonstrates the power that humor can have in making a lesson more palatable for students, and how humor can be used to keep students on-task. Again, it makes our human nature become visible to our students and, if used tactfully, it can even make lesson content more memorable and can help with behavior management. You have to be careful though, as some forms of humor will work with some students but not others. You need to have a good knowledge of your class before you employ the tactic that Josh used in the example above.

You really need to know your students well, as not every student you have will respond in the same way to the humor that you use.

I recall teaching a Biology lesson some years back in which we were studying inherited and environmental traits. One girl in the class asked to be excused to use the facilities and upon leaving she said something to her friend and was replied to with the word “retard!”.

Now I know that some people are going to tally disagree with I did in response to his, but in this particular situation it was definitely the right thing to do. I tackled this spontaneous outburst in a non-confrontational way by jokingly asking “Is that an environmental or inherited trait” and she said “both!”.

The whole class giggled, the situation was forgotten about and the students were back on task in a matter of seconds.

Had I have responded with some form of severe sanction, for what was essentially a typical exchange between two teenagers, then that would have created confrontation and a negative atmosphere in the classroom. This wouldn’t have helped anyone.

Word games: An idea worth exploring

Turn your key vocabulary into silly (bad?) jokes when talking to your students. Here’s an example: “I was sitting the staff room yesterday and Mrs Jones said ‘I like you, Mr Rogers, you’re funny’. I replied with ‘I alkalike you, Mrs. Jones: you are funny too’. This is the life of a Chemistry teacher, hashtag chemistrylife” (For those who don’t get it, I turned the word ‘alkali’ – a chemistry key word – into ‘alkalike’).

As bad as jokes like these are, I’ve found that students really like them, and they help the students to remember the key words they need for their tests and exams.

Suggestions: Ways to use humor in lessons

  • Tackle disruption with light-hearted comments that make the students aware that they need to be on-task, without being antagonistic. Use knowledge about student interests if possible (e.g. “David, I know you must be talking about the next ramp you’re going to fly off on your skateboard, but if you could please listen to me at this moment then I would be most grateful”, or “Simone, I’m sure that Diane already knows what a great dancer you are, so if you could please focus on the task in hand, then that would be great”). Remember, students may respond to this so be ready to be light-hearted and direct the conversation back to the task in-hand.
  • During group activities or short tasks, you can play some silly music (not too loud) to lighten the mood. You can start by saying something like “I’m going to play everyone’s favourite music”, and then proceed to play something funny and upbeat.
  • You can sing to your students. That’s right, I did just say that! You can make up silly songs about whatever the lesson content is and sing or rap them to the class. You can also get the students to do this too.
  • Use your whole physiology to generate laughter. A laugh eases tension and nurtures creativity. Use changes in your voice, funny personal stories, exaggerated facial expressions, dance moves and anything you can think of to raise a smile and a giggle.
  • Use learning games to make the atmosphere more happy and relaxed. If you’re a languages teacher, you may want to make your students formulate silly phrases, or use the vocabulary games mentioned in Chapter 2.
  • Make up rhymes, acronyms and funny mnemonics. For example, MR FAB is an acronym for Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians and Birds (vertebrate animals) and “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” is a mnemonic for “North, East, South, West”. Even better: get the kids to make up their own.

Conclusion

In summary, humour increases happiness in the classroom, removes inhibitions, makes the teacher appear more human and can even be used as a behaviour-management tool. To add to this, decades of methodical research have shown that humour can even help students remember key concepts for long periods of time, if it is used to illustrate a concept that has just been taught (Banas et al, 2011).

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5 Easy Ways to Help Exam-Level Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Exam-level students face unique challenges that we, as teachers, can often forget. They have to deal with:

  • Learning the techniques that work for them
  • Becoming organized in their revision
  • The stress and pressure of having to perform in exams that will follow them for the rest of their lives
  • Domestic pressures – expectations from parents, the responsibility of looking after siblings and, in some cases, the need to complete a part-time job

So what can we do to help our exam-level students achieve success?

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“An AMAZING Book!”

1. Tell them WHAT to revise

All exam boards have ‘specifications’, ‘syllabuses’ or ‘Course Guides’. These are usually documents aimed at helping teachers deliver the course correctly, but there’s no reason why students can’t have these documents too.

mess around in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Share the official syllabus for your course with your students. You can print it, share it on a VLE (such as Google Classroom) or even just provide the URL if the syllabus is available for free online
  • Many syllabuses contain unnecessary information for students (e.g. objectives of the course and key objectives). Extract the course content from the syllabus and turn it into a ‘kid-friendly’ revision list for the students to follow when revising.

2. Tell them HOW to revise

Many students require years of experience to discover their preferred (and most efficient) style of revision. For me, I found that dictating my notes to myself and playing them through my earphones when I lay in bed at night was effective, but this might not work for everyone.

Students really need a ‘menu’ of techniques to try out, but how often do schools actually provide this menu? How often is new technology taken into account? How often are students invited to share their best revision techniques with their peers?

chatting in class

Consider doing the following:

  • Hold a ‘committee meeting’ style gathering with your exam-level students. Sit them together in groups to share their ideas with each other about how to revise for tests and exams. Swap the groups around 3 or 4 times during the session, and get the students to write their techniques on the whiteboard at the end (or contribute to a Google doc).
  • Share what has worked for you personally when revising. Ask your colleagues to come to class and share their experiences. Get parents involved. Make it a community thing – if the ‘group mentality’ is directed towards exam success, then this will definitely rub-off on the kids.

lab girls

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to revise, but we must be pro-active in sharing this advice with our students.

Good websites that deal with the subject of revision techniques include:

For the interest of educators the BBC has also produced an excellent report in which revision techniques are ranked by effectiveness (well worth a read).

3. Tell them the BAD HABITS to avoid

When students know what to revise and how to revise, they often think that they now have every tool in their toolbox and are ‘ready for action’. This is a delusion.

snacking

There are negative influences, habits and distractions that can really mess-up even the most conscientious of students, and we must warn our learners about them. These bad habits include:

  • Procrastination: when students are revising from home during holidays or study-leave time, it can be very tempting for them to watch online videos or play computer games more frequently than they should be. For some students it’s better for them to get out of the house and go somewhere public (e.g. the school library) where they can’t take a nap and can’t get distracted as easily as they would at home.
  • Relationships and hormones: the ugly truth of this one needs to be revealed. Teenage sweethearts/lovers can lead to massive distraction on the run-up to exams. This is a delicate issue to deal with as a teacher, but I personally think it’s important to talk with individuals who are in teenage relationships and politely remind them that they have to be focused on their exams at this time, and not on each other so much. I’ll leave it there.
  • Sleep: It’s a balancing act. Students need enough sleep, but not too much. During school holidays and study-leave, many students fall into the habit of waking up late and messing up their sleeping cycles/circadian rhythms. This can lead to low productivity. I always teach my students the ‘Up Early and Out’ rule: get up early and go out to somewhere where you physically can’t nap during the day. The school library, a local library or even a coffee shop can be good options.

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Bad habits can destroy our students’ chances when revising for exams. We must tell them the negative behaviors to avoid, along with the positive actions to implement.

4. Tell them how to make a REVISION TIMETABLE

Even the very best students: those that know how to revise, what to revise and what habits to avoid, can get completely messed up by not being organized.

First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans, then transformation of those plans into reality. – Napoleon Hill

Organization is the key to exam success. Students should be starting their revision well in advance of their final exams (around 5 months works best). They should be sub-dividing their days into sessions, with each session focussing on a specific topic area.

A good revision timetable should include:

  • Enough sessions to cover each topic twice
  • A variety of subjects each day
  • Skewed weighting in favor of the what the student is weakest at (i.e more time spent on reviewing weak topics than reinforcing strong topics)
  • Practice questions, exam-style questions and lots of past-paper practice for each subject they are taking.

reading

Below you will see a great video about how to create a revision timetable (created by a student). Feel free to share this with your students:

5. Show students WHERE to find past-papers and which specification they are following

In my work as a Science Teacher and home-tutor over the past 12 years, I’ve met too many exam-level students who simply do not know:

  • The exact exam-board and exams they are taking
  • Exactly where to find the past-papers for their exams

A lot of exam boards (but not all) provide their past-papers for free (e.g. BMAT and Edexcel). Share the URLs with your students, or share the papers via a VLE.

Crucially: encourage your students to complete past-papers under timed conditions. Four example, if paper 1 mathematics is 1 hour long, then make sure your students know that they should time themselves for one hour when doing the past-paper at home for revision.

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

Consider the ‘Multiple Mock Exam (MME)’ rule too: why just have one mock exam? For my IBDP Chemistry students, for example, mock number 2 (in class) has traditionally happened in February. Mock number 3 in March. Finals in April/May.

MME can really help students to get used to the rigour of the exams, as well as the command terms language and time-constraints.IMG_5938richard-rogers-online

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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 

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Our cover teacher was late to class and we were having a right old laugh! It wouldn’t be allowed these days, but we walked into the empty chemistry lab and sat at our seats.

Some of us were chatting, some were making silly noises that inspired a raucous of laughter. We were chilling-out like pros!

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.

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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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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:

learning-journal-system2

  • 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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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:

IMG_5384

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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We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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