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 

Check out the new……

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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!

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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.

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  • 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

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

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

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

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

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

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

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

My updated (better) journaling system

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

Learning Journal System

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

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

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

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

A little ‘tweak’

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

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

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

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

Learning Journals Conclusion

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

#3: Peer Assessment

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

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

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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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Back to School Basics for Teachers

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s been a busy Summer vacation for me.

As a Chemistry teacher at an international school, I get a similar ‘Summer Holiday’ to my colleagues back in the U.K. – about 7 weeks from the end of June to mid-late August. However, I’ve not been resting that much as I’ve been involved in two excellent summer camps which have kept me productive and active.

I now have another two days left before school starts, so I’m enjoying a short break in the seaside resort of Pattaya, Thailand (a short drive away from Bangkok).

Siriya
Me at Suriya Land, Pattaya, today. 

Getting into the swing of things

7 weeks is a long time to be away from school and if we are to be at our optimum when we meet our new students on day one, then we need to get physiologically, biochemically and mentally ready.

I’m now going to go through my top 5 tips for starting the new academic year like a superhero! Over the past 12 years of my professional teaching career these tips have been absolute life-savers!

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I know they will work for you too, as they have done for the hundreds of teachers and trainees that I have counseled and mentored over the years.

Here’s a quick video summary of these 5 tips:

Tip #1: Rest yourself

This can be difficult, especially if you’re a parent with small children. However, it is absolutely essential.

snacking

When we rest ourselves before school begins, however, we must do it in a systematic, organised way. What does this mean? – Well, let’s take a look at this list together and see if we could implement these actions at least 1 week before going back to school:

  • Hydrate ourselves well: We should drink low-sugar, high-water fluids to get our bodies biochemically ready for the new academic year
  • Get enough sleep: I personally need 8 hours per night – any less and I find it hard to function!
  • Implement a regular sleeping pattern: I don’t want my first Monday back to be a total shock to my body (that’s happened to me before and it was ugly!). From now until the day I start back at school, it’s bed at 10pm and up at 6am every day. A pattern like this allows our circadian rhythms to become balanced just in time for the first day – so that we’ll feel fresh and ready!
  • Do recreational stuff: You know what you love to do. Do it! For me: I love to read in the countryside with a windy breeze in the background. I enjoy going to the gym and taking my time when I’m there. I enjoy karate. I love writing my blog at a sleepy little coffee shop somewhere in the back-of-beyond. Whatever it is that you love to do, give yourself the gift of doing it before you go back to school. This will help you to relax and will adjust your nervous system to a state of ‘positive awareness’.
  • Eat properly: I don’t need to lecture anyone about this – we all know what we should be doing. I know, for example, that by having three-square meals per day, at around about the same time each day (followed with wide-spectrum multi-vitamins and mineral supplements), then by the process of bio-accumulation my body will be biochemically at its optimum before I launch into my teaching modality on day one.

Tip #2: Know your curriculum!

We need to know two important things well before we start teaching our students:

  • What we are going to teach
  • When, exactly, we are going to teach it

This process is called ‘curriculum mapping’ and it’s so important, especially if you’re starting at a new school or if you’re a newly-qualified teacher whose starting a new job.

making plans

I know, for example, that I’ll be teaching a Year 12 and 13 IBDP Chemistry class this coming academic year. I know that Year 13 need to have covered Topic 17 (HL Equilibria) by the end of August, and Topics 8 and 18 (Acids and Bases) by the end of September. Year 12 need to have covered Topics 2 and 12 (Atomic Structure) and Topic 1 (Quantitative Chemistry) by the end of September.

I need to know exactly what’s happening, in terms of my teaching and school events that could interrupt my normal schedule, for each and every month of the upcoming academic year.

Curriculum mapping benefits us in so many ways:

  • It keeps us confident because we are ‘on-track’ and going in the right direction
  • It relaxes us (because we know what’s coming next)
  • It gives us time to plan ahead

So get mapping – you know it makes sense!

Tip #3: Get photocopying!

Here’s something I can guarantee – on day one of teaching, and the day before, many of your colleagues will be using the school’s photocopiers and printers to get their resources ready.

Explaining

If me and you want to start the academic year in a hassle-free, relaxed way, then we need to be a step-ahead of everyone else.

Go into school a few days before you’re due to start and get your first week’s worth of worksheets, booklets and whatever else you need printed and ready.

Trust me –  you’ll be glad you did it!

Tip #4: Read ahead

We all forget subject content, even the most highly-qualified and knowledgeable of us.

If possible, get your hands on the same textbooks your kids will be using. Use these textbooks to:

  • Read ahead and make sure you understand the stuff you’ll teaching the students
  • Think about which questions from the textbook you’d like to set for your kids. Do these questions have model answers? If not, then you’ll be creating unnecessary work for yourself when you come to mark them. Will you set these questions as homework or classwork?
  • Does the textbook contain any good graphics that you could scan/photograph and put into a Prezi, Google slides or PowerPoint?

Tip #5: Don’t be nervous

Whatever your situation is: starting at a new school or staying at your current school, you’re likely to have new colleagues, systems, resources and even policies that you’ll be working with.

jenga

Don’t be in a rush to get to know everyone all at once. Take your time, relax and get to know people one at a time.

See the new academic year as an opportunity to inspire, care-for and motivate your new students. With this mindset, you’re sure to start back at school like a superhero!

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5 Easy Ways to Teach English Through Any Subject

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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!

sit n talk

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. 

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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 dictionary every 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 English third 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 actually impossible 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 a study conducted 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.

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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.

bean bags

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:

  • Write it
  • Highlight it
  • Use it
  • Say it

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”

Class: “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 this here, 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.

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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.

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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 this here and here. 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:

Splat

Here’s a short video of me playing ‘splat’ with some of my former students:

Corners

#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.

Overall Conclusion

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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Should Parents be Involved in Sex Education?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

As an 11-year-old boy I was interested in two main things: sweets and toys (especially toy soldiers, model cars and wrestler figurines).

Then the day of the ‘video’ came. A large TV was wheeled into class and the school nurse and class teacher looked on as a group of kids giggled at the animations in the ‘Growing Up’ documentary.

chatting in class

I knew it was coming, and so did my parents – they had to sign a consent form beforehand.

Did I really need to be taught that at 11-years-old? For me, personally, I don’t think so. It was little too early. 

The news

As I was scrolling through the BBC News’ Family and Education section looking for interesting articles to tweet, I came across this top story:

bbc news

You can read the full article here.

After reading the article my conclusion is this: Children in England of 15-years-old and above will be soon be allowed to opt in for sex education classes, even if their parents wish to withdraw them.

Currently, parents have the right to withdraw students from sex education classes up to the age of 18.

The article makes the legitimate point that any child who does not receive sex ed before the age of 16 will effectively have reached the age of consent without knowing what sex is, and what the consequences of sex could be. There are also concerns that modern sex education covers topics such as mental health and LGBT issues, which some lawmakers and ministers feel are such important topics that parents should have no say in whether or not their kids learn about them. 

I tend to disagree, strongly.

Culturally and religiously inappropriate

In many cultures, sex education is simply not taught to kids at the age at which we in the U.K. would deem it appropriate. Here are some facts which I’ve pulled from research done by studyinternational.com

  • Belgium: Sex education begins at the age of 7 in some schools, although the approach to sex ed is rather relaxed and no national strategy or system is really in place.
  • China: Mostly absent, although Do-It-Yourself STI testing kits are readily available. Sex education is primarily the responsibility of parents, not schools.
  • India: Sex education is not compulsory, but good programs are in place that are aimed at 12-20 year-olds
  • Indonesia: Again, sex education is not compulsory but big changes are happening across the country to modernize Indonesia’s provision. 
  • New Zealand: As a compulsory subject, sexual education is taught through a rigorous national curriculum from Year 7 to Year 13. However, concerns have been raised about New Zealand’s STI levels, and moves are being made to modernise and improve the programme. 

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As we can see for this small sample, people of differing cultures have completely different views on when and how sex ed should be taught. We also see that despite comprehensive sex ed courses being provided to schoolchildren in countries like the U.K., New Zealand and America, the effects seem to be mixed:

  • In New Zealand, teenage pregnancies and birth rates are falling (is that a good thing?), but STIs such as syphilis are on the increase
  • In the U.K., despite sex education being written into law with the The Education Act of 1996 (which states that sex education should inform pupils about STIs and HIV and encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and family life”), syphilis infections are the highest they have been in 70 years. 
  • The American situation is just as dire, with the CDC reporting that in 2016 gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia infections were at an all-time high. Sex education has been a public health priority for American governments for four decades but methods of implementation vary by states, districts and school boards.

One could argue that sex ed in schools simply doesn’t work. In fact, that was almost the exact conclusion of a massive 2016 Cochrane Infectious Diseases Review of studies into sex ed. The review states that:

There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programmes alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.

Removing parents from the ‘system’?

Some people would argue that a pattern seems to be emerging (albeit slowly): the systematic removal of parents from involvement in their child’s education. 

Let’s take a look at a quick summary of some developments in the U.K.:

  • Whilst homeschooling is allowed in the U.K., the headteacher of a pupil’s assigned school must be notified. A local council representative may come to inspect, and if he or she provides a negative appraisal of the situation then the pupil may be required to attend full-time school. School Attendance Orders were introduced in 1996 and basically allow for the government to fine and prosecute parents if their children do not receive a suitable full-time education from at any point between the ages of 5 and 16. 
  • Children between the ages of 13 and 16 have the same medical confidentiality rights as adults, which means that doctors and teachers are not required to inform parents in the case of an abortion or sexual activity. 
  • If parents are homeschooling their children, then they do not need to follow the curriculum. However, they must make sure their child is educated suitably for their age and ability and for any special educational needs they may have.

Conclusion

Sexual education doesn’t seem to be working effectively, as STIs continue to rise globally (even in those countries where sex ed is comprehensive and implemented through a national strategy). This concerning, and more research needs to be done to ascertain feasible solutions.

Parents should be encouraged to get more involved in the sexual education of their children. Parents should always be given the choice to consent to school-based sex education for their children. The religious and cultural beliefs of the family unit should be respected. 

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The Four Rules of Praise

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s a warm mid-summer day in muddy Swynnerton, England. I’m at an army base for Summer Camp. I’m a 15-year-old army cadet.

The Territorial Army had some of their boys in to inspire and help us. They needed a cadet to help with the radio and signals work during night exercises. I can’t remember if I volunteered or if I was chosen, but I very quickly found myself listening in on the radio transmissions, recording the call signs and messages in the log book and taking action where needed to pass on vital information about group movements and conditions, along with any emergencies.

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I loved it. It was ace!

I just immersed myself in the process and did the best job I could. I was told what to do by the T.A. lads and I just got on with it.

Later that night, they all shook my hand and told me I had done a good job.

The next day came and I was approached by my home platoon sergeant. I can still remember her words, two decades later: “Corporal Rogers I’m hearing brilliant things about you from the T.A. Keep it up! You’re doing Flint Platoon proud”.

That felt amazing, and it spurred me on to work harder.

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Praise only works when it is used properly

The Army Cadets were an excellent model of good teaching. To be honest, I really think they turned my life around. I went from a shy, weak and rather timid boy to a confident and rather ambitious young man in the space of about three years, thanks to their help.

Giving feedback

I’m going to summarise what I’ve found to be the very best ways to use praise to empower and push our students forward. They worked for me when I was being taught as a kid, and they’ve worked for thousands of students that I’ve helped in my twelve years as a high school teacher.

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

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

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

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

Be specific. Here are some examples:

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

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

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

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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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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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

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

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

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

Humans are natural carers

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

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

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

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

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

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

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

Conclusion

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

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Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Childrens’ Health

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It was 1988. I was five-years-old.

I wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ kid in early primary school. I tried to follow instructions, but things didn’t really ‘click’ for me until later in life. One day, however, I must have been a good student because my teacher rewarded me by letting me use the computer.

I was led by hand to a small room adjacent to the classroom. Nestled in the corner on a wheely truck was a BBC Micro computer. It came complete with a huge floppy disk drive and some kind of touch-pad which I didn’t understand how to use.

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It all looked very high-tech and cool to me.

For thirty minutes I was allowed to play vocabulary and maths games. The black screen whirled with green text and pong balls as I tried to solve the problems. The bleeps and 8-bit sounds were awesome.

Later that year my family would buy a far-superior computer and a legendary gaming console – the Atari 520 ST.

If I was lucky I’d get an hour to play on that computer each day. The games were aimed at kids and the themes were vivid and colourful. The Atari machine taught me hand-eye coordination and the basics of using a mouse, floppy disk drive and operating a basic computer. I think it also made me a bit of a dreamer and aided my imagination.

Double Dragon
‘Double Dragon’ – A game I used to play on the Atari 520 ST back in 1988

My life back then was very-much centred on the outdoors. The Atari was a nice addition to my life, but I still preferred running though streams and burying my toy cars in the garden.

Fast Forward to 2018

I can’t believe that thirty whole years have passed since 1988. My generation has seen so much change in such a short space of time.

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Some technological developments over the past three decades have been revolutionary and beneficial to mankind. The creation of the mainstream internet in 1993, for example, opened peoples’ homes, libraries, offices and schools to a whole new era of possibilities and opportunities in learning, business, entertainment, communication, research and e-commerce. 

Along with this sudden treasure trove have come some shocking and extreme societal changes which pose new challenges for all of us. 

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Take a report published by the Telegraph this week, for example. The headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

But I thought that technology was good for kids!

As teachers, we’ve pinned our colours to the ‘Technology Troop’ so much that as soon as people start speaking up about the dangers of widespread and pervasive technological encroachment into peoples’ lives they are often shunned; sometimes disgraced and can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ or not ‘with the times’.

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I once remember a fashionable post and picture from a friend on LinkedIn in which he said “When faced with a steam-rolling technology you either become part of the steam-roller, or part of the road”.

I remember thinking ‘How about you just move out of the way of the steam-roller’?

It didn’t take long before the reflex-action barrage of indignation was fired my way.

But the dangers of compulsive and widespread association with our mobile devices are real – very real:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in Canada, America and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

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Conclusion

As teachers and parents we are facing a global health crisis of epic proportions.

The dangers of excessive mobile-device usage are well-researched, fully-supported and very real. Also: ‘excessive’ has become the new ‘normal’.

If we do not take action now, when this problem is in it’s relative infancy, then who’s imagination can predict the problems that are waiting to manifest?

We must no longer subscribe to the notion that technology is amazing and that anyone who criticizes or questions its value in an educational setting is to be shunned or belittled. There are legitimate reasons for being concerned about the encroachment of screen time into childrens’ lives. 

Next week, I’ll be exploring ways in which adults can reduce the screen time of their children and students. We all must help. We all must take action now. 

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