Updated: 7th February 2023 – As this is an evolving topic, this blog post shall be updated regularly in order to make the content relevant for teachers and schools.
Accompanying podcast episode:
You’ve probably already been swept up by the huge (and sudden) tidal wave of hysteria that has been generated by OpenAI’s latest product: ChatGPT.
From writing computer programs to producing beautifully formatted English and SAT essays, to answering Mathematics IGCSE examination questions – ChatGPT seems to be the digital guru we’ve all been waiting for, and big tech companies have been attempting to create, for decades.
You could almost say “Chat’s one small step for RAM, one giant leap for mankind!”
Whilst a witty pun like this is enough to break the ice and get a few giggles at your next Teach Meet (perhaps), it won’t be enough to calm the nerves of many who have suddenly realised that we have a major problem on our hands.
ChatGPT has hit educators globally with thunderclap surprise and is causing a lot of panic – and for good reason. In terms of updating Academic Integrity policies, schools will now have to go right back to the drawing board and devise intelligent solutions to a wide array of complex challenges that ChatGPT will pose. Another key consideration for all educational institutions will be how to figure out their position on AI, and which teaching practices to use, as these systems and tools evolve.
So, if you’re one of the many educators out there who is considering how ChatGPT will affect your teaching, then here are some interesting thoughts and resources:
The first rule with any new technology is to educate students regarding its use and to reveal what is ethically and academically acceptable (as they say the genie cannot be put back in the bottle so banning does not work). Is ChatGPT just another ‘cognitive offloading’ tool like spellcheck, Grammarly, or Amazon Polly, or is it much more than that? Read this good overview piece by Larry Ferlazzo at EdWeek to find out more.
#3: Plagiarism software cannot detect it quite yet
OpenAI have just recently created a kind of ChatGPT detector – to check if an assignment has been artificially generated – but even they themselves say that it’s nowhere near perfect: only 26% accurate! OpenAI recommend using their plagiarism detector, along with other software (like the tool from TurnItIn) to get a good, overall picture of just how much bot-generated text is present within a piece of work.
What if it catches a student who has used ChatGPT partially? Is this acceptable?
#4: Have a go yourself.
A colleague of mine used it in class with students on an IB Digital Society essay and he reported that it was interesting to examine and use the results. It writes pretty good TOK (Theory of Knowledge) essays based on last year’s prompts, for instance. However, it does have many limitations and I believe it’s important to discuss these with students. I do think the TOK assessment, and other essay-based coursework, will have to radically change over the next few years. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see a shift in schools towards more internal assessment methods like group/individual presentations and practical work.
#5: Should we be concerned about students using it?
As schools continue to set essay assignments (as per current requirements) I recommend using a new tool called Elicit which can help students with searching and ranking sources alongside improving the quality of their research questions. This is a great introduction to the Extended Essay for IB, for example. A list of the many other tools out there can be found at this link – Future Tools – Find The Exact AI Tool For Your Needs.
In addition to the current disruption already caused by ChatGPT, Google (of course) are planning to stamp their feet and make their mark very soon. The AI arms’ race is on, and Google’s offering is a system called Bard – so advanced that its predecessor, LaMBDA, was controversially described as being “sentient” by its developer.
Will we see the day when self-aware AI systems are given the same rights and responsibilities as people? In LaMBDA’s case, the system described feeling “happy or sad at times” and reported having a deep fear of being switched off – a fate comparable to being killed, in its ‘opinion’.
Special thanks to Jeremie Tisseau, CEO of Morphosis Holdings Co. Ltd., for acting as my ‘go-to consultant’ and for sharing his expertise on all things ChatGPT and AI with me. Your input has allowed this blog post to remain relevant, useful, topical and accurate.
Useful PDF Resources
See below. Just click on the ‘download’ buttons to save these pdfs.
As a teacher or a parent, you’ll likely have an interest in the subjects that children are learning in school, especially newer subjects like computer literacy, robotics, coding, or even game development. And while some parents and teachers might be worried that children already spend too much time on tablets, mobile phones or laptop computers as it is, the good news is that all of these subjects are likely to enhance the learning of more traditional curriculum areas, such as mathematics and English.
Coding, in particular, is quickly becoming a key skill that school students must achieve basic competency in before they graduate. In August last year, for example, former President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the nationwide rollout of Kenya’s first ever coding curriculum in primary and secondary schools. This made Kenya the first African nation to create an official coding syllabus to be delivered in schools.
Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her thoughts on why coding is such an important subject for students to learn.
In this digital age, when technological advancement continues to transform our lives, learning coding is crucial, especially for school students. Because if you think about it, the apps and websites children use all run on code. Thus, it’s vital for them to learn and understand the basics of coding to make the most out of the apps and websites they visit and utilize.
As you may be aware, in the current curriculum, students in classes 11 and 12 are taught fundamental programming languages, such as C, C++, Foxpro, and more, while sixth-grade students and up learn computer basics. And as online education came to light, more and more students eagerly took online tuition coding classes to test various programming languages.
Given this situation, education professionals must also understand that teaching coding is as important as teaching sustainability at school. It offers numerous benefits for your students – from academic excellence to better career opportunities. To explain it further, we’ve listed down the reasons why coding is essential for students. Let’s get started.
#1: Coding improves critical thinking skills
One of the many reasons why learning coding is important is that it can help students improve their critical thinking skills. A 2014 study actually demonstrates that the five brain areas associated with language processing, working memory, and attention are activated when people work with source code. Because besides memorizing various programming languages, students will also need to understand how to use them correctly. But to do that, it will require them to think differently.
Dealing with codes requires you to break down problems into smaller and more manageable pieces to understand what happens next. This strategic problem-solving technique is called computational thinking. Coders must examine the data, assess the situation, and decide which course of action will help them achieve their objectives.
In light of this, students who learn how to code can improve their problem-solving/critical-thinking skills by figuring out the best solution to a problem at hand.
#2: Coding boosts creativity
Aside from honing problem-solving skills, coding also fosters the creativity of students. It gives them the opportunity to express themselves, experiment, and be creative. They can design websites, apps, or games in a fun and exciting way.
“But how does coding help with creativity?“, you may ask.
Well, while you learn various programming languages and techniques to create various programs, you always need to start building from scratch. For instance, when students are tasked to make an animated object, they have to think about what it should look like and how it can be presented on the screen. This is when they need to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to achieve what they picture.
#3: Coding teaches patience and persistence
Learning how to code is similar to how we learn a language. The only difference is we use programming languages to communicate with the computer. So, typically, we start by memorizing the alphabet, some words, and phrases before we begin creating sentences for use in conversations. And, of course, we will inevitably make mistakes along the way. It’s the same scenario in coding.
As you might already know, coding is complex and can be frustrating. But it teaches us patience and perseverance. Because to be successful, one must be able to experience failure and bounce back from it. It will take some testing and troubleshooting before the codes work effectively.
Students can use this process of trial and error to their advantage as they go through life, helping them to understand that perseverance is often necessary to find solutions to many difficulties.
#4: Coding improves communication and teamwork
Coding also teaches two of the best things students can use when they enter the real world: communication and teamwork. Most of the time, teachers assign students to work in groups when developing projects. That requires them to communicate with one another and make collaborative efforts for a successful program. But, even if they’re working on individual projects, they can still seek feedback from their classmates. Thus, by teaching coding to students, they’ll develop their communication skills and learn the importance of teamwork.
#5: Coding creates career opportunities
Finally, learning to code opens up many career opportunities. Considering how technology continuously advances as time passes by, coding is an extremely useful skill to possess. Computer programmers, web developers, and other IT jobs are now in demand because of the increasing number of businesses relying on code. And it’s not just those in the technology sector, but also those in finance, retail, health, and other industries.
If people learn to code at a young age, they’ll have the advantage of having better career opportunities in the future. Not to mention that the salary can be at a high level for those qualified, talented, and experienced IT people.
The bottom line
There are many reasons why coding is important for school students to learn. Besides learning how to build websites and apps, they also learn valuable skills and lessons they can use in the real world. Not to mention that you’re also bringing them numerous career opportunities in this ever-growing digital world. And if they grow interested in developing more advanced and amazing software, they also contribute to our future.
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Originally posted December 2017. Updated December 2022.
The Christmas vacation is finally here. Many of us in the teaching profession can now look forward to a good couple of weeks of much-needed rest and recuperation.
Our students deserve a break too.
I agree that time spent with family and friends is an absolute essential right now, but I’m also mindful of the workload and duties that will hit me like a tornado when I return to school in January.
When it comes to school holidays, I always see them as time to ‘go at my own pace’. The way I see it, I have two choices:
Do nothing for the whole holiday and totally chill out, returning to the normal barrage of work that hits every teacher at the start of Term 2
Still have a holiday and some rest but do some little things to get a head-start on things before I return to school
I’ve always found that trying to do option 2 is the best, even if I don’t get through all of the ‘head-start’ work that I plan to do.
Is this an admission of failure before I even begin? Maybe, but here are my plans made as realistic as possible: meaning that I can have a rest and do around 50% (minimum) of these things too:
Requisitions and orders: I’m a Science Teacher, so I need to order chemicals and equipment for my lessons each week. This Christmas my first priority will be to get all of my requisitions done for each week of Term 2, ahead of time. This will save me many a long night when I get back to school, and will help me to plan ahead and reinforce my long-term curriculum mapping.
Termly review: Every Christmas I make it a priority to evaluate where I am at now, and where I want to be with my classes by the end of the term. This kind of self-analysis allows me to see where I’m behind and where I’m ahead and how to address those issues. This is really important for final-level exam classes as they must have covered the whole syllabus and have revised by the time the terminal exams come along.
Getting back to gym: I’ve been slacking off lately (I said this back in 2017 too!). No excuses this time. I’ve got every day free for a few weeks so I’ll be up early and out for a jog before hitting the weights later in the day.
Responding to student e-mails: Some students in my exam classes will be e-mailing me with questions about past-papers, coursework and subject-specific stuff. If I can help, then I will help. However, if not urgent, then I will deal with these queries when I am back at school.
Clothes: I’m running out of a few things (such as shirts that actually fit me!). Time for a wardrobe mini-makeover so that I continue to look half-decent at work.
Writing my next book: My first book was quite well-received, as was my second (The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback) so I’ve decided to have a go at writing another. Ten Techniques Every Teacher Needs to Know will explore the themes of classroom management and assessment to inform learning in even greater depth and breadth than my first book, and will build upon the fundamentals covered in one of my most popular blog posts. I see this as ‘downtime’ for me because I really love writing. Can I count this as ‘relaxation’?
Going back to karate: Another thing I’ve been putting off. Time to get a regular schedule set up.
Contacting people I should have contacted ages ago. Chasing up old leads and projects that I’ve allowed to slip.
Of course, as well as all of this I plan to enjoy my freedom in Thailand as much as possible. A trip to Pak Chong (where The Big Boss was filmed), along with my long-awaited visit to the Death Railway in Kanchanaburi (still haven’t done that yet – it needs to go on the list!).
How will you use your free-time this Christmas? Is it all one-big holiday or can you think of some small ways to make your life easier when you get back to school?
It was a mid-spring morning in 1996. I was 13 years old enjoying Science class with one of my favourite teachers up on the top-floor lab at North Wales’ prestigious St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School.
I loved Science. The feel of the lab, decorated with preserved samples in jars and colorful posters and periodic tables and famous Scientists on the walls, along with the cool gas taps and Bunsen burners that rested on each desk. This was my favorite part of the school.
Today’s lesson was special though, and I remember it for a very unexpected reason.
We were receiving back our Forces and Motion tests today. I loved getting my tests back, not least because I always revised really hard and was used to getting at least 75% on each one.
I always used to do two things whenever I got my tests back:
Check that the teacher had added up the scores correctly
Check how to improve my answers
On this particular day I had lost marks on a question that was phrased something like this: ‘If a rocket is travelling through space, what will happen to the rocket if all of the forces on it become balanced?’
In my answer I had written: ‘The rocket will either continue travelling at a constant speed or will not move at all.’
Now, how do I remember this seemingly obscure moment in a sea of moments from high school, most of which I cannot recall? Well, that’s simple: My teacher came over and took the time and effort to verbally explain where I’d gone wrong.
I should have just written that the rocket will continue at a constant speed, not “or will not move at all”.
This moment of personal, verbal feedback from my teacher was powerful and precious. Not only did it serve to maintain my momentum in Science learning, but it left me with visual impressions of the memory itself: My friends in the Science lab, the posters on the wall and even the sunlight shining over the glistening Dee Estuary which was visible from the Science lab windows.
This little story shows us the power of verbal feedback, and therefore the caution we should place on what we say to our students. Young girls and boys grow up to become men and women, and their teachers leave a number of impressions on them, some of which are permanent.
The trick is to ensure that the permanent impressions are useful, positive and productive: As was the case with my conversation with my teacher that day.
And not all impressions need to be verbal. Written feedback can be just as memorable.
Let’s now explore the fundamentals of effective student feedback that are easy to implement, and useful.
Peer Assess Properly – The Traditional Method
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.
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.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen canalso 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.
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.
Experiment with automated assessment
I wrote a blog postabout the effective use of ICT in lessons some weeks back, and I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths.
It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life.
Why? That’s simple. Students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:
All of the students were focused and engaged
All of the students were challenged
The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems
The content was relevant and stimulating
No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working
No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from, Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a big and effective part of your teaching arsenal.
Give verbal feedback the right way
Verbal feedback is a great way to have a personal one-to-one conversation with a student. It can help you to address systemic, widespread issues (e.g. not writing down all of the steps in calculations) and it can be a great way to motivate each student.
However, many teachers are only going so far with verbal feedback and are not using it as the powerful tool it is.
Take this piece of KS3 Geography work for example:
I received this work from a parent at dinner, who knew I was an educational author, on 21st June 2016.
You’ll undoubtedly have noticed the dates on the work: 1st December and 8th December 2015. I’m sure you’ll have shuddered upon the realization that this work hadn’t been marked in seven months! No peer-assessment, no self-assessment and no comments from the teacher. There aren’t even any ticks! Add this to the fact that this boy’s entire notebook was completely unmarked, just like this, and you can begin to understand why I nearly had palpitations in front of several avid noodle and rice connoisseurs!
When I asked the boy about why it wasn’t marked, he said that this teacher never marked worked, he just gave the occasional verbal feedback. My next obvious question was to ask what verbal feedback he’d received about this work. He said he
With teacher workloads increasing globally, this kind of approach is, unfortunately, not uncommon, However, verbal feedback need not be time-consuming and can be executed in a much better way than is seen here in this Geography work. Here are my tips:
1. Set your students a task to do and call each student one-by-one to have a chat about their work. Be strict with your timings – if you have a 40 minute lesson and 20 students in the class then keep each conversation to two minutes.
Mention the points for improvement and use sincere praise to address the good points about the work. Ask the student to reflect on the work too.
Once the conversation is over, write ‘VF’ on the work, and ask the student to make improvements to it. Agree on a time to collect it in again so that you can glance over the improvements.
As you can see, this simple three step approach to verbal feedback generates a much more productive use of time than simply having a chat with the student. Action has to be taken after the discussion, and this places the responsibility of learning solely in the hands of the student, which is where it should be.
Be specific in your comments
Sometimes it is appropriate to collect student work and scribble your comments on it with a colored pen. When you do this, make sure your comments are specific and positive, Take a look at these examples, which all serve to empower the student:
Peer Assess Properly – The Technological Method
A growing trend that is proving popular with teachers is to use Google forms in the peer assessment process. I wrote about this in my book, and I’ve included the extracts here:
A good form for students will look something like this:
There are many alternatives to using Google forms. For example, you may wish to create a form via your school’s VLE, or even get the students to send each other their work through e-mail or a chat application (although this will remove anonymity). Either way, peer assessment with technology will save you time and provide your students with quick, detailed feedback.
Make sure students improve their work
A common theme you may have spotted in this week’s blog post is that of improvement. Students should always improve the work that’s been marked or assessed. This serves two purposes:
The student will get into the habit of giving their best effort each time. After all, a great first attempt means less effort needed in the improvement phase
The process of improving a piece of work serves to firmly cement concepts in the subconscious mind of the student, aiding memory and retention
Don’t forget to use rubrics, mark schemes and comments – students can’t possibly improve their work without these.
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Updated: October 2022 (Originally posted May 2017)
I received a message from a very stressed out Newly Qualified Teacher a few weeks ago. It pertains to a problem that many educators face: dealing with homework. When I told her that I was planning to write an article about this very issue, she agreed to share her message with all my readers:
Dear Richard. I’m about to finish my first year in teaching and I’m really ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to mark my students’ homework on time each week. In fact, I’ve set so much homework that it has just piled up and piled up over the course of this year, to the point where I now have a literal mountain to deal with! I’m kind of hoping that most of my students will forget that I have their work, and this seems to be happening as some of it is months old. I’m so stressed out! How can I make sure that this never, ever happens again?! – G
Being overwhelmed with marking, particularly that caused by homework, is a common problem for new and experienced teachers alike. In this article, I’ll examine the best ways to design and organise homework, as well as ways to avoid being bogged down and ‘up to your eyeballs’ in paperwork. If you would like an audio version of my strategies, then please listen to this excellent UKEdChat podcast (highly recommended for anyone who wants to get better at assigning and organizing homework)here.
Consideration #1: Homework is not pointless
It’s really important to make this point from the outset. A number of articles have come out in recent years causing us to question the merits of setting homework. At one point, this mindset became so mainstream that I remember sitting-in on a departmental meeting in which a number of teachers suggested that we shouldn’t set homework at all, as it is totally pointless!
This might be a nice excuse to use to avoid some paperwork and marking, but unfortunately it’s not true at all.
In my experience, homework is only pointless if the kids never ever receive feedback, or if the homework doesn’t relate to anything on the curriculum. Then, of course, their time has been wasted.
I’ll always remember one school I worked at where all of the teachers had set summer homework for their students. Piles and piles of homework were set, including big, thick booklets full of past-papers. Guess what happened when those students returned to school the next academic year; many of the teachers had changed, and the work was piled up in an empty classroom and never marked. What a tragedy!
We’ll explore some ways in which we can give feedback in a timely manner today, as well as ways in which we can design our homework properly.
Consideration #2: Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of homework you set
This is crucial. Ideally, all homework should fall into one of four categories:
To review concepts covered in class
To prepare students for new content they will cover in class
To prepare students for examinations (e.g. with exam-style questions, revision tasks and past-papers)
A combination of two or three of the above
If the homework you are setting does not fall into these categories then you are wasting both your time and the students’ time by setting it.
Consideration #3: Think carefully about how much time the students will need to complete each piece of homework
This is an important consideration. Put yourself in the students’ shoes. Is this homework too demanding, or too easy for them? Will they actually have enough time to complete it? Is your deadline reasonable?
Consideration #4: How much self-study or research will your students have to do to complete your work? Where will they get their information from?
If the piece of work you are setting involves preparation for content or skills soon to be covered in class, then your students might have to do some research. Is the level of self-study you are asking of your students reasonable? Are they old enough, and mature enough to be able to find this information on their own? If not, then you may need to give some tips on which websites, textbooks or other material to look at.
Consideration #5: Can you mark this work?
This is such an important consideration, but can be overlooked by so many teachers who are in a rush.
Think carefully: if you’re setting a booklet of past-paper questions for ‘AS’ – Level students, then how is it going to be marked? Crucially, how will the students receive feedback on this work? And remember: homework really is pointless if students don’t get any feedback.
Be honest with yourself. If you honestly don’t have enough time to mark such large pieces of work, then it’s much better to set smaller, manageable assignments. At least that way your students will get some feedback, which will be useful to them.
Also, don’t try and do everything yourself when it comes to marking. Use peer-assessment, self-assessment and even automated assessment (such as that found on instructional software) on a regular basis. Be careful though – make sure you at least collect in your peer-assessed and self-assessed assignments afterwards just to be sure that all students have done it, and so that you can glance over for any mistakes. Students can be sneaky when they know that the teacher is trusting them with self-assessment each week by simply providing the answers to the work.
Another good tip is to spend some time on the weekend planning your homework for the week ahead. What exactly will you set, and when, to allow you enough time to mark everything? How can you set decent homework that’s not too big to mark? An hour spent planning this on a Saturday is much better than four hours cramming in a marking marathon on a Sunday because you didn’t think ahead.
Consideration #6: Are you organised enough?
Not to sound patronizing, but are you, really?
If you’re a primary school teacher then you’ll be collecting in assignments relating to different subject areas each week. If you’re working in the high school, then you’ll you’ll be collecting in work from potentially more than a hundred students on a regular basis.
You need to have some kind of filing system in place for all of this work. Maybe a set of draws? Folders? Trays? Electronic folders?
One strategy that absolutely works for me is that I get all of my students to complete their homework on loose sheets of paper, not their notebooks. Why? Because if they do it in their notebooks, and I haven’t had time to mark their work by the very next lesson, then it’s a nightmare having to give back notebooks again and collect them in continuously.
With loose paper its easy. I collect it in, and put each group’s assignments in a set of trays. I have one set of trays for work collected in, and one set for work that is marked. It stops me from losing students’ work and losing my sanity at the same time! The students then glue the work into their notebooks afterwards.
In addition to organizing my paperwork, I also organise my time. I use every Saturday morning for marking, which really saves me lots of headaches during the week. Do you set aside a fixed slot each week to do your marking?
Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of work you set
Don’t set work that will take the students too long, or too little time, to complete
Think carefully about the demands of any research that students will have to do. Maybe you need to point them in the right direction?
Use a variety of assessment strategies to mark student work. Don’t make assignments so big that you just don’t have time to make them.
Make sure you have some kind of filing system in place, so that you don’t lose work.
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Originally posted on August 18th 2019. Updated on September 3rd 2022.
Getting back into the swing of things can be a challenge: especially after a long summer vacation. Our body clocks are normally out of sync and we’ve probably been taking life a bit easy for a while (and rightly so).
The new academic year pounces on us like a monkey from a tree.
In order to be prepared for the craziness ahead I’ve devised a list of ten things to do prior to the first day back at school. Follow these magic tips and you’ll be energized, prepared and ahead of the game.
Tip #1: Create a regular sleeping pattern
Get up at your normal ‘work day’ time each day for at least a week before school starts. This will calibrate your body clock so that it’s easier to get up when school begins.
It’ll be hard at first – if you’re like me then you’ll be exhausted at 6am. Just try it – force yourself to get used to getting up early.
Tip #2: Set up a morning ritual
Come up with a sequence of events that will inspire, empower and energize you each morning. For me, my morning routine looks like this:
Get up at 4.30am
Go to the gym (it opens at 5am)
Work out at the gym
Shower at the gym
Have coffee and breakfast at the gym lounge
Read over e-mails and lesson plans for the day ahead
Leave the gym and be at school by 7am
Getting the hardest things done in the morning (e.g. exercising) is a very empowering way to start the day. This ritual of mine also serves to give me energy – I’m not rushing to school and I’m fully breakfasted, coffee’d-up and mentally prepared before the school day even starts!
Tip #3: Learn about the A.C.E. method of post-pandemic teaching
The best way that we can re-integrate our students after so much disruption due to lockdowns is by facilitating the following:
Action: Include lots of kinesthetic activities in your lessons.
Collaboration: Get students working together in groups (see my blog post here for more advice about how to do this).
Exploration: Encourage deep learning through problem-solving and research-based tasks.
I’ve a quick video all about the A.C.E. strategy here:
Tip #4: Read ahead
Whether you’re teaching the same subjects again this year, or if you’re teaching something totally new – it always helps to read ahead.
Go over the textbook material, watch out for subtle syllabus changes and make sure you read over the material you’ll actually give to the kids (PPTs, worksheets, etc.).
Tip #5: Prepare ahead
Linked to reading ahead but involves the logistics of lesson delivery – make sure your resources are prepared.
Don’t forget – every teacher will be scrambling for the photocopier on the first day back. Prepare your paper resources in advance, or plan to do photocopying at ‘off-peak’ times (e.g. late after school one day).
Tip #6: Set personal targets
Is there anything that you could have done better last year?
If you’re a new teacher, then what are some life-challenges that have held you back in the past? Procrastination? Lack of organization?
We all have things that we could do better. Think about what those things are for you and write down a set of personal targets in your teacher’s planner. Read them every day.
One of my targets, for example, is not to set too much homework but to instead select homework that achieves my aims most efficiently.
Tip #7: Get to know your new students
Spend time talking with your new students and take an interest in their hobbies, skills and attributes.
Look at previous school reports if possible and find out if any of your new students have any weaknesses in any subject or behavioral areas. Talk with members of staff at your school about ways to accommodate and target such needs if necessary.
Hybrid teaching is here to stay – at least for the time-being (and probably long into the future). It is therefore crucial for educators everywhere to keep their hybrid-teaching skills in tip top shape. Today, I’ve invited Kiara Miller from The Speakingnerd to share her excellent suggestions on how teachers can effectively manage their hybrid classrooms.
The pandemic, coupled with technological advancements, have set new terms for the education landscape (whether we like it or not). A lot of educational institutions worldwide are now switching to remote or hybrid teaching models in conjunction with face-to-face methods . With all the changes being embraced in the education sector, it is blatantly apparent that educators are trying to create an all-inclusive learning culture.
Through virtual, synchronous, or hybrid models, students who can’t afford to join an in-person class due to unavoidable circumstances can be accommodated. It’s also an attractive model for learners who wish to physically come to school for only a few days per week. Research shows that up to 82% of students opt for a hybrid learning environment over a traditional one. The research further goes on to indicate that 94% of teachers are in support of hybrid learning as long as they have proper resources and a suitable curriculum to follow.
The hybrid model is becoming common in both the education and workplace environments, but when it comes to education, it manifests a unique set of challenges. Teachers must manage students (in-person and remotely) in a way that ensures that they actively participate in class.
Teachers must also ensure that students stay engaged and get the proper support whenever needed. With all this to consider, it is essential for teachers to find ways of managing hybrid classrooms effectively to optimize student participation and academic performance. What follows are some of the approaches to look into.
#1: Use the right technology
First and foremost for an effective online class to take place, both teachers and students must have the right technology in place. Teachers may have no influence on what type of technology or software students can use, but they can guide them when it comes to choosing the right learning software. Having the same or similar learning devices allows effective collaboration. The teacher will not struggle to connect with the remote students or assign tasks to them when suitable hardware and software being used universally and consistently.
As a teacher, the aim is to connect the remote students to the in-person classroom. Here you will need a range of things in place such as cameras, screens, monitors, projectors, smartboards, and microphones, among others. In most cases, it’s essential for the remote students to turn on their cameras to help you monitor them or allow effective interaction. Remember to teach your students how to participate in-class using video conferencing tools since this may be new to them.
Please note that it is important to continue operating as per the traditional classroom management principles. This means that the teacher will only look out for add-ons that can help in the proper management of a hybrid classroom. If you require your students to be in class at the same time as with the synchronous learning model, it’s essential for them to be on time, participate and submit assignments like other students.
#2: Plan and organize every lesson thoroughly
We all know how teaching is a challenging profession and now that it’s going virtual, teachers are expected to handle more duties and responsibilities. As a teacher, you must know that there will be moments when you have to spare time helping the remote students to connect or use any tool. You will have possibly have to intervene in a student wrangle that may break out in physical class among others, or deal with other behavior management challenges (such as low-level disruption).
Similarly, you must ensure that your teaching devices are in a good condition before a lesson and that they are connected. Also, ensure that your teaching resources and materials are in place. You may have to plan effectively by prioritizing topics and deciding those that you would handle in-person or remotely. This will help you create a perfect balance between remote learning and in-person instruction.
Consider talking to the remote students about how to create an ideal learning environment that is free of noise and other distractions. A disorganized classroom will divert students’ attention and affect their engagement in the various activities. It is essential to know that managing a hybrid classroom will always require more time as you have to focus on both in-person and remote students.
#3: Create a sense of community
Although you will have to teach two groups of students (in-person and remote) it is very essential to create a sense of community. Do not let physical boundaries create a gap between students. Creating a sense of community will help you promote an ideal learning environment. Even though studying remotely, let them know that they are part of the class. Create time and allow students to interact in order to build their social skills or bond. Turn your camera around to the physical students to show their faces in the virtual classroom, for example. Get the students who are learning online to way hello and goodbye to the in-class students, and vica-versa, if you have time.
You can also bring up a topic and ask for everyone’s participation for students to learn beyond the already-set curriculum. You can also model the ideal code of conduct that you want your students to follow. All these engagement tactics will bring students closer, increase morale and it will help them feel psychologically safe.
#4: Ask questions to keep students engaged
Instead of rushing through the syllabus, it is important to weigh the engagement level of your students. Ensuring that your students (both in-person and remote) are engaged will require paying extra attention to them. In the case of remote students, it’s so easy for them to get distracted from the class due to technical issues or other emergencies. Some students may also be passively attentive (hence the earlier suggestion of asking them to keep their cameras on).
Experiment with ways of keeping your students engaged. Engaged students tend to be actively involved in classroom activities and show more interest in every idea brought forward. For that matter, ask questions frequently to know whether your students are attentive or not. Assign teamwork to increase collaboration and sharing of knowledge. Use live-quiz apps, hybrid-teaching apps and play learning games.
All this will help students set common SMART Goals and will also teach them how collaborative efforts can bring dreams to reality. Avoid assigning different topics to students simply because they study remotely or because they might find it hard to access the material or resources.
#5: Manage your time wisely
Proper time management is associated with a range of benefits when it comes to hybrid classes. As a teacher, you must remember that you will have to race with time whether it’s about completing the syllabus, creating extra time for your students, or when it comes to your mental health.
First and foremost, the synchronous model where students are in class at the same time, although in different locations, ensures that you and your students are on the same page. It also helps students obtain the same experiences since classes are conducted in real-time. All these offer assurance that your efforts for students are fully optimized for their academic excellence.
Whether it’s conducting a lesson, monitoring an examination, or switching between classes, managing the available time is key to getting things done smoothly and effectively. There is a range of time tracking tools that teachers can utilize to track time and students’ performance.
On the other hand, you can also provide learning materials (online and offline), use past exam papers, or encourage learner-to-learner interactions and discussions to speed up classroom tasks. Through this, you will have provided all-round assistance to your students and will help you create time for yourself to reduce burnout chances.
Summing up, more education institutions are embracing the hybrid teaching culture since it is all-inclusive, flexible, and seen as a reliable approach to extending education to millions of students. However, with it comes, a range of concerns that educators and instructors must look into if they are to provide constructive lessons.
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Firstly, may I say Happy New Year to all of my readers! May I wish you and your families a happy and successful 2021. May we all learn from the past, regret nothing (we can’t change it), and use our experiences to inform our decisions this year. Good luck to everyone!
I managed to squeeze in a 4-day trip to Phuket, Thailand (highly recommended) over this Christmas vacation. Beaches were mostly abandoned due to the devastation of the tourism industry caused by Covid-19. However, I was lucky enough to be able to ride a jet ski, paddle a canoe, fly through zip lines at Hanuman World and even visit Phuket old town. This was a much-needed break from (new) normality, and provided a great chance for me to relax, reflect and gain some inspiration for my writing.
Thank you so, so much to all of my followers and fans – your support keeps me going despite the obstacles of life that we all face (and 2020 has really been a tumultuous year for teachers – read Dr Andreas Economou’s recent blog post entitled ‘A Teacher’s Reflections on 2020‘ for more on this, along with some great tips for 2021).
I’m truly humbled and honored to be able to help so many teachers with my writing. I don’t always get it spot on, and I’m never perfect, but I do try to offer ideas that are easy to implement and quick to put into action in the classroom.
Keep following my blog and social media channels (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for future book giveaways, Amazon promo codes (for discounts on my books) and the future release of my podcast for teachers (updates will follow)
Back to school after Christmas
Let’s go through a few checklist items for primary and secondary teachers: top priorities upon returning to school.
Secondary School Teachers
Mock exams: Make sure papers are printed and ready and are easy to read and that the rules, length of the paper and space for candidate details are clearly displayed on the front page
Have you already prepared the mark schemes for your mocks? Get those done ASAP because both you and your students will need those model answers for assessment and reflection.
Termly plan: for your own personal use. Do you know where you are up to and where you are going? Are you ahead or behind schedule with your teaching? Have you planned in adjustments?
Personal targets: Is there anything you could have done better last term? For me, my marking of student notebooks was regular but I know it could have been better. My target for this term is to get a good weekly marking schedule in place so that I can provide my students with even more regular feedback to inspire and motivate them (and to plan ahead when I know that school events are going to affect my personal marking schedule). Want to improve your teaching skills? Check out this great book list on Amazon.
Coursework: Do you know all of the deadlines? When will it be sent off for moderation/marking? What do you need to do to make the process as helpful to the assessor as possible? Are your students clear about what’s expected?
Revision: Term 2 will move like a steam train. Before you know it, your kids will be sitting their final exams. Have you worked revision time into your schedule? Maybe some after-school sessions will work for you?
Take a look at the primary school teacher list below: some things apply to us too.
Primary School Teachers
I might need your comments and help with this one, as I’m not a primary specialist. However, after some careful research, the consensus seems to be that you should be focused on the following:
Start easy.Don’t overwhelm your kids. Many of them will have been waking up late in their pyjamas over Christmas. Starting the day with a printable worksheet reviewing 10 maths problems they’ve covered since September wont go down too well. Try the following open ended tasks to ease them in:
Blank paper to colour and draw on
Morning boxes to explore (unifix cubes, pattern blocks, play dough, lego, etc.)
Drawing or writing about Winter break
“Make a list” (For example: Make a list of as many Christmas words as you can think of. Draw or write the words on your paper.)
Create a “Welcome Back” greeting card for a friend
I have to give credit to Christina Decarbo for these excellent ideas here. This article of hers is filled with great after-Christmas tips for primary teachers. It’s well worth a visit!
Get organised.Plan your outfit – for me that involves a lot of washing and ironing so all the better to start now! Pack your teacher bag. Clean out any remnants of holiday treats. You may find that the bottom of your teacher bag is pretty much coated in glitter from sweet cards from students and candy that escaped from cookies on the last day before break. It’s time to avoid an ant infestation! Plan and pack your meals and snacks for the first week and be sure to go to bed early.
Expect the worst.Some kids will be late. Some will not turn up for a few days. Some will forget things – they’re getting back into the swing of things too. Be prepared, Have extra pens and materials on hand for kids who forget stuff. Maybe plan for kids who forget their packed lunch.
Once again – I can’t take credit for these last two ideas. This article at the Happy Teacher Happy Kids blog is filled with great advice for surviving thefirst few weeks back after Winter.
Have a great second term everyone! Don’t forget to comment below or contact me if you have any questions or comments – your feedback is my lifeblood!
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I had this crazy idea, some years ago, to offer a Computer Games Coding after-school club for the students to take part in. I had absolutely no idea how to code, but I thought it would be pretty cool.
I was rather the maverick back then.
I picked up a book about coding withScratch(check it out by the way – it’s brilliant) to read up on the basics, but I didn’t have the self-discipline to actually read that book.
I stopped after the first few pages.
Around 20 students signed up for this club, making it one of the most popular in the school. I was two days away from teaching my first coding lesson and I was panicking – how could I teach this stuff if I didn’t even know how to do it?
I decided on Emergency Plan B – I would share extracts from Scratch textbooks for kids (and my book that I’d bought) with the students through our school’s online learning platform. There were a number of games that the students could decide to build: Ghost Hunter, Boat Race, Space Mission, Chat Bot, etc. I decided to let them choose and build the games in pairs or small groups
It worked like an absolute treat!
The teacher explores with the students
In those early days I would call students to my desk one-at-a-time and I would ask them: “How’s the coding going? What have you done so far? Show me the blocks you’ve created.” – Guess what: the kids were teaching me how to code!
As each lesson went by I picked up more and more tips and knowledge and I was able to help the students out with more complex problems. The club culminated at the end of the year with a big assembly in which my best coders shown the whole school the games they created.
Go on the journey together
My message in this article is that it’s not always necessary to know everything about your subject, especially if you’re new to teaching it. When I first came to Thailand in 2008, I was much less knowledgeable about Chemistry than I am now (I was a Biology Teacher in the UK). The strategy I took was this – I will learn with the students.
So, get some fundamentals under your belt and think of ways to get your students to explore the topics they are learning. Get your students to use source material to:
CreateGoogle Slidespresentations (these are great, by the way, as multiple students can work on the slides in real-time)
Create infographics (don’t go with ‘posters’ – they’ve been done to death)
Create a website or blog (Google Sites is brilliant for this, and is yet another reason why schools should take on Google Suite)
Create models of the concepts (simple materials are all that’s needed – bottle caps, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc)
Create a table display (e.g. for a Science Fair)
Don’t forget to reward the effort in some way: house points, merits, certificates, etc.
Try the I.E.S. Method
Introduce the topic to the students via some kind of engaging starter activity (see my blog post on starter activities for some ideas to get you started). Use the three As (Assign, Analyse and Ask) where possible.
Give the students a ‘menu’ of different ways in which they can choose to explore the topic in a creative way (e.g. by creating a collaborative Google Slides presentation, making a Kahoot! quiz for the class to complete, designing an infographic, etc.)
Showcase the work to the class (or allow students to showcase their own work) so as to provide acknowledgement. a sense of accomplishment and a useful opportunity for class reflection. Do this important step the next lesson if time runs out, Do not skip this vital step.
Subject Knowledge Does Help
It is worth pointing out that it is always better to actually know the intricacies of the topics you are teaching. This always gives the teacher more confidence and more ability to help the kids.
The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential.
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I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications).
It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.
I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it.
I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time.
As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:
Seek help when in doubt
Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day
These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call.
Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.
I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:
Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.
One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:
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