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: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: 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.
Teaching is definitely a stressful job. In fact, a February 2019 study by England’s National Foundation for Education Research found that 20% of teachers feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those working in similar professions. Additionally, as if that wasn’t startling enough, a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey found that teachers in England have one of the highest workloads in the world.
The statistics themselves are worrying enough – that’s one-in-five teachers in England carrying a burden of worry and stress on a regular basis.
As a teacher myself, I have certainly had my fair share of work-related stress over the past 14 years. Some of the problems I encountered were the result of self-sabotage and inexperience, and some were beyond my control.
Whatever the causes of your stress are, there are effective ways to deal with them and I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best ways to do just that.
Stress Tip #1 – When your lessons are not going well
This is often a result of poor or rushed lesson-planning and is normally avoidable. I have fallen into this trap many times in my career – using my ‘free periods’ to write rough lesson plans or spending a few minutes before a lesson to think about what I’ll actually do.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes it causes problems.
Take the time to spend a whole morning or afternoon each week to plan a week’s worth of lessons (I use my Sunday mornings for it). Get a good teacher’s planner and think about:
Where the kids will sit at different points during the lesson. Will they need their books at all times? Do you need a seating plan so that ‘problem’ students are not sat next to each other?
Breaking up the lesson into ‘chunks’ – variety is key if you want your lessons to be engaging and ‘fun’. Read myblog post about learning gamesyou can use here.
Syllabus content you will cover – with some classes you’ll have a lot of content to get through in a short space of time. Get your PowerPoints, presentations, quizzes, and other resources ready well in-advance of these kinds of lessons. You might also want to read my blog post aboutkeeping up with your teaching schedule here.
Stress Tip #2 – When you have too much marking to do
Marking tends to come in ‘waves’ in teaching: There are times of the academic year when you’ve just got normal, regular homework and classwork to mark; and there are times when high-intensity marking hits us like a bolt of lightning. For example:
When a ‘work scrutiny’ comes up and a line-manager wants to see your class notebooks
When you have a load of end-of-unit tests or exam papers to mark
When parents’ evenings/parents’ consultations come up and you need to mark a lot of work so that you have some good points to discuss in the meetings
Marking can be a big-problem for teachers, but again: it’s easily avoidable when a little bit of time is spent planning in-advance:
Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ to keep those notebooks up-to-date. Live-marking is basically when you either call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, or you walk around the classroom with a pen in-hand and mark student notebooks in ‘real time’. Read myblog post about ‘Live-marking’ here.
Take a deep breath and plan your time – if you find yourself with a tonne of exam papers to mark within 48 hours (I’ve been there), then the first thing you must do is sit somewhere quiet and plan your time for an hour. Think about your targets – which papers need to be marked by when? Should some papers be marked before others? Is it possible, or appropriate, to use peer/self-assessment for some exam papers?
Try using stamps and stickers – they’ll save you some writing time
Make sure you’ve got a set of model answers ready for your kids – this will save you writing out the correct answers for the kids by hand in their books (never do that, by the way).
Stress Tip #3: When you’re in trouble with your boss over something
One of the main causes of stress for teachers, I believe, is that we are held to a far-higher professional standard than those in most other professions. As ‘role-models’, we have to be extra careful about:
How we interact with our students and former students
We do need to be mindful of these things on a daily basis, but even then we may make mistakes. If you are called to a meeting with your boss over something, then don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about your side of the story and the facts of the matter at hand.
In your discussion, focus on:
Solutions to what’s happened (‘How can we solve this?’ should be your mentality).
If you’ve done something wrong, then admit it. Covering something up will only cause more problems later on.
If you feel that you’ve been unfairly treated then speak with a union representative or a lawyer before making any big decisions (e.g. choosing to resign).
I know that this is not a nice subject to talk about, but unfortunately it’s one that does come up. Protect yourself and your reputation, do your best everyday and just let life roll – some things are just beyond our control.
Another thing, by the way, is that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. I know that’s cliched, but it is true. Keep a written record of the mistakes you’ve made in life somewhere, and read over it on a weekly basis at least. When people tell us to ‘learn from our mistakes’, they can sometimes miss the fact that in order to learn from mistakes we have to remember those mistakes. Keeping a record and consistently reading over it is a good way to do this.
Stress tip #4: When student behavior is poor
It takes time and experience to build up our skills as good ‘behavior managers’.
Things to bear in mind are:
‘Boring’ lessons can cause some kids to play up. Try to introduce a variety of activities into your lessons if possible, and be vigilant in watching your students carefully during practical activities, computer-based work and group work.
Good behavior management can only really be achieved with a long-term strategy: effective lesson planning, good use of praise, fair and consistent use of sanctions if necessary and good use of ‘professional intelligence’ to reinforce our students’ sense of self-worth and character. Readmy blog post on Subtle Reinforcement here.
There are many facets to being a good behavior manager, but it basically all comes down to the relationship, or ‘rapport’, that you build with your students. Please read my blog posts onbuilding rapportandbehavior management.
Stress tip #5: When a colleague doesn’t like you (or is causing problems)
When you begin to have a positive effect on your students and you gain a reputation as a ‘good teacher’, you may create some enemies. Some of your colleagues may not like you simply because you are ‘better’ than they are.
You need to be careful in these situations. Here are my tips:
Control your speech at all times when in the presence of your colleagues. Off-the-cuff remarks like “I’m behind with my marking” or “I got totally wasted on Friday night” can be used against you by conniving and jealous colleagues who want to secure your destruction.
Don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips. Gossips are notorious for being negative and untrustworthy. Just don’t do it. If you’re asked directly or prompted to gossip about a colleague, for example, you can respond with a “I don’t think I should talk about that” or even a “I don’t like to gossip about people”.
If a colleague is genuinely causing problems for you, then make a record of all interactions with that person (hand-written if necessary). Speak with your line-manager about it and ask for suggestions. It’s much better to tackle this issue in a professional way from the outset, rather than submitting a formal complaint when the problem has gotten out-of-hand.
If appropriate, speak with the colleague you are having issues with. You may wish to ask a third person to attend as a witness. Be polite. Be respectful. Show that you are the mature person in this scenario.
Keep all discussions with colleagues academic in nature. Try not to discuss politics or ‘touchy issues’ in society (e.g. Brexit, 2SLGBT+ rights, third-wave feminism, etc.). We live in a time, unfortunately, in which people can be easily ‘triggered’ by an alternative view you might have that challenges their perception of the world. Feel free to discuss this stuff with close friends or family outside of work, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your colleagues are your friends – they’re not. Your colleagues are the people you work with, and all interactions with them need to be professional in nature. If something is not related to your work or the curriculum, then you don’t need to discuss it. It’s that simple.
Teachers today are more stressed than we have ever been in history. Relax, plan-ahead, deal with issues head-on and don’t worry.
Two books I highly recommend for consistent worriers are given below:
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (click on the image to buy the book):
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (click on the image to buy the book):
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Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor-behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants∗: they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.
In many schools around the world, teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first-hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really? Well he’s fine for me.”
The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If conversations of this type are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes a lot worse.
1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?
2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?
Answers can be found at the end of this article
Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues
1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student: find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.
2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.
3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.
4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students that you teach, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of the things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine-tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.
5. Be sure to thank the positive deviant once the process is complete
Our colleagues are often the best people we can turn to for help – and another big advantage of seeking counsel ‘internally’ is that you’ll be liked all the more for respecting and acknowledging the expertise of the people you work with.
That counts for a lot.
∗I am borrowing the phrase ‘positive deviants’ from the excellent book ‘Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change’ by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I strongly recommend this book to any teachers who aspire to positively influence their students or who wish to be effective school managers.
1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?
The answer to this question will depend very much on your own personal work environment.
I can share my own personal experiences with you in a effort to highlight the qualities you should look for.
When I was training to be a teacher and doing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be mentored by an amazing Biology teacher. The school I was training at was challenging, with students coming predominately from low-income families in an area of high crime. Kids came to school with a range of different forms of emotional ‘baggage’, and they would generally misbehave whenever the opportunity arose. It was difficult to maintain their interest and focus in lessons.
My mentor didn’t have the same problems as I did, however. When I observed his lessons I noticed that the same kids that were misbehaving in my classes were attentive and focussed in his. After careful study of this phenomenon, I discovered that this ‘positive deviant’ was doing the following in his teaching:
Listening very carefully to his students, respecting every question that came his way and offering the best answer he could
Using voice inflections to sound interested in the topic he was teaching (because he was, genuinely, interested)
Deploying activities to engage the students, such as practical work
Using the students’ names to address them (I’ve always found it difficult to remember student names)
Using ‘professional intelligence’ – knowledge of student interests and their ‘whole lives’ to build rapport. Common conversations he would have with his students would go something like this:
“How’s your dad these days? Is she still working as an engineer?”
“I heard you did some great work in art class with Mrs. Stevens this week. Tell me about it.”
I’ve worked with so many excellent colleagues over the past 16 years. Teachers who have inspired me have had strengths in many areas, including the following:
Organization – I’ve learnt a lot about recycling resources, organizing homework and marking student work promptly from my colleagues over the years
Displays – some teachers are just naturals at creating beautiful classroom displays. A beautiful classroom is always conducive to learning.
Student-teacher rapport: I have learnt a lot about building rapport through showing a genuine care and concern for all of my students by following the examples of others.
2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?
The first thing I’d like to say about this is that the teaching profession offers its family of educators two main opportunities: the opportunity to teach students and the opportunity to teach colleagues.
The past five years have given me tremendous scope to share my knowledge with people from all over the world – through this website, my books, social media and training sessions.
I can tell you this – teaching your colleagues can often be just as rewarding as teaching your students.
We can share our expertise with our colleagues in many ways, including:
Running CPD sessions, perhaps after school on a rotational basis or during INSET/teacher-training days
Through blogs (WordPress is great as it allows people to comment and join in with the discussion – you can even comment at the bottom of this page, for example)
Virtual Learning Environments, where materials can be posted and shared with a network. Google Classroom, Firefly and Moodle are all great for this.
Hosting or attending coffee mornings or meetups in your town or city. Check out meetup.com– there’s bound to be a teacher-training group on there. If there isn’t, then set one up.
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I’m now 36-years-old. The years have flown by, and they have taught me that my life and time are both very precious.
As a young and rather gullible NQT at 23-years-old, I was a massive time-waster. I wasted time on almost every nuts-and-bolts aspect of teaching. I wasted time writing reports from scratch. I spent hours creating tests and assessements and homeworks, and then hours marking them because I stupidly forgot to source or create an official mark scheme. I put kids on detention and then realised that I had to supervise those detentions, and that ate into my free time.
Nowadays I have long-since scrapped all of those clumsy behaviours and I now streamline everything I can for maximum effectiveness.
So, grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit back because I’d like to share my new and improved teacher behaviours for maximum effect and efficiency.
Hack #1: Copy, paste and modify school reports
Writing school reports used to be a massive chore for teachers. I still remember receiving hand-written reports when I was a kid – imagine how long those must have taken for my teachers to write!
Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, and I don’t feel ashamed to say that it’s okay to do a bit of copying and pasting with school reports – so long as you always modify the reports to match each student.
Here are the steps to follow:
Write a really good set of original, unique school reports for your students. Save these to your computer somewhere (e.g. on Microsoft Word® or Google Docs®) and be sure to comment on attainment, progress and overall characteristics. This first stage will take considerable time (but it’s time that’s well-invested).
When the next reporting cycle comes around, look at your student data and and use your own judgement to see which students match your old reports you wrote. For example, Jennifer from this reporting cycle might be very similar to Susan, who you taught last year.
Use the ‘Replace’ feature on a word processor (like MS Word) to quickly change names, adjectives, genders and other key terms.
Add some unique descriptors and features for that student. Make sure the report accurately reflects the student you’re writing about.
Highlight the report you’ve just modified so that you know that you’ve used this one (you don’t want to duplicate copies)
Copy and paste the text into your report-writing system at school.
I like to be quite prosaic in my report-writing – it ensures that my reports are accurate and professional. I sometimes use a template to help me.
Create a S.W.A.P. template
Every report should contain these four elements (at the very least):
Weaknesses (including targets)
They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, but they should all be present somewhere.
A good template can save you tons of time, and will ensure that your reports are detailed and accurate. I’ve given an example with applications below. Please feel free to copy and paste and use this as you see fit:
x has had adisappointing/steady/good/very goodterm/half-term/year/semester. He/She has shown strengths in a number of areas including……………………….. . This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by………………………………. x’s most recent recent assessment score was ……………., which indicates to me that……………………….. Progress has been disappointing/steady/good/very good, as exemplified by the fact that…………………
Let’s see this in action below:
Example 1: An excellent student
Joshuahas had avery goodhalf-term. Hehas shown strengths in a number of areas includingmodular arithmetic, definite and indefinite integration and differentiation.This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made bycompleting more of the Higher Level assigned tasks on MyiMaths, as he does have the ability to challenge himself further.Joshua’smost recent assessment score was83%, which indicates to me thathe is completing the necessary revision at home.Progress has beenvery good, as exemplified by the fact thathe has jumped from a level 6 to a level 7 in the space of just seven weeks.
Example 2: An average student
Lisa has had a steadyhalf-term. She has shown strengths in a number of areas including balancing chemical equations and completing laboratory practical work. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more practice questions on Quantitative Chemistry and using the model answers as a good guide for improvement.Lisa’s most recent recent assessment score was 54%, which indicates to me that she has a good knowledge of some areas of the subject, but needs to work harder to revise identified weaknesses. Progress has been steady, as exemplified by the fact that Lisa’s assessment scores have been consistently above 50% since the start of the course.
Hack #2: ‘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.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
Hack #3: Education Apps
I had the chance to rigorously test out the apps I’m about to show you and, I can tell you: they really do make life easier (and they can do some cool things too!).
Cool Feature #1:You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.
You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.
Cool feature #2:Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.
When I tested Nearpod I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at herblog:
As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.
Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.
I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.
Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.
Cool feature 3:Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).
I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over450 ready-to-runVR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!
Now that sounds cool!
My thoughts about Nearpod
I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.
Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.
The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:
Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).
I love this app and I look forward to using all of its features with my students.
Cool feature #1:Noteability has allowed me to make the most amazing notes and save tons of paper and paper-notebooks in the process. Just look at these beautiful notes I made during my Science JAWs training a few months ago:
As you can see, you can select a wide variety of colors and make beautiful notes, Mind-Maps®, concept-maps, flow charts, diagrams and more.
I use this feature of Noteability to:
Plan things in my daily life (such as my blog posts, my weekend plans, my fitness plans, etc)
Write shopping lists
Write lesson plans
Take notes in school meetings
Cool feature #2:Noteability allows you to annotate PDFs with the Apple Pencil. This is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me to annotate my IB Diploma Chemistry coursework (Internal Assessment) quickly and clearly before uploading the coursework to the IBIS system.
I can see this feature becoming really useful for schools that want to save paper and for teachers that want to annotate coursework, homework or classwork and then send it back to the student in some way (e.g. by e-mail, through Google Drive or through Google Classroom).
Take a look at this IB Chemistry coursework annotation I recently did with Noteability and the Apple Pencil:
Another way to use this feature is to get the kids to scan their classwork, homework or past-paper answers and then annotate each other’s work with the Apple Pencil. The teacher could also annotate it too:
Cool feature #3:Students can make revision notes, classnotes, homework assignments and submit work all through Noteability. Using the ‘split-screen’ mode on the iPad Pro they can even copy images and charts directly from a web-page they are reading at the same time:
For students, I can see Noteability being using in a range of creative ways:
Making revision notes
Annotating their own work, or each other’s
Creating assignments and presentations (Noteability allows users to copy content from the web seamlessly using ‘split-screen’ mode)
Making notes in class
There is the possibility that tablets may even replace traditional school notebooks in future too – removing the need for 11-year-old kids to carry really heavy bags around school all day (and this has already been linked to back problems).
I like this app because it has basically replaced all of my notebooks, and is an excellent planning, note-taking and annotation tool.
A big drawback of Noteability, at the time of writing, is that it is only compatible with iOS. Not all students use Apple devices, and schools won’t always fork-out money for them. However, I have found that my own personal investment in an iPad Pro, along with Noteability, has enchanced my life in many ways and has benefited some of my students as I have been able to annotate their work better than ever before.
Cool features: Flipgrid is a secure video-commenting/video-conferencing platform. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower student voice” and they’ve certainly achieved that with this app.
Basically, the teacher uploads a video of himself/herself asking a question, or posts a question, link, resource or video, and the students respond by taking videos of themselves responding to the material.
It’s super cool!
Once the students have uploaded their videos of themselves, other students can see them and watch them (and comment on them). They can even respond to videos with videos, so it really can get a discussion flowing!
Image courtesy of Flipgrid
Each video a student creates will receive feedback from other students and the class teacher, and the student who made the video can quickly see the feedback they’ve received.
When I tested it it took me a while to figure out how to use it, and what its purpose was.
Once I’d signed up, however, the website directed me to lots of great help and resources. There’s a load of pre-made lessons and students can sign in with a simple pre-generated code (like Kahoot! and Nearpod) which saves tons of time.
Once you’ve signed up (it’s free) and you’re in on Flipgrid, your dashboard will look something like this:
As you can see: it has a very user-friendly interface.
Hack #4: 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 verywell. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:
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:
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:
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.
Hack #5: Self and Peer Assessment
There’s no doubt about it – getting students involved in their own assessment and marking has a wide-variety of benefits.
Take this greatsummaryby Rosario Hernandez at University College Dublin for example, which explains that peer-assessment benefits students in four key ways:
Promotes high quality learning
Contributes to skills development
Furthers personal development
Increases students’ confidence, reduces stress and improves student motivation
That’s quite a convincing list!
Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This greatoverviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my 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.
But how should we use self and peer-assessment?
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 the 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 formsare great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g.BBC BitesizeandMyiMaths) 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.
Training students to assess themselves
This is a gradual process and basically involves exposing students to exam-style questions and past-papers; along with their mark schemes, over a prolonged period of time. The process is straightforward but can be monotonous: provide past-papers as homework, classwork, projects and even through a special past-paper ECA club (which I’m currently doing with my IGCSE and IBDP students – it’s very effective).
There are a number of creative ways to train students up in proper exam-technique:
Cut up the questions and answers to past-papers and hand them to students one-at-a-time. They can only come and get the next question when they’ve effectively answered and marked the previous one.
Give students the answers to questions and get them to write the questions! Use the same method as the previous bullet-point above, or set up a large display and get students to put their answers on post-it notes which they can stick to the display.
Get a big container filled with cut-up exam questions. Students have to pick out questions from the container in pairs or threes, and work on them. No two groups should have the same question.
Students can make revision videos, websites and even stop-motion animations that contain exam-style questions and answers.
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I like reading articles that help me out in life. Direct, uncompromising advice that works – not the wishy-washy ramblings of academia that confuse more than guide (take Dylan William last week for example, saying that the new curriculum for Wales could be a success or a disaster – more on that next week).
As an educational author and full-time Science teacher, I’m all about stuff that works: and this article aims to give you easy-to-implement, powerful tools and tips that do, actually, make a huge difference in the quality of our teaching.
I’ve made a quick video on this topic as a good supplement to this article (please see below):
So, let’s get right into it!
Tip #1: Get up early every morning
The early bird catches the worm
This is not a piece of advice that most teachers hear during their training, and certainly didn’t form any part of any module on my PGCE course 14 years ago. However, in my experience, an early start to the day is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that you have a day of effective, excellent lessons.
For many years I struggled with the blight of being a snoozer – I liked my sleep too much, and I would wake up as late as possible and rush my morning before I hurriedly traveled to school.
This was a terrible way to start a day of teaching – I wasn’t properly awake and I hadn’t took the time to read over my lesson plans or even look at my timetable. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My mind wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
My lessons suffered as a result of this. I just wasn’t ‘switched on’ enough in class to teach optimally. I also found that I was more grumpy/disagreeable because I didn’t feel as confident/prepared as I should be.
When I finally ‘woke up’ (metaphorically speaking) and started setting my alarm to get me out of bed a lot earlier, I found that new sparks of life would permeate my day:
I had time to create lesson plans for the day, or read over the ones I had written earlier that week
I had time to have a coffee, breakfast and actually wake up physically. This got me biochemically and physiologically ready for the day ahead.
I was clearer about what I had to do each day. I knew what I would be teaching, what paperwork I needed to do; what meetings I needed to attend. My confidence increased and my teaching became more purposeful and more ‘full of life’. This immediately created improvements in my student-teacher rapport, my classroom management, my behavior management and my overall happiness.
So, remember this: get up extra early and get ready for the day ahead. Everything you do as a teacher will improve as a result of this very simple principle.
A book that I highly recommend for learning how to craft your morning time (and actually get up earlier) is ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. Click on the image below to find out more about this excellent book.
Tip #2: Plan every lesson properly
Time invested in lesson planning is always time well-spent
In all honesty, it felt great when I had finished my PGCE and started my first teaching job. I wasn’t being observed anywhere near as much anymore, and I no longer had to fill-in an A4-sized planning template for each lesson and submit it to my mentor each week.
I still understood the importance of lesson-planning, however, and I’ve found that this principle really has stood the test of time.
As the logistical aspects of my teaching have become more streamlined over the years, I’ve gone from planning lessons on the day I was teaching, to spending an hour or so every Sunday morning to do my planning instead.
The ‘Sunday Morning’ method helps me in two main ways:
By seeing an overview of the week ahead I can plan sequences of lessons effectively, plan my homework collection and marking and work meetings into my schedule. I can also realistically plan my gym time and other hobbies – such as writing this blog.
My weekday morning time is now used to read over the lesson plans I wrote the previous Sunday. Sometimes I make adjustments to these plans during this time.
I’m currently in the process of creating a special teachers’ planner book, which will hopefully be released in August. In the meantime, however, I’ll leave you with this video I made on the topic of ‘efficient’ lesson-planning:
Tip #3: Care about your students
Effective teaching requires a ‘professionally emotional’ connection to exist between teachers and their students
I feel that this crucial aspect of teaching is not covered enough by teacher-training providers, possible because there is confusion as to how to plug this correctly.
I’m going to clear this up for everyone now – if we do not sincerely, genuinely care about our students then nothing we do will work optimally.
It is unrealistic to believe that every teacher entered the profession because it was their first choice, or vocation. For me, I always wanted to be a teacher because I genuinely wanted to make a difference in young people’s lives. Rightly or wrongly, however, many have ‘fallen into’ teaching because of the relative security the job provides in times of economic uncertainty and crises, as well as the attractive perks that come along with it (such as the long holidays).
That’s the reality, I’m sorry to say, but the truth still stands – teachers who really, genuinely care about the performance and welfare of their students are always the best teachers.
When we care about our students, the following processes happen naturally as a result:
We have one-on-one conversations with our students about their goals, dreams, career-ambitions, hobbies and life-situations
We encourage and motivate our learners by recognizing significant achievements and giving our sincere, meaningful praise along the way
We use data to form the basis of discussions with students when their grades start to slip, or when they show significant progress. We also use our judgement and experience to decide when a student is just ‘cruising along’ when he or she could be achieving far more.
I’ve written a separate blog post about the power of caring here. It’s well-worth a read.
Tip #4: Provide high-quality feedback
Make sure your students know what they have done well, and how they can improve
This is an area of pedagogy that has, unfortunately, turned into a massive, convoluted malignancy that has served to confuse teachers more than it has helped them. This is sad, because feedback is actually very simple:
Acknowledge the work that your students have done. Imagine if you’d have put time and effort into a piece of work, handed it in and your teacher didn’t mark it or acknowledge it for three months. How would you feel? Make sure you at least give some verbal feedback on every piece of work submitted, however small.
Stop wasting your valuable time covering every piece of work with scribbled comments. Use the power of ‘Live Marking’ – walk around the class as the kids are doing a task, or call the kids to your desk one-at-a-time, and mark the work in front of each student.
I no longer take work home to mark – it’s inefficient and my free time is precious. I now mark most of the work with the students, which allows me to give detailed, specific feedback in both written and verbal formats.
I’ve made a video about ‘Live Marking’, which you can watch here:
Tip #5: Be honest
Be upfront and direct when your students slip-up, and recognize significant moments of achievement
There is an unfortunate decline in the following qualities among modern teachers:
Individuals who have the spine to address issues when they happen
Praising significant achievement, as opposed to praising everything
Our students respect us all the more when we’re honest with them, as do their parents. Honesty is also a key facet of being a ‘caring’ educator.
We must learn to encourage our students to actually work hard for the things they want in life. Unfortunately, however, there is too much emphasis in modern pedagogy on what the teacher is doing each lesson, rather than healthy advice on how we can place the responsibility of learning on the shoulders of the ones doing the learning – our students.
One big way in which we can embed this idea of ‘responsibility’ is by having frank, but empathetic, discussions with our students about how they’re doing in their subjects. If a student hands in a good piece of homework, for example (which is what they should have done anyway), then I’m not going to make a song-and-dance out of that.
The world doesn’t reward normality or mediocrity.
If a student goes the extra mile, however, then you’re damn right that I’m going to recognize the effort that went into that – it’ll reinforce the student’s sense of purpose and will be a great motivator.
I made a video about praise (which includes a discussion on its sincerity/honesty) here:
You may also like to read my article on working with parents,here.
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I was walking down the corridor on a Friday afternoon, around 11 years ago. I guess I must have had a ‘free period’ (i.e. I wasn’t teaching that hour).
In of front me I saw a student walking aimlessly around the corridor. He should have been in class.
I approached him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class….”
I was interrupted mid-sentence by a colleague who opened her classroom door and looked at me with a face of thunder. I felt like Criminal Number One.
She told the kid to come back into class. I didn’t realize she’d sent him out.
Well, I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong.
Later that afternoon I entered the Science prep room, which was effectively a hangout area for the science teachers. She was there, my colleague, and I remember clearly what she said: “Richard, I am well-capable of handling discipline and classroom management and I don’t need your help!”.
“He was walking around the corridor” I said, in my rather shocked and timid 23-year-old voice.
“He was walking around the corridor because I sent him out!”, she snapped.
She walked out of the prep room. I couldn’t believe it.
Later on, I decided to have a chat with my head of department, who was always a beacon of support and good advice. As I was about to talk with him my colleague walked in and saw me chatting with him. I asked her to stay, but she just walked right out in a most unsatisfied manner. She didn’t say anything,
“I think we need to move because this could get confrontational” my HoD said.
We moved to another classroom and I told my HoD what had happened.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Richard. She has a really difficult class on a Friday afternoon and she was probably just stressed by it all. Let’s let her have the weekend to calm down. I’m sure it’ll all be forgotten about on Monday.”
That was very reassuring, and he was right. In fact, later that year she became a good friend of mine.
Always speak up
It’s really important that we speak up immediately when problems that we can’t solve arise. I recently had to ask for permission to extend some deadlines for my students, for example. I had to go through official channels. Had I have worried about the problem, and unofficially extended the deadline, then I may have had some awkward questions to answer later down the road. I would have lost trust.
Another thing worth mentioning is the issue of inter-gender dynamics in the workplace and at school. In the age of #MeToo and mildly masculine behaviour being deemed as ‘misogynist’ or a ‘micro-aggression’, it is important that men and women who meet or speak together at school do so in the most professional manner possible. It’s too easy for messages to be misconstrued and misunderstood in today’s climate. Even a simple compliment to a colleague about his/her appearance can be misunderstood.
Keep everything professional and academic, and document anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Speak up and tell a manager too – you’ll be in a much stronger position if you speak up early, than if you leave it too late. Send summaries of one-to-one discussions via e-mail and cc’ your line manager.
In the case of my story with my female colleague who was in a mood at me for speaking with her student – I absolutely had to speak up immediately and talk with my HoD. Had I have left it until later the following week she may have come to him with a totally inaccurate story and I would have been in a weaker position trying to defend myself. It’s also good to get reassurance from those more experienced than you, especially if you’re a compulsive worrier (like me).
We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like ourFacebookpage and follow us onTwitterfor daily updates.
For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that any country that doesn’t offer university for free is basically doing only one thing – punishing people for trying to better themselves.
The UK seems to be an extreme example of how the state punishes those who work hard in life and do the ‘right’ things; and rewards those who drop-out of school and make bad choices in life.
Although this is a very simplistic analysis of the effects of the British welfare system, it’s also understandable why many people would feel this way.
Last week, a large-scale British government review of Higher Education was concluded and from that came a key recommendation: that university fees in the UK should be reduced to £7500 per year. They currently stand at around £9250 per year.
This recommendation doesn’t doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion.
Say, for instance, that you listen to your teachers in school, work hard and, despite all challenges that may come your way as a high-school student (domestic upheaval, working part time jobs, helping with the raising of siblings, etc.), you get good grades on your exams and go to uni (and get the recommended master’s degree, which employers now say isneeded to get higher pay) – well, you’ll probably be saddled withdebts in excess of £50,000, which you could be paying back well into your 60s.
Choose to drop-out of school and become unemployed, however, and here’s some benefits you can expect to receive:
Britain’s welfare system is so good that it even payschild benefitfor almost anyone who raises a child in the UK. The current rate stands at £20.70 per week for an eldest or only child, and £13.70 per additional child.
All of this money, of course, comes from the taxpayer.
Whilst the intentions behind this system are that people who find themselves in difficult financial situations are helped out, some would argue that the system causes more problems than it solves.
Take Amber Rudd, the U.K. Work and Pensions Secretary, who admitted in February that it is the welfare state – created to prevent hunger and destitution – that is now actively causing it, with the shortcomings of the system responsible for increasing the number of Britons who are reliant on food banks to feed their families.
It’s the old ‘learned helplessness’ dogma in action, with devastating consequences. This pattern; of state welfare creating reliance and reinforcing the problem it’s intended to solve, has been noticed in other countries too. In a number of papers, including a large scale June 2008 American study in which the effects of “promoting employment and reducing dependence” on low-income children’s time-use was investigated, for instance, a positive correlation between parental employment and the achievement of low-income children was discovered.
Dependence vs rewards
But if dependence results in more misery for people, then why make students dependent on government grants for their university education?
That’s a good question, and for me I think it can be answered with the argument of rewards vs sanctions.
As teachers, we reward our students for good behaviour, effort and academic achievement, and we know from extensive research thatrewards work better than sanctions when motivating students to achieve.
In other words, if you want a particular behavior to be repeated, then you reward that behaviour.
Whilst the British welfare system is designed to help those in need, it can be exploited rather easily. Take the hypothetical situation of a high school student who chooses to drop out of school and stay unemployed. That young person will probably be entitled to housing benefit, jobseeker’s and child benefit if his/her kids are involved too.
Stay in school and go to uni, however, and you’ll be rewarded with debt, and lots of it. You may even be paying off that debt well into later life.
I believe that if tax pounds were redirected from certain state benefits and funneled into higher education grants for struggling students (including living expenses), we would see a much greater motivation for children and young adults to work hard at school.
Any education system should reward those who put in the necessary time and effort to revise hard and pass their exams. I would argue that forcing students into astronomical amounts of debt is actually a form of punishment for making the ‘right’ choices in life.
Whilst there are ways around the system (my sister recently completed a degree with the Open University for example), one has to sacrifice considerable time to achieve the goal of getting a degree, debt free, in the UK. My sister was 26 when she graduated, for instance.
The high school science teacher turns his students into ‘electrons’ and gets them to walk along a prescribed route in the classroom, reinforcing concepts associated with circuit diagrams and electricity. The primary school mathematics teacher gets her students to make funny shapes with their bodies that represent the numbers 0 – 9, creating a fun way to tackle mental arithmetic problems. The ICT teacher creates a variety of ‘human graphs’, getting students to line up in columns based on their chosen answers to assigned questions.
What do all of these examples have in common?: The students are using movement to solve problems and, in doing so, are engaging multiple regions of the brain.
Every single day, our experience of the world around us is created by five main sensations or senses, namely:\
Touch: Experiencing the texture of different objects
Taste: Stimulation of various taste receptors on the tongue
Smell: Linked strongly with taste and involves stimulation of olfactory receptors in the nasal passage
Sight: Our perception of light energy through stimulation of cells in the retina
Hearing: The way in which we receive and process longitudinal vibrational energy
The above five senses allow us to perceive the world around us so that we can make decisions effectively. However, what a lot of people forget is that all of the above five senses become obsolete, and can be switched off, if one vital organ is missing: the brain.
A point I often make with my biology students is that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch with our brains! We don’t see with our eyes, we don’t hear with our ears and we certainly don’t feel touch because of our skin alone. All of these sense receptors just mentioned are tasked with one job only: to send information to the brain to be processed. Once the brain processes the necessary information, we then feel the intended sensation.
Evolution has ensured that our brains are hard-wired to remember information generated by all five senses. It is essential that we can do this, otherwise we would not be able to survive.
Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, puts this very eloquently:
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason
When students have a good rapport with their teachers and are genuinely interested in the subject being taught, they acquire the self-confidence and motivation to pursue their learning with hard-work and enthusiasm. ‘Interest’ is a funny human condition because we often make the mistake of thinking that it’s just something that each person has an affinity for, based upon their life experiences or even the way they were born. However, the real truth is that the effective teacher behaviours outlined in this blog and my book can literally change students’ lives as they go from ‘liking’ a subject, to wanting to be the best student in the class!
But what is Spatial Learning?
There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:
Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations.
Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool.
Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:
A human graph and true or false?
Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.
A human graph might be the right tool for you!
What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method!
Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall. Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question.
This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:
Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!
Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:
For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!
The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about.
Ifind that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another.
I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task.
Modelling example one: Diffusion
Textbook definition:Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles.
Modelling activity:As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow.So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.
See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):
Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network
In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT
Concept:A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.
Spatial learning task:For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room.
Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?
Mydebut bookis filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’sLucy in the City:
Here’s a video I made about the ‘Three As’, which should act as a nice supplement to this blog post:
Firstly, please accept my apologies for missing my scheduled blog post last Sunday. Last weekend was a little crazy, and this past week was busy as I was perfecting, editing and preparing end-of-year exam papers for my Chemistry students. I also wanted to write a genuine blog post (which requires time), rather than just copy and paste something and make do with that.
Hopefully the seven-day delay (I know, I feel bad about it too!) is compensated with a better reading experience for you.
Enough groveling. Time for the nitty-gritty.
That’s a word that most teachers and students have heard. The idea of making our kids aware of the ‘mission’, ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ of the lesson, right at the start of the lesson, was drilled into me hard during my PGCE placements back in 2005 and 2006.
‘The kids must know where they are going, in order to realise how to get there’, seemed to be the central dogma of the time.
So, I followed the parade of keen twenty-somethings who were eagerly trying to inspire their new students. I wrote my objectives on the whiteboard every single lesson, or I projected them onto a screen. This ticked my appraisal boxes brilliantly, and gave my observers something positive to write about.
The strange thing was, however, that this ritual seemed to help me more than it helped the kids. It helped me to know what I must cover that lesson, but when I forgot to write those objectives I didn’t notice any detrimental effect on my pupil-enagagement. In fact, my lessons were often better when I didn’t follow the ritual of writing those objectives – I was more relaxed, and I think my kids were more relaxed too.
I learnt later that my personality, and effort/attention during the lesson itself and in the planning process, were the key determining factors in how successful my lessons were. When I realised this, I boldly allowed myself to be more creative with my starter activities, and therefore more fun in my approach to each lesson.
The ‘Three As’ stand for Assign, Analyse and Ask. It’s a simple three-step process for starting each lesson, and allows for the teacher to be as creative as he or she wishes when articulating lesson objectives:
Assign a starter activity, that links to the topic somehow. This can be as simple as a video playing on the screen as the kids walk in, a worksheet or even a learning game.
Analyse the starter activity: This may involve peer-assessing the task, having a class discussion, quick-fire questions or a ‘True or False’ activity
Ask the students: What do you think we are learning about today? This may generate some discussion, but if the ‘Assign’ and ‘Analyse’ parts have been designed properly, then it should be obvious.
Here’s another relate video that talks about the importance of a prompt start to lessons:
This three-step method ensures that the students discover the lesson objectives by themselves, hopefully in a fun and interesting way, which makes those objectives far more memorable than if they were simply written on the whiteboard for the kids to copy down.
Let’s look at a real example of the ‘ Three As’ in action.
Year 9 Volcanoes Lesson (Science, the Rock Cycle)
Assign: National Geographic video on volcanoes (with subtitles enabled for extra clarity) plays for five minutes as the students enter the room and settle down
Analyse: I choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall, one wall to be the ‘False’ wall. I ask true or false questions about the video and the kids move to the corresponding wall (see the bottom half of the picture below):
Ask:“So, everybody, what do you think we’re learning about today?”
“Volacanoes” chirps one kid
“Kind of, but what comes out of volcanoes?”
“Lava” say a few kids
“Yes, and lava cools to form…?”
“Igneous rock” say another group of kids
“Yes, correct, we’re learning about igneous rocks. Give yourself a clap for figuring that out!”
Lesson objectives are more memorable when the kids have discovered them, rather than when they’ve been told them
Use the ‘Three As’ to make your kids aware of the lesson objectives in a fun and interesting way
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As a 17-year-old ‘A’ – Level student I was a typical lovesick teenager. I was easily distracted, and if I got the chance to slack-off, then I was sure to take it! I look back at those days and, to my embarrassment, I sometimes have to cringe! However, one question does come to mind quite often – which lessons were the most productive for me at a time when my human nature (and my attitude) led me to be quite a disillusioned and lazy teenager?
The answer: it was always, without exception, those lessons that began promptly and had a definite focus.
As teachers we’re always very, very busy. There’s so much to do in such a small amount of time, and it can be tempting for us to take a rest whilst we’re working. Whilst a relaxed environment is generally conducive to the learning process, there is a danger that we can cross the line and create an atmosphere that’s too relaxed: one that encourages our students to be unproductive. To illustrate this I can use an example from my personal journey.
Perhaps you have had a similar experience?
As a pre-university student all those years ago, I remember some of my chemistry and biology lessons particularly well, but for all the wrong reasons. These lessons would typically begin with the teacher having a nice, casual chat with all of the students in order to create a ‘relaxed feel’. Sometimes we would even begin by making a cup of tea for each other, and this made myself and my peers feel ‘adult’ and ‘special’: reinforcing the fact that we were the big kids in the school and that we had a certain status.
This ritual would sometimes last for 15-20 minutes before any real learning took place, with one of my teachers in particular discussing anything that came to mind: whether it was a story from her past or an incident with another pupil. After this long ‘introduction’, in which approximately a quarter of the lesson had been eaten up, we would begin the lesson properly.
But were we motivated at this stage?
How had this casual entry into the lesson content affected our ability to learn thereafter?
The answer is that for many of us it had generated a lazy frame of mind, and it was difficult to come out of a relaxed state and go straight into a learning activity (which was often rushed, because of the time wasted at the start of the lesson).
Charles J. Givens, author and once a multi-million dollar business owner, summarizes this problem very eloquently:
Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.
Charles J. Givens (Author of Wealth Without Risk and Financial Self Defense)
From this we’re able to understand that for students to achieve results, they need to gain momentum within the lesson.
However, momentum can only be achieved if the teacher initiates it with an appropriate starter activity that requires at least some effort.
I’m sure that you’ll probably have other ideas to add to this list too, and that’s fantastic! If not, then don’t worry; formulating quick and productive starter activities is a learning process but the good news is that the more you do it, the more ideas you’ll have!
Remember: after the starter activity has finished, always review what was done. Get the students to mark each other’s quizzes, or comment on each other’s blog posts, or whatever assessment method you feel is appropriate for the activity.
Once that’s been done, you can move on to the next crucial step in the teaching and learning process: defining the learning outcomes (to be covered next week).
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