Secret Number 5: Run an ECA (Why, What and How)

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

My teenage years were brilliant, and one of the reasons for this is that I was involved in so many active clubs and hobbies. I was an army cadet, I did karate and I even tried hockey and acting for a short while.

Me as an Army Cadet, aged 14

The Extra-Curricular Activities I did as a kid shaped my character more than my lessons in school. I can say that with conviction.

In my ECAs I made new and lasting friendships and learnt cool skills (such as how to start a fire with potassium permanganate, and how to disarm an attacker with a pistol).

I still do karate to this day – it gave me self-discipline and the understanding that life can be painful; but instead of crying in a corner like a little wimp I need to man-up and fight back, and persevere through every storm that comes my way.

Yes: karate, and the Army Cadets, really taught me that.

Now, as a teacher, I warmly reflect on my childhood experiences and the enrichment that was brought to me through these extra dimensions in my life. I try, as best as I can, to offer modern and meaningful ECAs to my students in my current practice.

An AMAZING Book!

Why offer an ECA?

There are numerous benefits which compensate for the extra time it takes to run an ECA:

  • You get to build closer and more meaningful professional relationships with your students, and other students you might not teach
  • You become ‘that cool teacher‘ who goes the extra mile to run good clubs with the kids
  • You learn a few surprising things about the kids in your club – such as skills and abilities they have which you didn’t know about before
  • You will develop new skills along the way (e.g. I currently teach FinTech in one of my ECAs, which is a new area of knowledge that I’m learning about too)
  • You may change lives, literally. One of my former students 10 years ago attended a German language ECA that I ran. She’d never learnt German before, and absolutely loved the club. I later found out that she did a degree in German at university and now works as a translator here in Thailand.

What kind of ECAs can we offer?

Anything that’s:

  • Fun
  • Modern
  • Useful
  • Active

Good ECA types include:

  • Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
  • Gaming (e.g. retro computer gaming, chess, battleships, etc.)
  • Languages that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum
  • Anything practical and hands-on (e.g. robotics, cookery, Science experiments, etc.)
  • Exam and study support

I tend to go with things I’m interested in that will also be fun and useful for my students.

How can we offer ECAs if our skills are limited?

We don’t have to be experts in the things we want to offer as ECAs. In fact, some of the best clubs I’ve run have been dynamic classes in which I learnt new things with the kids.

Running an ECA can even be a good way for us to skill-up as teachers.

Take a club I’m running at the moment, for example: Platform Building and Money Management. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about these subjects, but I’m learning FinTech with the University of Hong Kong and I’m reading books to learn about digital marketing and personal finance. The good news is this – each week, when I learn something new in my studies, I can then pass this on to my students in the ECA.

It’s a great way to help me with my self-discipline in my learning, and it keeps my ECA modern and relevant. The kids love it!

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Secret Number 4: Use Positive, Specific Feedback

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.

However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.

Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)

Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)

University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent

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Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check out edX for amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).

Why were the best, the best?

There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.

I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.

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“An AMAZING book!”

There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.

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Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.

That was powerful.

Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.

I left feeling dignified and educated.

Specific praise is powerful praise

Last week I wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.

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But what does ‘specific’ mean?

I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.

That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.

When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:

1. The effort that’s gone into the work:

“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”

“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”

2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.

“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”

“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”

3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”

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Oh come on, that’ll take ages

You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.

Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:

  • Written comments
  • Verbally – very memorable and effective
  • Via e-mail
  • Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
  • By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
  • Certificates and awards
  • Assemblies
  • Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
  • Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
  • A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
  • Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)

Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.

It made me feel proud.

Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.

Further reading

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power

The Four Rules of Praise

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News: Schoolgirl Put in Isolation 240 Times

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m experimenting with a new format and schedule for my blog, and I hope that it will make my content even more interesting and useful for my readers (that’s the plan anyway!).

Every mid-week I’ll give my synopsis of a current education-related news story, along with my regular ‘teaching tips’ blog post on a Sunday. That’s two blog posts per week from now on.

This week I want to discuss my thoughts on a BBC News story that broke this week – that a schoolgirl in England had been sent to the ‘isolation room’ at her school at least 240 times since Year 7 (Grade 6).

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

What’s an ‘isolation room’ anyway?

It’s a place where the naughty kids are sent, basically. If the teacher feels that a student is being so disruptive that their behavior is affecting the learning of other students, then some schools will allow the teacher to send that kid to the isolation room.

Many UK schools have isolation rooms. They’re designed to be quiet places where kids can sit and do work, often supervised by a special ‘isolation room monitor’ (who is normally a fully qualified teacher too).

Many prominent figures in UK education support the idea of isolation rooms. Take Tom Bennet, author of The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers, who has stated that using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, spent very little time actually working in a school.”

mess around in class

Well, Tom, I’ve spent many years working in schools (and yes, I worked in the UK in a school with an isolation room), and I can tell you: I don’t support this strategy at all.

Let me tell you why.

1. They’re too easy to use

I remember working in North Wales at school with an isolation room over a decade ago. I had a teenage girl in one of my classes who had spent 50% of a previous half-term in the isolation room. She missed a lot of school, and the resources in the isolation room were not up to scratch to match the curriculum she was following.

As a newbie back then I found the isolation room very supportive: if a kid played up I could just send him or her to the room. I filled in a slip and off the kid went.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

I found myself giving up on students at the first instance of misbehavior. This was especially true if a kid had a history of being sent out to isolation. If everyone else is sending this kid there, then I can do it too!

It became too easy to send kids out, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. I hated myself for it, to be honest, and I decided ‘no more’.

The next time that girl was chatty in class and a little disruptive was when we were learning about the extraction of chlorophyll from a leaf. Instead of sending her out, I got her involved.

“Come and help me”

She came and used the Bunsen Burner to heat up the solution. Everyone clapped. She felt empowered.

lab girls

I‘ve written tirelessly about the importance of making our students feel important and valued. It’s a core principle of good behavior management and overall student training. Isolation rooms completely subvert this solid fact and principle, and tend to cause more problems than they solve (such as leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in some cases, which we see in this particular case with the girl in the BBC report).

2. When is enough, enough?

After 240 times of being sent to the isolation room, one would have thought that someone in the school with at least two brain cells to rub together would have realized that the isolation room strategy isn’t working for this student.

What about counseling? Discussions with parents? Teacher-meetings to discuss strategies for this student? Extra time to complete homework? Collective praise when this girl did something great?

There are many ways to solve long-term poor behavior. Sending students to an isolation room is not the answer.

3. Since when did UK schools become prisons for kids?

With the advent of compulsory schooling in 1880, followed by fines for parents who didn’t send their kids to school beginning in 2004, and then later the advent of isolation rooms, one sees a rather grim picture emerging.

School is supposed to be a happy place for children. A place where they learn new skills and become better people. A place where they mature into adults.

When schools become like prisons, however, with more and more power being taken away from parents as the years pass, one wonders if home-schooling shouldn’t become more pervasive.

chatting in class

In the UK, parents can home-school their kids provided that they have permission from the school headteacher. However, government inspectors can make an informal visit and can serve a ‘school attendance order’ if they feel that the child is not receiving an adequate education.

Maybe homeschooling would have worked with this girl? Maybe it wasn’t feasible.

4. IEPs need to be considered

Sophie, the schoolgirl mentioned in the BBC article, had selective mutism and didn’t start speaking until she was 8-years-old. She also had autism.

Surely she would have had an IEP in place (an Individual Education Plan). Did this document recommend that she be sent to the isolation room every day from January to mid-March, as the BBC report states?

I very much doubt it.

What we learn from this story is that IEPs need to be well-designed and shared, proactively, with every teacher in the school. That means reading them, discussing them, and coming up with strategies as a team.

Isn’t that what INSET days could be used for?

Q & A

Isolation rooms should be banned

I am of the opinion that isolation rooms should be banned in schools. Put the kids on detention – yes. Send them to a senior manager. Phone home. Allow extra time for homework. Meet with parents. Use collective strategies.

But don’t let a kid spend half a term, each and every day, and all day every day, in an isolation room with poor-quality work to complete (and poor-quality guidance).

Schools are not prisons. Schools are supposed to be happy places where kids learn things.

If schools can’t achieve this, then give the kids back to their parents. They can probably do a better job.

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Secret number 1: Have a genuine interest in the lives of your students

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.

Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:

• Build trust
• Use humour within lessons
• Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students
• Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties
• Create an environment of cooperation and compliance
• Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals
• Personalise our lessons

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Becky’s story

Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.

One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

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In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.

At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.

Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):

• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
• Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student
• Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students)
• Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened)
• Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
• Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.

Conclusion

It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.

Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.

Using Verbal Feedback: The Ugly Truth

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

YouTube video accompanying this article

I started my conquest to save my ‘marking time’ when I moved to Thailand, back in 2008.

Starting out as a relatively new teacher in one of Bangkok’s most prestigious international schools, I was first struck by the fact that expectations were very high and students, parents and line-managers required the very highest levels of service.

Feedback, being a key game-changer when it comes to student performance, has always been a personal priority of mine. However, I have always wrestled with the problem of giving high quality feedback without sacrificing too much of my free time.

This was a difficult balance to control at first.

The fresh-faced Richard in 2008 (who didn’t need to use as much facial moisturizer, or drink as much green tea, to look young back then) would respond to the school’s ethos of promoting excellence by taking home piles and piles of student work every weekend and covering every page with red-inked scribble after scribble.

The kids would get their work back and the process would repeat itself the following weekend.

It just wasn’t sustainable, and life became a struggle, rather than a happy experience (which is what life should be, when designed properly by the person living it).

Shortly after this I vented my concerns in the staff room. One of my colleagues suggested doing more peer-assessment, and that was a real life-changer for me.

I’ve written a separate blog-post about peer-assessment here (highly recommended if you’re struggling to cope with your marking workload).

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An AMAZING Book!

After putting peer-assessment and self-assessment strategies into place for a few years, I then learnt about the idea of giving ‘verbal feedback’. The idea was to simply sit with each student, talk with them about their work and write ‘Verbal feedback given’, ‘VF’ or even stamp the work with a special ‘Verbal feedback given’ stamp. No need to physically ‘mark’ the work.

It sounded great in theory – the teacher saves time and the student gets good feedback.

After 10 years of actively seeking the best verbal feedback methods, however, I’ve discovered the ugly truth about verbal feedback: that it is not as simple as it seems to be.

So make a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the ride as I tell you the ‘iron rules’ of using verbal feedback with your students.

#1 – The stamp is useless, unless it’s followed up

The idea of stamping a student’s work after having given some verbal feedback is a nice one for teachers – it means that we cut down on our marking dramatically. However, what we’re not told is that any feedback we give is useless unless the student actually remembers the feedback that was given.

Try this – stamp a student’s work with ‘Verbal feedback given’, and then 3 months later ask that same student: “What did I tell you to improve for this piece of work”.

Most students will only be able to remember a few things, if any.

This is why, crucially, we must tell the student to write down the verbal feedback we have given, with a different colored pen (or using a different colored font/style if it’s ICT based) immediately after we’ve given the feedback.

When we force our students to delineate the feedback we have verbally given them, we ensure that they:

  • Have to think carefully about the feedback we gave (i.e. process the information)
  • Remember the information (because by processing and thinking about the feedback, this will automatically create cognitive associations and memory)

One of my favorite quotes from a pedagogical book is this one:

Memory is the residue of thought

 Daniel Willingam, ‘Why Students Don’t Like School’, Jossey-Bass (2010)

So we must get our students to remember their verbal feedback, and one great way to do this is to make sure they write it down. Always collect their work in (again) to check that they have actually done this.

#2 – Combine ‘Live Marking’ with Verbal Feedback

Do you know what ‘Live Marking’ is? – it’s real-time marking done in-class, as opposed to at home. There are two main ways to do “Live Marking’:

  • Walk around the class with a colored pen in-hand and mark the students’ work as they are doing it
  • Call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and ‘live mark’ their work in front of them

I wrote a whole article about ‘Live Marking’ here. You may also like this video I made.

It is also possible to combine verbal feedback with ‘Live Marking’. Try these ideas:

  • As you are walking around the class and giving verbal feedback to your students, why not train your students to write ‘Mr Rogers told me this……(use your name, obviously!)” in their books, so that they record the feedback you’ve given them?
  • Again, call the students to you desk one-at-a-time and look through the work with them. Point out areas of strength and weakness. Get each student to write down what you have said in a different color.

Using this technique brings a number of benefits: you build up rapport with your students, save time when marking and you provide high-quality feedback that the students will remember.

#3 – Give reasons for the feedback

Students need to know why they need to improve, not just what to improve.

Always tell your students why – “It’s really important that you make your diagrams large and neat because in the exam the examiner needs to be able to clearly see every piece of apparatus”

By giving reasons we allow our students to see the ‘bigger picture’ – the final destination. This can, when used frequently by a range of teachers in the child’s life, allow the student to formulate goals for the future.

Conclusion

Verbal feedback must be internalized – students must process the feedback they have been given. Get them to write down what you have told them. Write questions in their books for them to answer. Check that this has been done.

It is important to remember that it is still necessary to use ‘traditional’ marking from time to time: e.g. when marking large tests and when collecting in books. Students still do need some acknowledgement for their efforts with encouraging comments, but these do not need to be strewn throughout every page of the notebooks.

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Turbo Teaching: 5 Ways to Supercharge Learning

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

Illustrated by  Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Check out the new…………….

Rogers forum

Let’s admit it once and for all: teaching is hard-work! From choosing the right techniques to use and gradually building rapport with your kids over the academic year; to marking and admin – the teaching profession requires of its disciples skills like no other.

But is it possible to distill all the research, experience and mumbo-jumbo into just a few effective strategies that work like a treat?

I believe so: hence this blog and my books.

Here are what I believe to be the most effective ways to ‘squeeze the most juice’ out of each lesson:

Tip 1: Quick starters

Give the kids something to do as soon as they walk through the classroom door (or immediately as the lesson starts). This kickstarts momentum from the outset, making it easier to build up knowledge and understanding later in the lesson.

And that’s another thing – a good starter activity should either introduce a new concept, or build on things (or review things) that were learned last lesson (or recently).

My second most popular blog post ever,7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers‘, is well worth a read as it contains very simple games and activities that can be applied to any subject area.

The Lancashire Grid for Learning describes the successful elements of good starters really well in their online document,Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools‘:

During successful interactive starters:

• pupils engage fully in learning from the outset;

• they gain an understanding of the objectives and purposes of the lesson;

• there is a sense of pace;

• pupils spend most of their time on-task and focused on learning;

• there is an appropriate level of challenge that enables pupils to make good progress in their learning.

Unit 5: Starters and Plenaries, Lancashire Grid for Learning [Online]. Accessed 3rd March 2019

If I were to add anything to the above list, it would be:

  • the teacher exhibits a large amount of energy and enthusiasm
  • the students enjoy what they are doing

Without energy and enjoyment, starter activities are only partially effective.

Tip 2: Quick plenaries

Plenaries give the students a really good chance to review what they’ve learned in a lesson (or sequence of lessons). When used frequently, they can really boost retention of knowledge.

Another very popular blog post of mine is ‘7 Plenary Activites for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers’. Check it out – simple techniques that require very little prep and resources.

Tip 3: Break-up learning with questions

Some kids can get really switched-off when they are lectured to for a long time. use textbook questions, question banks from exam boards, online questions (e.g. the BBC Bitesize tests), software (e.g. Educake and MyMaths) and even integrated presentation and task technology (e.g. Nearpod) to break up the lesson into sections.

This is important because, contrary to popular belief, the human brain keeps developing well into adulthood. This means that, although teenagers may look like small adults, their brains are still developing and actually resemble closely the brains of smaller children (Source: The Guardian).

So keep students focused with variety. Include various types of questions within lessons to review content (or to develop research skills).

Tip 4: Use Spatial Learning

Turn your kids into the concepts they are learning!

Teaching diffusion? Great – turn the kids into ‘particles’ and get them to move across the room and ‘diffuse’. Teaching maths? – Try getting your kids to make number shapes using their bodies.

Two favorites to get you warmed up are ‘The Human Graph’ and ‘True or False Walls’ (shown below) – again, taking simple concepts and techniques and making spatial.

You can see more spatial learning techniques at my blog post here.

Tip 5: Differentiation

Do you know what the word ‘differentiation’ really means? Most teachers think it means adjusting the difficulty level of tasks in a lesson to meet the needs of the learners. This is wrong.

Modifying difficulty to suit individual learners in lessons implies that those ‘more able’ students will have higher objectives than those deemed ‘less able’.

This philosophy is very damaging in my personal opinion. If you’ve got a group of kids in a class that you teach, then your aim must be that all learners achieve the same objectives, no matter how aspirational those objectives are.

Our job is to get those kids there, no matter what it takes. Normally, it takes a bit of differentiation.

Here’s the very best differentiation definition I have found to date:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

COURTESY OF GREAT SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP [ONLINE]. AVAILABLE AT HTTP://EDGLOSSARY.ORG/DIFFERENTIATION/ (ACCESSED 21ST APRIL 2017)

So, we now see differentiation clearly defined (finally). All students should master essential skills and knowledge, but we should change our instructional methods to suit the kids’ needs. We shouldn’t make stuff easier for some learners, and harder for others.

It amazes me how slowly education systems all around the world are moving towards this. We must stop ‘boxing’ kids into ability brackets. In the absence of some pre-defined cognitive hindrance, all students are equally capable. We’ve just got to find the ways to inspire them.

You can read more about differentiation (with lots of suggested techniques to use) at my blog post here.

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Tips for Organising Homework

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student. 

That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations. 

Explaining

I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me. 

That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.

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I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was. 

“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”

She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”

That felt good. 

award

Juggling many things at once

Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.

I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.

I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:

  • I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
  • Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
  • The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all

So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!

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So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.

Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returning timetable

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).

Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.

always learn

And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.

Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:

Homework setting, marking and receiving timetable

Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish. 

Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals

Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:

  • They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
  • They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
  • The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
  • They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
  • Students receive quick, effective feedback
  • Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal. 

So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
  • Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.

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  • Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
  • Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:

learning-journal-system2

  • I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:

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  • The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students

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

Strategy #3: Live marking

‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.

I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:

I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.

Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.

work overload

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniques hereSome general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:

Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment

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

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

At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.

teaching with laptop

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Self-Assessment

Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

  • It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
  • When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.

There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:

  • Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Class Q and A

Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’

Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.

Intangibles include:

  • Revising for tests and quizzes
  • ‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
  • Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
  • Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students. 

Conclusion

Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:

  • Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
  • Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
  • Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
  • Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
  • Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them

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The Four Rules of Praise

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

it integrated.jpg

I loved it. It was ace!

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

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

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

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

Praise only works when it is used properly

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

Giving feedback

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

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

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

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

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

Be specific. Here are some examples:

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

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

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

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

woman-reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

poll-everywhere

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

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

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

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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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

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

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

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

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

Humans are natural carers

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

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

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

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

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

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

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

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

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

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

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

jenga

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

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

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

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

Conclusion

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

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Don’t Be A ‘Mediocre’ Teacher

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

They stood at the front of the audience: seemingly ready to dazzle us all. They were all 18 years old and in the final term of high school. I was much younger then too – 26 years old and in my third year of teaching.

It was a Biology revision presentation. I’d invited my colleague to come along to watch (also a Biology teacher).

The presenters began their talk.

When it was over, I needed to take a paracetamol tablet. I was rather perplexed.

I let my colleague chirp in with some feedback first, thinking she would cover most of the points I wanted to raise.

“A great presentation. I loved the level of detail and research. Well done”

That was it?

studying with com

Now I found myself clenching my fist. I thought back to the late 90s when my dad received a ‘stress reliever’ doll one Christmas. It was basically a squishy, red, head-shaped rubbery thing in a pot that you could squeeze when you got a bit mad. It was joke gift of course: designed to cause a giggle or two; but I wished I had one right now.

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“An AMAZING book!”

“Mr. Rogers. What are your thoughts?” Asks my colleague.

After a barrage of questions which the students responded to with nervous looks and blank stares, I decided to give my merciless, but honest, feedback:

“Whilst I agree with my colleague that your research skills were good, there are still a few issues I’d like to address.

I’ll start with the negatives, then share my thoughts on what, if anything, was positive. All of you were reading directly off the slides and not making eye-contact with the audience. We can all read, so your method of presentation was not only boring but it was also patronizing. There was too much text on each slide. The material had not been properly referenced and the images you did use, though few, were of very low quality. You also superficially skimmed the surface of the topic, and didn’t even touch on issues such as splicing, introns and transposable elements.

On the positive side, you showed us all that you are very good at copying and pasting. You were also able to describe some of the concepts in some detail.

Please speak with me tomorrow morning during registration so that we can arrange a time to do this again”

Giving feedback

The ‘respect’ factor

Unfortunately, many of us in the teaching profession have been conditioned to dish out praise all day long for the most minuscule of things. A kid hands in a complete dog’s dinner of a homework and it’s “Well done for handing this in on time. Meeting deadlines is important”. 

I could go on with the spectrum of ‘non-confrontational’, politically correct garbage that I was conditioned to spew for another 1000 words, but I think that would be tedious.

I used to be one of those ‘praise everything’ teachers. Guess what I found out:

  • Praise only works when it is sincere
  • Praise only works when it recognises significant, meaningful achievements that have taken some work to accomplish
  • Praise is extra effective when preceded (NOT followed by) points for improvement

And guess what else I’ve found out – students respect us more when we are honest. They respect us when we tell them that they need to improve. They respect us when we are vigilant.

Explaining

Lots of research supports these findings. Here are two good examples:

  • A 2016 summary by Vanderbilt University found that praise works well when it is behavior-specific, and that a ratio of 4 praise statements to one reprimand works well for improving performance (if 4 praise statements are available for the work being assessed). Here are some examples of language changes we can make to turn praise into a kind of ‘disguised reprimand’ or ‘behavior enforcer”:
BSP Vanderbilt
Behavior Specific Praise. Courtesy of Vanderbilt University, 2016. See the publication entitled ‘Behavior Specific Praise in the Classroom’. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project.

Whilst this table is useful, I think it’s important to remember that reprimands must be specific and direct. “We don’t take other people’s property, because that causes suffering to another person. When you’re older, you can also get into big trouble with the police for that. You’ll need to write a letter of apology to Simon for what you did.”

  • A 2015 blog post by Brian Gatens at the University of Portland made the point that when teachers show honesty and compassion, they build trust with their students. Compassion doesn’t mean making kids feel good all the time – it means letting them know when they’ve under-performed, and caring enough to do something about it! It also involves celebrating and recognising significant progress, performance and attainment.

‘Mediocre’ Versus ‘Vigilant’

Here are some statements I’ve come up with which sum up the ‘Mediocre’ teacher, versus the ‘Vigilant’ teacher. I don’t mean to offend anyone here – I was once the Mediocre Teacher. I share my findings as a means of self-reflection for all of us. I still get a bit ‘mediocre’ at times, but at least I’m aware of how to spot that now:

  • Mediocre teachers record attainment and progress. Vigilant teachers record attainment and progress, quickly identify under-performance and then intervene to improve that.
  • Mediocre teachers praise the smallest of things. Vigilant teachers reserve their praise for significant, meaningful displays of effort, attainment and progress.
  • Mediocre teachers sometimes bring up points for improvement with their students. Vigilant teachers leave ‘no stone unturned’, and relentlessly monitor their students’ weaknesses and do the best they can to improve those.
  • Mediocre teachers don’t feel the need to be a ‘role-model’ for their students. Vigilant teachers understand that their words, actions and subliminal cues will act as points of reference for their students for many years to come.
  • Mediocre teachers mark their students work. Vigilant teachers provide feedback that’s meaningful and specific. 

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