Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

By Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

 

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The IB Results ‘Scandal’ of 2020

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

Originally published July 19th 2020. Updated July 23rd and July 26th 2020.

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Skip to the end of this article to see links to external news sources and blogs on this topic (updated 26th July)

IMPORTANT DOCUMENT: IBSCA Letter to Universities (This is a letter that could be used to support an IB student’s application to university or college. It is from Richard Markham: CEO of the IB Schools and Colleges Association and spells out clearly the nature of the inconsistencies in this year’s IB grades.). This letter was e- mailed to every UK university on 20th July 2020 by IBSCA. 

Accompanying video:

It’s the story of the decade that’s had students, parents and schools up-in-arms – and it’s at danger of fading away if we don’t keep shedding light on it. 

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“An amazing book!”

So, what exactly happened?

Paula Wilcock, IB’s Chief Assessment Officer, answered that question in a blog post published immediately after the IB Results were released. After telling students to “focus on your two-year IB journey” and not worry about their grades too much, Paula finally describes how this year’s students were assessed:

In order to award a diploma or course certificate, following the cancellation of all external written components of our examinations for the May 2020 session, we asked students to complete their internal assessment (IA) coursework as usual, which were submitted to us by IB World Schools.

Following the submission of IAs, we used historical assessment data to ensure that we followed a rigorous process of due diligence in what was, and still is, truly an unprecedented situation. We undertook significant data analysis from previous examination sessions, individual schools and subject data.

International Baccalaureate (IB) students who were due to sit terminal examinations in April and May of this year were denied the chance to sit their exams due to the COVID19 pandemic. Instead, schools had to submit each student’s coursework (known as Internal Assessments or ‘IAs’), submit a predicted grade and, crucially, submit historical assessment data.

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Just to add a bit of context – the IB Diploma is an important pre-university qualification, and is a non-traditional (and popular) alternative to ‘A’-Levels that is widely respected the world-over.

The IB’s request for historical assessment data has probably been the issue that has caused the most contention in the wake of this story. Upon first glance, outsiders like parents and students may have thought that this meant that assessment data for each student over the course of the two years of their studies was submitted for analysis. However, what the IB actually asked for was the past five years of each school’s predicted grades and actual grades, in order to determine how accurate each school is at making predictions. 

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I personally think that this was an illogical step to take. Here’s why:

  • Teachers get better at predicting grades as time goes by
  • Teachers change year after year
  • Schools have to be accredited to run the IB anyway (so, why not trust the schools to do their jobs properly?)
  • Some schools have only been teaching the IB for a few years (less than five)
  • The accuracy of predictions a school made five years ago has no relevance to the accuracy of predictions made today

On top of all this, it doesn’t even seem as though the IB used a fair and consistent algorithm when assigning grades:

  • IAs (coursework) were graded down for many students, after having been assessed by experienced teachers in many cases (teachers who’ve been assessing coursework for years with no issues)
  • Students in the same school seem to have been marked differently – getting the same predicted grades and IA grades, but different overall grades

To boil it all down to one sentence: The IB seem to have assessed this year’s students inconsistently. In fact, the inconsistencies as so massive, that the UK’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, has started an investigation into the IB’s assessment methods for this year’s cohort and has asked for the assessement algorithm to be disclosed.

In a massive show of defiance and anger, over 20,000 IB students have signed a petition calling for ‘justice’. If one wants to get an idea of how deeply this resentment runs, then go to the IB’s Instagram page and look at the comments under the ‘Congratulations Class of 2020’ photo – scores of students telling their personal stories, and describing how they feel that their trust in the IB Organization was misplaced. 

Update (26th July 2020)

The playlist below is well-worth a watch. In a short series of interviews, a selection of IB students from around the world describe how they have been affected (emotionally, financially and mentally) by this year’s grading system (Courtesy of The International Student Podcast YouTube channel). 

Update (23rd July 2020)

There have been a number of interesting developments this week (but more still needs to be done to bring more attention this story):

  • The Norwegian Data Protection Authority (NO DPA) sent an official letter to the IBO requesting information regarding exactly how students were assessed. The authority has requested clarification on 7 key points of confusion (see the images below)
  • The IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) – a support network of IB Schools – published a letter designed to be used to support any student’s application to university. The letter spells out what has happened this year, and makes it clear that many students (especially at the higher end of the achievement spectrum) have been marked down by the IB’s algorithms. You can download the letter as a pdf here: IBSCA Letter to Universities

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References and further reading

[IB Blog] – Advice from IB’s Paula Wilcock: Focus on your two-year IB journey [6th July 2020] : https://blogs.ibo.org/blog/2020/07/06/advice-from-ibs-paula-wilcock-focus-on-your-two-year-ib-journey/

[Times Educational Supplement] – Exclusive: IB grading being investigated by watchdog [9th July 2020] : https://www.tes.com/news/exclusive-coronavirus-ib-grading-being-investigated-watchdog

[Telegraph] – Ofqual steps in as thousands of students miss out on expected IB Diploma grades [12th July 2020]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/12/ofqual-steps-thousands-students-miss-expected-ib-diploma-grades/

[Beijing Kids Blog] – Lower Than Predicted IB 2020 Results Spark Outrage [18th July 2020]: https://www.beijing-kids.com/blog/2020/07/18/ib-2020-results-sparks-outrage/

[South China Morning Post] – Hong Kong schools seek review of students’ poorer-than-expected results as International Baccalaureate grading sparks dismay, global petition: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3094692/hong-kong-schools-seek-review-students-poorer-expected [26th July 2020]

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How a TEFL Gap Year Will Benefit Your Future

You may be doing your TEFL course and teaching abroad as a ‘gap year’ before starting a career which you studied for at university. Many people will ask you ‘Why do you want to teach English abroad? Aside from a so-called year off, how will it benefit you?’. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her thoughts with us.

A year of teaching abroad can benefit you in number of ways:

You’ll gain confidence 

So many parts of this experience will help you to gain confidence – from travelling alone abroad to a new place, to experiencing new cultures, to doing something new, to learning to speak in front of people.

Your communication skills will improve

Techniques learnt on the course and practiced in the classroom thereafter, will improve your general communication skills. You will be far more aware of whether or not you have been understood, and will adjust the way you speak and listen to people in general. You will also become more confident speaking to large groups of people, as well as on a one-to-one basis.

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Your time management skills will improve

You’ll become the master of checklists! There’s nothing like leaving behind your materials and wasting all your hard work and effort to make you more organised! Carefully planning your lessons according to a time schedule will also be great practice for time management.

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You’ll become more aware of other cultures

As you’ve moved to another country and are teaching students who are not from your culture, you will become acutely aware of the differences between cultures, and the pitfalls of dealing with people from other cultures. These include misunderstandings, doing things in different ways, and knowing that what is acceptable in one culture, may not be so in another culture. In the corporate workplace one day, this will be a valuable asset to have, particularly in jobs where you’ll be dealing with international clients.

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Networking

You will make friends for life – after meeting people you would never have met back home. These could be your fellow classmates on the TEFL course, your fellow teachers while teaching, or neighbours and other locals, as well as your students. Having an international network of friends and past colleagues can also advance your career in ways you may never know – as you never know where the future may take you.

You’ll mature and grow as a person

All the challenges and hardships of living abroad will give you a tough skin and mature you in ways that staying at home in a familiar environment won’t do. Moving out of your parental home is testing enough for many young adults – but doing so in a different country really challenges!

Well there you have it. There are many more reasons to sail away from familiar shores, but these reasons are ones that you can proudly mention in interviews and cover letters. So what are you waiting for? 

If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

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Teaching Overseas for the First Time: Advice From Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps and The Rogers Pedagogical Planner: A Teacher’s Planner for Serious Professionals)

COVID-19 has clearly had a devastating effect on the aviation industry. With international travel brought to a virtual standstill, some airlines have found themselves laying off staff, downsizing and even going bankrupt

This is, of course, an unprecedented and horrific situation for the airline industry as a whole. In addition to this, restrictions on international travel have caused ripples to permeate throughout a wide variety of other industries: not least international education. Some effects that have been experienced by teachers (some of whom are my colleagues) are as follows:

  • Teachers who were appointed to roles overseas cannot leave their current country of residence to actually start their jobs.
  • Dependents, such as spouses and children, are often not able to move abroad with the appointed teacher as it’s difficult for many countries to get the necessary clearance and paperwork approved.
  • Teachers who were ‘on the fence’ about teaching overseas are now regretting the fact that they didn’t ‘take the plunge’ and move abroad sooner, as now their ability to travel has been restricted.

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That last bullet-point is an interesting one. It’s an ‘imaginary’ scenario based only on the anecdotal evidence I could currently acquire – a number of my readers have written to me to say that they regret not having made the decision to teach overseas sooner. 

Whilst I cannot be sure that this is a systemic or widespread regret that applies to the teaching profession as a whole, it is an understandable and logical emotional response to COVID-19 that we can consider. I imagine that when COVID-19 is ‘over’ (will it ever be really over?), and flight paths reopen, we will see a surge in applications for overseas teaching posts. 

Class Q and A

In anticipation of this, I’ve conducted a rather unconventional experiment this week. As a teacher with 12 years of overseas teaching experience (11 years in Thailand, 1 year in China), I decided to post my top 5 suggestions/tips for teachers who are considering moving overseas to teach. I posted these tips in the popular Teachers in Thailand Facebook group, to see what kind of responses I would get. After a bit of distillation (tallying up the responses with the most likes), I’ve come up with a fairly comprehensive and balanced list of pre-teach-abroad tips for all budding globe-trotters (I hope!):

Rule #1: Try to learn the local language – even a few words will show others that you are trying and you’ll be respected all the more for it.

In some countries, of course, this won’t be necessary. If you’re a native English speaker moving to Singapore, Australia, America or the UK (or another English speaking country), then you may only have to learn some of the local colloquialisms and get used to some unusual dialect. However, if you move to a country like China, for example, it’s a whole different story. 

Sometimes, learning the local language is essential. When I worked in Chongqing, China; for example; very few people could understand English (Starbucks baristas tended to be the best speakers – so hats-off to them). I had to learn some Mandarin just to survive. Learning the local language does have other benefits, too, however:

  • Language and culture are often very closely intertwined. Learning the local language can help you to understand why the local people think the way they think. This can lead to better relationships, less frustration and more common-ground and mutual understanding.
  • When you at least try to use the local language, you are showing that you have some respect for the local people and the country in which you are a guest (more on that later). In my experience, this goes a long way to building trust with others (e.g. that hairdresser you have to see every week, or that bar tender you see on the occasional Friday night). People tend to admire you more if you show that you are willing to learn, and you don’t just expect everyone around you to speak your language and accommodate you.

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Teachers in Thailand Response

This rule was generally well-received. A noteworthy response that offers some extra-insight is given below (of course, remember that this is Thai-centric, but could be applied to any native language):

“I had the advantage of a thorough pre-field language training (it leads to some interesting conversations with Thai adults — like “how can my English get as good as your Thai” — but even if you have much less Thai than that it can still be a bridge-builder that can make your life easier — and fortunately, there are now FB groups designed specifically for foreigners trying to learn Thai. Take it easy, and you will gradually get better at it.”  – Edwin Zehner

Rule #2: Do not leave home because you are trying to run away from problems – finances, crime, family issues – get any of these issues resolved first before you move overseas (or your problems might travel with you).

I must admit that this was a tricky one for me to phrase correctly in one sentence, and it did receive a little bit of backlash in the Facebook group. Before I include a noteworthy response or two, I’d like to add an extract from my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management (final chapter), which goes into this a bit more:

Extract from THE QUICK GUIDE TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

SECRET NUMBER 46: Your Problems May Follow You When You Fly Away

If your motivation to leave your home country revolves around personal
problems you have such as debt, a broken relationship or family
issues, then don’t assume that all of these problems are going to vanish
as soon as the landing gear hits the tarmac in your new city. Certain
problems, especially those concerning money, can actually be
exacerbated when you leave your home country. Here are my top tips
for making sure that a problem at home doesn’t become a nightmare
abroad:

  1. Money: Think long and carefully about any debt-related or financial issues you have, and aim to resolve them before you board the plane. Many expatriates find it difficult to transfer funds back to their home country once they’re abroad, and this can have consequences in terms of meeting credit card and bill payment dates. You must ensure that you’ve inquired beforehand about the ways in which you can deal with your finances abroad, and you must remember to follow through. When one is residing in a foreign country, it can be easy to forget about the financial commitments you have in your home country. In the early stages, this can manifest as an awkward message or letter from your creditor, progressing to international criminal action if the issue is not dealt with. It might be a good idea for you to leave some savings in your native bank account which you can use to pay your bills and loans in the first few months of your new adventure. You may wish to get a trusted friend or family member back home to help you with this.
  2. Relationships: Don’t burn any bridges before you fly away. You may be travelling to an exotic new country to start a wonderful new chapter in your life, but you never know when circumstances may force you to return home to your native country. Try not to upset people before you leave, for example, by venting your pent-up grudges that you’ve had for years. You may also want to keep in touch with people at your old school as you may need to call upon them for advice, resources and help.
  3. Health: Try to bring all of your medical records with you when you travel, and have them deposited at the hospital you plan to use when you start at your new school. Whilst medical care provided overseas can be of an extremely high quality (especially when your school pays for private medical insurance as part of your package), it can be very difficult for doctors to suggest a suitable course of treatment if your exact medical history is unknown. If you end up spending a great deal of time teaching overseas, then you may find yourself moving
    from hospital to hospital, or even country to country! It is essential that you do not underestimate the importance of keeping your medical records safe, accessible and updated. Unfortunately, however, this is the one aspect of international teaching that is most overlooked by teachers.
  4. Crime: If you’ve committed any kind of serious criminal offence in your home country, then you almost certainly will not get a job at a reputable international school overseas. Most will require you to complete a criminal records check before you leave your home country but even if your school does not require this, you must still be upfront and honest about any criminal history you have. The ramifications for you can be severe if your school finds out about it later.
  5. Online: Clean up your online profile. Look at all of the social media channels you have, all of your blog posts, forum replies, comments and any other material you’ve submitted online. Also, remove anything that puts you in a bad light: international school managers are using ‘internet screening’ more and more often these days. Additionally, be very careful about who you connect with through social media, and never connect with current students. Whilst it’s important to keep in touch with your former students (through school-authorized alumni channels), you still have to be careful about what they can read about you, or from you, online. Your former students may be connected with your current students, and they can pass on information easily. You’ll also find that the student world of international teaching is just as small as the teacher world, and students in different international schools do communicate and connect with each other.

Q & A

I received some interesting responses about this in the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group:

“I do not agree with your point 2. We left SA because of a few of your nr 2 reasons and we soooo happy in Thailand!”

“Sometimes it’s impossible to resolve problems at home. Nonetheless you can be an effective teacher.”

I guess a balanced viewpoint on the issue is needed. A fresh start in a new country can offer you the chance to leave the past behind, and build a new future. My point, however, is that you should try to solve as many personal problems as you can before you move over. Avoid ‘burning bridges’ too – you never know when you might need to cross them again. 

Rule #3: Remember that you are a GUEST in a foreign country. Be respectful, and remember that for every action you undertake you will be scrutinized more excessively than the natives.

I’m not sure if being ‘scrutinized more than the natives” applies in EVERY country, but that’s certainly been my experience in Thailand and China – and that’s understandable. I am a foreigner. I have to be respectful of the local rules, culture and environment. 

I think it is important to realise that the world is an incredibly varied place. If you’ve lived your whole life in one country (as I did before moving out to Thailand in 2008) you’re going to find that your new home will be different in many ways. The most profound of these differences, however, is that people probably won’t even ‘think like you think’ on many issues. 

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Being understanding and accepting of the host culture and environment kind of comes with the job of being an international school teacher. If it gets too much for you, you can always move back home later (or to another country). 

Rule #4: Get as many qualifications as you can (and as much experience as you can) back home before moving out – it’ll all look good on your resume/CV and you’ll definitely use the skills and knowledge you’ve learnt.

International schools tend to have more difficulties recruiting specialists than, say, a domestic school in western country would. This, coupled with the fluid nature of international education (schools at different phases of development) means that you may be asked to teach subjects outside of your specialism. 

Before moving out, try to get skilled-up in anything pedagogical – accelerated learning techniques, Assessment for Learning, teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms training, etc. The skills you learn on courses like these will definitely come-in handy when you teach overseas.

Online learning is, of course, great for this. There a large number of high-quality, inexpensive courses available on places like edX, Coursera and Udemy. You can also take my Classroom Management Fundamentals certificate course with UK Ed Academy.

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Some notable additions

“Make sure your social media accounts are private and that your profile pic is respectable. Recruiters often check you out on social media. Do an in-class or hybrid course. There is so much to be said for REAL PRACS with real students. Do an intro video if you can – either just introduction, or even better of you in the classroom showing your rapport with students. Be punctual for any interviews!” – Rose-Anne Turner, Founder of Destination TEFL

“Get someone to proofread your c.v and covering letter. The number of applications we get with poor punctuation and spelling mistakes…” – Kate Lloyd, Director of Studies at London School of English, Ukraine. Check out her website for teachers at What Kate and Kris Did.

“Expect things to go a bit wrong/unplanned from time to time but make sure you’re flexible and ok with that” – Stefan Hines, Secondary Science Teacher

Rule #5: Kinda linked to number 2: make sure you are going overseas for the right reasons – to inspire and help your students, to gain teaching experience and to gain a unique cultural experience. You’re not coming over to have a big, never-ending holiday, or to find a local boyfriend or girlfriend (although that last one might be a nice by-product).

This is quite an important one. If you don’t have the right mindset before you come out, then you could be in for quite a shock. 

International schools (and local public schools) tend to have very high professional standards. In addition to this, there often comes the added pressure of being expected to perform well. Thing about it: your school has most likely paid for your flight, immigration visa, work permit and maybe even housing and a competitive salary. You’ll be expected to measure-up. 

Have a holidays at holiday time. Experience the local culture and food all that good stuff, but remember that you must be just as professional at your job as you were back home. 

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How to Ace Your Observed TEFL Lesson

Lesson observations can be nerve-wracking and stressful for many teachers. Often, this is a result of not-knowing how to effectively deal with the observation (or anticipation of it) on an emotional, professional and strategic level. Today, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director at Destination TEFL, to share her advice on how to ace a TEFL lesson-observation.

Images for this guest blog post have been kindly provided by Destination TEFL and show teachers they have successful trained in-action, interacting with students. If you’re thinking of getting a TEFL qualification and teaching overseas, then Destination TEFL can help you!

There are so many things to think about when you’re being observed, that it’s easy to forget the obvious. Here are some ways to make sure you ace your observed lessons. 

Before the lesson 

This applies to observed practicums during your course: Pay attention in class! Know the correct procedures and techniques, so you know what is expected of you. 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Practice the steps and procedures (drilling, back-chaining etc) and practice your full lesson beforehand, on your own or with your partner. Get your classmates to act as students and let them point out any mistakes afterwards – all in good faith of course, and you do the same for them. Ask for a copy of the observation form that your observer will use and understand what they’re looking for. Your trainer should make it clear what is expected of you. 

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This will also apply should you be doing a demo lesson for a job interview. When you are called in for a demo, be sure to get all the facts beforehand, including the number and level of the students, how long the lesson will be, the topic, the facilities on site, etc. 

Have a backup for everything! Always have a spare board-marker – they have a nasty way of suddenly dying when you least need them to. Time wasted scrambling for another pen will affect your lesson time management, and the curveball will make you nervous, as well as having a knock-on effect. If you plan to show images on a projector, print the images too. If you’re giving students handouts, always have a few spares on hand in case your observer wants a copy or in case there are more students than expected. Have a safety net for every aspect of the class. Be prepared to upscale or ‘dumb-down’ the lesson in case the level of the students is not what you were expecting, so make sure activities can be adjusted accordingly. 

Have a checklist. Having an amazing board game or a fun worksheet is pointless if you leave it behind – we’ve seen this happen too many times – you can only be marked on what you actually do in class, not what you left at home. Attached to your lesson plan, have a checklist of what to bring, including a bottle of water and a sweat towel – there’s nothing worse than dripping sweat over the kids (yes, we’ve seen this happen too!) Make sure you have all your materials required for the lesson. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

Dress professionally. If you look the part, you’ll feel the part and then you’ll act the part. If you’re not confident, fake it! Soon it will be real confidence. Find out beforehand what the dress code is at the school where you’ll be conducting the lessons. If this is for your teacher practicums during the course, you will be told this beforehand, but if it’s for a demo lesson find out! Some schools for instance, insist that female teachers wear skirts, not trousers, and many schools want all tattoos covered up. 

Don’t rush and don’t leave things to the last minute! Do all your printing the day before – power outages happen and that could mean you can’t print your worksheets, lesson plan etc. make sure your computer is charged and is working. Don’t assume there will be WiFi if you need to show a YouTube clip – either download the video or make sure you can send a hotspot from your phone to the computer for internet access. On the day devote all your attention to delivering a great class, not worrying about last minute logistics. 

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During the lesson 

Stay calm. It’s natural to be nervous when being observed. Many people speak too quickly when nervous – take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN, or your students will not understand you. Smile at your students. They will smile back and this will help you to relax. 

Take note of your students. Plans should be followed… however, they should also be adapted if need be, according to your students’ levels. This is why it’s important to plan for your lesson to be adjusted both up and down, particularly for a class you have never taught before, and are not familiar with the level. Involve all your students When nervous, it’s natural to just focus on the students in the front, or those who are actively participating. Try your best to encourage all to participate. 

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Step back and read what you have written on the board. Often our brains are thinking ahead and we make silly spelling or other mistakes on the board. Take a step back and read what you have written. 

After the lesson 

Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart. Getting constructive feedback is the best opportunity for you to develop as a teacher. Sometimes, it’s not easy to hear, but the feedback given during your observed lessons on the course, is done so with the best intentions, allowing you to get the most out of the course. Avoid acting defensively, arguing with the observer and blaming the students. Instead, keep an open mind, ask for more details and note down the suggestions. 

Do a self-analysis. After each lesson, think back to what you did, and how you could have done it differently. Think about how you handled questions, unruly kids, etc and think about how you could improve. Keep a lesson journal, and take your own feedback to heart too. 

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Take responsibility. Think about what you could have done to teach a better class, not about how someone else is at fault for what went wrong in your lesson. Many people get defensive when given feedback. Blame it on naughty kids? Rather take responsibility for poor classroom management, and research classroom management techniques. Not enough time? Look at your time management skills, and how much wasted time there was in the class. 

It’s important to act on the feedback given after a lesson. If you don’t incorporate the suggestions given by your observer in your next lesson, then the feedback was pointless. Make the most of the valuable feedback session given during your course. After a demo lesson for a job interview, ask for feedback too. Your potential employer will value the fact that you are keen to improve and every good teacher knows that the best teachers never stop learning. 

Rose-Anne Turner, Admissions Director – Destination TEFL (www.destinationtefl.com)

Thoughts and reflections from Richard James Rogers

I really enjoyed reading this great blog post, Rose-Anne. Thank you for taking the time to share these great tips with our community. As a high-school Science teacher in Thailand, I found these tips to be just as helpful to me as they would be for a TEFL ‘purist’. I think your advice is beneficial for teachers in a wide-variety of different settings. 

My key-takeaways were as follows:

  • A lesson-observation needs to be dealt with strategically: this is not something that you can leave to chance, or be ad-hoc about. You need to have a plan in-place for the run-up to the lesson, the lesson itself and the after-lesson reflection process. Most teachers focus only on lesson-planning and their presence during the lesson, in my personal experience. 
  • Planning the lesson activities and meeting lesson-objectives is important, but dealing with your own emotions and mental well-being as the teacher is equally important. This aspect of preparing for a lesson-observation is often overlooked and poorly discussed in traditional teacher-training programmes, in my personal opinion.
  • I really liked the after-lesson tips: teachers need to hear no-nonsense advice like “Listen to the feedback, and take it to heart”. I really like how you encourage teachers to “take responsibility”: we live in a world of convenience coupled with flux, and this often causes adults to become resentful and play the ‘blame game’ when receiving constructive criticism. It’s important to detach any negative emotions from whatever feedback you receive, analyse what happened, and take the necessary action steps to become better next time. 

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Assessing Students Through Online Learning: Four Ideas to Consider

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

In the wake of school closures resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic came a global frenzy of remote-teaching. Teachers all around the world were immediately presented with two major challenges:

  1. How to teach students effectively using online tools
  2. How to assess and give feedback to students accurately and efficiently via remote-learning technology

Most of the books and blogs I’ve read deal primarily with the first of these two challenges. In fact, I even jumped on this bandwagon with some blog posts of my own (here, and here and here) and by publishing my latest book: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (which also includes some advice for assessment when teaching from home).

100 Awesome Final Cover

This focus was understandable in the early days of COVID-19: teachers had to adapt quickly and schools had to put systems in-place that were safe and efficient to use. We’ve now reached a point, however, where we need to start thinking seriously about the ways in which we are going to assess our students and provide high-quality feedback whilst teaching from home. 

Thankfully, I’ve done some of the serious thinking for you. I’ve been testing a number of methods with my students over the past two months and I’ve distilled the mix down to to a few methods that seem to work best. 

Tip #1: Use screen-share functions to quickly assess, give feedback and offer guidance

Any kind of screen share in a video-conferencing tool can be amazing for providing quick feedback. I currently use Google Meet with my students, and I use the screen share in the following ways:

  1. To quickly see student work and offer some verbal feedback and encouragement (students share their screen with me).
  2. To guide students through a process, because by seeing their screen I can show them where to click and where to navigate.
  3. By showcasing excellent work with the class. Oftentimes I’ll do this by asking exceptional students to share their work via screen-share with the whole class.

Tip #2: Get your students to build website ePortfolios

Do you know what an ‘ePortolio’ is? It’s basically a website that each student creates. To this website each student uploads their work, either as photographs of their notes or more complex pieces such as Google Sheets, PDFs and Google Slides. 

Provided that you, the teacher, has the URLs for each students’ site, marking becomes a doddle. All you have to do is click through the list of URLs and mark the student work. With New Google Sites you can actually type comments onto the students’ websites (if the student clicks ‘share’ and then shares the site with you). With other platforms (such as Wix and WordPress), an e-mail to each student after checking the sites would work well. 

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Tip #3: Use automated assessment programs for your subject

I personally use MyMaths (for mathematics), Educake (for Science) and I have used Lexia (for English) in the past. Software like this often has to be purchased by the school, but the investment is nearly always well-worth it. Automated assessment programs usually come with detailed reports post-testing which can be ‘auto-emailed’ to the class teacher. 

Tip #4: Have you tried exam.net?

Exam.net is a place where you upload end-of unit tests or assessments, and students complete them at home, remotely, at an allotted time and for a set period of time. The students submit their work via a word document. 

Exam.net can be used at high-functionality for free, but also has some premium options available for schools who wish to use the software with multiple classes.

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Online Learning: A Risk-Assessment List for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback and 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps)

Accompanying video:

Teaching online can be a very productive and worthwhile experience for both the teachers and students involved. However, at this time of widespread school closures due to COVID19, many teachers have had to quickly adapt their skills to teaching online without full knowledge of the heightened risks involved. 

This blog post aims to educate teachers everywhere about the things we can do to protect ourselves when teaching online. I believe that this list is so important that I’ve included it in my upcoming book for teachers: 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April 2020 on Amazon globally). 

100 Awesome Final Cover
Available on Amazon from 8th April 2020 onwards

‘The List’: What do we need to be aware of? 

  1. Anything we say or do online can be recorded, stored, edited and forwarded without our knowledge. Google Hangouts Meets, for example, can be set to autonomously record your meetings and auto-generate a transcript of what was spoken and by whom. We must keep every interaction with our students professional and clean. The same high standards of personal conduct that are expected of us in the classroom apply even more when we are teaching online.
  2. Know when your camera and microphone are switched on. When you start doing video conferencing for the first time, you might inadvertently set your students on a task after a live stream video briefing and then proceed to make a coffee; yawn and stretch in front of the camera; or even chat casually about how messed-up life is with your spouse who’s also working from home. Be careful. This is a very easy trap to fall into (I’ve come close to doing this myself on several occasions!). Make sure your camera AND MICROPHONE are switched off when you no longer need to engage with your students in real-time. In addition, be equally aware of video conferencing apps that can auto-generate captions. If you switch your camera off, but fail to switch off your microphone, then that next YouTube video that contains expletives and blares out of your mobile phone will not only be audible to your students, but captions may even appear on their screens!
  3. Parents will watch you teach, so be prepared for that. In my experience, many students like to switch off their cameras towards the beginning of a lesson and, unbeknownst to you, a parent could be watching. This places us, as teachers, under even greater pressure to deliver high-quality lessons than when we are snug and comfortable in our respective classrooms. Be professional and keep standards high. If we aim to be clear, caring and professional, then our students and their parents will respect and appreciate our efforts all the more for it.
  4. Be aware of chat features that are built into apps. These can contain casual emojis that one can choose to use; but we must be careful not to chat casually with any student (even by adding emojis to our messages). Keep all communication conducted through integrated chat as professional as you would in the classroom. I expand on this advice in a separate blog post (How Should Teachers Behave on Social Media?). This section is well-worth a read if you want to see some real examples of teachers who lost everything because of their lack of alertness to this point!
  5. If you are not sure about an app’s appropriateness for use, then check with your school’s Senior Leadership Team or your line manager. Some schools like to keep all their prescribed online learning apps under the control of their domain (e.g. schools that use Google Classroom and Gmail may prefer to use Google Hangouts Meets as their video conferencing system, as opposed to Zoom). A great story that illustrates this point is a slight blunder that a former colleague of mine made several years ago. Knowing that Flipgrid was a popular video-exchange system used by many American schools, she recommended it to her colleagues in an upcoming collaborative teacher-training session. However, the school’s head of ICT followed up on that training session by e-mailing all the secondary teachers to tell them not to use Flipgrid – because it wasn’t a system under direct control of the school.
  6. Check student well-being on a regular basis. When students work from home they can feel lonely, extremely bored and anxious. At this very moment, for example, as I write this prose; the novel coronavirus pandemic has snared much of the world’s population with fear and confusion. This fear and confusion is certainly being felt to varying degrees by many of the students I currently teach. Check that your students are having regular breaks and are sticking to a routine. E-mail parents of the students you are responsible for to find out how things are going. Recommend any tips you can for working from home productively and maintaining a personal sense of happiness and wellness. Share any tips that your school counselor or Student Welfare Officer sends out. When interacting on a video-call, check how your students look and feel. Are they dressed properly? Are they tired or stressed-out? Are there any student-wellbeing issues that come to your attention? Is the technology working correctly for your students?
  7. Effective online teaching requires effective technology. This can be a challenge when using old hardware or software (or both) and when internet connections are slow. We must adapt: no matter what it takes. Set work via e-mail if video conferencing is not an option. Experiment with using the apps listed in my book (100 Awesome Online Learning Apps) on your phone if you don’t have a tablet or notebook/laptop. Figure out how your device’s integrated microphone works if you don’t have a headset. Go through the apps in this book that seem appealing and test the efficiency of each when setting tasks through the technology that’s available to you. Check-up on your students regularly – do they have the technology required to access and complete the tasks you are setting?

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100 Awesome Online Learning Apps (Release date: 8th April on Amazon Globally)

Release date: Wednesday 8th April 2020 on Amazon Globally [ISBN 979-8629490937]

Great news!: My GAME-CHANGING book, 100 Awesome Online Learning Apps, is now LIVE on Amazon. Copies can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086PSMYRN/

The book covers:

1. Not-so-obvious things to be aware of when doing online learning
2. A big list of 100 Awesome Apps with suggestions for their use in online learning

100 Awesome Final Cover

Book description

2020 marked a definitive year in the world of teaching. For the first time in history, teachers and schools all around the world were forced to quickly apply their skills to online learning as a result of widespread school closures in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This book is timely and long-awaited, and meets the needs of educators who are required to deliver high-quality teaching via online apps and platforms. This book takes the reader through 100 tried-and-tested online learning platforms, with suggestions as to how each one could be used to enhance teaching or assessment. As a high-school science teacher and a Google Certified Educator himself, Mr Richard James Rogers has first-hand experience of using each platform and speaks from a wealth of involvement rather than from a lofty and disconnected position in elite academia. This is a practical book for those who want to make a difference in their students’ lives, no matter how volatile local circumstances may be.

About the Author

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Richard James Rogers is the globally acclaimed author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets that all High School Students Need to Know. As a Google Certified Educator, he utilizes a wide-variety of educational technology in his day job as an IBDP chemistry teacher at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Richard actively writes about all issues related to teaching at his weekly blog: richardjamesrogers.com

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What is ‘Meaningful Praise’?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

I’ve been an advocate for the use of praise as a student empowerment tool for a very long time. After drafting the The Four Rules of Praise back in 2018, I wrote my second book, The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback, with the aim being to provide the teaching profession with a concise, practical manual on how to create long-lasting student-drive and motivation through meaningful praise. 

As a reminder, and for those who are new to my work, The Four Rules of Praise are as follows:

  • Praise must be sincere.
  • Praise must be specific.
  • Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher.
  • Praise must be reinforced at significant points in the future.

…….and, as an optional (but powerful) extra:

  • Praise must be collective in order to be effective (ask colleagues and parents to reinforce the praise you’ve given to a student).

The Four Rules can be remembered using the acronym S.S.R.R. – Sincere, Specific, Remembered and Reinforced. 

To conclude today’s blog post, I’ve made a YouTube video that summarizes my thoughts on what meaningful praise means. In essence, I make the point that all of our praise must connect with our students on a deep, emotional level

You can watch today’s video here:

 

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My Top Three Tips for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying Video:

I like it when colleagues share golden nuggets of hard-earned information: things that took a long time to figure out. Things that really work and are easy to implement.

If you could list only three things that would maximize a teacher’s impact in the classroom, then what would those three things be? 

The aim of today’s blog post is for me to share my three top tips with the whole world – in the hope that those reading this will implement my suggestions. 

The Power of Praise
“Simply Brilliant!” – Readers’ Favorite

So, without further-a-do and without a lengthy CPD lesson plan that would be impossible to implement in real-life, let’s take a deep-dive into some easy-to-implement strategies that offer maximum return-on-investment.

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Top Tip Number 1: Get up early!

Getting up and out of bed well-before school starts is a habit that has paid me massive dividends in my career as a high-school teacher. Getting up early allows me to:

  1. Read over my lesson plans for the day ahead.
  2. Take my time in the morning and not rush, which puts me in a good mood.
  3. Have breakfast and some coffee – helping me to be biochemically and physiologically ready for the day ahead (a subject matter which is not discussed enough in the teaching profession, in my personal opinion).
  4. Get clear about any meetings or events I have to attend.
  5. Do a little bit of exercise – giving me a good energy boost and a feeling of accomplishment before my day even starts!
  6. Read over any topics I am unfamiliar with – giving me the confidence I need to deliver all of the content I need to.
  7. Leave home on-time, and get to school on time.

Getting up early is a really basic skill but few adults ever really master it. I must admit that for me personally it took years to get into a good ‘waking-up routine’. Once I had built-up momentum, however (through tremendous and painful self-discipline), the benefits came quickly. I was in a better mood at the start of each day and my lesson delivery improved dramatically. 

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Top Tip Number 2: Plan lessons well in-advance

Time invested in lesson-planning always pays dividends. By waking up early on a Sunday morning to plan my week-ahead, I find that I can get really clear about:

  1. The topics I’ll be covering.
  2. The activities I need to do.
  3. Any resources that I need to upload to my school’s virtual learning environment (Google Classroom, in my case).
  4. The logistics of each lesson (where students will sit, where they will move during activities, etc.).
  5. Any homework I need to set and collect in.
  6. When I’m going to mark work.
  7. Any meetings or events I need to attend in the coming week.
  8. Any reading-ahead that I need to do.
  9. Any printing that I need to do.

I don’t believe in planning lesson-by-lesson too far into the future: plans may change as time goes by (e.g. I may get through more material than planned on any particular lesson). However, I believe that a week’s worth of planning, in advance, is highly appropriate and beneficial. 

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Top Tip Number 3: Use ‘Live-Marking’

‘Live-Marking’ is basically a way of providing feedback to students in real-time (saving you a ton of after-school and weekend marking). There are two main live-marking strategies:

Strategy 1: Diffusive Live-Marking

This is really simple:

  1. Set a task for your students to complete (it could be a Google Slides presentation, a worksheet to complete, some questions from their textbook to do, etc.)
  2. When a few minutes have passed, ‘diffuse’ through the classroom by walking around with a marking pen in hand (I use a red pen). 
  3. Mark student work in real-time, as they are doing it. Of course – reinforce your written comments with verbal feedback (and you can even write ‘verbal feedback given’ or ‘VF’ on the work).

Hey presto – you just saved yourself an hour or so of after-school marking time!

Strategy 2: Absorptive Live-Marking

In this scenario, one can imagine the teacher being like a ‘sponge’ that ‘absorbs’ the students: instead of walking around the classroom to mark work in ‘real-time’, you sit at your desk (or at a designated ‘consultation point’ in the room) and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. 

Q & A

Same result – you just saved yourself a ton of after-school marking time. 

Which is better – absorptive or diffusive live-marking?

In my personal opinion, both forms of marking have their place. 

Diffusive live-marking can actually double-up as an excellent behavior management technique – when you walk around the classroom and check work in real-time, pockets of low-level disruption tend to fade away because of the teacher’s proximity. The disadvantage of diffusive live-marking is that it can be difficult to stand behind, or to the side, of a student and mark work on a crowded desk. 

I tend to use absorptive live-marking more than diffusive as I am lucky enough to work in a school where the overwhelming majority of the students are very well-behaved. This means that I can call them to my desk one-at-a-time and the class will still stay on-task. A big advantage of the absorptive method is that I can give more detailed and personal feedback to each student and I have my whole desk-space to neatly mark the work on. 

Here’s a video I made about live-marking (very highly recommended):

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