The Many Benefits of Doing a Weekly Review

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast:

When I look back over the past 16 years of my life as a high school Science Teacher I realize that there are some foundational habits I have adopted which have led to my success in the classroom. Small things, done regularly, which snowball to create a massive impact over time.

One such habit is the Weekly Review.

Just this Sunday gone, as I was finally sitting down again at my favorite Bangkok Starbucks after lockdown restrictions were recently lifted, I realised that the time I was spending reading over my lesson plans was absolutely priceless. You see, a weekly review is just that: time spent reading over the week just gone, planning the week ahead and checking through assignments and work that may have been submitted electronically.

For me, I like to find a quiet place on a Sunday morning to do my Weekly Review – somewhere where I can focus and not be distracted. Some teachers reading this may scoff at the thought of giving up a sacred Sunday morning for school work – after all, this is my free time, right?

You may be surprised to learn, however, that this time I invest every Sunday morning is so valuable because it actually saves me a ton of headaches and stress in the ensuing week of teaching. For me, Sunday works well. For you, this might not be the case, and that’s fine! Choose a day and time that works for you each week, if you can – a free double lesson in your timetable may be suitable, for example.

One question you might now be asking is “Why is a weekly review so useful, anyway?”. Well, get ready because I’m about to describe four ways in which a weekly review can solve so many day-to-day teacher problems.

Weekly Review benefit #1: It allows me to see where I am with my classes, and think about the pace I’m going at

It’s so important to consistently look at where we’re at right now with our students, and where we need to go. Questions I ask myself during this part of the Weekly Review are:

  1. Are my students at the right place in the curriculum map? Am I behind schedule, or am I ahead of schedule?
  2. If my students are not where they should be in terms of topics covered to-date, then why is that?
  3. Am I going too slow, or do I need to speed up with this class?

Answering these three questions is so important: especially for exam-level classes who usually have a large amount of content to cover in a relatively short amount of time. Pacing is so important, in fact, that the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development recently stated in an excellent 2020 article that:

There’s a correlation between effective pacing and student engagement, so it’s crucial to consider the speed at which you move through a lesson and the rate of delivery for different parts of the lesson. When pacing is too slow, students often become bored and disengaged. When it’s too fast, some may not grasp what’s being taught and get lost—or discouraged.

Craig Simmons, ASCD.org. Available at https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/pacing-lessons-for-optimal-learning

From this we see that the regular consideration of pace is crucial to not only ensuring that content is covered on-time, but also to ensuring that student engagement is maintained. For me, I need a weekly check-up when it comes to pace, and my Weekly Review works on this like a treat.

Weekly Review benefit #2: It allows me to see if I am lacking variety in my teaching

One of the very first things I learned on my PGCE teacher-training course way back in 2005 was that each and every lesson should contain a variety of activities. 16 years later, and I have come to the conclusion that this is true.

Students generally become disengaged and disinterested when the same types of activities are used over and over again. Whilst it may not be possible to include more that two or three types of activity within each individual lesson, it is possible to introduce variety over a series of lessons – such as those taught within a week. My Weekly Review allows me to answer the following key questions about variety:

  1. Have I been giving my students the same kinds of activities all week, or did I make my lessons varied and fun?
  2. What kinds of useful activities have my students not done yet, and would therefore benefit from next week?
  3. Which activities worked well, and could be repeated in the future? Which activities did not work well, and should be avoided next week?
  4. Did my students do too much writing or copying, and not enough active engagement? How could I fix this next week?
  5. Am I expecting too much from my students?
  6. Am I boring my students?
  7. Are my activities suitable and relevant?

Sometimes I think, as teachers, we all have our own favourite ‘menu’ of techniques that have consistently worked well for us time and time again. For me, for example, I use a lot of past-exam paper questions because I know that they are every effective at getting students familiar with key vocabulary and the rigors of the real exam. However, my personal list of favourite techniques is still fairly limited in scope, even after 16 years of refinement, and I recognise that I must go outside of my comfort zone again and again to try out new ideas, activities, apps and systems.

One tip I would recommend is to always write out brief lesson plans in a custom-made teachers’ planner each week, rather than relying on looking back through your week on Google Classroom, Moodle, Firefly, etc. When you have your whole week mapped-out on a double-page spread, it makes the Weekly Review process straightforward and efficient.

Weekly Review benefit #3: It allows me to see what student work is missing, and if students need to catch-up

I personally have always found it quite a challenge to assess or mark student work on a day-to-day basis. Instead, a dedicated weekly slot, such as my Weekly Review time, works wonders when it comes to managing my workload and stress levels. By checking through all of my assignments on Google Classroom, or any system I am using, I can see which students are behind with their work and which students are up-to-speed. Whilst it may be necessary to chase students up on the day an assignment is due in, the Weekly Review allows me to see which students have ‘slipped-through the net’, so to speak, and which students have still not submitted work despite being given a reminder.

Nowadays we do not need to take home piles and piles of notebooks home to mark like we did in the early days of teaching – we can check assignments submitted electronically and, I would suggest, use some of the Weekly Review time for marking and assessment. In addition, this time allows us to reward those students who are consistently putting forth good effort – perhaps by giving plus points, merits or whatever our school’s rewards’ system happens to be.

With students who are identified as being behind on their work, we can issue reminders or deploy sanctions in the ensuing week. In addition, if a whole class has been flagged as being behind on a task (sometimes we underestimate how long an activity can take), then that class can be given time to catch-up at some point the following week (if enough curriculum time is available – otherwise this can be set as homework).

Weekly Review benefit #4: It allows me to plan ahead intelligently

Planning ahead intelligently is not quite the same as just planning ahead. Based on the information gathered during the Weekly Review about the stages the students are at in their courses, the pace I’m going at, the level of variety I’m including in lessons and student status regarding missed work or partially complete assignments, I can now plan my week ahead with much better clarity and purpose than if I were not to consider all of these factors.

This is probably the main objective of the Weekly Review – the opportunity to figure out what I’m going to teach the following week (and how I’m going to do it). However, as I hope you’ve seen from the previous points raised, a lot of information must be gathered before effective planning can take place.

Based on my observations and communications over the past 16 years, I have come to the conclusion that there is still a significant minority of teachers in the profession who are planning lessons on a day-to-day basis. This holds especially true for trainee teachers and those who are new to teaching. I’ve been there myself – life gets busy and often we can fall into a ‘survival’ mode of teaching whereby we only focus on short-term goals and getting through the day ahead. This strategy, however, is not only inefficient – it’s stressful and ineffective. Students undoubtedly suffer when the teacher doesn’t plan ahead intelligently: considering long-term and medium-term goals, as lessons are never as optimal as they could be when real thought, time, effort and professional intelligence have gone into the planning process.

Planning ahead intelligently via the Weekly Review process has had a dramatic and positive effect on my teaching over time:

  • I start each day in a much better frame of mind than when my week of teaching has not been planned intelligently.
  • I can set work via electronic means in a much more timely manner: often scheduling assignments in advance (with Google Classroom, for example, assignments can be scheduled to post at any point in future). This leaves me free to just turn up and deliver great lessons without the hassle and stress of setting assignments, posting materials and creating announcements on a daily basis.
  • I feel much more confident every day when I’ve done a Weekly Review, as my resources, ideas, activities and direction are already mapped-out fully.

Conclusion

A comprehensive Weekly Review allows us, as teachers, to:

  1. Check whether we’re on-schedule, behind-schedule or ahead of schedule with different classes.
  2. Consider our pacing.
  3. Evaluate the level of variety and stimulation we are providing to our students within our lessons.
  4. Figure out what student work is missing, and who needs to catch up.
  5. Plan ahead intelligently.
  6. Act on those plans, and review everything again the following week.

I’ll finish by stating a key principle of teaching that I was taught on my PGCE course at Bangor University way back in 2005: Be a reflective practitioner. A Weekly Review is an excellent way to do just that.

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7 Effective Ways to Cultivate Student Resilience in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Resilience is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. Resilience is an important life-skill for children to acquire whilst at school. Reach Out Australia, for example, states that “When students feel like the outcome won’t affect them negatively, they are more likely to try new and more challenging things in the classroom. Being able to learn from mistakes and challenges in a place where they feel supported and encouraged will build their confidence, self-belief and resilience. Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymath, to write this excellent blog post describing seven ways to cultivate student resilience in the classroom. Enjoy!

“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.”

Jaeda Dewalt

Life is a beautiful adventure that has its ups and downs. Unexpected things happen in this world and within moments your life turns upside down. Take the example of the pandemic: one day, suddenly, we got to know about a virus that had infected masses of people in China and within days the virus spread to multiple countries of the world. It caused wide-scale casualties, governments imposed lockdowns and the sad ‘new normal’ began.

Sudden events that happen in life can make you realize how important it is to be resilient. If we are resilient, we can withstand the storms that come our way and emerge victorious. During our days in quarantine, as I spent this trying time with my kids who were feeling anxious, I realized that the pandemic is a big challenge, especially for children. They are facing such difficulties at a very young age in their lives. This experience motivated me to start cultivating resilience in my kids. Every day, I make them engage in different activities that can empower their resilience. Watching them become emotionally and mentally stronger has motivated me to also work on cultivating student resilience in the classroom.

Here, I am going to share some effective strategies that have helped me turn my kids into more resilient beings. I have started using these strategies with my students too and I hope that you’ll also use them to help your students cultivate strong resilience.

#1: Make children engage in activities that challenge them physically

This is one of the best ways that have helped me cultivate resilience in my kids. Anything that challenges them physically, helps them gain confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their body. This self-confidence gives them the strength to bear difficulties in life with courage. So, you should try to make your students engage in activities that challenge them physically. You can make them play new games that require more physical as well as mental efforts and help them develop confidence in their physical and mental capabilities. As far as I am concerned, I make my students participate in different kinds of races to challenge their physical capabilities and scavenger hunts with challenging quizzes to help them develop confidence in their mental capabilities. Moreover, I also tell them to not compete with each other but strive to become a better version of themselves. Believe me, this tactic really works.

#2: Help them inculcate confident and influential body language

Do you know that your body language and your feelings are interconnected? Yes, this is true. That is why, whenever you are sad, you sit or stand with a hunched back, look down and your smile fades away. This is an example of how your emotions impact your body language. In the same way, your body language also impacts your emotions. You can use this connection between emotions and body language to help your students become more resilient. You can help them learn body language techniques to regulate their emotions. For example, power posing in a confident way can help your students face challenges with courage. To know more about power posing and the benefits of influential body language, you can watch the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. Further, you can also read different books and watch videos on Body Language to help your students inculcate confident and influential body language.

#3: Make them engage in creative pursuits

According to one study published by Colin G. Deyoung and Paul J. Silvia in the Journal of Positive Psychology, creativity encourages positive emotions that can unlock our inner resources for dealing with stress and uncertainty. This implies that we can help kids develop a strong resilience in an interesting way by making them engage in creative pursuits. If a child loves painting, you can let him express his creative self through painting for some time every day. If a child loves dancing, you can let him express his creative endeavors through dancing. By engaging in their favorite creative pursuits, your students will develop strong resilience over time. Along with this, they’ll also become happier and calmer versions of themselves which will ultimately help them become more resilient in life.

#4: Create a gratitude ritual and practice it together

‘Gratitude’, we have heard this word a lot and we have also received the advice to express gratitude from many influential people. But, we often feel that expressing gratitude cannot do us enough good as it is a very simple practice. We think that we need to look for something better and so on. But, believe me, we have been wrong whenever we have thought this way. I have seen tremendous positive changes in myself and my kids by following a gratitude ritual for the past two months regularly. We are happier, more optimistic, and therefore, more resilient too. Moreover, research also shows that gratitude can help us rewire our brains towards positivity. So, you should try to create a gratitude ritual and practice it with your students. A simple gratitude ritual is to write down three things that you are grateful for every day. You can try this one or create your own gratitude ritual.

#5: Help them build meaningful social connections

The American Psychological Association wrote in its resilience report, “Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.” When you have supportive relationships in your life, you feel safe and protected. You know that there are always people you can count on whenever you get faced with any problems in life. This knowingness gives you the strength to withstand the challenges that come in your life. This implies that we can help our students build strong resilience by encouraging them to cultivate meaningful social relationships with others. We can help our students build strong friendships with each other and cultivate good relationships with us as well as other people from the school staff. This way, we can teach our students to form meaningful connections with people and boost their resilience.

#6: Make them engage in healthy risk-taking

The development of self-confidence is crucial for us to cultivate strong resilience. You can help your students become self-confident by making them engage in healthy risk-taking. For example, if your students are afraid of dogs, you can bring a little puppy and encourage them to play with it. No doubt, they’ll feel a little afraid in the beginning but then, after playing safely with the puppy, their confidence level in their abilities to take risks will increase. As a result, they’ll cultivate a strong resilience over time.

#7: Teach them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations

If you have the ability to help yourself calm down even under challenging times, you naturally have strong resilience. You feel confident about yourself and know that you can handle yourself even in difficult situations. So, you can help your students develop a strong resilience by teaching them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations. Belly breathing, focusing on the sounds that are happening around us, and feeling deeply are some simple coping mechanisms that help us calm our nervous system under challenging situations. Furthermore, you can watch YouTube videos to learn about belly breathing and then you can teach this calming technique to your students.

The pandemic has taught us that we should help children develop a strong resilience right from their childhood. It is only in the presence of a strong resilience that they can face any challenges that life throws at them and emerge victoriously. Furthermore, as teachers, we can help our students cultivate a strong resilience through the different ways mentioned above. Now, I wish you all the best, and may your efforts to help your students develop a strong resilience bear fruits.

An ardent writer, Jessica Robinson, works for ‘The Speaking Polymath’. She uses this platform to weave her magical words into powerful strands of content and share with her readers.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How to Develop a Passion for Reading in our Students

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video/podcast:

The ability to read is possibly the most important skill that students should master whilst at school. It is so important, in fact, that a simple Google search of the phrase “The importance of reading for students” brings up hundreds of millions of hits (around 717 million at the time of writing this article, to be exact).

Do your students love to read?

There are numerous benefits of reading: for adults and children alike. I could choose to spend the rest of this article describing those benefits, but I fear that I would be preaching to the converted. As teachers, we already know that reading is important. I hope you will permit me, however, to at least include my favourite quote about reading from one of my favourite actors:

For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.

Will Smith

So, we know that our students must learn to read. However, what’s equally important is that our students learn to love reading. And this is what I want to explore with you today: How do we get our students, or our children, to enjoy reading? How do we prevent reading from becoming a laborious, dull part of their schooling and instead turn it into to a relaxing and, dare I say it, exciting past-time?

Tip #1: Turn reading into a collaborative task (with a creative output)

Reading is all-to-often seen as a solitary activity, which is most unfortunate. Set up times, or clubs, where students can read to each other and perhaps generate some kind of creative output – perhaps building a model of what they’ve read (Design Technology), calculating and mapping the frequency of different words (Mathematics) or even creating the costumes the characters might be wearing (Textiles). When reading becomes an active process, students realize that there’s actually a lot of ‘juice’ one can squeeze from a book, or even a short segment of text.

Perhaps you could couple collaborative reading with a technological task too – such as creating a Minecraft landscape of the setting for the story, or even setting up a Google Site online journal of learning.

My award-winning book for teachers is a popular choice for teacher book clubs.

The possibilities for collaboration in reading, coupled with creative outputs, really are limited only by one’s imagination. In fact, you may wish to ‘crowdsource’ ideas from the children themselves, perhaps by using a worksheet/prompt like the one below:

Could this be a tool to help your students read collaboratively?

If you like the above tool, then you can download it as a pdf here.

#2: Host reading and reading-related competitions and events

Some ideas to consider are:

  • Celebrate World Book Day by allowing students to come into school dressed as their favourite book characters. Perhaps offer special prizes for the best costumes, or even run a fashion show on the day. Award plus points/merits/whatever your school’s ‘reward tokens’ are for students who bring in their favourite books on the day.
  • Invite a local author to come into school to talk about their work. As an author myself, I know for a fact that the author will love the opportunity to gain some exposure, and if you ask politely you may even get some free, signed books for school out of it.
  • Run book clubs or events by genre – specialization can generate more interest in reading. Have a day for self-help books, one for non-fiction, one for animals – anything that the students are interested in.
  • Take the students to a reading-related place, such as a local library or actual location from a book. Students will often be unaware that these places exist in the first place, and their discovery may set in-motion some profound changes that result in a love of reading. My primary school took me to my local library as child, for example, and that place became my study-hangout in my teens. I just loved being surrounded by all of those books. It’s a feeling that’s very unique.

#3: Read with your students, and to your students, with passion

Get involved in all of the activities listed above. Join the collaboration groups, for example, even if only for 10 minutes at a time. Read topical news articles, extracts from books, quotes of the day or any materials that provide positive messages for students. Have a sign outside your door that tells students what you are reading at that time.

Bottom line – get stuck in yourself! Never underestimate the subliminal messages that students pick up on when they see us model positive behaviors.

Further reading (no pun intended):

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4 Important Tips for Using Videos in Lessons

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

This blog post comes with an accompanying podcast episode. Listen here:

Videos are a staple of the modern practitioner’s arsenal. They’re often easy to source, well-made and free.

Video hosting platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have allowed us, as teachers, to turn our classrooms into makeshift cinemas (and our virtual classrooms into large resource banks). This is a revolution of sorts – one that has been spurred on by many factors, not least the declining cost of smart boards, sound systems and data projectors as the years have gone by.

As a teacher myself I have made use of videos in my practice extensively over the past sixteen years: even earning the invisible badge of honour that comes with wheeling in a TV on a trolley with accompanying DVD player back in 2008.

Videos can offer great instructional material for students – but only when they are sourced and executed carefully by the teacher. Whilst this may seem like a simple and straightforward process, further analysis reveals that there is much to consider.

In today’s blog post I will draw upon my experience of using videos extensively over my entire career. My aim is to provide you with strategies and points to consider, so that you don’t make some big mistakes along the way (like I have!).

So, without further ado, let’s hit the ‘Play’ button and get right into these top tips for using videos as teacher.

Tip #1: ALWAYS watch the video yourself before you show it to your students

This can be a challenge when time is limited, but it is a crucial first step that we should always take. Watching the video beforehand allows us to check the following:

  • Is the content at the right level?
  • Is it age-appropriate? Are there scenarios within the video that could be culturally insensitive?
  • Does the video contain any swearing?
  • Is the volume of the video loud-enough?
  • Will I show the auto-generated captions/subtitles within the video? Are these subtitles an accurate reflection of the spoken words within the video? Do the captions contain any swear words by mistake (or on-purpose)?
  • Are there any points-of-interest that I can capitalise on? Are there any real-life examples or applications that I can think of that link directly to the video’s content?

One key mistake I’ve made a number of times as a teacher is sourcing a video quickly, only to find that much of the material was either too advanced or too basic for my students. Be particularly careful with captions/subtitles – a old colleague of mine got into some hot water for showing a video to students that contained clean spoken language, but subtitles containing swear words.

Surely it must be every teacher’s worst nightmare to show a video to students that wasn’t checked beforehand, only to hear or see crassness, immorality or inappropriate scenarios on the video when played in on a big screen in front of the students. The fear of embarrassment alone should be enough for us to remember the cardinal rule of using videos in teaching: ALWAYS watch the videos before we share them with our students.

Tip #2: Keep Videos Between 5 and 15 minutes long (as a general Rule of Thumb)

I’ve made the mistake on a number of occasions of finding a reputable, clean, amazing video, only to then play it to the class for 40 minutes or longer (e.g. in the case of lengthy documentaries). When the videos we choose are too long (or the segments we choose to play are too long) then many students will become disengaged and irritable. This is understandable – in today’s digitized social landscape students are more distracted than ever before in human history.

For me personally, I attempt to keep my videos to 15 minutes maximum. For this to happen, I have to choose videos (or video segments) very carefully. Sometimes I’ll source videos that get straight to the point (e.g. a laboratory demonstration of an experiment) and that take less than 5 minutes to play through.

In short – be aware of how much time the students spend watching the video. Is that time being efficiently used, or does the video explore topics that the students don’t need to know?

Tip #3: Watch the students as you’re watching the video

I once was blasted by my mentor during my teacher-training year. Why? – I had committed the atrocious crime of showing a video to my students, and then casually sitting down to watch the video with them.

Of course, any experienced teacher will immediately be able to identify the inadequacies of this strategy – when you don’t watch the students as the video is playing, then small pockets of chatter, disruptiveness and distraction can manifest.

My mentor put it bluntly: “When you show a video to your students you must watch the students. Don’t watch the video!”. I had been reprimanded (well, probably just advised, but it felt like a reprimand).

That was sixteen years ago. Today, I would have to say that I disagree with my old mentor, at least to some degree.

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I believe that as a video is playing it is most effective for a teacher to watch the students AND watch the video. Consider the following:

  • Walk over to students who are chatting during a video, or who are being disruptive, and stand next to them. Normally this will bring them back on-task, but if it doesn’t, then a quiet one-to-one word should do the trick. “I really need you to focus on this video, Lucy”, for example.
  • Stand to the side or behind the class so that every student is within your field of vision.
  • If disruption becomes too pervasive, then don’t be afraid to stop the video and talk to the class. For example: “I’m so sorry to those students who were listening quietly to the video. It is unfortunate that some students are not paying attention”. Then play the video again ONLY when every student is focused.

However, why should we watch the video as we are watching the students? Well, there are many answers to that question, but the core principle is that you may wish to use key material within the video for discussion or tasks later. You may even want to pause the video at key points to discuss a real-life example or application, or even to re-phrase something the video has just described. Don’t be afraid of pausing videos at key moments like this, by the way – students learn a lot when prior concepts are linked to content that has been very recently covered.

Tip #4: Make sure the video has a purpose, and is utilized afterwards

We must not get into the habit of showing videos to students for the sole purpose of filling time, however. We must attempt to extract all of the juice that we can out of a video. Consider asking your students to do the following:

  • Make a list of key bullet points as the video is playing (which could be used as source material later in a group activity for example).
  • Complete a worksheet based on the video.
  • Use information from the video to complete exam-style questions or past-paper questions.
  • Follow the instructions within the video, step-by-step (e.g. if it’s a ‘How to’ video’). This could apply to tasks as diverse as coding, model-making, conducting scientific experiments, cooking, etc.
  • Collaborate with others to create a presentation, infographic, mind-map, news report or debating panel based on the concepts and information covered.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Sometimes we might want to show students videos as stimuli material, or to build passion for and interest in a subject. Recently, for example, I was teaching a physics lesson about forces and motion. The lesson covered pretty rudimentary calculations involving speed, distance, time and acceleration. However, I was presented with a most unusual gift – NASA had just landed a new rover on Mars. This was a golden opportunity to excite my students – so I played some footage from the Mars landing and initiated a short discussion about the physics involved.

Conclusion

I feel that we’ve become so used to the accessibility of high-quality videos that we’ve become somewhat complacent. We must always ensure that video content is sourced, planned and executed well. We do this by:

  • Watching the videos before we show them to our students
  • Being mindful of video duration
  • Keeping our eyes on our students, as we’re watching the video with them
  • Making sure that there’s some kind of activity or task included in the lesson that links to the video in some way (where possible)

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

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