A dangerous culture has quietly found its way into a large number of American and British schools in the past decade. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seems pretty on the surface but harbors malice within; over-rewarding continues to take hold like a malignancy to this day.
Betty Berdan was an American high-school junior at the time of writing thisexcellent opinion piecein the New York Times. She eloquently summarizes her thoughts on over-rewarding as follows:
Like many other kids my age, I grew up receiving trophy after trophy, medal after medal, ribbon after ribbon for every sports season, science fair and spelling bee I participated in. Today the dozens of trophies, ribbons and medals sit in a corner of my room, collecting dust. They do not mean much to me because I know that identical awards sit in other children’s rooms all over town and probably in millions of other homes across the country.
Rewarding kids with trophies, medals and certificates for absolutely everything they do, including participation in a sports event, seems harmless at first glance: what’s wrong with encouraging kids to take part, right?
My thoughts on this are simple:the real-world doesn’t reward mediocrity, and if school’s are designed to prepare kids for the real world, then they shouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity either.
Your boss doesn’t give you a pay-raise or certificate for turning up to a meeting: it’s a basic expectation. You don’t get instant recognition and brand awareness for starting an online business: you have to slog your guts out and make it happen.
The world is cruel, but it’s especially cruel to high-school graduates who’ve been babied right the way through their schooling and come out the other side believing that they’re entitled to everything: that they’ll receive recognition for doing the bare-minimum.
Some teachers may feel that rewarding everyone, but keeping ‘special rewards for winners’ is a good way to go. But what benefits can be extrapolated from removing first, second and third place prizes at a sporting event, or even removing winner’s trophies completely?
According toAlfie Kohn,author of Punished by Rewards:
A key takeaway here is that awards aren’t bad just because the losers are disappointed; everyone (including the winners) ultimately lose when schooling is turned into a scramble to defeat one’s peers
Really, Alfie? So awards are bad because losers and winners feel bitter? I think school culture has got a lot do with that. In school’s where students are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements, and aspire to do their best, overall achievement and attainment increases. A massive study by the University of East Tennessee, for example, found that classroom celebrations of achievement enhanced:
Sense of belonging
Teacher’s ability to find joy and meaning in teaching
…….reward does not decrease intrinsic motivation. When interaction effects are examined, findings show that verbal praise produces an increase in intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect appears when expected tangible rewards are given to individuals simply for doing a task.
This confirms what teachers have known for years (at least those with brains in their heads): that awards have no value when they are given to everyone, but have lots of value when they have to be earned. This coincides with the Four Rules of Praise that I wrote about in 2018 (supporting video below).
Teaching profession, some words of wisdom: Awards and rewards only work to improve motivation, attainment and achievement when the students have had to earn them. Foster a school culture of collective celebration when students achieve success (such as using awards assemblies), and articulate the skills and qualities needed to achieve success to those students who sit and watch the winners, hopefully with smiles on their face and pride in knowing that one of their own made it happen, and they can too.
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There are few issues that come up in education that literally enrage me. This issue, however, has done exactly that.
Browsing through my twitter feeds last week I came across this:
Hats off to the girls at a Sussex secondary school who are refusing to comply with new rules requiring them to wear ‘gender neutral’ uniforms. The gates were closed on them because – shock, horror – they want to continue wearing skirts! All power to them! pic.twitter.com/wwikWo6l53
Paul’s original tweet contained video footage showing schoolgirls being refused entry into their school because – shocking as it sounds – they wanted to wear skirts! The police were even there enforcing this idiocy.
The lunatics are well-and-truly running the asylum in the UK.
Sussex Police made this statement via Twitter:
Hi Richard. We have explained ourselves, but it’s not been reported by some media. We weren’t called to the school, we were aware in advance and attended to facilitate peaceful and safe protest. We had no part in the decision process of who was or was not admitted to the school.
Police and teachers have been criticised for locking school gates to schoolchildren who protested a new ‘gender neutral’ uniform policy this morning, leaving pupils to wander the streets of a Sussex town.
Angry pupils and parents protested outside the gates of Priory School in Lewes over the clothing policy for the new school year.
But teachers and Sussex Police officers locked the gates on pupils and refused admittance to girls in skirts – and according to one eyewitness officers were actually involved in selecting which students could enter and which would be barred.
He said: ‘It was like they were bouncers – they waved some through and stopped others.’
Police acting like ‘bouncers’ to stop skirt-wearing girls entering school? This certainly contradicts the official explanation given by Sussex Police.
This story also makes a few points perfectly clear:
The school is more concerned about pushing its leftist, pansy, wimpy and idiotic agenda than ensuring that proper teaching and learning takes place
Safeguarding is clearly not a priority at Priory School – they’d rather let teenagers roam the streets than let them enter school (for no good reason, I may add)
Good Morning Britain even picked up the story, and ran a short scoop on September 9th. You can watch some of the students and parents tell their side of the story here:
The school’s official response
The Priory School sent this official press statement to me via e-mail:
Priory School uniform is designed to be a practical uniform which encourages students to be ready to focus on their school work and activities. Our uniform also helps us to dilute the status placed on expensive clothes or labels and challenge the belief that we are defined by what we wear. Instead, we encourage individual beliefs, ideas, passions and wellbeing and an ethos of camaraderie that is reflected in this shared experience.
We believe that a uniform worn without modification is the best way to ensure equality. We do not want children feeling vulnerable and stressed by the pressure they feel to wear or own the latest trend or status symbol.
Priory school is not unusual in having a trousers as the uniform item for all students. There are at least 40 other schools which have a similar uniform requirement. Our core purpose remains the quality of teaching and learning and we aim to achieve this by maximising the time spent on planning, delivering and evaluating the quality of provision.
At what point do we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?
It’s about time that teachers everywhere rose up and spoke out, and took action, against malevolent individuals and organisations that wish to enforce their agenda on our students and our children. My concern is this – what’s next? Gender neutral uniforms for teachers? Imprisonment for criticizing the policy of a school or local authority (such as me writing this blog post, for example)? Compulsory lessons for kids on how they should ‘question their gender constantly’ and how they might not ‘really be a boy or a girl’? (That last one is already happening in some schools, by the way).
No more. I’m not tolerating this lunacy anymore.
A call to action
I would like to encourage my readers everywhere, please, to share this article with others in order to spread awareness of what is happening in some UK schools. Comment on thisarticle and let’s get the discussion going. When people take action in large numbers to spread awareness then real change can happen.
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I’m very happy to announce that my second-book, which has (to my shame) been in the pipeline for many years, has finally been published on the Amazon Kindle store. The paperback will be released in mid-September. If you click on the image below, it’ll take you directly to the Amazon sales page.
My new book is split into three sections:
The philosophy of praise (why praise is important and what its effects can be)
The mechanics of praise (how to actually implement the various tactics available)
Ways to accentuate the efficiency of praise (how to ensure that praise and feedback only takes up the time and effort that it needs to)
From the outset I make the point that praise in the form of marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as every student needs to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognized.
The implication of this statement is that quick turn-around of work is necessary so that students understand the reasons behind their feedback, gain empowerment maximally and receive positive reinforcement of the skills, knowledge and concepts that they are currently learning in class.
Teachers (me included) can find it a challenge to provide high-quality feedback in a timely manner, however. This is where praise mechanics and efficiency come into play.
There are a number of techniques that teachers can employ to save time whilst providing excellent feedback. In this new book, you’ll find sections on:
The effective deployment of verbal feedback
Automated assessment – the use of software to test our students
You can purchase my book here if you’d like a good, deep exploration of of a variety of praise-based techniques. As a little teaser for you, however, I’d like to share a particularly powerful technique with you.
‘Diffusive’ and ‘Absorptive’ live – marking
Diffusive live-marking is when the teacher walks around the classroom when the kids are working on a a task, pen-in-hand, and marks student work in real-time (i.e. ‘diffusing’ through the students).
Absorptive live-marking is when the teacher sits at a designated point in the classroom and calls the students to his or her desk. one-at-a-time, and marks work in real-time (i.e. figuratively ‘absorbing’ the students).
Coupled with verbal feedback, both techniques can be incredibly powerful. If you train the students to write “Mr Rogers said that………….(insert feedback here)” in a different color on their work, then you allow the students to process your feedback on a very deep-level, and this builds long-term memory. Obviously, use your name instead of mine!
Eventually, students will remember key mistakes that are repeating in their work and they will act to rectify those (they won’t like writing the same things over and over again).
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For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that any country that doesn’t offer university for free is basically doing only one thing – punishing people for trying to better themselves.
The UK seems to be an extreme example of how the state punishes those who work hard in life and do the ‘right’ things; and rewards those who drop-out of school and make bad choices in life.
Although this is a very simplistic analysis of the effects of the British welfare system, it’s also understandable why many people would feel this way.
Last week, a large-scale British government review of Higher Education was concluded and from that came a key recommendation: that university fees in the UK should be reduced to £7500 per year. They currently stand at around £9250 per year.
This recommendation doesn’t doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion.
Say, for instance, that you listen to your teachers in school, work hard and, despite all challenges that may come your way as a high-school student (domestic upheaval, working part time jobs, helping with the raising of siblings, etc.), you get good grades on your exams and go to uni (and get the recommended master’s degree, which employers now say isneeded to get higher pay) – well, you’ll probably be saddled withdebts in excess of £50,000, which you could be paying back well into your 60s.
Choose to drop-out of school and become unemployed, however, and here’s some benefits you can expect to receive:
Britain’s welfare system is so good that it even payschild benefitfor almost anyone who raises a child in the UK. The current rate stands at £20.70 per week for an eldest or only child, and £13.70 per additional child.
All of this money, of course, comes from the taxpayer.
Whilst the intentions behind this system are that people who find themselves in difficult financial situations are helped out, some would argue that the system causes more problems than it solves.
Take Amber Rudd, the U.K. Work and Pensions Secretary, who admitted in February that it is the welfare state – created to prevent hunger and destitution – that is now actively causing it, with the shortcomings of the system responsible for increasing the number of Britons who are reliant on food banks to feed their families.
It’s the old ‘learned helplessness’ dogma in action, with devastating consequences. This pattern; of state welfare creating reliance and reinforcing the problem it’s intended to solve, has been noticed in other countries too. In a number of papers, including a large scale June 2008 American study in which the effects of “promoting employment and reducing dependence” on low-income children’s time-use was investigated, for instance, a positive correlation between parental employment and the achievement of low-income children was discovered.
Dependence vs rewards
But if dependence results in more misery for people, then why make students dependent on government grants for their university education?
That’s a good question, and for me I think it can be answered with the argument of rewards vs sanctions.
As teachers, we reward our students for good behaviour, effort and academic achievement, and we know from extensive research thatrewards work better than sanctions when motivating students to achieve.
In other words, if you want a particular behavior to be repeated, then you reward that behaviour.
Whilst the British welfare system is designed to help those in need, it can be exploited rather easily. Take the hypothetical situation of a high school student who chooses to drop out of school and stay unemployed. That young person will probably be entitled to housing benefit, jobseeker’s and child benefit if his/her kids are involved too.
Stay in school and go to uni, however, and you’ll be rewarded with debt, and lots of it. You may even be paying off that debt well into later life.
I believe that if tax pounds were redirected from certain state benefits and funneled into higher education grants for struggling students (including living expenses), we would see a much greater motivation for children and young adults to work hard at school.
Any education system should reward those who put in the necessary time and effort to revise hard and pass their exams. I would argue that forcing students into astronomical amounts of debt is actually a form of punishment for making the ‘right’ choices in life.
Whilst there are ways around the system (my sister recently completed a degree with the Open University for example), one has to sacrifice considerable time to achieve the goal of getting a degree, debt free, in the UK. My sister was 26 when she graduated, for instance.
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.
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.
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?
Good ECA types include:
Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, 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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Illustrated byTikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati
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
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 outedXfor 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.
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.
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 weekI 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.
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”
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:
Verbally – very memorable and effective
Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
Certificates and awards
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returningtimetable
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
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.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen 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.
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.
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my 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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve written about the power of this techniquebefore, 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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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