Warning! – This blog post contains expletives and graphic language. If you are prone to being offended, triggered or distressed by such language, then please stop reading immediately.
That’s how much I weighed three months ago. I was fat, tired and lazy. Too many things were not proceeding with momentum in my life. I had become ‘soft’.
After a day of full-blown mediocrity at some point in mid-August (whilst I was still ‘resting’ in my summer vacation from school), I took the time to sit in a Starbucks coffee shop during the late evening and take-stock of my life. I’d woken up late, I felt like crap and I had procrastinated all day long. It was a wasted day, basically.
What would my students think of me if they knew that I wasn’t ‘practicing what I preach’ to them: to chase your goals, be resilient and to work hard each and every day?
Then, I reflected on who I was as a teenager. Richard James Rogers: the kid version, went to karate class three times a week, absolutely smashed-it at Army Cadets twice a week (and many full weekends and summers on training camps) and never wasted a single second. He put up with some messed-up stuff too (home-life was a bit, well, crazy to say the least), but he didn’t point the finger at other people and blame them for his misfortunes or disadvantages. In fact, he saw his difficult life-situation as a powerful catalyst for self-improvement: he had every reason to just ‘go for it’, and he knew he would end up a total loser if he gave in to life’s relentless cry to ‘give up’.
That woke me up.
Sometimes, I believe, we have to look back on those things we’ve done many years ago and ask some very honest questions, such as ‘Am I better now, or am I worse?’. ‘Have I climbed, or did I slide?’ and ‘Am I a loser, or a winner?’
The ‘Goggin’s Video’ was something I had watched a while back, and I thought it was pretty cool. I thought it was time to watch it again that evening. I’ve embedded it below:
I’ve read a lot of great self-improvement books in my time (Awaken the Giant Within, Think and Grow Rich and Outwitting the Devil come to mind instantly). However, reading these books never really spurred me on to take the massive action that would cause big changes in my life. This Goggin’s video, however, with it’s raw honesty inspired me to actually do something about the pervasive mediocrity that seemed to have taken hold in my life.
If you feel that you could do more, or if you have a nagging feeling inside of you somewhere that says ‘you’re not enough’, then watch the video above in full. I think it will resonate with you.
In the video, Goggin’s talks about being brutally honest with yourself and taking action to change things. If you’re fat, then blurt it out: ‘I’m fat. Roger that. Now what am I going to do about it?’
As a former Navy SEAL (who’s been through Hell Week three times), the 2013 Guinness World Record holder for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (he did 4030) and the Infinitus 88K race winner in 2016 (one of the most brutal races in the world): Goggins knows more than a thing or two about perseverance and pain. His story inspired me to do more.
I decided to hit the gym every day, running at least 3k each time (I’ve now brought that up to 5.5k) and doing abs and weights on alternate days. Some days it was really hard – I’d get home from school, nap (like a lazy *&^#@$%) and then wake up a few hours before the gym closed (thank God it closes at midnight!). I felt sluggish, but I said to myself ‘Do it now you ‘insert expletive here’).
That’s how much I weigh today. I’ve lost 5.4kg in three months. It’s not an amazing amount of weight, but I feel an amazing difference and my BMI (Body Mass Index) stands at 25.2, which is almost at my target (24.9).
I feel better. I look better. I wake-up better (I don’t feel too zombie-like anymore). This was me last week:
Interestingly, as well as giving his insights on making massive changes in your life, Goggin’s also shares some really insightful stories from his time as a schoolkid. In his book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ (highly recommended), Goggin’s describes in graphic detail the massive difference between a teacher who actually gave a damn about him, and a teacher who gave up. I’ve included the extracts below:
In these extracts we see clearly the differences between Ms. D and Sister Katherine, and the profound effect that a teacher’s behavior can have on student self-esteem. Here are the lessons that I drew from Goggin’s experiences:
We must take full responsibility and accountability for the progress of our students. We must never ‘give-up’ on a student and take the easy ‘way-out’ by using past academic struggles, Special Educational Needs or emotional problems as excuses not to try.
Students remember the impact a good teacher has on them well into adulthood. Goggins’ fond memories of Sister Katherine show this. Can you remember a good teacher you had at school?
Sister Katherine had a ‘no excuses’ mentality, and made her students realize that it is their responsibility to make life happen. How taboo is that mentality these days?
A bit of extra time spent helping and mentoring a student can have a massive effect on their sense of self-worth. Does your school have an active and useful mentoring system in-place?
As soon as we ‘label’ students we have a choice to make – dedicate more time and effort to help them out, or give-up on them. We have to have the mentality that ‘all students can be helped’. We just need to figure out the best ways to help them.
I highly recommend Goggins’ book to any teacher who wants to get a brutally honest insight into the life of child who went through hell growing up (it’ll help you get a perspective on the reasons behind some of the behaviors you might see in-class). It’s also a good book for leveling-up in life.
This is one of my favorite pedagogical quotes and I’ve found it to be 100% accurate over the years.
As an International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry teacher at an international school, I often have to teach topics to my students that are really, really difficult. Furthermore, the students will be examined on these topics at some point in the future, and those grades really mean something: the students will be using them to apply to study at universities all around the world.
A key question I often ask myself is how can I get my students to think deeply about the topics they are learning, so that they remember enough details to get excellent grades on their exams?
I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, but I think I’ve finally nailed-down a system that works with every difficult topic I teach:
Hopefully you’ll see that this is a system that can be applied to your subject area/teaching context too.
Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)
Provide the stuff you want the students to learn in multiple formats. Some that you may wish to use could be:
Get the students to work in groups or pairs to produce some kind of creative, collaborative output. Examples include:
Create a Google Slides presentation about…..
Create a stop-motion animation about……
Create a large infographic about…….
Create a digital animation about…..
At the end of this exploration step, the students should present their work to the class in some form. This simple act of articulating what they have learned will cause deep-thinking (and therefore, memory) to take place.
Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)
Give the students a series of exam-style, challenging questions on the topic to complete under timed conditions. The students can work together on this if you wish, and may use the resources they have for help.
When the time-limit is over, provide the model answers (and make sure you actually have model answers available). Students can go through these answers via peer-assessment, self-assessment or even automated assessment (in the case of online teaching systems, like MyMaths and Educake).
As a teacher, I also like to go through any particularly difficult questions with the students so as to clear up any misconceptions. This is especially true if, for example, nobody in the class can do question 2.
Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)
This acts as an incredibly useful review for students after what has been an intense exploration and self-assessment of stuff that was, essentially, self-taught (with a bit of help from the teacher).
Go through the key points of the topic traditionally, perhaps using a slide-based presentation, video, animation or even notes written and explained on the whiteboard.
Make use of a few learning games to spice things up a bit, especially if key vocabulary needs to be learned. Spend time going through common misconceptions: those things that students get wrong year-after-year.
Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)
Test the content covered using the most difficult questions you can find. Don’t go beyond the syllabus or above what’s been taught (obviously), but use past-paper questions that really do get the students to apply what they’ve learned to unusual contexts.
Prior to the test, you might want to provide questions of similar difficulty (with model answers provided) for the students to go through at home.
Make sure you go through the test afterwards too. Provide the mark scheme and make it really clear where, and how, marks have been lost.
By fluctuating the intensity of thinking in this way (2,3,1,4) we’re exercising the brain in a similar way to how we exercise the body – gradual increases in intensity, followed by rest, followed by higher intensity.
I’ve found that this model works really well for getting students to understand really difficult topics.
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The Fundamentals of Classroom Management: An online course designed by Richard James Rogers in Partnership with UKEd Academy
I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been busy building an online course that covers all of the fundamental concepts in my widely acclaimed debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, in partnership with my good friends at UKEd Academy. Details are given below:
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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A number of interesting trends in the automation and computerization of education have taken place in the past twelve months. These innovations build on the tech boom seen after the dot .com crisis recovery in the early 2000s and include:
Robotics and AI
Smart devices and the Internet of Things
Adaptable ‘Smart Spaces’
To put all of this into context one only has to look as far back as last week’s edition of the Economist. Page 11 presents a daunting synopsis of the digital web we find ourselves in via an article aptly entitled‘A Planetary Panopticon‘[print edition]:
In a world in which more things are computerized, more companies will come to resemble computer firms. In expensive, high-tech industries, where the economics of the IoT have made sense for decades, the results of this are already visible. Rolls-Royce, a big British maker of jet engines, launched its “Power by the Hour” service in 1962, offering to maintain and repair it’s engines for a fixed cost per hour. It’s digital transformation began in earnest in 2002, built around the ability to do continuous, real-time monitoring of its products.
The article goes on to describe how:
Data is becoming the new currency of developed countries (and even some developing ones, such as China, which has basically already become a cashless society)
Surveillance is set to become more pervasive as firms set-out to monitor consumer behavior more closely in an effort to improve products, services and marketing strategies
Smart-tech companies will become ever-more protective of their data: a valuable commodity. Apple, for example, “is famously unwilling to allow its customers to have broken iPhones repaired anywhere except in its own shops, going so far as to use software updates to disable replacement touchscreens installed by cheaper, third-party fixers.”
I would even go so far as to say that teachers, everywhere, need to skill-up in computer science quickly, or else we could find ourselves out of a job! I talk about this in my video below:
From the perspective of helping our students make the ‘digital transition’, I’ve written two blog posts with some tips here:
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).
We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like ourFacebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.
Preparing resources for students can be a really massive job: especially when you have the responsibility of getting kids ready for external exams.
Presentations (usually a series of PowerPoints)
Practical activities (for Science, D.T. and other practical subjects)
Learning activities along the way to make things ‘fun’ and ‘engaging’.
In the olden days I used to source a ton of stuff from the web and make some stuff from scratch. The problems this caused were as follows:
An inconsistent teaching method/approach for each topic
Inconsistent format and detail of resources (some PPTs were excellent. others only skimmed the surface of the topic)
Inconsistent direction and focus of the class (i.e. the ‘road ahead’)
Kids need to be very clear about what they need to learn for their exams, and in what order/topic sequence. So please sit back and relax as I share my consistency-generating tips for exam-level students.
Share the syllabus with the students on day one
This will really help to make the ‘road ahead’ clear. Some teachers like to make a ‘kid friendly’ version of the syllabus – using language that is more easily understandable. In my experience, however, I find that this isn’t generally necessary – syllabuses tend to be clear enough.
In addition to sharing the syllabus, map out the sequence of topics you will teach for the year ahead and share this with your students too. Some more able and hard-working kids will definitely read ahead, and it’ll help prepare your students for end-of-unit tests too.
Check them out if you want to really understand the importance of this aspect of Curriculum Clarity – her PPTs follow the same format and layout for each topic and are all detailed enough so that a complete course is created.
IB Chemistry is split into distinct topics that follow the Course Guide – there’s a PPT at Mindy Sautel’s site for topics 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, etc. Everything is sequenced and clear.
Keep homework and questions consistent and linked to the syllabus
Maybe your syllabus is split into topics A,B,C and D with subtopics for each section. Do you have exam-style questions for topics A1, A2, A3, etc?
Organizing your questions by topic in this way will really build-up the subject knowledge that your students need to pass the final exam.
We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like ourFacebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.
Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):
Being a Newly Qualified Teacher was difficult. Getting to know my new students was a challenge, as was the daily grind of behavior management and classroom management. Building up the skills I needed to be effective in these areas took considerable time, and one of the reasons I wrote my book back in 2015 was so that I could have a record of all of the ‘nuggets’ of experience I had picked up over the years.
I wanted something I could read over on a regular basis to remind myself of the lessons that had been hard-earned. I certainly wasn’t expecting the book to become a bestseller, as it did on three subsequent occasions.
I think my ‘raw’ style really resonated with teachers: teachers who were fed up with the confusing (and often contradictory) ramblings of researchers and consultants in the field. They wanted real advice. They wanted techniques that worked.
One thing I touched upon, but didn’t go into detail about in my book was the plethora of marking and assessment strategies I have learned over the years.
So, strap on your seat-belt because I’m about to go through the highest-impact, most effective strategies for marking and assessing work in ways that will save you time and energy.
Strategy 1: Diffusive Live-Marking
This is really simple:
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.).
When a few minutes have passed, ‘diffuse’ through the classroom by walking around with a marking pen in hand (I use a red pen).
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 give’ 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.
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:
Here’s a podcast I made about live-marking:
Strategy 3: 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 (in stark contrast to what I was used to back home). Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with 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.
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:Have the official mark scheme ready 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 the answers clearly 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 minds of the students.
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 or upload the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time in the long-run and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.
Strategy 4: Self-Assessment
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This greatoverviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable.
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process.
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
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 things wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time – more on that next). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
Past-papers:Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
Technological means:There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google formsare great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC BitesizeandMyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g.Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g.Kahoot– great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Strategy 5: Automated Assessment
I wrote ablog postabout the effective use of ICT in lessons some time ago and in that article I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths.
That was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work-life balance.
Why? – That’s simple: students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:
All of the students were focused and engaged.
All of the students were challenged.
The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems.
The content was relevant and stimulating.
No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working.
No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a significant and effective part of your teaching arsenal.
Some good programs to explore are:
Kahoot!– Did you know that you can set Kahoot! quizzes as homework challenges? The software even generates student performance reports for you.
The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.
He walked into my room not really knowing what to expect. It was half-way through lunchtime and I had asked him to meet with me to discuss his grades in Chemistry.
David was an infamous Year 10 (15-year-old) student at our school. He had somewhat of an undisputed reputation for being ‘lazy’: not really caring about his studies, being untidy in his classwork and generally under-performing in tests and assessments.
I wanted to talk with David because I’d noticed a decrease in his grades on two end-of-unit assessments. He’d taken a cognitive test at the beginning of the academic year to determine his predicted grade: a C. However, on his first assessment he achieved a grade D, and on his second he dropped down to a grade E.
At this stage most teachers would have simply recorded the grades, reported to parents (e.g. in the school’s scheduled reporting cycle or at a parent-consultation afternoon), and just left it at that. After all, David was under-performing across the board; so there wasn’t really any pressure for me to ‘fix’ things, right? Almost all of his other teachers were reporting the same kinds of problems. If they were having trouble with him, then it was normal for me to experience those same problems.
I had an issue with seeing the situation this way, however. It bugged me that my default mindset was to ‘give up’ on David because this was ‘who he is’. I just didn’t like it. I tried to fix things.
“Hi David. Thank you for coming. This is just going to be a quick chat because I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Tell me: why do you think I’ve asked to see you today?”
“Err, because I’m doing badly in Chemistry.”
“I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but I do want to talk with you about your grades, yes.”
“Do you remember what grade you got on your first test this year?”
“Yeah, a grade D I think.”
“That’s right, and a grade E on your latest test. Now, tell me: do you think these grades really reflect the best you can can get?”
“That’s correct, David. The answer is ‘no’. I know that you can do much, much better than this. I have seen your strengths in Chemistry, especially during that titration experiment we did. Do you remember that?”
“You got some great results in that didn’t you?”
“So. I’ve seen how good you can be. I also know about your cool project in D.T. – Mr Reynolds told me about it.”
“Yes, and I went to see it too. It’s a fine piece of work, David.”
“So, how can we solve this, David. What do we need to do to get you a better grade in Chemistry?”
“I need to study harder.”
“Yes, David. Study more frequently for these tests. What resources can you use to help you?”
“My book, the notes on Google Classroom. my textbook.”
“Yes, David, and you know that you can always come and see me for help, don’t you?”
“Good man. You must get a grade C on your next test in 4 weeks time. That’s your target, okay?”
“I believe in you, David. I know you can do this!”
I shake David’s hand as though we’d concluded a business negotiation. Wheels have been set in motion.
This conversation empowers David in a number of ways:
I draw upon his genuine success in D.T. and his good work in the Chemistry experiment. This kind of knowledge is called ‘Professional Intelligence‘ and is crucial for engaging our students on a deep, emotional level (which is where the real change needs to take place).
I give David a specific target to achieve. This focuses his mind on where to go next. I’ll have to reinforce this target over the next four weeks, as his next test approaches.
I tell David that I believe in him and, because I do actually believe in him, my tone of voice conveys that I’m telling the truth and not just making it up.
David is prompted to state the resources he can use to help his revision. This makes our conversation more memorable for him, and I assure him that he can always come and see me for help – this final part portrays me as an approachable, helpful person who’s not angry with David – just concerned about him.
Of course, this conversation is not where my influence ends. We have a whole four weeks until David’s next test, so it’s important for me to reinforce my message and my belief in him as the four weeks proceed:
Almost every time we have a Chemistry class together, I walk over to David’s desk and utter a few quiet words to him: “How’s the revision for the next test going?”, “Don’t forget to come and see me if you need help with your revision”, “I’ve uploaded some great resources onto Google Classroom that you can use for your revision”, etc.
When I see him around school (e.g. if I’m on duty or walking around the corridors, or at the canteen), I take the time to have quick chats with him. I ask him how he’s doing. I pass on any good news I’ve heard from other teachers (one of theFour Rules of Praise).
I constantly remind David that he’s going to get a good score in this next test. I remind him of his grade C target. I remind him that I believe in him.
I look especially hard for positives to praise in our lessons. The smallest piece of progress in homework or classwork; anything that’s good. I want him to feel empowered.
This process: of paying close attention to a student and reinforcing our belief in them and their targets for the future, is aptly named ‘Subtle Reinforcement‘: we subtly reinforce the student’s sense of self-worth and purpose.
The test day comes and David scores 68% – a grade C (and two marks away from a B).
This is not a fairly-tale. It’s a real story, and I’ve had many experiences like this during my teaching career. These experiences have led me to come to a significant conclusion: thatteachers can effectively engineer the progress they want to see in their students.
This means that we actually have tremendous power over how our students fare at school. It’s a shame that few realise this power.
T.I.P.S. : A four-step method to engineer progress
Step 1:Track progress. Look for patterns in grades. Keep a spreadsheet of scores.
Step 2: Intervene when grades slip. Have a short conversation with the student in which you use……..
Step 3:Professional Intelligence: Gather and use knowledge about the students’ past achievements, achievements in other subject areas and skills used outside of school to praise the student and remind him/her of the ability that he/she naturally possesses. Talk with other teachers to gather this intelligence if needs be. Couple this with…..
Step 4: Subtle Reinforcement: Be on-the-ball and remind your student regularly what his/her target is. Introduce new resources and offer your time to help. Remind him/her about a test that’s coming up and how you believe in their ability to get a good score. Praise small steps of progress along the way, or any positive work in your subject area.
Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):
Teaching is definitely a stressful job. In fact, a February 2019 study by England’s National Foundation for Education Research found that 20% of teachers feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those working in similar professions. Additionally, as if that wasn’t startling enough, a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey found that teachers in England have one of the highest workloads in the world.
The statistics themselves are worrying enough – that’s one-in-five teachers in England carrying a burden of worry and stress on a regular basis.
As a teacher myself, I have certainly had my fair share of work-related stress over the past 16 years. Some of the problems I encountered were the result of self-sabotage and inexperience, and some were beyond my control.
Whatever the causes of your stress are, there are effective ways to deal with them and I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best ways to do just that.
Stress Tip #1 – When your lessons are not going well
This is often a result of poor or rushed lesson-planning and is normally avoidable. I have fallen into this trap many times in my career – using my ‘free periods’ to write rough lesson plans or spending a few minutes before a lesson to think about what I’ll actually do.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes it causes problems.
Take the time to spend a whole morning or afternoon each week to plan a week’s worth of lessons (I use my Sunday mornings for it). Get a good teacher’s planner and think about:
Where the kids will sit at different points during the lesson. Will they need their books at all times? Do you need a seating plan so that ‘problem’ students are not sat next to each other?
Breaking up the lesson into ‘chunks’ – variety is key if you want your lessons to be engaging and ‘fun’. Read myblog post about learning gamesyou can use here.
Syllabus content you will cover – with some classes you’ll have a lot of content to get through in a short space of time. Get your PowerPoints, presentations, quizzes, and other resources ready well in-advance of these kinds of lessons. You might also want to read my blog post aboutkeeping up with your teaching schedule here.
Stress Tip #2 – When you have too much marking to do
Marking tends to come in ‘waves’ in teaching: There are times of the academic year when you’ve just got normal, regular homework and classwork to mark; and there are times when high-intensity marking hits us like a bolt of lightning. For example:
When a ‘work scrutiny’ comes up and a line-manager wants to see your class notebooks
When you have a load of end-of-unit tests or exam papers to mark
When parents’ evenings/parents’ consultations come up and you need to mark a lot of work so that you have some good points to discuss in the meetings
Marking can be a big-problem for teachers, but again: it’s easily avoidable when a little bit of time is spent planning in-advance:
Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ to keep those notebooks up-to-date. Live-marking is basically when you either call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, or you walk around the classroom with a pen in-hand and mark student notebooks in ‘real time’. Read myblog post about ‘Live-marking’ here.
Take a deep breath and plan your time – if you find yourself with a tonne of exam papers to mark within 48 hours (I’ve been there), then the first thing you must do is sit somewhere quiet and plan your time for an hour. Think about your targets – which papers need to be marked by when? Should some papers be marked before others? Is it possible, or appropriate, to use peer/self-assessment for some exam papers?
Try using stamps and stickers – they’ll save you some writing time
Make sure you’ve got a set of model answers ready for your kids – this will save you writing out the correct answers for the kids by hand in their books (never do that, by the way).
Stress Tip #3: When you’re in trouble with your boss over something
One of the main causes of stress for teachers, I believe, is that we are held to a far-higher professional standard than those in most other professions. As ‘role-models’, we have to be extra careful about:
How we interact with our students and former students
We do need to be mindful of these things on a daily basis, but even then we may make mistakes. If you are called to a meeting with your boss over something, then don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about your side of the story and the facts of the matter at hand.
In your discussion, focus on:
Solutions to what’s happened (‘How can we solve this?’ should be your mentality).
If you’ve done something wrong, then admit it. Covering something up will only cause more problems later on.
If you feel that you’ve been unfairly treated then speak with a union representative or a lawyer before making any big decisions (e.g. choosing to resign).
I know that this is not a nice subject to talk about, but unfortunately it’s one that does come up. Protect yourself and your reputation, do your best everyday and just let life roll – some things are just beyond our control.
Another thing, by the way, is that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. I know that’s cliched, but it is true. Keep a written record of the mistakes you’ve made in life somewhere, and read over it on a weekly basis at least. When people tell us to ‘learn from our mistakes’, they can sometimes miss the fact that in order to learn from mistakes we have to remember those mistakes. Keeping a record and consistently reading over it is a good way to do this.
Stress tip #4: When student behavior is poor
It takes time and experience to build up our skills as good ‘behavior managers’.
Things to bear in mind are:
‘Boring’ lessons can cause some kids to play up. Try to introduce a variety of activities into your lessons if possible, and be vigilant in watching your students carefully during practical activities, computer-based work and group work.
Good behavior management can only really be achieved with a long-term strategy: effective lesson planning, good use of praise, fair and consistent use of sanctions if necessary and good use of ‘professional intelligence’ to reinforce our students’ sense of self-worth and character. Readmy blog post on Subtle Reinforcement here.
There are many facets to being a good behavior manager, but it basically all comes down to the relationship, or ‘rapport’, that you build with your students. Please read my blog posts onbuilding rapportandbehavior management.
Stress tip #5: When a colleague doesn’t like you (or is causing problems)
When you begin to have a positive effect on your students and you gain a reputation as a ‘good teacher’, you may create some enemies. Some of your colleagues may not like you simply because you are ‘better’ than they are.
You need to be careful in these situations. Here are my tips:
Control your speech at all times when in the presence of your colleagues. Off-the-cuff remarks like “I’m behind with my marking” or “I got totally wasted on Friday night” can be used against you by conniving and jealous colleagues who want to secure your destruction.
Don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips. Gossips are notorious for being negative and untrustworthy. Just don’t do it. If you’re asked directly or prompted to gossip about a colleague, for example, you can respond with a “I don’t think I should talk about that” or even a “I don’t like to gossip about people”.
If a colleague is genuinely causing problems for you, then make a record of all interactions with that person (hand-written if necessary). Speak with your line-manager about it and ask for suggestions. It’s much better to tackle this issue in a professional way from the outset, rather than submitting a formal complaint when the problem has gotten out-of-hand.
If appropriate, speak with the colleague you are having issues with. You may wish to ask a third person to attend as a witness. Be polite. Be respectful. Show that you are the mature person in this scenario.
Keep all discussions with colleagues academic in nature. Try not to discuss politics or ‘touchy issues’ in society (e.g. Brexit, 2SLGBT+ rights, third-wave feminism, etc.). We live in a time, unfortunately, in which people can be easily ‘triggered’ by an alternative view you might have that challenges their perception of the world. Feel free to discuss this stuff with close friends or family outside of work, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your colleagues are your friends – they’re not. Your colleagues are the people you work with, and all interactions with them need to be professional in nature. If something is not related to your work or the curriculum, then you don’t need to discuss it. It’s that simple.
Teachers today are more stressed than we have ever been in history. Relax, plan-ahead, deal with issues head-on and don’t worry.
Two books I highly recommend for consistent worriers are given below:
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (click on the image to buy the book):
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (click on the image to buy the book):
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