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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Getting back into the swing of things can be a challenge: especially after a long summer vacation. Our body clocks are normally out of sync and we’ve probably been taking life a bit easy for a while (and rightly so).
The new academic year pounces on us like a monkey from a tree.
In order to be prepared for the craziness ahead I’ve devised a list of ten things to do prior to the first day back at school. Follow these magic tips and you’ll be energized, prepared and ahead of the game.
Tip #1: Create a regular sleeping pattern
Get up at your normal ‘work day’ time each day for at least a week before school starts. This will calibrate your body clock so that it’s easier to get up when school begins.
It’ll be hard at first – if you’re like me then you’ll be exhausted at 6am. Just try it – force yourself to get used to getting up early.
Tip #2: Set up a morning ritual
Come up with a sequence of events that will inspire, empower and energize you each morning. For me, my morning routine looks like this:
Get up at 4.30am
Go to the gym (it opens at 5am)
Work out at the gym
Shower at the gym
Have coffee and breakfast at the gym lounge
Read over e-mails and lesson plans for the day ahead
Leave the gym and be at school by 7am
Getting the hardest things done in the morning (e.g. exercising) is a very empowering way to start the day. This ritual of mine also serves to give me energy – I’m not rushing to school and I’m fully breakfasted, coffee’d-up and mentally prepared before the school day even starts!
Tip #3: Read ahead
Whether you’re teaching the same subjects again this year, or if you’re teaching something totally new – it always helps to read ahead.
Go over the textbook material, watch out for subtle syllabus changes and make sure you read over the material you’ll actually give to the kids (PPTs, worksheets, etc.).
Tip #4: Prepare ahead
Linked to reading ahead but involves the logistics of lesson delivery – make sure your resources are prepared.
Don’t forget – every teacher will be scrambling for the photocopier on the first day back. Prepare your paper resources in advance, or plan to do photocopying at ‘off-peak’ times (e.g. late after school one day).
Tip #5: Set personal targets
Is there anything that you could have done better last year?
If you’re a new teacher, then what are some life-challenges that have held you back in the past? Procrastination? Lack of organization?
We all have things that we could do better. Think about what those things are for you and write down a set of personal targets in your teacher’s planner. Read them every day.
One of my targets, for example, is not to set too much homework but to instead select homework that achieves my aims most efficiently.
Tip #6: Get to know your new students
Spend time talking with your new students and take an interest in their hobbies, skills and attributes.
Look at previous school reports if possible and find out if any of your new students have any weaknesses in any subject or behavioral areas. Talk with members of staff at your school about ways to accommodate and target such needs if necessary.
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. I have a separate book coming out about that, and this blog post will be a nice precursor to its release.
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 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. 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: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.
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.
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 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 – 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 big 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.
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 14 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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The high school science teacher turns his students into ‘electrons’ and gets them to walk along a prescribed route in the classroom, reinforcing concepts associated with circuit diagrams and electricity. The primary school mathematics teacher gets her students to make funny shapes with their bodies that represent the numbers 0 – 9, creating a fun way to tackle mental arithmetic problems. The ICT teacher creates a variety of ‘human graphs’, getting students to line up in columns based on their chosen answers to assigned questions.
What do all of these examples have in common?: The students are using movement to solve problems and, in doing so, are engaging multiple regions of the brain.
Every single day, our experience of the world around us is created by five main sensations or senses, namely:\
Touch: Experiencing the texture of different objects
Taste: Stimulation of various taste receptors on the tongue
Smell: Linked strongly with taste and involves stimulation of olfactory receptors in the nasal passage
Sight: Our perception of light energy through stimulation of cells in the retina
Hearing: The way in which we receive and process longitudinal vibrational energy
The above five senses allow us to perceive the world around us so that we can make decisions effectively. However, what a lot of people forget is that all of the above five senses become obsolete, and can be switched off, if one vital organ is missing: the brain.
A point I often make with my biology students is that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch with our brains! We don’t see with our eyes, we don’t hear with our ears and we certainly don’t feel touch because of our skin alone. All of these sense receptors just mentioned are tasked with one job only: to send information to the brain to be processed. Once the brain processes the necessary information, we then feel the intended sensation.
Evolution has ensured that our brains are hard-wired to remember information generated by all five senses. It is essential that we can do this, otherwise we would not be able to survive.
Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, puts this very eloquently:
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason
When students have a good rapport with their teachers and are genuinely interested in the subject being taught, they acquire the self-confidence and motivation to pursue their learning with hard-work and enthusiasm. ‘Interest’ is a funny human condition because we often make the mistake of thinking that it’s just something that each person has an affinity for, based upon their life experiences or even the way they were born. However, the real truth is that the effective teacher behaviours outlined in this blog and my book can literally change students’ lives as they go from ‘liking’ a subject, to wanting to be the best student in the class!
But what is Spatial Learning?
There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:
Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations.
Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool.
Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:
A human graph and true or false?
Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.
A human graph might be the right tool for you!
What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method!
Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall. Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question.
This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:
Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!
Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:
For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!
The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about.
Ifind that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another.
I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task.
Modelling example one: Diffusion
Textbook definition:Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles.
Modelling activity:As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow.So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.
See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):
Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network
In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT
Concept:A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.
Spatial learning task:For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room.
Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?
Mydebut bookis filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’sLucy in the City:
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.