My Teacher Promises for 2019 (Part 1)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’ve also made a video to go with this blog post here:

At this time of the year we start thinking about possible ‘New Year’s Resolutions’: things that we resolve to do better next year. Targets we aim to achieve. New goals that we set for ourselves.

I believe that teachers should have a separate set of ‘teacher resolutions’, and I’d like to share mine with you for 2019. Maybe some of my New Year Teacher Promises can become your promises too?

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1. I will provide high-quality feedback to all of my students

Feedback is everything in teaching. It is the best way to help students improve. However, do we always give the best feedback we can?

John Hattie knows the power of good feedback:

Ask why we ever set tests; indeed, the best answer to this question is ‘so that we, as teachers, know who we taught well, what they mastered or failed to master, who made larger and smaller gains, and what we may need to re-teach’. Tests are primarily to help teachers to gather formative information about their impact. With this mind frame, the students reap the dividends.

The way I would put it is this: Students need to know WHAT they’ve done wrong and HOW to fix it. They also need to know what they’ve done well, so that they can keep doing that in the future.

I was rather alarmed in 2015 when the son of a family friend brought home this maths homework that had been returned to him from his school:

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From this we see that the student had been told which questions were wrong, along with the correct answers, but had not been shown HOW to get those answers.

He hadn’t been shown the mode of operations needed to calculate the areas (the formula you see on the work, consequently, is my annotation as I was tutoring him that day).

The teacher who marked this work was probably very busy, as most teachers are. However, there are a number of well-established methods for showing students how to fix their problems which don’t eat into our free time:

  • Peer-assessment: providing students with the official worked solutions and allowing them to swap work and make full corrections
  • Self-assessment: same as peer-assessment except the student marks their own work
  • Automated assessment: this is when a computer programme marks work for the student. Programmes and websites like Kahoot!, MyMaths, EduCake and ProProfs are becoming more and more popular because they provide instant feedback and require zero marking time from the teacher.
  • Live-marking’: this one is simple. Go around the class whilst the students are doing a task and mark their work in ‘real-time’. Alternatively, call students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, then-and-there.

Live-marking, the last one I mentioned, is so powerful that I made a whole-video about it here:

Giving feedback

There’s no way around the issue of marking – it’s vital. Marking doesn’t always have to be written traditionally by a teacher, but somewhere along the line the feedback needs to be written somewhere – whether that’s on a Google Doc by another student, on a test by the student who took it or on a piece of homework by a teacher.

My first promise is an important one – my students will always receive deep, meaningful feedback. It’s the only way they can improve.

2I will care and I will show that I care

Caring is possibly the most important thing a teacher does every day. We entered this profession because we care, and when we care we have the following effects on our students:

  • We raise their self-esteem
  • We increase their enjoyment of our subject
  • We remind them of their achievements and character, which builds self-identity and resilience

We can show that we care in very simple ways:

  • Saying ‘Hi’  and “Good morning’ to our students and having conversations with them: this builds up rapport and shows that we value them and that we have a genuine interest in their well-being
  • Gathering professional intelligence: remembering our students hobbies, interests and life-events and capitalizing on those in the lesson-planning and assessment process
  • Being vigilant: remembering the things they’ve done well and immediately addressing and slip-ups and ‘falls’ in attainment. Providing ‘second-chances’ for students to redeem themselves. Following up. Monitoring progress on a regular basis.

3. I will communicate effectively with parents

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  • Parents are our friends, not our enemies. They generally want the best for their children, which is what we want too.
  • Our parents are our customers, and we have a duty to provide the highest-level of service to them.
  • When parents feel valued and encouraged to contribute to the life of the school, they can often bring amazing logistical help, resources, ideas and contacts to the school-community

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I honestly believe that the full deployment of parents in the teaching profession has the power to make big changes to schools.

Some ways that teachers can build-up good professional relationships with parents are as follows:

  • Email: After any chat or parent’s evening/consultation, e-mail the parent to summarise what was discussed (just like you would with an important business client or customer)
  • SayThank you’: I recently received some beautiful Christmas presents from a number of students and parents. It was a lovely gesture and a lot of thought (and expense) went into those gifts. I had to e-mail my gratitude.
  • Chat: When we see parents at school or out of school, we should take the time to say ‘hi’. Conversations like these can yield very interesting insights into the ‘home-lives’ of our students and can often provide new information and open new doors.

A good example of the ‘fruits’ of a good chat came to me only last month.

I bumped into a parent in my school’s coffee shop and we had a short conversation. I found out that she worked with a number of scientists in her professional life, and as a result of our conversation she agreed to put one of my CREST Award students in touch with a scientist to act as her mentor.

Who knows where that contact could lead in the future?

How about you?

What are your ‘teacher promises’ for 2019? Have my promises inspired you to make some of your own? Feel free to comment in the box below and please share this article!

Happy holidays!

Richard

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The Four Rules of Praise

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s a warm mid-summer day in muddy Swynnerton, England. I’m at an army base for Summer Camp. I’m a 15-year-old army cadet.

The Territorial Army had some of their boys in to inspire and help us. They needed a cadet to help with the radio and signals work during night exercises. I can’t remember if I volunteered or if I was chosen, but I very quickly found myself listening in on the radio transmissions, recording the call signs and messages in the log book and taking action where needed to pass on vital information about group movements and conditions, along with any emergencies.

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I loved it. It was ace!

I just immersed myself in the process and did the best job I could. I was told what to do by the T.A. lads and I just got on with it.

Later that night, they all shook my hand and told me I had done a good job.

The next day came and I was approached by my home platoon sergeant. I can still remember her words, two decades later: “Corporal Rogers I’m hearing brilliant things about you from the T.A. Keep it up! You’re doing Flint Platoon proud”.

That felt amazing, and it spurred me on to work harder.

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Praise only works when it is used properly

The Army Cadets were an excellent model of good teaching. To be honest, I really think they turned my life around. I went from a shy, weak and rather timid boy to a confident and rather ambitious young man in the space of about three years, thanks to their help.

Giving feedback

I’m going to summarise what I’ve found to be the very best ways to use praise to empower and push our students forward. They worked for me when I was being taught as a kid, and they’ve worked for thousands of students that I’ve helped in my twelve years as a high school teacher.

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. Kids are not easily tricked. Praise is only ever effective when the teacher saying the nice words of encouragement truly means it.

Rule #2: Praise must be specific

Does the student know exactly why they’ve done a great job? Does the student know what they did well?

Be specific. Here are some examples:

“Well done, John, for drawing your diagrams with a ruler. They look really neat and tidy, and I can tell that you’ve put time and effort into this work. I am very pleased. Keep it up”

“I’m so pleased with the excellent progress you have made this term, Rosie! Just look at these results: You’ve gone from a level 5 in test 1, then to a level 6 and now you’re working at a level 7. That’s very impressive, Thank you for your hard work and commitment”

Rule #3: Praise must be recorded and remembered by the teacher

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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I’ve written about the power of this technique before, but I’ll go through the process again for clarity.

Basically, at the start of every academic year you should purchase a new notebook. Make sure there are enough pages in it for every student. Every student gets a page.

On each page write down and record any significant interactions with the student. Record their birthdays, hobbies they have, times when they were praised, significant achievements in extra-curricular activities, etc.

Once this information has been recorded, it can be effectively reinforced (please see my post on subtle reinforcement for more info about this powerful technique).

Rule #4: Reinforce the praise at significant points in the future

Did you notice that my platoon sergeant praised me the next day? That was powerful, because she wasn’t actually there when I did the signals work, but someone had spoken with her.

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Praise must be collective if it is to be truly effective. When a student does a great piece of work, tell your colleagues and your line manager. Ask them to reinforce your praise by giving their own praise to the student.

Reinforcement should also be self-driven – remind your students of previous achievements in order to empower their momentum.

“I remember the excellent Chemistry student who built the atomic structure model in Term 1. She said ‘I’ll find a way to suspend the protons in the middle’. Jessica, you’ve already shown me what a hard-working, committed student you are. This is your moment to shine once again. Put your best effort into this, I believe in you. I know you can do this!”

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Can Sympathy and Empathy be Taught?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Today is a remarkable and unique day. The suspense and the emotion fills the air. It surrounds us. We can even taste it.

A daring and incredibly dangerous rescue mission has been given the green light to go ahead. Today is the day that Royal Thai Navy Seal divers will begin the attempt to rescue the 12 schoolboys and their 25-year-old coach who’ve been trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex, Chiang Rai, for two weeks.

Thai Cave Rescue
The boys and their coach inside the cave, accompanied by a Thai Navy Seal diver. Image courtesy of the Royal Thai Navy Seal Facebook page.

Being based in Bangkok, Thailand, I have a close association with Thai people from all walks of life. This event has truly gripped the nation, and the world.

Before I talk about today’s subject matter, I’d like to ask all of my readers to please join me and all Thai people by praying for the safe rescue of all 12 boys and their coach (and the safe return of the rescuers).

Humans are natural carers

This cave rescue in Thailand has given me a fresh perspective on the topic of empathy. It’s made me ask the question: do children really need to be taught how to care for one another?

The outpouring of help for these trapped boys and their coach has been truly inspirational. I won’t even begin to attempt to write a list of all of those who have helped because that list would be so huge it would take months, maybe years, to research and collate. But it has been remarkable. People from all over the world have literally sacrificed their time, money, health and energy to do everything possible to help these boys.

One man even sacrificed his life: Petty Officer Saman Gunan, who fell unconscious and died shortly after delivering oxygen tanks in the cave complex.

When times are at their worst, humans will do everything they can to help. Mr Saman Gunan is a true hero who selflessly did the best he could to help people who were in desperate need.

Surely this is our highest and most prized quality as humans – selflessness. Few people, however, are both incredibly brave and selfless, as Mr Gunan was.

He will forever be remembered, and missed.

Teaching kids to care

I personally believe that the vast majority of people are natural carers. We empathise naturally – it’s part of who we are.

Colorful classroom without student with board,books and globe - rendering

According to Samantha Rodman (Clinical Psychologist and Author), however, there are six keys ways in which we can teach kids empathy. This would seem important in a world where youngsters are being increasingly detached from physical interactions with one another by the barriers of mobile technology.

Materialism also doesn’t escape the jury’s verdict.

According to research conducted by psychologists at Northwestern University, materialism is socially destructive. It is associated with depression, anxiety and broken relationships.

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To further compound this issue a more startling picture of human empathy is portrayed by the research conducted by Sara H. Konrath and colleagues of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. Her team conducted a 30-year study between 1979 and 2009 and discovered that Emphatic Concern and Perspective Talking is declining rapidly in college students. 

Maybe we do need to teach kids how to care, after all. 

So what are the six ways to teach empathy?

  1. Teach kids about emotions: Children need to know what emotions are, and how to identify them. Once kids have identified those emotions, they can then learn how to manage them. Progress in this area has been heavily fueled by the Mindfulness in Schools strategy, which teaches the importance of observing one’s thoughts and emotions, rather than reacting by reflex-action. Check out their website – it’s well worth a look!
  2. Read and watch TV with your children: I guess this could work in a parent-student, teacher-student and student-student dynamic. The key is to get the kids thinking about and discussing how the characters feel in different parts of the story. It still amazes me when I watch a movie in the cinema and people laugh when some character gets killed or something bad happens. Movies are strange entities because in some cases they play on human emotion positively by creating more empathy, but in some genres repeated watching can lead to desensitization. 
  3. After conflicts, have a reflection: This is a classic tried-and-tested technique, and it works well. “How do you think Sarah felt about what you said? How would you feel if someone said that about you?”. Getting young people to reflect on the emotional consequences of their actions can have profound, long-term effects on their character and personality.
  4. Set an example by resolving conflicts in your own life: Probably more applicable to parents than teachers, or teacher-parents, but well-worth mentioning. If you have an argument with your wife in front of your kids, for example, you must also make-up in front of them too. With your students in school, you could get them to shake hands after an argument and get them to say sorry to one another.
  5. Express feelings on behalf of those who cannot speak: Babies, pets and, in some cases, disabled people, cannot express their emotions verbally or through other means. Discuss with your students or children what the feelings of these individuals might be when the opportunity arises. 
  6. Be a good role-model of respect and decency: Show courtesy. Be respectful of people who have different opinions or beliefs than you do (unless those beliefs threaten life, health or safety – then you’ll have to take action in a sensible, emotionally-detached way). Let your students see you showing respect for those around you who may have a different religious belief system, or political opinion, than you do. It’s very sad to see politicians arguing on TV, for example, when they should show greater respect for one another. 

Conclusion

  • Research has shown that empathy is decreasing in young people
  • Materialism is associated with anxiety, depression and the breakdown of relationships
  • There is a case to be made for the rigorous and broad teaching of empathy to kids in schools
  • There are ways to deliberately teach empathy to children, and six have been identified here

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Don’t Be A ‘Mediocre’ Teacher

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

They stood at the front of the audience: seemingly ready to dazzle us all. They were all 18 years old and in the final term of high school. I was much younger then too – 26 years old and in my third year of teaching.

It was a Biology revision presentation. I’d invited my colleague to come along to watch (also a Biology teacher).

The presenters began their talk.

When it was over, I needed to take a paracetamol tablet. I was rather perplexed.

I let my colleague chirp in with some feedback first, thinking she would cover most of the points I wanted to raise.

“A great presentation. I loved the level of detail and research. Well done”

That was it?

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Now I found myself clenching my fist. I thought back to the late 90s when my dad received a ‘stress reliever’ doll one Christmas. It was basically a squishy, red, head-shaped rubbery thing in a pot that you could squeeze when you got a bit mad. It was joke gift of course: designed to cause a giggle or two; but I wished I had one right now.

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“Mr. Rogers. What are your thoughts?” Asks my colleague.

After a barrage of questions which the students responded to with nervous looks and blank stares, I decided to give my merciless, but honest, feedback:

“Whilst I agree with my colleague that your research skills were good, there are still a few issues I’d like to address.

I’ll start with the negatives, then share my thoughts on what, if anything, was positive. All of you were reading directly off the slides and not making eye-contact with the audience. We can all read, so your method of presentation was not only boring but it was also patronizing. There was too much text on each slide. The material had not been properly referenced and the images you did use, though few, were of very low quality. You also superficially skimmed the surface of the topic, and didn’t even touch on issues such as splicing, introns and transposable elements.

On the positive side, you showed us all that you are very good at copying and pasting. You were also able to describe some of the concepts in some detail.

Please speak with me tomorrow morning during registration so that we can arrange a time to do this again”

Giving feedback

The ‘respect’ factor

Unfortunately, many of us in the teaching profession have been conditioned to dish out praise all day long for the most minuscule of things. A kid hands in a complete dog’s dinner of a homework and it’s “Well done for handing this in on time. Meeting deadlines is important”. 

I could go on with the spectrum of ‘non-confrontational’, politically correct garbage that I was conditioned to spew for another 1000 words, but I think that would be tedious.

I used to be one of those ‘praise everything’ teachers. Guess what I found out:

  • Praise only works when it is sincere
  • Praise only works when it recognises significant, meaningful achievements that have taken some work to accomplish
  • Praise is extra effective when preceded (NOT followed by) points for improvement

And guess what else I’ve found out – students respect us more when we are honest. They respect us when we tell them that they need to improve. They respect us when we are vigilant.

Explaining

Lots of research supports these findings. Here are two good examples:

  • A 2016 summary by Vanderbilt University found that praise works well when it is behavior-specific, and that a ratio of 4 praise statements to one reprimand works well for improving performance (if 4 praise statements are available for the work being assessed). Here are some examples of language changes we can make to turn praise into a kind of ‘disguised reprimand’ or ‘behavior enforcer”:
BSP Vanderbilt
Behavior Specific Praise. Courtesy of Vanderbilt University, 2016. See the publication entitled ‘Behavior Specific Praise in the Classroom’. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project.

Whilst this table is useful, I think it’s important to remember that reprimands must be specific and direct. “We don’t take other people’s property, because that causes suffering to another person. When you’re older, you can also get into big trouble with the police for that. You’ll need to write a letter of apology to Simon for what you did.”

  • A 2015 blog post by Brian Gatens at the University of Portland made the point that when teachers show honesty and compassion, they build trust with their students. Compassion doesn’t mean making kids feel good all the time – it means letting them know when they’ve under-performed, and caring enough to do something about it! It also involves celebrating and recognising significant progress, performance and attainment.

‘Mediocre’ Versus ‘Vigilant’

Here are some statements I’ve come up with which sum up the ‘Mediocre’ teacher, versus the ‘Vigilant’ teacher. I don’t mean to offend anyone here – I was once the Mediocre Teacher. I share my findings as a means of self-reflection for all of us. I still get a bit ‘mediocre’ at times, but at least I’m aware of how to spot that now:

  • Mediocre teachers record attainment and progress. Vigilant teachers record attainment and progress, quickly identify under-performance and then intervene to improve that.
  • Mediocre teachers praise the smallest of things. Vigilant teachers reserve their praise for significant, meaningful displays of effort, attainment and progress.
  • Mediocre teachers sometimes bring up points for improvement with their students. Vigilant teachers leave ‘no stone unturned’, and relentlessly monitor their students’ weaknesses and do the best they can to improve those.
  • Mediocre teachers don’t feel the need to be a ‘role-model’ for their students. Vigilant teachers understand that their words, actions and subliminal cues will act as points of reference for their students for many years to come.
  • Mediocre teachers mark their students work. Vigilant teachers provide feedback that’s meaningful and specific. 

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Should We Set Homework for the Summer Vacation?

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It won’t be long until our students (and us) will enjoy a long summer vacation. Sand, sea, sleep-ins and more time with the family. Sounds great!

sit n talk

In the UK, schools will close around mid-late July and reopen in early September. In America the summer holiday is much longer. Take New York, for example: Schools there will have their last day on June 26th, with students returning on September 5th. 

Some teachers and parents would say that young people need this summer vacation to rest, have fun and basically enjoy being a kid. Others would say it’s too long to be away from school work entirely, and some learning should still be taking place.

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I say that it all depends on the age and needs of the individual students. 

Start planning now!

During this article I hope to convince you that the summer vacation can be used to our advantage. Effective teachers have used the summer vacation for decades to act as a ‘buffer’ – a chance for slower students to catch up; for able, gifted and talented students to be pushed even more; and generally for getting a little more material covered so that the new academic year can start a little bit ahead. 

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However, in order for me and you to effectively make use of the summer vacation (so that our students benefit), we must start planning now!

Case #1: The exam-preparation class

Let’s say that you’re taking a group of students through a two-year course (such as the IB Diploma, IGCSEs or ‘A’ – Levels). 

In an ideal scenario, those two years would be broken up as follows:

Year 1: Cover as much content as possible (at least 60% of the syllabus). Complete all coursework if the timetable permits.

Year 2: Finish off any remaining content. Allow as much time as possible for revision and past-paper practice.  

I believe that a good way to get our kids to be ahead of the game before Year 2 is to set them a significant piece of summer homework that is achievable, but not too onerous. 

I’ve found the following tasks to be effective (sometimes I combine them both together):

  • Provide a booklet of notes and questions covering a topic that the students haven’t studied yet. When they get back to school after the summer, collect the booklets in. Check those booklets to make sure they are completed. Peer assess them and provide a one-week condensed summary of the topic in your lessons. Keep a record of who has and hasn’t scored well on the content, and intervene where necessary (e.g. with some after-school classes).
  • Give students a test on a topic they learned over the summer. Provide notes for the students to revise from. Analyse the grades and help out any students who haven’t performed well.

When both of these techniques are combined together powerful and deep learning can take place over the summer. This can give our students a head-start in Year 2, giving them more time to do revision and past-papers. 

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Case #2: Able, Gifted and Talented Students

These are students who we really want to push and encourage.

The summer vacation is a long-time to be away from formal education, and we don’t want these students to lose momentum or interest.

I’ve found that project work is particularly useful for these types of students. I usually set work based on the following procedure:

  • Find out what the student is really interested in. What does she have a passion for? (For example: hip hop dancing)
  • Think of ways that you can link your subject area to the student’s area of interest (For example: A project about vector mathematics as a model for the movement of a hip hop dancer during a routine)
  • Discuss the project with the student. Make sure it’s relevant and deep. Ask the student to come up with ways to process the information and present the final output. Perhaps a stop-motion animation will work well. Maybe the student prefers to do a performance. Maybe a project portfolio will work well.
  • Offer some kind of significant reward and recognition for the effort. Discuss the benefits (e.g. how this project will improve subject knowledge in a particular area). Speak with senior management about any material rewards that can be given (e.g. book tokens, medals, certificates or a trophy).
  • Follow through and keep our promises: We must make sure that we honour our promises to these students. If we’ve promised a medal, then we must damn well make sure that the kid gets a medal. If we’ve set the work, then we must fulfill our professional duty by giving feedback. 

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Case #3: Students who are falling behind

I’ve reached a stage in my career now where I just cannot allow poor performance to go unnoticed or unchallenged. It just bugs me too much.

For kids who haven’t been performing well, a good sit-down and chat with the students and their parents is an absolute essential before the summer, in my honest opinion.

Let’s say that you’ve had a biology student for one year and she just didn’t understand cells, human body systems and plant reproduction. Let’s say that this student failed all three tests for these topics.

If this student has not been given the opportunity to re-sit tests in these topics throughout the academic year, then it is our duty, I believe, to ensure that this material is covered over the summer. The student will have more time and, provided that the parents are aware and involved too, this should result in regular, productive revision and an increase in subject knowledge.

out-of-control

I’ve found the following techniques to work well for students who are falling behind:

  • Analyse the assessment data for the whole academic year. Identify the area or areas in which the student is performing poorly.
  • Look through all of the student’s work that you have to-hand. Is there any particular method or output that the student is really good at (e.g. website creation, drawing diagrams, making infographics, etc)?
  • Meet with the student and his/her parents. Discuss a way forward over the summer that involves the student completing meaningful work on the topics of weakness through an output that appeals to the student’s preferred learning style.
  • Check that the quantity of work is neither too much, nor too little
  • Decide on a way to assess the work

When planned properly, our summer holidays can become times when our under-performing students really turn their lives around and gain a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. 

Conclusion

Schools not ‘out for summer’ (sorry).

The summer vacation offers a powerful way for us all to push our students forward, allow our students to cover extra material and address weaknesses for those students who are struggling. 

This all involves some planning, though. 

I don’t know about you, but when my students break up for the summer in one month’s time, I’ll be ready. I’ll have had my conversations with parents, kids and SLT and my students will know exactly what to do in the months approaching the new academic year.

We owe them that. 

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Subtle Reinforcement: Techniques to Gradually Build Confidence and Character in our Students

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

He pulled me aside at the end of class as we were getting ready to go home. I had tremendous respect for my sensei, and his words, though few, always hit-home hard.

“You a look a mess, Richard. Why isn’t your gi ironed”

“My mum didn’t have time to iron it today”

“Your mum shouldn’t have to iron it for you. What are you: a man or a weasel? Take responsibility for your own life. Iron your own flippin’ gi and make sure you look tidy next lesson!”

A ‘gi’ is a karate suit, just in case you didn’t know. It’s made typically of heavy cotton drill and it’s plain white. Easy to get dirty; hard to clean. Even harder to iron.

But I wanted to win my sensei’s approval. I wanted to ‘be a man’ and take responsibility for my own karate, my own personal dress and personal presentation.

box seats

Short conversations

It’s funny when I think about it now, but that short conversation with my sensei totally changed my life. It felt like I’d gone down a peg or two in his sight and opinion.

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I worked harder than ever before to train and to be the ‘perfect’ student: My gi was freshly washed and ironed every time (I asked my mum not to help – I was 11 years old and my sensei wanted me to ‘man up’). 

Years later, when I went to a local karate shop to buy a new karate suit, I happened to bump into my old sensei there that same day. 

“Richard, it’s flippin’ great to see you!”

“Me too, how you doing”

“I’m good. You still training?”

“Yeah I joined a Shotokan Club at uni”

“That’s flippin’ great. You know, I remember the kid who didn’t iron his gi and was very clumsy. Remember that conversation we had in the changing rooms that day?”

“Wow! Yes, sure. I remember you telling me off”

“Haha, yes. Well, I noticed a massive difference in you after that day. I was sorry to lose you when you left for uni – you were the best brown belt in the dojo”

Wow!!!

Clay class

That felt good. The fact that my old sensei remembered me, and remembered our conversation. That he genuinely took an interest in me – that was inspirational.

It reminded me of who I was, which brings me to my first tip of Subtle Reinforcement.

Subtle reinforcement tip 1: Remind your students of who they are

This is different to reminding students of their achievements – it involves reminding students of their character.

As an NQT I was full of enthusiasm, as we all are. I wanted to change the world ‘one student at a time’.

Suddenly, my chance came like a clap of thunder.

Walking down the corridor one day I passed one of my Science students. He was looking very depressed, and divulged to me that his girlfriend had just dumped him.

High five

“John, I know how you’re feeling right now. Trust me, I’ve been there. But see this as your baptism by fire. This is the moment where you realise how strong you are. This is the moment where you gain back control and focus on what you’ve been letting slide in your life. It’s her loss and your gain – now you have more time to perfect your BMX biking and become the best geographer in the whole school”

We part as men – his fist punches mine in a sign of solidarity. The lighting begins to fork in his soul. Already his mind is tuned in to my words. Already he starts to fight back.

He comes to class extra early, and gives 110% to each lesson. There’s a renewed respect for me as his teacher – he knows that I actually care. 

Five months later his final exams are approaching and he’s getting stressed out. I ask him how his revision is going.

“To be honest, sir, it’s going badly. I’m just so stressed with it all”

To which I reciprocate: “I remember the man who who didn’t let life beat him down when his girlfriend decided to walk away. I remember the man who achieved grade As and Bs across the board and impressed everyone in school with his complete turnaround.”

Then I lower my voice.

“I remember the man who came second place in the BMX  showdown at Westminster Park” 

“You know about that?”

“Your mum told me”

He walks away trying his best to hide a grin that cannot be hidden. He remembers who he is. He remembers how all it took was a change of focus to create vastly different results in his life.

He went on to get 96% in his End of Year Science exam: the highest in his year group.

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Reminding our students of who they are renews their faith in themselves. This can have a dramatic impact on their lives.

Subtle Reinforcement tip 2: Remind your students of their skills and achievements

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the skills and achievements that students display outside of our subject areas are not relevant to us.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Benjamin was struggling in Science class. He found experimental work difficult because his fine motor skills were limited. His Special Educational Needs also affected his retention of written information in class. 

I started an ECA at school one year – website design. It was a very simple and easy ECA – the kids picked topics they loved and basically made websites about them. Each week they would update their content and share what they had done with the group.

Benjamin signed up for that ECA and absolutely took to it like a duck to water. I was actually quite surprised – his website was by far the best in the class. He just happened to have a ‘knack’ for it. 

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking

After the Christmas break I gave Benjamin a unique task:

“Benjamin – you are now my class Online Learning Chief. This is an important responsibility which I have not handed out lightly”

“Wow. Me? Why?”

“Because you are brilliant at web design. I’ve seen your great images on your site. I remember your portfolio of Minecraft tactics that you wrote in such a comprehensive way. From now on, I want you to do all of your homework online. When you’ve built up your website to a sufficient quantity, we’ll share it with the rest of the class as a revision resource. Deal?”

“Wow. Deal”

I follow through. For once in his school life, Benjamin actually gets recognised for something valuable. This wasn’t a participation medal for turning up on Sports Day. This was recognition of something significant that Benjamin actually possesses.

He goes on to raise his achievement by two grades that year – from an E to a C. This amounts to his biggest step-up in progress he has made in school, ever. 

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By reminding our students of their skills and achievements, we offer them solutions to daily problems. In a similar mission to that of differentiation, we aim to inspire the inner genius through methods that appeal to each student’s learning style.

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 3: Take the time to discuss progress

A quick two minute chat is all it takes. Bring the student to your computer and show him his grades for the year thus far.

Use this to congratulate or to offer advice for improvement.

This shows each student that you are ‘on the ball’: that you are alert to their progress and that you care about their grades. 

This approach is guaranteed to have positive outcomes, if dealt with in the mood of ‘passing on information’ rather than dishing out criticism. 

Subtle Reinforcement Tip 4: Be the person you want your students to be

This is the part of the article where I must try my best not to sound like a patronizing ignoramus. I’ll have a go.

Kids notice things about us. 

They notice the things we do, the way we look and the things we say, even when not spoken directly to the students who are listening.

Drawing upon our own life experiences can be a great way to get our students focussed on the right path.

The Science teacher who pulls out his vitamin box to show the students his daily supplementation for good health – this teacher is ‘living’ the subject. 

The maths teacher who takes part in World Maths Day along with the students shows that maths is fun – not just something for kids to do.

The P.E. teacher who genuinely stays in shape by hitting the gym a few times per week sets an excellent example for her students to follow, and respect. 

I want the very best for my students, but if my mouth is saying one thing whilst I do the exact opposite then I’ll end up becoming a laughing stock. 

That’s not a good place to be.

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Student Reinforcement Tip 5: Be there when they need you to be there

My IB Chemistry students were an amazing cohort of hard-working individuals. 

They needed my help a lot though.

It was not uncommon for random students to turn up at my room at lunch times and after school to seek help with questions, homework and coursework.

I could have chosen the easy option and made myself unavailable – I would certainly have gained more time and less work that way. But what’s the point in living like that?

I wanted my students to do well. I was happy to help when I could. 

There was a limit, of course, and they knew that. I wasn’t prepared to stay all night and help them – I had a life of my own too. But I was prepared to stay for a significant and suitable amount of time to help them out when needed.

The results were profound – they worked harder, enjoyed the subject more and made better progress. 

To be honest, I also felt a sense of satisfaction too. To me that’s the best reward of teaching – the knowledge that you’ve touched someone else’s heart. The knowledge that you’ve really made a difference. 

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The Effective Use of Detentions

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

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 opened his laptop and started playing around, again. I hadn’t quite noticed until I’d gotten the rest of this Year 7 class to get their books open and start completing the questions that were on the whiteboard.

It took a good five minutes for them all to settle down.

They’d just been learning about the human body in the best way I could think of: They took apart a life-sized model of a human female (filled with plastic, life-sized organs) and completely rebuilt it.

It had gotten them quite excited; especially the boys, who thought that the mammary glands inside a female breast were completely hilarious!

The class then had to cut and stick a paper human body together – organs included. But he was taking too long.

mess around in class

Christopher was a happy and talkative kid, but his work-rate was slow. On two occasions that lesson I walked over to his desk to help out and remind him to speed up, as everyone else was ahead of where he was. He should have been able to get that work done quickly. He had no Special Educational Needs and his English proficiency had increased so much in three months that he had graduated from the E.L.D. programme.

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The only thing slowing him down was his chattiness.

I should have moved him sooner in the lesson – my mistake. 15  minutes before the end of the class I moved him to the front to sit next to me, where he couldn’t chat with friends and be distracted.

It wasn’t enough time.

I pondered the idea of giving him a detention. Break-time was straight after this lesson, so it would be easy for me to keep him behind for ten minutes to get that work done. 

The concept and purpose of detentions

Before we can fully understand how to use detentions effectively, we must first remind ourselves of what detentions are and, therefore, what their purpose should be. 

A detention is a period of time that is purposefully taken away from a student’s extra-curricular or non-curricular time. It may involve a teacher-supervised activity during a morning break, lunch or after school. 

Detentions are given to students for a wide-variety of reasons; some of which are more logical than others. Reasons for detentions (starting with the most logical and useful) can include:

  • Failure to complete homework or classwork
  • Poor attendance
  • Persistent lateness/lack of punctuality
  • Disruption to class activities through poor behaviour
  • Receiving a certain, set number of ‘warnings’ or ‘demerits’

Christopher’s case as an example to follow

The most logical and useful way to use detentions is time-for-time: time not spent completing homework or classwork should be compensated by time spent on detention.

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In Christopher’s case I decided to give the break-time detention. Here are the reasons for my choice:

  1. The Science lesson ended at break-time, so it was convenient for me to keep him behind in my class (I didn’t have the problem of, say, giving him a lunchtime detention for the next day and then having to remember that he is coming and maybe chase him up if he doesn’t come along). 
  2. Christopher would be exchanging his breaktime for time spent completing his classwork. He must do this, as he will fall behind if he doesn’t.
  3. The detention serves as a reinforcement of the teacher’s authority, and a stern reminder that a poor work-ethic just won’t be tolerated. It turns out that after only two such break-time detentions, Christopher pulled up his socks and began working at a reasonable pace during lessons. 

General tips for detentions that will save you many problems

Every detention must attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for.

Consider the following:

  • Detentions eat up the teacher’s time as well as the students, so we really should only be giving out detentions when it is absolutely necessary (as in Christopher’s case above)
  • For homework that’s not done on time: call the perpetrating student or students to your desk for a quick one-to-one discussion at the end of class, or during a class activity. Express your disappointment, and why meeting deadlines is important. Relate it to the world of work, for example “If I didn’t write your reports on time, what would happen to me? That’s right, I’d be in big trouble”. Allow the students an extra day or so to get the work done. No need for conflict, no need to spend your precious lunch time giving a detention.
  • If students still don’t hand in the homework even after extending a deadline, then it is necessary to give a detention. CRUCIALLY, however, the purpose of the detention MUST be to complete that homework. Print the sheet again if necessary, provide the necessary resources and get the student to complete the work. This makes the detention less confrontational and reinforces the reason why it was given in the first place. 
  • The same goes for classwork: give students the chance to take their books home and complete classwork if it isn’t done on-time in class. Persistent slow work-rates in class, if not caused by reasonable circumstances (such as Special Educational Needs), should be met with detentions that allow the student to catch up. In almost every case you’ll find that the students will cotton-on to the fact that they can’t get away with distraction and laziness in class, and they’ll soon improve. For those that don’t improve even after focused detentions, further action will be needed and may involve parents and senior/middle management. 
  • For poor behaviour, detentions need to be planned and crafted really well. Remember: the detention should attempt to address or solve the problem that it was given for. I remember a couple of years back when two boys got involved in a bit of a scuffle in the science lab. It wasn’t anything major, but one kid said a nasty word to the other and that kid decided to punch his mate in the arm quite hard. As a Science Teacher, this is something I must absolutely nip-in-the-bud because safety in the lab is paramount, and kids just can’t scuffle or fight in there: period. I gave them both a detention for the next day at 1pm. They came, and I spent the time explaining to them why their behavior was unacceptable. They wrote letters of apology to me and each other, and left the detention understanding exactly why I had taken their time away from them. I didn’t have a problem with them again.
  • Lessons that end at break times work well for giving detentions if necessary, as you can easily retain the students when the bell rings. If you do assign detentions for the next day or at a later time, then pencil those into your diary – this will serve both as a useful reminder and as a record of who’ve you’ve given detentions to and how often. 

Recurring work 

I’m a massive believer in the power of recurring work and journaling, and have written about it in detail here and here

Learning journals are just great for giving regular recurring feedback and for consolidating and reviewing cumulative knowledge gained throughout an academic year. But did you know that Learning Journals save you many a supervised detention too?

Many schools provide homework timetables for students and teachers to follow. With the very best of intentions, these timetables aim to distribute student and teacher workload evenly and fairly. However, they can prove difficult to follow when units include different intensities of work, and when school events get in the way.

That’s where Learning Journals come in!reading

Set Learning Journals as homework each week. The basic idea is that students buy their own notebook and fill it with colorful revision notes on a weekly basis (although they can be done online too: through Google Sites, for example). Perhaps your Year 10 class could hand-in their learning journals in every Wednesday, and collect them from you (with feedback written inside, see the articles cited above) every Friday. By setting up a register of collection that the students sign, you can easily see who hasn’t handed in their journal that week.

Then……follow the guidelines given above for dealing with late or un-submitted homework. You’ll find that after a few weeks of initiating Learning Journals you’ll get a near 100% hand-in rate, because the students are really clear about what is expected each week, because it is a recurring homework. 

Whole school considerations

Many schools adopt a popular (but massively problematic) ‘mass-detention’ system of some sort, which works something like this:

  1. The student receives the requisite number of ‘warnings’ in a particular lesson which lead to a break or lunch time detention being given
  2. The student is sent to a room with other students from the school who’ve also received detentions
  3. Teachers supervise the ‘detention room’ on a rotating basis, thereby (in theory), sharing the workload across the staff body
  4. The students are given generic tasks to do during the detention time, which may include filling in a form, completing homework or in the very worst cases just sitting still and being quiet for twenty minutes or so.

The problem with systems like this is that they are not personal to the students receiving the detentions. They do not follow the ‘golden rule’: that detentions should address or solve the problem that they were given for.

What’s much more effective in the long-term is to trust individual teachers to administer their own detentions. Perhaps provide a quick training session based on good practice (feel free to use this article if you wish), and allow the teachers to then use their judgement to decide when and how detentions should be given.

Conclusion

Student detentions are only effective when they have the ‘personal touch’. When detentions address the original issue by allowing more time to complete homework or classwork, or allow for a one-on-one discussion about behaviour, the following magical things happen:

  • The detention is given from a standpoint of care and concern, not confrontation and aggression
  • Students realise the reason why the detention was given as this reason is reinforced by the activities given during the time of the detention
  • Students improve. It’s that simple. Mass detention systems rarely work because they don’t pinpoint the personal reasons behind why the student is under-performing. Detentions with the ‘personal touch’ cause students to realise their errors and most, if not all, will improve in a short space of time. 

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Report-Writing Nightmares: Become More Efficient and Save Time

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

The student names contained within this article are entirely fictional. Any similarity to an actual person’s name is purely coincidental. 

A well-written school report can provide a student with useful feedback, great encouragement and even a stern call-to-action.

Despite their usefulness, however, school reports can be an absolute nightmare for the teachers who have to write them!

walking around wt laptop

As teachers we are constantly juggling multiple tasks at the same time. If it’s not lesson planing, then it’s marking. If it’s not marking, it’s teaching. If it’s not teaching, then it’s meetings and professional development. If it’s not that it’s student mentoring and tutoring.

With UKEdChat

Report-writing can come up at any point during these foregoing activities, and we just have to, well; get on with it. For many teachers this means very late nights and sacrificed weekends: often with little sleep.

This article aims to give some easy-to-implement tips that will help us write good-quality reports in as little time as possible.

#1 – Remember S.W.A.P.

Every report should contain these four elements (at the very least):

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses (including targets)
  • Attainment
  • Progress

They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, but they should all be present somewhere.

work overload

#2 – Create a S.W.A.P. template

A good template can save you tons of time, and will ensure that your reports are detailed and accurate. I’ve given an example with applications below. Please feel free to copy and paste and use this as you see fit:

x has had a disappointing/steady/good/very good term/half-term/year/semester. He/She has shown strengths in a number of areas including……………………….. . This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by………………………………. x’s most recent recent assessment score was ……………., which indicates to me that……………………….. Progress has been disappointing/steady/good/very good, as exemplified by the fact that………………… 

Let’s see this in action below:

Example 1: An excellent student

Joshua has had a very good half-term. He has shown strengths in a number of areas including modular arithmetic, definite and indefinite integration and differentiation. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more of the Higher Level assigned tasks on MyiMaths, as he does have the ability to challenge himself further. Joshua’s most recent assessment score was 83%, which indicates to me that he is completing the necessary revision at home. Progress has been very good, as exemplified by the fact that he has jumped from a level 6 to a level 7 in the space of just seven weeks.  

Example 2: An average student

Lisa has had a steady half-term. She has shown strengths in a number of areas including balancing chemical equations and completing laboratory practical work. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more practice questions on Quantitative Chemistry and using the model answers as a good guide for improvement.  Lisa’s most recent recent assessment score was 54%, which indicates to me that she has a good knowledge of some areas of the subject, but needs to work harder to revise identified weaknesses. Progress has been steady, as exemplified by the fact that Lisa’s assessment scores have been consistently above 50% since the start of the course. 

#3 – Store and use your old reports

Keep copies of all the reports you write on a hard disc drive or usb/flash drive. You’ll find that similar student ‘types’ come up every year, and you can simply copy, paste and modify old reports to match new students. 

This is guaranteed to save you oodles of time! Just make sure you modify well: reports still need to contain the personal touch. 

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#4 – Use report comment banks

There are some great report-building websites available online. In just a few clicks you can create detailed and well-phrased reports that will deliver all of the information you need to get across.

Check out these great sites:

Recommended further reading

Check out these great books! Just click on the book image to take you to the Amazon sales page.

Writing Effective Report Card Comments by Kathleen Crane and Kathleen Law (Teacher Created Resources – they do a great teacher planner too! Check out my blog post here for that)

Writing Effective Report Card Comments

This book is simply filled to the brim with great phrases you can use for students at all stages of school education. My advice: buy this book, type all the comments into a doc and copy and paste them for your reports as needed. 

Teachers’ Messages for Report Cards by Marie McDonald and Katherine Ruggieri-Vesey

Teachers Messages for Report Cards

This is another brilliant book that serves well as a standalone guide or as a compliment to the ideas explored in Writing Effective Report Card Comments. McDonald and Ruggieri-Vesey really put the fun back into report writing by showing you strategies and phrases that will save you time whilst enjoying the process of report construction. 

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