5 Super Cool Teacher Hacks

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Supplementary video: 

I’m now 36-years-old. The years have flown by, and they have taught me that my life and time are both very precious. 

As a young and rather gullible NQT at 23-years-old, I was a massive time-waster. I wasted time on almost every nuts-and-bolts aspect of teaching. I wasted time writing reports from scratch. I spent hours creating tests and assessements and homeworks, and then hours marking them because I stupidly forgot to source or create an official mark scheme. I put kids on detention and then realised that I had to supervise those detentions, and that ate into my free time. 

Nowadays I have long-since scrapped all of those clumsy behaviours and I now streamline everything I can for maximum effectiveness.

So, grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit back because I’d like to share my new and improved teacher behaviours for maximum effect and efficiency.

Hack #1: Copy, paste and modify school reports

Writing school reports used to be a massive chore for teachers. I still remember receiving hand-written reports when I was a kid – imagine how long those must have taken for my teachers to write!

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Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, and I don’t feel ashamed to say that it’s okay to do a bit of copying and pasting with school reports – so long as you always modify the reports to match each student.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Write a really good set of original, unique school reports for your students. Save these to your computer somewhere (e.g. on Microsoft Word® or Google Docs®) and be sure to comment on attainment, progress and overall characteristics. This first stage will take considerable time (but it’s time that’s well-invested).
  2. When the next reporting cycle comes around, look at your student data and and use your own judgement to see which students match your old reports you wrote. For example, Jennifer from this reporting cycle might be very similar to Susan, who you taught last year.
  3. Use the ‘Replace’ feature on a word processor (like MS Word) to quickly change names, adjectives, genders and other key terms.
  4. Add some unique descriptors and features for that student. Make sure the report accurately reflects the student you’re writing about.
  5. Highlight the report you’ve just modified so that you know that you’ve used this one (you don’t want to duplicate copies)
  6. Copy and paste the text into your report-writing system at school.

I like to be quite prosaic in my report-writing – it ensures that my reports are accurate and professional. I sometimes use a template to help me.

Create a S.W.A.P. template

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.

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. 

Hack #2: ‘Live’ Marking

I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.

Discussing homework

Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniques here. Some general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:

Hack #3: Education Apps

I had the chance to rigorously test out the apps I’m about to show you and, I can tell you: they really do make life easier (and they can do some cool things too!).

1. Nearpod

Where you can get it and use it: App Store, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Chrome Web store and on the web at Nearpod.com

Cool Feature #1: You create a slideshow on Nearpod. Your kids login with a code that Nearpod generates (they don’t need to sign up, which saves tons of time) and, boom!: the slideshow will play on every student’s device. When the teacher changes a slide, then the slide will change on the kids’ screens.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

You can choose to show the slideshow on a front projector screen/smartboard, or simply walk around the class with your iPad or laptop as you’re instructing the kids.

Cool feature #2: Put polls, questions, quizzes, drawing tasks, videos, 3D objects, web links and audio segments into Nearpod presentations to make the experience fully ‘interactive’.

When I tested Nearpod I thought it was super-cool because I could write an answer (as a student) and it would show on the front-screen as a sticky-note with everyone else’s. Chelsea Donaldson shows this excellent image of what I experienced over at her blog:

As you can see, other kids can click ‘like’ and can comment on the responses, making this an ultra-modern, ‘social-media’ style education tool.

Another feature I loved was ‘Draw it’. It’s similar to ‘collaborate’ (the feature above with the sticky-note answers), but this time the students either draw a picture or annotate a drawing you have shared.

I can see this being great for scientific diagrams and mathematical operations.

Students can use a stylus/Apple Pencil, their finger (if it’s a non-stylus tablet or phone they are using) or even a mouse to draw the picture. Once drawn, the pictures will show up on the teacher’s screen together, and this can be projected if the teacher wishes.

Cool feature 3: Virtual reality is embedded into Nearpod (and I need to learn a lot more about it!).

I don’t understand it fully yet, but Nearpod themselves say that over 450 ready-to-run VR lessons are ready on their platform, including college tours, mindfulness and meditation lessons and even tours of ancient China!

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

I like apps that are quick, useful and free/cheap to use.

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

The features that I tested which were super, super cool include:

  • Kids log in with a code and your presentation appears on their screens. When you change a slide, the slide changes on their devices!
  • You can put polls, drawing tasks and questions into your slides and it’s all fully interactive. Kids’ answers will appear on the projector screen for all to see (if you wish), or simply on the teacher’s screen (for private viewing).

I love this app and I look forward to using all of its features with my students.

2. Noteability

Where to get it: App Store, Mac App Store

Cool feature #1: Noteability has allowed me to make the most amazing notes and save tons of paper and paper-notebooks in the process. Just look at these beautiful notes I made during my Science JAWs training a few months ago:

As you can see, you can select a wide variety of colors and make beautiful notes, Mind-Maps®, concept-maps, flow charts, diagrams and more.

I use this feature of Noteability to:

  • Plan things in my daily life (such as my blog posts, my weekend plans, my fitness plans, etc)
  • Write shopping lists
  • Write lesson plans
  • Take notes in school meetings

Cool feature #2: Noteability allows you to annotate PDFs with the Apple Pencil. This is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me to annotate my IB Diploma Chemistry coursework (Internal Assessment) quickly and clearly before uploading the coursework to the IBIS system.

I can see this feature becoming really useful for schools that want to save paper and for teachers that want to annotate coursework, homework or classwork and then send it back to the student in some way (e.g. by e-mail, through Google Drive or through Google Classroom).

Take a look at this IB Chemistry coursework annotation I recently did with Noteability and the Apple Pencil:

Another way to use this feature is to get the kids to scan their classwork, homework or past-paper answers and then annotate each other’s work with the Apple Pencil. The teacher could also annotate it too:

Cool feature #3: Students can make revision notes, classnotes, homework assignments and submit work all through Noteability. Using the ‘split-screen’ mode on the iPad Pro they can even copy images and charts directly from a web-page they are reading at the same time:

For students, I can see Noteability being using in a range of creative ways:

  • Making revision notes
  • Annotating their own work, or each other’s
  • Creating assignments and presentations (Noteability allows users to copy content from the web seamlessly using ‘split-screen’ mode)
  • Making notes in class

There is the possibility that tablets may even replace traditional school notebooks in future too – removing the need for 11-year-old kids to carry really heavy bags around school all day (and this has already been linked to back problems).

My thoughts on Noteability

I mentioned this a few blog posts ago but I feel it’s worth a second shout-out.

I like this app because it has basically replaced all of my notebooks, and is an excellent planning, note-taking and annotation tool.

A big drawback of Noteability, at the time of writing, is that it is only compatible with iOS. Not all students use Apple devices, and schools won’t always fork-out money for them. However, I have found that my own personal investment in an iPad Pro, along with Noteability, has enchanced my life in many ways and has benefited some of my students as I have been able to annotate their work better than ever before.

3. Flipgrid

Where to get it and use it: Microsoft Store, App Store, Google Play Store and at flipgrid.com

Cool features: Flipgrid is a secure video-commenting/video-conferencing platform. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower student voice” and they’ve certainly achieved that with this app.

Basically, the teacher uploads a video of himself/herself asking a question, or posts a question, link, resource or video, and the students respond by taking videos of themselves responding to the material.

It’s super cool!

Once the students have uploaded their videos of themselves, other students can see them and watch them (and comment on them). They can even respond to videos with videos, so it really can get a discussion flowing!

Image courtesy of Flipgrid

Each video a student creates will receive feedback from other students and the class teacher, and the student who made the video can quickly see the feedback they’ve received.

I would recommend all tech-interested educators to check out Jess Bell’s guest blog post over at larryferlazzo.edublogs.org entitled ‘Getting Started with Flipgrid’.

My thoughts on Flipgrid

When I tested it it took me a while to figure out how to use it, and what its purpose was.

Once I’d signed up, however, the website directed me to lots of great help and resources. There’s a load of pre-made lessons and students can sign in with a simple pre-generated code (like Kahoot! and Nearpod) which saves tons of time.

Once you’ve signed up (it’s free) and you’re in on Flipgrid, your dashboard will look something like this:

As you can see: it has a very user-friendly interface.

Hack #4: Learning Journals 

Shortly after getting my PGCE and completing my NQT year in the UK, I came to Thailand to work as a Chemistry Teacher at an international school in Bangkok. I was lucky enough to have been given a very able and hard-working class of Year 10 students to teach. In fact, the illustrator of this blog and my books: Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati, was in that class. 

I decided to try Learning Journals with these IGCSE Chemistry students. The idea was that they were to buy a special notebook (not their normal class book) and fill it with revision summaries, mind-maps, key words and anything learnt in class each week. I wanted it to be a ‘living journal’, and not just simply a replica of the students’ class notes. 

The students mainly took to it very well. Extracts from Pop’s beautiful Learning Journal are shown below:

2 MARCH

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25 MARCH

Highly-motivated students like Pop would always hand in beautiful notes, every single week. In fact, CfBT inspectors came to that school that year and they said that Pop’s notes were the best they had ever seen!

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

However, some students didn’t take to it that well and I found out why: I wasn’t giving feedback regularly enough. Some weeks I would be too busy with other school things, so I would sometimes (to my shame) collect in the journals and simply give them back the next day with some simple verbal feedback only.

I discovered that when students were given some written feedback on a weekly basis, however small, they was a marked improvement in the quality of the journals I received each week. 

Back then, when I realised this at 26 years of age, I would write multiple comments on every page in a student’s journal. This almost killed me when I had 20 journals to mark. I soon gave that up and came up with a better way.

Oh, but did the journals work? Well…that class went on to get 100% A*-C in their Chemistry IGCSEs.

Did the journals help them achieve this? I believe so.

My updated (better) journaling system

I’ve set up a Learning Journal system with my Year 11 IGCSE and Year 12 and 13 IBDP classes. Every Monday they must bring their journals to my room and place them in the right place, as shown below:

Learning Journal System

Then, after school every Monday I write one and only one post-it note of feedback for each student; which I stick in their journals. This keeps my feedback focused on the essentials and increases my productivity.

An example of what this feedback might look like is given in this reconstruction below:

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Students pick up their journals (with post-it note feedback inside) every Tuesday, meaning that they are getting recurring, weekly feedback as well as regular, meaningful homework.

I’ve been using this system successfully for a few years now. The student-sign register system allows me to quickly see who hasn’t completed a journal and the fact that I force myself to get all of the post-it-notes filled in on Monday evening means that I can chase up late journals very quickly. 

A little ‘tweak’

I did find that the Monday evenings were becoming quite hard because of all of the journals I was marking. Now, I spread out the days to match my timetable:

  • Year 11 give me their journals on a Monday
  • Year 12 on a Wednesday
  • Year 13 on a Friday

The system allows me to give regular feedback to my students, and it seems to be showing in the progress they are making in tests and assessments.

In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific. 

Learning Journals Conclusion

  • Journaling is a powerful tool when used correctly
  • It can be applied to any subject area
  • It’s great for exam-level classes doing revision
  • Recurring feedback and meaningful homework come as part of the package
  • The students can be creative and present their journals in any way they choose (online is an option too)
  • The feedback process allows the teacher to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses very quickly
  • The Learning Journal is a permanent record that the students can treasure and be proud of
  • Journaling is not used enough in the teaching profession. I aim to change this. 

Hack #5: Self and Peer Assessment

There’s no doubt about it – getting students involved in their own assessment and marking has a wide-variety of benefits.

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Take this great summary by Rosario Hernandez at University College Dublin for example, which explains that peer-assessment benefits students in four key ways:

  • Promotes high quality learning
  • Contributes to skills development
  • Furthers personal development
  • Increases students’ confidence, reduces stress and improves student motivation

That’s quite a convincing list!

Peer assessment

Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This great overview by 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

self-assessment

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.

But how should we use self and peer-assessment?

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 the a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular learning journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their learning journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g.Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Art class

Training students to assess themselves

This is a gradual process and basically involves exposing students to exam-style questions and past-papers; along with their mark schemes, over a prolonged period of time. The process is straightforward but can be monotonous: provide past-papers as homework, classwork, projects and even through a special past-paper ECA club (which I’m currently doing with my IGCSE and IBDP students – it’s very effective). 

There are a number of creative ways to train students up in proper exam-technique:

  • Cut up the questions and answers to past-papers and hand them to students one-at-a-time. They can only come and get the next question when they’ve effectively answered and marked the previous one.
  • Give students the answers to questions and get them to write the questions! Use the same method as the previous bullet-point above, or set up a large display and get students to put their answers on post-it notes which they can stick to the display.
  • Get a big container filled with cut-up exam questions. Students have to pick out questions from the container in pairs or threes, and work on them. No two groups should have the same question. 
  • Students can make revision videos, websites and even stop-motion animations that contain exam-style questions and answers. 

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5 Ways to Empower Your Students (Secret No. 10)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Here’s a quick video I made to supplement today’s blog post:

Every high school student you will encounter; no matter what their domestic situation is or how much peer pressure they are under, craves a sense of personal importance just like you and I do. It’s the reason why we wear posh designer labels; why we brag about our new car or house on social media and why we beautify images of ourselves using various apps on our smart phones. It’s also the reason why a lot of young people turn to drugs, join gangs and get involved in thug culture.

The trick with students is to make sure that they are receiving their validation (i.e. their sense of importance) from positive sources.

Block building

My experience has taught me that the best way that we can make our students feel empowered and important positively is by enacting the following steps:

1. Find out what the strengths, hobbies and interests of each of your students are: This can be daunting, as you’ve probably got a whole gaggle of students that you teach and it’s hard to remember everything about everyone. If you have to, then buy a special notebook and write down snippets of information that you pick up. Is Thomas exhibiting his artwork at a local gallery this weekend? Write it down. Does Cassandra love fashion design and magazines like Cosmopolitan? Write it down. Did Jason score a goal at lunchtime football? Write it down.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

2. Act on the information you have gathered: Use the information to engage your students in their lessons. If the output of a task or project is open to negotiation, then suggest a way for a particular student to produce that output in a way that is personal to them. Does Damon like boxing? Get him to create an animation or movie of a boxing match in which each boxer represents one side of the debate. They can say counter-phrases whilst they box, and the winner will represent the argument that Damon agrees with the most. When doing group work, assign roles to each student based on their strengths, and make it clear why you have chosen each student for each role.

I once had a student who was famous for being confrontational, and he was the figment of every teacher’s worst nightmare at that school. However, I noticed quickly that he was very good at art, so I made him the class ‘Art Director’, where his job was to check each student’s presentation. He loved the positive attention, and he became my most compliant and hard-working student. I also took a special interest in him by going along to the art room to look at his work, and I viewed his pieces in a local art gallery. This extra effort on my part really paid off, and other subject teachers were amazed at the change they saw in him.

Art class

3. Always turn a negative into a positive: Have you just taught a student who ‘played up’ or had a ‘tantrum’? Has one of your students just had a ‘bad day’? Make a special note of this, sit down with the student and offer your help and guidance. Focus on the positives of this situation, and what the student did well. Perhaps this time the student didn’t swear – now that’s a positive and a step in the right direction. Maybe your student was frustrated because they couldn’t quite make their work ‘perfect’ – brilliant, this shows a desire to do well and to try their best. Tell the student how pleased you are that they care about their work so much and offer more time to get it done if needs be. Maybe another student annoyed the kid who played up; offer a number of solutions to the student such as a seating plan and the chance to have a ‘time out’. Get your ‘problem students’ to reflect on solutions, and praise them for being reflective and proactive in wanting to move forwards, and not backwards.

4. Focus on the long-term goals of the student: Some students are completely unsure of what they want to do in life even when they reach 18 years of age: when they’re about to start out at university or find employment. Others take time to develop their goals as they mature through high school and still others are very sure what they want from life since their first day in Year 7/Grade 6. Whatever the situation may be, you must remind your students that there’s a bright and happy light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not an oncoming train!). Talk regularly with your students about their goals, ambitions and strengths, and constantly make them feel like they can achieve those goals by being supportive and enthusiastic for them. When students can see that there is a real purpose to school life; that all of these ‘pointless lessons’ can actually make their dreams come true, they tend to work harder. However, you, as a teacher, need to constantly reinforce this and it can take some time and effort before positive progression is seen.

Stay strong, have faith and I guarantee that your efforts will pay massive dividends!

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5. Use rewards more than sanctions, and make them sincere: When a student accomplishes something, and is then rewarded for this accomplishment, this reinforces the positive behaviour/process that lead to the outcome. However, the extent to which this reinforcement is maximized depends upon the depth, relevance and sincerity of the feedback given to the student. We’re all very busy, and it can be really tempting to just sign that house point box in the student’s planner, or hand out that merit sticker, with little conversation afterwards. However, if we’re going to be effective behaviour managers, then we need to spend more time giving sincere and relevant feedback to our students that focuses on the effort/process that went into the work that was produced. Always sit down with your students, especially those who have a reputation for being disruptive, and talk with them about their accomplishments. Tell the student how happy you are, and give a good reason (e.g. “I was so pleased that you took the time to draw large, labeled diagrams in this work. You also asked lots of questions, and you tried your best to avoid distractions”).

This is actually quite simple when we think about it: all we’re trying to do is reinforce the behaviour that we want to see repeated again in the future.

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Conclusion

Making your students feel important, or valued, is probably the most important factor in ensuring that you have a positive relationship with them (and, hence, lessons in which behaviour is good). One of the most memorable examples of this takes me back to my first teaching post in Thailand, when I was teaching Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) to a group of Year 8 students. At that time, I was taking the students through the Expect Respect™ programme, and we were covering themes that centred around domestic abuse and neglect. At the end of my first lesson with this group, a very shy and withdrawn young girl spoke with me privately and said that she enjoyed the lesson because it made her reflect on what was happening in her home environment. She then revealed to me something which almost shocked me to a frail state of nervousness as a young teacher – she told me she was self-harming, and she showed me the scars on her arms.

The first thing I did at that moment was talk about the positives of this situation, and I praised her for having the courage to speak to someone. I asked her what she thought of the lesson, and she said that she could empathise with the people involved in the scenarios we had discussed. I said that this was a brilliant quality to have, and that she could use this in her career when she leaves school. She left with a very bright smile on her face, and I could tell that she felt empowered. I saw her domestic situation as a positive, because it gave her the experience she needed to help other people in similar situations.

After our conversation, I referred her to our school counselor who worked with her twice a week to talk about what she was going through and how to move forward. She told her counselor how she felt so refreshed by her conversation with me, and how she felt that she could be a counselor too!

As time went by, I constantly reinforced my belief and professional interest in this student. When we covered career clusters in later PSHE lessons, she was keen to talk about how she wanted to be a person who cared for, and helped, others. She talked boldly about her plans to make people happy, and she would allude to her life experiences as being valuable in making her a strong person. Prior to this transformation, this young lady was famous for crying in class, and would often not take part in group activities. My belief in her, along with the help provided by other staff members, transformed her into a self-confident, determined person.

I am not ashamed to say that I was rather tearful when she got accepted into university to study occupational therapy five years later. She is now a professional, mature and empowered young woman who has a dream and a mission to help the people she comes across in her day-to-day life. I must admit, I can’t take all, or even most, of the credit for this, as many individuals in the school worked with her to empower her to be bold enough to face life’s setbacks and move forward. However, I like to think that that first conversation she had with me all of those years ago was the spark that set the forest fire of ambition raging through the wilderness of her life.

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Opinion: Should University be Free?

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that any country that doesn’t offer university for free is basically doing only one thing – punishing people for trying to better themselves.

The UK seems to be an extreme example of how the state punishes those who work hard in life and do the ‘right’ things; and rewards those who drop-out of school and make bad choices in life.

Although this is a very simplistic analysis of the effects of the British welfare system, it’s also understandable why many people would feel this way.

Last week, a large-scale British government review of Higher Education was concluded and from that came a key recommendation: that university fees in the UK should be reduced to £7500 per year. They currently stand at around £9250 per year.

This recommendation doesn’t doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion.

Say, for instance, that you listen to your teachers in school, work hard and, despite all challenges that may come your way as a high-school student (domestic upheaval, working part time jobs, helping with the raising of siblings, etc.), you get good grades on your exams and go to uni (and get the recommended master’s degree, which employers now say is needed to get higher pay) – well, you’ll probably be saddled with debts in excess of £50,000, which you could be paying back well into your 60s.

Choose to drop-out of school and become unemployed, however, and here’s some benefits you can expect to receive:

Britain’s welfare system is so good that it even pays child benefit for almost anyone who raises a child in the UK. The current rate stands at £20.70 per week for an eldest or only child, and £13.70 per additional child.

All of this money, of course, comes from the taxpayer.

Whilst the intentions behind this system are that people who find themselves in difficult financial situations are helped out, some would argue that the system causes more problems than it solves.

Take Amber Rudd, the U.K. Work and Pensions Secretary, who admitted in February that it is the welfare state – created to prevent hunger and destitution – that is now actively causing it, with the shortcomings of the system responsible for increasing the number of Britons who are reliant on food banks to feed their families.

It’s the old ‘learned helplessness’ dogma in action, with devastating consequences. This pattern; of state welfare creating reliance and reinforcing the problem it’s intended to solve, has been noticed in other countries too. In a number of papers, including a large scale June 2008 American study in which the effects of “promoting employment and reducing dependenceon low-income children’s time-use was investigated, for instance, a positive correlation between parental employment and the achievement of low-income children was discovered.

Dependence vs rewards

But if dependence results in more misery for people, then why make students dependent on government grants for their university education?

That’s a good question, and for me I think it can be answered with the argument of rewards vs sanctions.

As teachers, we reward our students for good behaviour, effort and academic achievement, and we know from extensive research that rewards work better than sanctions when motivating students to achieve.

In other words, if you want a particular behavior to be repeated, then you reward that behaviour.

Whilst the British welfare system is designed to help those in need, it can be exploited rather easily. Take the hypothetical situation of a high school student who chooses to drop out of school and stay unemployed. That young person will probably be entitled to housing benefit, jobseeker’s and child benefit if his/her kids are involved too.

Stay in school and go to uni, however, and you’ll be rewarded with debt, and lots of it. You may even be paying off that debt well into later life.

I believe that if tax pounds were redirected from certain state benefits and funneled into higher education grants for struggling students (including living expenses), we would see a much greater motivation for children and young adults to work hard at school.

Conclusion

Any education system should reward those who put in the necessary time and effort to revise hard and pass their exams. I would argue that forcing students into astronomical amounts of debt is actually a form of punishment for making the ‘right’ choices in life.

Whilst there are ways around the system (my sister recently completed a degree with the Open University for example), one has to sacrifice considerable time to achieve the goal of getting a degree, debt free, in the UK. My sister was 26 when she graduated, for instance.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below.

Secret Number 5: Run an ECA (Why, What and How)

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

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.

Me as an Army Cadet, aged 14

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.

An AMAZING Book!

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?

Anything that’s:

  • Fun
  • Modern
  • Useful
  • Active

Good ECA types include:

  • Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
  • Gaming (e.g. retro computer gaming, chess, battleships, 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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Secret Number 4: Use Positive, Specific Feedback

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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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

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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 out edX for 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.

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“An AMAZING book!”

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.

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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 week I 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.

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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”

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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:

  • Written comments
  • Verbally – very memorable and effective
  • Via e-mail
  • Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
  • By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
  • Certificates and awards
  • Assemblies
  • 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.

Further reading

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power

The Four Rules of Praise

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News: Schoolgirl Put in Isolation 240 Times

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m experimenting with a new format and schedule for my blog, and I hope that it will make my content even more interesting and useful for my readers (that’s the plan anyway!).

Every mid-week I’ll give my synopsis of a current education-related news story, along with my regular ‘teaching tips’ blog post on a Sunday. That’s two blog posts per week from now on.

This week I want to discuss my thoughts on a BBC News story that broke this week – that a schoolgirl in England had been sent to the ‘isolation room’ at her school at least 240 times since Year 7 (Grade 6).

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What’s an ‘isolation room’ anyway?

It’s a place where the naughty kids are sent, basically. If the teacher feels that a student is being so disruptive that their behavior is affecting the learning of other students, then some schools will allow the teacher to send that kid to the isolation room.

Many UK schools have isolation rooms. They’re designed to be quiet places where kids can sit and do work, often supervised by a special ‘isolation room monitor’ (who is normally a fully qualified teacher too).

Many prominent figures in UK education support the idea of isolation rooms. Take Tom Bennet, author of The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers, who has stated that using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, spent very little time actually working in a school.”

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Well, Tom, I’ve spent many years working in schools (and yes, I worked in the UK in a school with an isolation room), and I can tell you: I don’t support this strategy at all.

Let me tell you why.

1. They’re too easy to use

I remember working in North Wales at school with an isolation room over a decade ago. I had a teenage girl in one of my classes who had spent 50% of a previous half-term in the isolation room. She missed a lot of school, and the resources in the isolation room were not up to scratch to match the curriculum she was following.

As a newbie back then I found the isolation room very supportive: if a kid played up I could just send him or her to the room. I filled in a slip and off the kid went.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

I found myself giving up on students at the first instance of misbehavior. This was especially true if a kid had a history of being sent out to isolation. If everyone else is sending this kid there, then I can do it too!

It became too easy to send kids out, and I didn’t like who I was becoming. I hated myself for it, to be honest, and I decided ‘no more’.

The next time that girl was chatty in class and a little disruptive was when we were learning about the extraction of chlorophyll from a leaf. Instead of sending her out, I got her involved.

“Come and help me”

She came and used the Bunsen Burner to heat up the solution. Everyone clapped. She felt empowered.

lab girls

I‘ve written tirelessly about the importance of making our students feel important and valued. It’s a core principle of good behavior management and overall student training. Isolation rooms completely subvert this solid fact and principle, and tend to cause more problems than they solve (such as leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in some cases, which we see in this particular case with the girl in the BBC report).

2. When is enough, enough?

After 240 times of being sent to the isolation room, one would have thought that someone in the school with at least two brain cells to rub together would have realized that the isolation room strategy isn’t working for this student.

What about counseling? Discussions with parents? Teacher-meetings to discuss strategies for this student? Extra time to complete homework? Collective praise when this girl did something great?

There are many ways to solve long-term poor behavior. Sending students to an isolation room is not the answer.

3. Since when did UK schools become prisons for kids?

With the advent of compulsory schooling in 1880, followed by fines for parents who didn’t send their kids to school beginning in 2004, and then later the advent of isolation rooms, one sees a rather grim picture emerging.

School is supposed to be a happy place for children. A place where they learn new skills and become better people. A place where they mature into adults.

When schools become like prisons, however, with more and more power being taken away from parents as the years pass, one wonders if home-schooling shouldn’t become more pervasive.

chatting in class

In the UK, parents can home-school their kids provided that they have permission from the school headteacher. However, government inspectors can make an informal visit and can serve a ‘school attendance order’ if they feel that the child is not receiving an adequate education.

Maybe homeschooling would have worked with this girl? Maybe it wasn’t feasible.

4. IEPs need to be considered

Sophie, the schoolgirl mentioned in the BBC article, had selective mutism and didn’t start speaking until she was 8-years-old. She also had autism.

Surely she would have had an IEP in place (an Individual Education Plan). Did this document recommend that she be sent to the isolation room every day from January to mid-March, as the BBC report states?

I very much doubt it.

What we learn from this story is that IEPs need to be well-designed and shared, proactively, with every teacher in the school. That means reading them, discussing them, and coming up with strategies as a team.

Isn’t that what INSET days could be used for?

Q & A

Isolation rooms should be banned

I am of the opinion that isolation rooms should be banned in schools. Put the kids on detention – yes. Send them to a senior manager. Phone home. Allow extra time for homework. Meet with parents. Use collective strategies.

But don’t let a kid spend half a term, each and every day, and all day every day, in an isolation room with poor-quality work to complete (and poor-quality guidance).

Schools are not prisons. Schools are supposed to be happy places where kids learn things.

If schools can’t achieve this, then give the kids back to their parents. They can probably do a better job.

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Secret number 1: Have a genuine interest in the lives of your students

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here

Youth is a time when so many things are happening, both positive and negative. Young people at high school are involved in a range of human-relationship dynamics which involve family, school, friends and the people associated with their hobbies or interests.

Humans are full of energy at this time, and the interconnections between the life of a student both inside and outside of the classroom create opportunities for us to channel this energy positively and:

• Build trust
• Use humour within lessons
• Create a sense of importance and empowerment in our students
• Offer guidance and support to students with difficulties
• Create an environment of cooperation and compliance
• Encourage our students to formulate their own learning goals
• Personalise our lessons

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Becky’s story

Becky was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work.

One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. Josh, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Becky immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

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In Josh’s next physics lesson, Becky was teaching the class about forces and motion. As Josh entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked Josh how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms Becky mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?”. Josh said “sure”.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms Becky asked for Josh to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms Becky asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humour and good teaching practice, she said “So using Josh’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be”?

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like Josh did, which Ms Becky responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall.

At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Becky allowed her students the opportunity to sign Josh’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

This example demonstrates the power that taking an interest in your students can have on the quality of a lesson.

Let’s examine what Becky did that made this lesson (and her rapport, or relationship with her students, so special):

• Becky used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
• Becky shows a sincere care and concern for her student
• Becky was genuinely interested in the life of her student outside of the classroom (as she was with all of her students)
• Becky uses student experiences and ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks Josh to talk to the class about what had happened)
• Becky is tasteful in her humour, and she makes sure that Josh is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
• Becky rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign Josh’s plaster cast. Not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole.

Conclusion

It was the great John Steinbeck himself who said that “And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule – a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar”. If you and I are to build positive relationships with our students, then we need to try and make our lessons deeply personal and familiar, and show a genuine interest in our students.

Building rapport begins and ends with showing a sincere, professional attentiveness to our students and if we are to be good classroom managers, then the first thing we must do is establish a good rapport with our kids.

Using Verbal Feedback: The Ugly Truth

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

NEW: Second Edition of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management’ available on Amazon now! Purchase the book here. 

YouTube video accompanying this article

I started my conquest to save my ‘marking time’ when I moved to Thailand, back in 2008.

Starting out as a relatively new teacher in one of Bangkok’s most prestigious international schools, I was first struck by the fact that expectations were very high and students, parents and line-managers required the very highest levels of service.

Feedback, being a key game-changer when it comes to student performance, has always been a personal priority of mine. However, I have always wrestled with the problem of giving high quality feedback without sacrificing too much of my free time.

This was a difficult balance to control at first.

The fresh-faced Richard in 2008 (who didn’t need to use as much facial moisturizer, or drink as much green tea, to look young back then) would respond to the school’s ethos of promoting excellence by taking home piles and piles of student work every weekend and covering every page with red-inked scribble after scribble.

The kids would get their work back and the process would repeat itself the following weekend.

It just wasn’t sustainable, and life became a struggle, rather than a happy experience (which is what life should be, when designed properly by the person living it).

Shortly after this I vented my concerns in the staff room. One of my colleagues suggested doing more peer-assessment, and that was a real life-changer for me.

I’ve written a separate blog-post about peer-assessment here (highly recommended if you’re struggling to cope with your marking workload).

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An AMAZING Book!

After putting peer-assessment and self-assessment strategies into place for a few years, I then learnt about the idea of giving ‘verbal feedback’. The idea was to simply sit with each student, talk with them about their work and write ‘Verbal feedback given’, ‘VF’ or even stamp the work with a special ‘Verbal feedback given’ stamp. No need to physically ‘mark’ the work.

It sounded great in theory – the teacher saves time and the student gets good feedback.

After 10 years of actively seeking the best verbal feedback methods, however, I’ve discovered the ugly truth about verbal feedback: that it is not as simple as it seems to be.

So make a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy the ride as I tell you the ‘iron rules’ of using verbal feedback with your students.

#1 – The stamp is useless, unless it’s followed up

The idea of stamping a student’s work after having given some verbal feedback is a nice one for teachers – it means that we cut down on our marking dramatically. However, what we’re not told is that any feedback we give is useless unless the student actually remembers the feedback that was given.

Try this – stamp a student’s work with ‘Verbal feedback given’, and then 3 months later ask that same student: “What did I tell you to improve for this piece of work”.

Most students will only be able to remember a few things, if any.

This is why, crucially, we must tell the student to write down the verbal feedback we have given, with a different colored pen (or using a different colored font/style if it’s ICT based) immediately after we’ve given the feedback.

When we force our students to delineate the feedback we have verbally given them, we ensure that they:

  • Have to think carefully about the feedback we gave (i.e. process the information)
  • Remember the information (because by processing and thinking about the feedback, this will automatically create cognitive associations and memory)

One of my favorite quotes from a pedagogical book is this one:

Memory is the residue of thought

 Daniel Willingam, ‘Why Students Don’t Like School’, Jossey-Bass (2010)

So we must get our students to remember their verbal feedback, and one great way to do this is to make sure they write it down. Always collect their work in (again) to check that they have actually done this.

#2 – Combine ‘Live Marking’ with Verbal Feedback

Do you know what ‘Live Marking’ is? – it’s real-time marking done in-class, as opposed to at home. There are two main ways to do “Live Marking’:

  • Walk around the class with a colored pen in-hand and mark the students’ work as they are doing it
  • Call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and ‘live mark’ their work in front of them

I wrote a whole article about ‘Live Marking’ here. You may also like this video I made.

It is also possible to combine verbal feedback with ‘Live Marking’. Try these ideas:

  • As you are walking around the class and giving verbal feedback to your students, why not train your students to write ‘Mr Rogers told me this……(use your name, obviously!)” in their books, so that they record the feedback you’ve given them?
  • Again, call the students to you desk one-at-a-time and look through the work with them. Point out areas of strength and weakness. Get each student to write down what you have said in a different color.

Using this technique brings a number of benefits: you build up rapport with your students, save time when marking and you provide high-quality feedback that the students will remember.

#3 – Give reasons for the feedback

Students need to know why they need to improve, not just what to improve.

Always tell your students why – “It’s really important that you make your diagrams large and neat because in the exam the examiner needs to be able to clearly see every piece of apparatus”

By giving reasons we allow our students to see the ‘bigger picture’ – the final destination. This can, when used frequently by a range of teachers in the child’s life, allow the student to formulate goals for the future.

Conclusion

Verbal feedback must be internalized – students must process the feedback they have been given. Get them to write down what you have told them. Write questions in their books for them to answer. Check that this has been done.

It is important to remember that it is still necessary to use ‘traditional’ marking from time to time: e.g. when marking large tests and when collecting in books. Students still do need some acknowledgement for their efforts with encouraging comments, but these do not need to be strewn throughout every page of the notebooks.

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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

shake-hands

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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Tips for Organising Homework

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student. 

That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations. 

Explaining

I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me. 

That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.

With UKEdChat

I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was. 

“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”

She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”

That felt good. 

award

Juggling many things at once

Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.

I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.

I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:

  • I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
  • Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
  • The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all

So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!

discussion-mother-and-daughter

So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.

Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returning timetable

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).

Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.

always learn

And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.

Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:

Homework setting, marking and receiving timetable

Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish. 

Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals

Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:

  • They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
  • They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
  • The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
  • They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
  • Students receive quick, effective feedback
  • Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal. 

So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
  • Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.

25 MARCH

  • Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
  • Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:

learning-journal-system2

  • I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:

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  • The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students

In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific. 

Strategy #3: Live marking

‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.

I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:

I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.

Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.

work overload

You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.

As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:

  1. Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around. 
  2. For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too). 
  3. Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.

I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniques hereSome general advice on giving feedback can be found here.

Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:

Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark. 

At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.

teaching with laptop

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.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

discussing-homework

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.

Self-Assessment

Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overview by 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

self-assessment

Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.

There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:

  • Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
  • Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
  • Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class. 
  • Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot – great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods. 

Class Q and A

Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’

Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.

Intangibles include:

  • Revising for tests and quizzes
  • ‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
  • Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
  • Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students. 

Conclusion

Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:

  • Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
  • Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
  • Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
  • Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
  • Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them

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