The organizing of homework can be a real nightmare, especially for inexperienced teachers.
I was no exception.
I thought I knew it all when I got my first teaching job in North Wales, at 23-years-old. However, I soon found it a real challenge to….
Set homework regularly
Remember to collect homework in
Mark homework promptly
Return it to the the kids and………..
…… the real killer – dealing with kids who didn’t hand-in their homework on time
I used to be one of those teachers who would deal with each of the above five challenges separately: not realizing that they are, in fact, very intimately connected – the way we set homework, for example, affects the frequency at which it is handed-in.
Using this holistic approach to the management of homework I’ve discovered a few simple techniques to get our students compliant with regards to handing it in. I’ve also discovered some ways to make up for any gaps in knowledge that arise when work hasn’t been done on-time.
So buckle up, grab a coffee and make some notes (that’s your homework for this week, by the way)!
Homework busting tip #1 – have some lenience (the first time)
Having too-strict an approach can cause major problems for you and your students. Whilst I’ve never, ever heard the classic ‘the dog ate my homework’, kids can and do:
Leave their homework at home by accident
Write the homework on paper and lose the paper
Submit it electronically but lose the work/forget to save it
Our kids are learning basic organizational skills, and we must understand that. Don’t be too strict. Allow another day to hand it in. However, if homework lateness becomes persistent then……..
Homework busting tip #2 – give a detention
It’s not nice for the teacher or the student (you lose your free time and so does the kid), but it’s definitely worth it. We simply can’t allow our students to fall behind.
I wrote some months ago about theeffective use of detentions. I mentioned that detentions must always have a distinct purpose. In the case of a ‘homework detention’, the purpose isn’t to punish the kid – the detention time should be used for the student to complete the missing homework.
When detentions for homework lateness are used to complete the homework, there’s a sense of fairness in it all – you’re doing this because you care about the student and you want him/her to understand the concepts being covered in the homework.
When this approach is consistently applied, you’ll soon find that kids will hand-in their homework. They don’t want to sit in a detention just as much as you don’t want to supervise it.
Homework busting tip #3 – use recurring homework tasks
Set homework on the same day/days each week. Collect it in on the same day/days each week. It really is that simple.
This builds a routine into your schedule and your kids’ schedules, making it less likely that they will forget about their homework.
When I first started teaching I would get my KS3 students (11-14 years old) to actually write, on the first page of their notebooks, their homework schedule:
“I will receive homework every Monday. I will hand-in my homework every Thursday”
…..or whatever their schedule was.
You may also want to consider using a Learning Journals system with your kids (read more about that here).
Homework busting tip #4 – share the news with key colleagues
Have you got some kids who consistently don’t hand homework in on-time? Share that info with the kids tutor/homeroom teacher. He/she can contact parents and reinforce your message – that homework must be completed on-time.
Homework busting tip #5 – contact parents
For consistent offenders it may be necessary to call parents as ask them to come into school for a chat. However, the conversation you have must be dealt with very delicately.
The aim of such a parent-meeting should be to find solutions to the problem of incomplete homework. You may want to discuss:
The difficulty of the homework being set
The student’s schedule and ways in which time can be set aside for homework completion
Things that you can do to support the student
With a relentless and consistent approach you’ll soon find that even the ‘toughest nuts’ can be cracked.
Homework busting tip #6 – offer support and help
Some students are simply too shy to ask their teachers for help. We must combat this.
When you set a piece of homework, make it clear to the students that they can see you for help between now and the deadline. Tell them that it is your pleasure to help them: that you’re happy to help them when they get stuck.
Crucially, tell your students exactly when you’re available to help. You may be busy on Tuesday lunchtime, but after-school on a Wednesday you’ll be in your room doing marking so your students can see you then.
When we encourage our students to seek help from us we are showing them that we care, and that we are approachable. It also solves the classic excuse you’ll get – “I couldn’t do my homework because I didn’t understand the questions”. Really? If you didn’t understand the homework, then why didn’t you come to see me for help like I told you to?
When we are supportive and open to offering help then there’s no ‘hiding place’ for our students.
I’ve written a number of blog posts that deal with the subject of homework. You may find them useful:
Before I give my general tips on how to reduce your workload as a teacher, please remember that if you are facing extreme pressure from work (e.g. unrealistic deadlines), then you MUST tell your line-manager. If nothing gets done about it, and you’re facing long-term unsustainable pressure, then simply leave: life is too precious to be bullied around by people who want to crack the whip but don’t realize that you are a human and you need down-time.
For the rest of us, here are some tips to help us reduce our general workload:
1. Do more peer and self-assessment
You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times, but it’s at the top of the list because it’s one of the best ways to keep your marking down to a minimum. Besides, the benefits of peer and self-assessment go way beyond the reduction of workload:
Peer-assessment encourages “student involvement and ownership of learning”, and self-assessment “encourages students to critically reflect on their learning progress” (The Center for Education Innovation of Hong Kong [Online])
Both self and peer- assessment Focus “on the development of students’ judgment skills.” (the University of Sydney [Online])
But we don’t need the experts to tell us that peer and self-assessment are both really cool. Experience shows teachers that both techniques are simply a very efficient way to get our marking done, whilst reinforcing the concepts tested in the assignment being marked.
I know that some people will say “but what if the students cheat?” – that’s why we reserve teacher-driven marking for big final-assessments and tests, and coursework.
Besides, in my experience, when self and peer-assessment are done properly, it’s actually very hard for the kids to cheat.
Here are my top 3 tips for peer and self-assessment:
Make sure you have an official mark-scheme/set of answers ready for those kids to use. I would advise against projecting the answers on the whiteboard and going through each question one-at-a-time: that just takes ages, and kids always have disputes and questions. Print the mark scheme or distribute it electronically.
Sit at your desk, or at an accessible point in the classroom, and let the students come and see you if they have a doubt about how many marks to award to a question, or what the correct answer is. Don’t walk around the classroom and help the kids – it’ll drive you crazy and is very inefficient.
Always insist that the students write the final mark/percentage at the top/front of the assignment – this will make your data-entry easy. Also, make sure you collect the work in after the peer/self-assessment and just have a quick glance though it – perhaps focusing on those questions where common misconceptions are likely to crop-up. This has the added benefit of deterring student-cheating: the kids know you have collected in the work after they have marked it.
2. Use ‘Live Marking’
Live marking is a brilliant and simple technique that I picked up far too late in my teaching career. It would have saved me many a late-night had I have conceived of it earlier.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it isrelevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it issincere, specific and collective(tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
My PGCE year was like a year of absolute hell. I thought I was ready to be a teacher before I embarked on the year-long course. I wasn’t.
I was kicked into shape, lesson-by-lesson, with merciless feedback from every lesson observation along the way (i.e. every lesson I taught). One day it got so bad that I wanted to walk out.
I didn’t, thankfully, and fourteen years later I’m still doing the job that I believe I was put on this planet to do: to help young people as best as I can.
I need to be a little merciless in this blog post. I need to tell you the unadulterated truth: not a fairy tale of what should make you better at your job, but the real stuff that actually matters. The stuff that changes everything.
These 5 tips are simple to do, but not easy to do. They take effort and will make you squirm at first. But they will work. They will change everything: guaranteed.
1. Get out of bed a lot earlier
I like to set my alarm clock to go off at 5 am. This gives me 2 hours before I have to leave for school.
That’s golden time.
I must admit, it’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
I set my alarms to ring so that I have to get out of bed to switch them off. I used to put them across the room, but now I put them in another room altogether.
When those alarms go off there are days when I feel like a total zombie – that’s the only adjective that accurately describes how I feel. My face is puffed up, my head hurts and my muscles ache. I can’t even walk properly.
But stumble, I do, to my dining table, where I sometimes sit in a daze for fifteen minutes or so. I will not climb back into bed – I’ve done that too many times in the past and paid for it severely.
You see, I used to be the ‘snoozer loser’ – the guy who kept pressing snooze multiple times because he was so exhausted. It made me wake up late, rush a shower, skip breakfast, arrive at school late and start my day in a big mood.
My body wasn’t physiologically ready for a day at school when I was a snoozer. My nervous system wasn’t ready. My head wasn’t ready.
Then, one night, there was a big thunderstorm in Bangkok. It was so loud and magnificent that I watched it on my balcony in amazement. When I tried to sleep that night I simply couldn’t. It was too loud. I decided ‘Forget it, I’ll just stay up’.
Bored and frustrated, I decided to pass the time in the early hours of that morning by ironing my clothes, reading through and modifying my lesson plans for the day and writing a list of tasks/goals for the rest of the week. I had some breakfast too.
That was an amazing morning because, despite my lack of sleep, I was more ready for my day ahead than any other day prior to that in my career. I knew exactly what my kids would be learning. I knew exactly what I had to do that day. I had time to prepare resources. Hell, I even had resources uploaded to the VLE in advance of the lessons for that day.
Since that fateful night I’ve snoozed once or twice, but that’s it. I’ve been up early and ready for the day ahead on almost every occasion since.
If you only take one tip from this blog post today, then take this one: when you’re up early and fresh you’ll be more prepared for the school day than the overwhelming majority of your colleagues.
Your students will notice the difference immediately.
Note: It’s worth getting intimate with your sleep-cycles/circadian rhythms. The experts say that adults should get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night, but this varies from individual to individual. I know, for example, that if I only get 6 hours of sleep for several nights in a row then I won’t be able to function properly by day 3. I know that my body must have 8 hours of sleep per night, so I make sure I’m in bed early enough to get that.
I told you these tips weren’t easy. But this one is definitely simple, for sure.
The strange thing about exercise is that it defies logic in it’s effects. When I wake up feeling like a zombie, for example, one would think that a 20-minute run around the streets would be a stupid idea – I’ll just be using tons of energy when I’m already exhausted.
It doesn’t work like that, however. After that 20 minute run/jog/walk (yes, sometimes I need to walk-out the last km or so), I feel fresher than ever. A cold shower afterwards really serves to electrify my nervous system too.
Things went to the next level when I joined a gym, however. I currently train at Fitness First, here in Thailand, around 4-5 times a week. It’s expensive, I’ll admit, but I found that to be a good motivator: “I’ve paid so much for this damn gym membership that I’ll have to go, otherwise it’ll be a total waste of money”.
As my body has become stronger, faster, leaner and more flexible over the years I have found that the same effects have happened to my mental faculties: I can think faster, clearer and stronger. I can recall information more quickly than when I was the lazy-NQT who never went to the gym.
I hate to tell you the bold truth, but if your body is out of shape then you’re going to get ill more often than if you were in-shape. Your mind is also not going to function as effectively, which will definitely have an impact on your teaching.
The photograph shows me at the gym today. I like to do a mix of boxing, cardio and weight training.
3. Give equal focus to relationships and techniques
Teaching techniques (such as differentiation and quick starters) are important, but they lose their effectiveness if a good rapport/connection is not present between you and your students. Your kids have to like working with you, and they have to enjoy the subject, in order for you to be an effective teacher.
Try using the following techniques to build-up this essential rapport (links to separate articles given in the list):
Parents are our allies, not our enemies (most of the time).
I truly believe that the parental domain is not being explored enough by schools, as it can be a really powerful outlet for a number of benefits:
Sharing praise with parents can reinforce the love for your subject and your teaching style at home
Sharing points for improvement/disappointments (in a polite and respectful way) can sometimes cure a problem before it grows into something bigger
Parents often have a lot of skills and contacts that they can bring to the school, offering new opportunities for your students
I’ve recently seen the massive power that working with parents can have on my students.
I run a CREST Award ECA after school every week, and one of my students is now on her Gold Award. A big problem, however, is that she needed a university mentor to help her with her biochemistry project.
In a chance conversation with a parent at our school’s coffee shop, I discovered that another CREST Award student in Year 7 was getting access to lab time on weekends at a local university. I found out that his mum had a professional relationship with a team of scientists here in Thailand.
After liaising with this parent over the course of a few weeks we finally got the green light to go along and see a famous scientist in his lab. The result of all this:
My school now has a professional connection with a great university
We have a mentor for my CREST Award student
The university will send staff and resources to our school to support our Science Week and STEM day
Our CREST students will be visiting the university in the very near future
And all of that from just one parent! The gratitude for her help goes through the roof for this.
I wrote a separate blog post about working with parents here (well worth a read)
5. Plan everything
It sounds easy and I apologize if it’s a little patronizing, but not every teacher plans their lessons in-advance. This is especially the case for the ‘snoozer losers’, of which I was once an active member.
Please see my video and blog post about efficient lesson planning for more in-depth tips.
When planning lessons, think about:
The long-term plan for this class (where they should be in three months time, for example)
The location of the students at different points in the lesson (will you bring them to the front? Where will groups sit? How will you assign groups?)
Exam-level students face unique challenges that we, as teachers, can often forget. They have to deal with:
Learning the techniques that work for them
Becoming organized in their revision
The stress and pressure of having to perform in exams that will follow them for the rest of their lives
Domestic pressures – expectations from parents, the responsibility of looking after siblings and, in some cases, the need to complete a part-time job
So what can we do to help our exam-level students achieve success?
1. Tell them WHAT to revise
All exam boards have ‘specifications’, ‘syllabuses’ or ‘Course Guides’. These are usually documents aimed at helping teachers deliver the course correctly, but there’s no reason why students can’t have these documents too.
Consider doing the following:
Share the official syllabus for your course with your students. You can print it, share it on a VLE (such as Google Classroom) or even just provide the URL if the syllabus is available for free online
Many syllabuses contain unnecessary information for students (e.g. objectives of the course and key objectives). Extract the course content from the syllabus and turn it into a ‘kid-friendly’ revision list for the students to follow when revising.
2. Tell them HOW to revise
Many students require years of experience to discover their preferred (and most efficient) style of revision. For me, I found that dictating my notes to myself and playing them through my earphones when I lay in bed at night was effective, but this might not work for everyone.
Students really need a ‘menu’ of techniques to try out, but how often do schools actually provide this menu? How often is new technology taken into account? How often are students invited to share their best revision techniques with their peers?
Consider doing the following:
Hold a ‘committee meeting’ style gathering with your exam-level students. Sit them together in groups to share their ideas with each other about how to revise for tests and exams. Swap the groups around 3 or 4 times during the session, and get the students to write their techniques on the whiteboard at the end (or contribute to a Google doc).
Share what has worked for you personally when revising. Ask your colleagues to come to class and share their experiences. Get parents involved. Make it a community thing – if the ‘group mentality’ is directed towards exam success, then this will definitely rub-off on the kids.
There’s lots of great advice out there about how to revise, but we must be pro-active in sharing this advice with our students.
Good websites that deal with the subject of revision techniques include:
Success at School:Top Revision Techniques for Exams (This website deals with ‘learning styles’ which I know has kind of been ‘debunked’ by pedagogical research, but it does contain a very useful infographic that summarizes the key revision techniques really well)
For the interest of educators the BBC has also produced an excellent report in which revision techniques areranked by effectiveness(well worth a read).
3. Tell them the BAD HABITS to avoid
When students know what to revise and how to revise, they often think that they now have every tool in their toolbox and are ‘ready for action’. This is a delusion.
There are negative influences, habits and distractions that can really mess-up even the most conscientious of students, and we must warn our learners about them. These bad habits include:
Procrastination: when students are revising from home during holidays or study-leave time, it can be very tempting for them to watch online videos or play computer games more frequently than they should be. For some students it’s better for them to get out of the house and go somewhere public (e.g. the school library) where they can’t take a nap and can’t get distracted as easily as they would at home.
Relationships and hormones: the ugly truth of this one needs to be revealed. Teenage sweethearts/lovers can lead to massive distraction on the run-up to exams. This is a delicate issue to deal with as a teacher, but I personally think it’s important to talk with individuals who are in teenage relationships and politely remind them that they have to be focused on their exams at this time, and not on each other so much. I’ll leave it there.
Sleep: It’s a balancing act. Students need enough sleep, but not too much. During school holidays and study-leave, many students fall into the habit of waking up late and messing up their sleeping cycles/circadian rhythms. This can lead to low productivity. I always teach my students the ‘Up Early and Out’ rule: get up early and go out to somewhere where you physically can’t nap during the day. The school library, a local library or even a coffee shop can be good options.
Bad habits can destroy our students’ chances when revising for exams. We must tell them the negative behaviors to avoid, along with the positive actions to implement.
4. Tell them how to make a REVISION TIMETABLE
Even the very best students: those that know how to revise, what to revise and what habits to avoid, can get completely messed up by not being organized.
First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans, then transformation of those plans into reality.– Napoleon Hill
Organization is the key to exam success. Students should be starting their revision well in advance of their final exams (around 5 months works best). They should be sub-dividing their days into sessions, with each session focussing on a specific topic area.
A good revision timetable should include:
Enough sessions to cover each topic twice
A variety of subjects each day
Skewed weighting in favor of the what the student is weakest at (i.e more time spent on reviewing weak topics than reinforcing strong topics)
Practice questions, exam-style questions and lots of past-paper practice for each subject they are taking.
Below you will see a great video about how to create a revision timetable (created by a student). Feel free to share this with your students:
5. Show students WHERE to find past-papers and which specification they are following
In my work as a Science Teacher and home-tutor over the past 12 years, I’ve met too many exam-level students who simply do not know:
The exact exam-board and exams they are taking
Exactly where to find the past-papers for their exams
A lot of exam boards (but not all) provide their past-papers for free (e.g. BMAT and Edexcel). Share the URLs with your students, or share the papers via a VLE.
Crucially: encourage your students to complete past-papers under timed conditions. Four example, if paper 1 mathematics is 1 hour long, then make sure your students know that they should time themselves for one hour when doing the past-paper at home for revision.
Consider the ‘Multiple Mock Exam (MME)’ rule too: why just have one mock exam? For my IBDP Chemistry students, for example, mock number 2 (in class) has traditionally happened in February. Mock number 3 in March. Finals in April/May.
MME can really help students to get used to the rigour of the exams, as well as the command terms language and time-constraints.
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On one sunny afternoon in the newly-built science labs at St. Richard Gwyn RC High School, Flint, he called me to the back of the class to discuss my progress in the subject. This was a strategy that was being implemented school-wide, with every ‘A2’ – Level student (we were in our final year of high school).
Dr. Curry must have made me think that day because I remember what he said:
“You’re still waffling too much in exam questions, Richard, but it’s better than when you were doing GCSEs”
I hope I won’t waffle too much in this blog post.
Thought results in memory
Daniel Willingham sums up what I experienced best in possibly one of the most influential texts on pedagogy out there: ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’:
Memory is the residue of thought
This quote often comes up in my thoughts as I go about my day as a teacher. I think about the thousands of lessons I was taught as a kid in primary and secondary school. In terms of content, I think I can remember upwards of 70% (as proven by my exam scores over the years). In terms of impressions and actually thinking back to a specific lesson and ‘remembering’ what happened: that’s got to be less than 1%.
Dr Curry’s analysis got me thinking about myself, and how I had evolved as a student over the years. It was a good tip, and it helped, but is there a way to make a one-to-one meeting like this even more specific (and is it beneficial)?
Command terms frequency analysis
Whole-class feedback can be powerful, especially when there are obvious patterns of weakness showing-up. This is where an early-technique of mine can be really helpful: analyzing the command terms in different tests and assessments.
Command terms are those words that tell you what to do in a question. Examples include:
What I found helpful in the early part of my career was counting the command terms used in different tests, and then seeing which students scored poorly in tests where a clear skew of command terms was apparent. This gave me some means of specific advice that I could pass on to my learners:
If we look at the table above, for example, we can see that the different tests contain different numbers of command terms. Let’s say that I have a student: ‘Student A’, and Student A does okay in test 1 in November; as expected in the December test, but slumps in the January test. What does a teacher do in that situation and why has this happened?
As we can see from the frequency analysis above, it may not be the case that Student A simply didn’t revise enough (a common misconception that teachers have).
We see that the January test required many more explanations and calculations that any of Student A’s previous tests, and her poor score could just be because she hasn’t had enough practice in completing these kinds of questions.
Armed with this kind of data, teachers can have very meaningful and powerful one-to-one conversations with students: highlighting specific areas of weakness and providing guidance on how to best tackle specific command terms.
This process can be a little tedious, however, and focuses only on skills (not content).
So……..is there a way to make this process better?
Thankfully, the answer is yes!: it’s called Question Level Analysis or QLA.
Students assess, think, share and discuss: productive QLA
Taking the command terms frequency analysis to the next level (which is a great ‘whole-class snapshot tool’) we can now get the students to analyse their own responses to specific questions and then think carefully about how to fix any problems they’ve had (creating memory in the process).
The method I like to use (because of its simplicity and ‘hands-on’ approach for the students) is as follows:
Share an editable spreadsheet with all of your students (such as a Google Sheet®). Make sure the command terms are filled in for each column heading.
Get your students to fill in their names and colour in the boxes with a colour that recognizes levels of understanding (e.g. green, amber and red)
You could do this as a ‘per test’ format or cumulatively over the course of a year, examination course or even the entirety of a child’s schooling:
4. Pair the students up (or group them) according to weakness-matching. For example, student B can help student G with the calculations questions, and student G can help student B with the ‘describe’ questions.
5. Once the kids are paired up, give them the chance to explain to each other how to answer the specific questions that they scored poorly on. Ideally, this should be done before any mark-scheme or model answer sheet is given to the students, as this will cause deep-thinking to take place, which should result in secure memory of the concepts being learned in the process.
6. Rotate students around a few times: this will get those who’ve just learned something new to teach it to another student (you’ll have to explain this concept to the class)
6. Once the process has finished, feel free to give the mark-schemes to the students: they’ll need them when doing their own revision before the final exams. Sometimes students make messy notes when they are peer-teaching each other like this, so be sure to tell them to keep their corrections tidy and clear as they’ll need to refer to them as part of their revision at some point in the future.
Teacher actions during the QLA process of peer-teaching
Sit-in on different pairs of students and listen to how the conversations are going
Call individual pairs to your desk and ask probing questions about areas of weakness
Mark questions in front of the students in cases where complete misunderstanding has taken place
Sit with very weak students and provide extra-guidance
A possible twist: pair some very strong students up and get them to create a website, blog or infographic that teaches all of the students the content in the exam
I’ve been fortunate enough to use QLA successfully in my teaching over the years, and I saw it in action at Harrow International School at a CPD course I went on last weekend. I can tell you firmly and confidently: it works!
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Technology is supposed to be helpful, but sometimes it makes me mad. When I can’t change the text color on a blog post because the iPad doesn’t support it, or when my PC auto-updates when all I want to do is switch it off, I find myself losing faith in the power of technology.
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.
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 at Harrow 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 herblog:
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 over450 ready-to-runVR 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.
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 this weekend:
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).
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.
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.
When I tested it this weekend at the conference 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.
EdTech is here, everyone, whether we like it or not.
I’m a big believer in using things that work: things that help. I don’t believe that technology can (or should) replace everything a teacher does traditionally (such as having a one-on-one conversation with a student), but I do believe that these apps I have mentioned have tremendous potential and should be capitalised on fully.
As always, please do be aware of how screen-time affects our students’ health (I wrote a blog-post about this here: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Childrens’ Health). I wouldn’t advise that screens be used all lesson, every lesson, but we should use these apps at appropriate times to reinforce, teach and revise key concepts.
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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?
1. Iwillprovide high-quality feedbacktoallofmy 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:
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, EduCakeand 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:
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.
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
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
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:
E–mail: 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)
Say ‘Thankyou’: 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?
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!
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Our cover teacher was late to class and we were having a right old laugh! It wouldn’t be allowed these days, but we walked into the empty chemistry lab and sat at our seats.
Some of us were chatting, some were making silly noises that inspired a raucous of laughter. We were chilling-out like pros!
Then he walked in.
As the most notorious maths teacher in the school all he had to do was walk in with a grumpy look on his face to cause instant retreat into silence.
“Oh no!” was the look that was plastered across everyone’s faces.
“Get up off your backsides!” He snarled.
We stood, and gulped, and he stared at us. He waited until absolutely everyone was paying full attention. It didn’t take long.
“You all know what you’re supposed to be doing, don’t you?”
“I can’t hear you!”
“Yes” we all synchronistically chimed.
We got on with our work without a fuss. Some of us itched with the desire to chat, but we didn’t dare to.
Fightingfire with water
This maths teacher had what only the best teachers possess: presence. One of his defining techniques was the power of waiting, or more succinctly, pausing.
Pausing provides the modern teacher with a number of distinct benefits:
It can be used as an effective behavior management tool
It can be used to make concepts and content really clear
It allows students time to articulate their answers
It generates that enchanted and mysterious teacher quality known as presence
It can increase the perceived seriousness of a situation, which may be appropriate in certain situations
It de-escalates conflict
That last point is an important one: as a new teacher all of those years ago I would often try to ‘fight fire with fire’, which almost always failed. If a class was chatty I would shout at them to calm them down (N.B. – it had the opposite effect).
Sometimes I would even shout on a one-to-one basis with individual students.
I soon learned that shouting was almost always a bad idea. It creates an atmosphere of instant negativity, and that affects everyone: even the compliant, hard-working, ‘good’ kids.
Ways to use pausing as a behavior management tool:
For whole-class low-level disruption (e.g. at the very start of a lesson, or at the end of a task), simply wait, silently. Look at the students with a look of “I’m waiting” on your face. After waiting a short-time, you can say something such as “Thank you to those who are listening, and thank you to those who are facing me. I’m still waiting for one-or-two.” Normally, in this scenario, the students will say ‘shh’ and ‘be quiet’ to each other, removing the need for the teacher to get loud and aggressive (which usually doesn’t work as a long-term strategy anyway).
At those times when you need to have a serious one-to-one talk with individuals or small groups, pausing can really have a dramatic effect and can emphasize the seriousness of the situation. A good example I can think of from my practice happened a few years ago. A group of boys had been chatting for a large part of the lesson, instead of doing the work I had assigned them. They thought I hadn’t noticed, but I had.
I called the boys to my desk at the end of the lesson and waited for them, silently, to sit and listen. I then asked to see their work, which they reluctantly gave me. I must have stared at the dismal trash that was handed to me for a good minute, not saying a word. The boys looked mortified.
”This simply isn’t good enough” I said.
”Err, sorry. Sorry sir” piped in one of them.
”We’ll hand it in tomorrow”
”Yes, you’d better, and it had better be a lot better than this” I concluded.
They left the classroom and I got that work back the next day. I said “Thank you, let’s have a fresh start next lesson”.
That’s important isn’t it – a fresh start. We all need one of those at some point in our lives.
I rarely had a problem from those boys after that. Sure, I had to reel-them-in once or twice, but generally they got on with their work because they knew I was serious, and they knew that I wanted what was best for them.
The ‘Shouting Myth’
Is it still a myth? I’m not even sure.
I, like many teachers, have found that pausing works much better than shouting, almost every single time. In fact, unless a student is in an emergency situation (e.g. about to fall down the stairs), shouting is never effective.
Here are the problems I have with shouting:
Over time, it ruins the teacher’s health. It creates internal stress that permeates the body tissues deeply. Stress is not good for us – it even accelerates the ageing process.
It immediately creates an atmosphere of negativity in the classroom, and it can be hard to flip-that later on when you have control of the kids and you want them to approach you and ask questions.
When shouting is adopted as a consistent teacher behavior, it loses its effectiveness over time. Like a drug that one has become dependent on, larger doses are needed to maintain control in the future. It’s intimidating and can make students fear you, rather than respect you.
There are many advantages of using pauses as a behavior management tool (such as avoiding the consequences I just listed above), but the main reason pausing is so effective is that it creates an atmosphere of willful clarity, where excellence is achievable and desirable, rather than mandatory and burdensome.
Pausing as an instructional tool
One obvious adavantage of pausing in an instructional context is that it allows students time to think and process information. When used effectively it can also be a great way to ‘coax’ answers and responses out of students who would otherwise be shy or disinterested (or simply too tired to focus in the moment).
Try the following techniques and watch miracles happen!:
Pause halfway when saying a key word or phrase, and coax the rest of the word from the students. “The stomach produces digestive en, en…………., enzymes! Yes, well done. Enzymes is correct”. This technique aids memory and gets kids focused on the content.
Stop part-way through a lesson and do a quick review. Bring the kids to the front of the class if you must. Ask individual students some pertinent questions. Pause and allow enough time for the students to answer.
Pause and check that the students understand what you have said thus far. “Okay, put your thumbs up if you understand everything so far. Does anyone have any questions? (Pause). Okay, in that case can I move on? Thank you.”
Did you just notice the pause after asking if anyone has any questions? That’s important isn’t it? We must pause for ‘question time’ at least once every 30 minutes. Sometimes our pace can be very fast (especially with exam-level classes) and students may not feel confident enough to ‘butt-in’ and ask questions when you are mid-sentence. Allow them time to ask. Make yourstudents feel that asking questions is a good thing, and that you are happy, veryhappy, to help when needed.
Pause between topics and sub-topics, and allow students to think for a moment. When you’re teaching at the pace of a steam-train it can become quite overwhelming for your students.
Look at your students and notice how many have finished writing their notes. Pause to allow time to finish the note-taking. If you’re not sure who’s not finished, then you can simply ask “Does anyone need more time?”.
Pausing is a very powerful technique, when it is used properly. Use pausing to:
Get your students focused and listening without being confrontational in the process
Reinforce the seriousness of a situation (e.g. when homework isn’t handed in)
Aid instruction through response ‘coaxing’, pausing for ‘question-time’, checking that students understand everything, allowing students to think between topics and subtopics and allowing adequate time for note-taking
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Key words are those vital elements of any subject that determine whether or not students…..
get the best grades in exams
understand the content properly
articulate the content effectively
master a language they are learning
Key words are essential components of subject knowledge that both native speakers and E.A.L. learners find challenging to master.
In my 13 years of teaching I have found that there are many effective ways to teach key words to students, with the techniques falling into 5 main categories:
Interactive: Games and spatial learning
Proactive: Writing frames, scaffolds and models
Teacher-driven: Vigilance in pointing out key-words and encouraging action during teacher-led instruction
Automated: through software
Documented: Through exam-paper mark schemes and model answers, and command-terms exposure and training
In today’s blog post I’ll describe (there’s a ‘command term’ to begin with!) the most effective interactive and proactive ways I have found to reinforce key vocabulary. You may have more to add to this list – please contribute to the new forum or add a comment below this post!
So, let’s begin our journey with….
There are a number of vocabulary games you can play with kids of any age. My favorites are ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’ and ‘who am I?’
This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.
Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):
Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.
Who am I?
A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. Students sit in a circle, you stick notes on their heads with key words on them, and the students explain to each other what the key words are without saying the key words.
Spatial learning can also be a great interactive method to teach key words.
There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:
Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations.
Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool for emphasizing key words.
Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:
Why not try out these great spatial learning activities with your students?:
Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food?). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.
A human graph might be the right tool for you?
And with ‘true or false’ questions – instead of getting students to put their hands-up for ‘true’, or their hands-up for ‘false’: get them to walk and move. Choose one classroom wall to be the ‘true’ wall, and one to be the ‘false’ wall, and get them to walk.
In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT
Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.
Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room.
Take the following body of text from my book, for example. How would you differentiate this so that all of the students in your class could understand and use it?:
I had a great professional development session with a group of colleagues this week. We came up with some great ways to differentiate texts, which I’ve included below. Study the images carefully: I’ve linked them to the text above.
Technique #1: The Funnel
Basically this is a filtering system where the students take all of the key words in a text and filter them down into, first, a few sentences; and then, just one sentence:
Technique #2: True or False Questions
Nice and simple and can be done in a number of ways:
Write the true or false questions yourself, and get the kids to answer them
Get the kids to write true or false questions and give them to each other (recommended for high-ability students, as this one is a little more difficult to mark/assess and takes more time and effort to complete).
Technique #3: Flow chart
Kids create a flow chart that either describes the process involved, or the reasoning behind the text. Questions can be used as connectives:
Technique #4: Fill in the blanks
This is a simple one and can be used to reinforce technical vocabulary, elements of speech (such as interjections and conjunctions) or anything else that’s important.
Technique #5: Cartoon Strip
The kids will need to be quite creative with this one, as they may need to illustrate the concepts using an actual example. Great fun, and can get quite entertaining!
There are lots of creative ways in which students can be assigned to decipher and breakdown texts. Consider these suggestions:
Stop-motion animations (takes a lot of time but acts as a great mini-project)
Drama and role-play
Infographic creation (much better than ‘make a poster’)
Make an instructional video
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I was very excited when I handed my homework to her. I was 16-years-old and a very keen GCSE Science student.
That piece of Chemistry homework took me ages to complete – a good few hours if I remember correctly. I really tried hard to write the displacement reactions neatly and clearly, and in a different colour to the explanations.
I knew my Chemistry teacher would be impressed, and I really wanted to impress her. I think that as a teacher almost two-decades later, I am mindful of the fact that my students look-up to me, and they want to impress me.
That gives me a huge task (I won’t say ‘burden’, because it’s not a burden): the task of being responsible and caring enough to give my students the feedback they deserve, in a timely manner.
I waited weeks and weeks for that Chemistry homework to get back to me. Finally I summoned up enough courage to ask her where it was.
“Oh, I am sorry, Richard. I completely forgot about it. I’ll get it back to you pronto.”
She was honest, and I respected her for that. When it did finally get back to me, she added to the written feedback (which I can’t fully remember, if I’m honest) with “Richard, I could tell that you put a lot of time and effort into that work.”
That felt good.
Juggling many things at once
Looking back on those bright and happy days as a teenager I can now see what my Chemistry teacher was suffering with – she was clearly very busy with a number of different things and my homework was low on her list of priorities at that time.
I don’t blame her or condemn her for that at all.
I’ve found myself in the same situation many times in the past, and it was all because I wasn’t organised. Here are the key mistakes I would make in my first ten years (yes, ten – it was slow learning curve!) of teaching:
I would give homework to different classes on random days each week. So, for example, Year 8 Science would get homework on a Monday one week, then on a Tuesday the week after, then maybe on a Thursday the week after that.
Since I was setting homework on random days each week, I would receive it back randomly too. This would mean that I would have ‘cluster’ days when I would get back, say, four classes of homework in a single day.
The net effect was that I couldn’t mark it as quickly or as effectively as I really wanted to, and on some days I would stay at school very late to mark it all
So, what’s the solution to all of this chaos? Well, today, I can very happily say to you that I no longer have problems with marking and returning homework. In fact, I’m almost astonished to say that it has even become an enjoyable process!
So what are these four strategies? Let’s explore them together now.
Strategy #1: Create and implement a homework setting, marking and returningtimetable
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? It wasn’t obvious to me for a very long time (granted: I am slow at learning certain things!).
Many schools will have a homework ‘timetable’ in place, but this normally only extends to the setting of homework. Even if you follow that timetable, you still need a schedule in place for the marking and returning of that homework.
And that’s another point I must make: if your school has a homework timetable in place, then please follow it! I know I’ve been very relaxed about this at certain points in my career, but I now realize that that strategy didn’t help me or my students: they would find themselves overwhelmed with homework on certain days because their teachers didn’t follow the timetable.
Here is my current setting, marking, receiving and returning timetable:
Feel free to download and enlarge the above picture and share it with colleagues if you wish.
Strategy #2: Use Learning Journals
Learning Journals are a form of ‘recurring’ homework and are very powerful because:
They quickly build routines into your students’ lives
They reinforce the importance of constant revision, reflection and reviewing of work done in class
The are cumulative, and provide a record of the work done by the student to-date
They provide an excellent revision resource prior to exams
Students receive quick, effective feedback
Students can customize the work using their own styles, colours and sequence of revision. They even get to purchase their own ‘special’ notebook for this, making the experience uniquely personal.
So, how do we implement a ‘Learning Journals system’? Here are the steps I suggest:
Students purchase their own ‘special’ notebook. A school notebook can be given to students who can’t afford this/don’t want to buy their own.
Students fill their learning journals with revision notes, past-paper questions, Mind-Maps®, summaries and exam-preparation work. Students do this every week. A page from Pop’s Learning Journal (one of the first students I piloted this technique with about 9 years ago) is given below.
Students bring their Learning Journals to class on an assigned day each week. For this academic year, my IGCSE students bring their Learning Journals to me on a Thursday, and my IBDP kids bring them on a Friday (this spreads-out my marking a bit and matches the kids’ timetables)
Students sign on a big sheet on the wall when they hand-in their Learning Journals (please see below). Please note that the following image is one year old (sorry). I now collect in my journals on a Thursday and Friday, not a Monday like it says in the photo:
I put one and only one post-it note of feedback into each learning journal each week. This keeps my feedback focused on what’s most relevant to the student, and it ensures that I don’t spend too much of my free-time marking piles of work. Please see the example below:
The process repeats itself every week, providing a clear and productive routine for myself and my students
In addition to this, I’ve turned my Learning Journals into a ‘live-marking’ recurring feedback system: I mark them in class, with the students. It means that I lose no free time, and I am able to give one-to-one feedback to each student that is meaningful and specific.
Strategy #3: Live marking
‘Live’ marking is an incredibly powerful feedback technique, but it is rarely used effectively in the teaching profession. However, with just a few tweaks our daily routines, that can change.
I’ve made a quick video that outlines the technique of ‘Live-marking’ below:
I have personally wasted so much of my free time both at school and at home marking student work. Many late nights; many lost weekends. All for nothing.
Well, not completely for nothing – at least now I’ve seen sense and can pass on my experiences to you so that you don’t go through the same pain.
You see, I now know that feedback only works if it is relevant, specific and somewhat emotional. How do we achieve this? – we must mark student work with the students. They have to be involved too.
As soon as I started doing these things, my impact skyrocketed:
Simply walk around the classroom with a colored pen in hand. Tick, flick and mark student work as you walk around.
For larger pieces of work, set the kids on a task and call the students to your desk one at a time. Sit with the student and discuss the work, adding written comments in front of the student along the way. Use praise effectively and remember – praise only works if it is sincere, specific and collective (tell your colleagues and get them to praise the student too).
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment, but don’t do this for everything. Students still need to receive acknowledgement from their teacher.
I’ve written a useful article about peer and self-assessment techniqueshere. Some general advice on giving feedback can be foundhere.
Here’s a video I made about the Four Rules of Praise:
Strategy #4: Self and peer assessment
I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand.
As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seemed to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with lots of work to mark.
At first I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.
These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.
I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.
I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments teh traditional way.
As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:
Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.
Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.
Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.
Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.
Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student doing the marking.
Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.
Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength
You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.
Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-assessment. This great overviewby the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:
It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class-tasks a little uncomfortable
When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process
Academic appraisals aside, I’ve found from my own personal experience that both self and peer-assessment are absolutely invaluable to the modern practitioner. They save you oodles of time as a teacher and students learn so much from each process.
There are a number of different ways that self and peer-assessment can be used in the classroom. My experience has taught me (the hard way!) that the following tasks work really well:
Making corrections to tests and assessments: When any important test or assessment comes up, I don’t think it is appropriate to have students marking these themselves. They’ll get it wrong, even with a mark scheme to use, and will be overly generous on themselves and their peers (unless they’ve been trained for a period of time). However, a great activity is to mark the tests yourself, then give the tests back to the students along with a printed or online mark scheme. The students could then use a coloured pen to make full and detailed corrections to their test papers. You could turn this into an AfL exercise, with students writing down the question numbers they got wrong on the whiteboard, or on an anonymous piece of paper. You could then go through these questions afterwards to clear up common misconceptions. If you run a regular Learning Journals system (as I currently do), then students could write down the questions and the model answers in their Learning Journals. This causes very deep-learning to take place and is great for building long-term memory!
Assessing homework, classwork and regular assignments: A great time-saver for teachers. Just make sure the kids have access to the model answers. Don’t forget to collect the work in too – you need to know that the kids actually did the work you asked them to do.
Past-papers: Exam-level students really need to become familiar with the official mark schemes provided by exam boards. They need to become comfortable with key vocabulary, language and command terms. Provide exam-level students with regular past-papers to do as homework. Provide mark schemes too, so that they can self and peer-assess their work in class later. For older students (e.g. ‘AS’ – Level, SAT and IBDP learners) I’ll sometimes give them past papers and mark schemes to take home. Their task is to complete the past-papers under timed conditions and mark them using the mark schemes. The student then hands me the papers completed and marked (this is essential – I need to know that they have completed the assignment). I then check the papers for common misconceptions and target those in class.
Technological means: There a number of ways in which technology can assist in the peer and self-assessment process. Google forms are great; as are online quizzes provided by trusted third parties (e.g. BBC Bitesize and MyiMaths) and online quizzes that teachers can build by themselves (e.g. Quizlets). Make use of these and others (e.g. Kahoot– great for getting kids to use their mobile devices), as they are really interactive and can offer a nice break from traditional methods.
Stategy #5: Make use of ‘Intangibles’
Intangibles are those pieces of work which aren’t really marked, but are still really important. They count as homework, but they save you time because no feedback (or only limited feedback) is needed.
Revising for tests and quizzes
‘Reading ahead’ prior to starting a new topic
Completing a group presentation using software like Google® Slides (presumably, the kids would stand-up and present the presentation in class, allowing you to give real-time feedback verbally to them, in the moment)
Automated systems, such as Educake, MyMaths and Lexia. Computer programmes like these assess the work for the students, saving you time. You may, however, wish to follow-up by keeping records and sharing some verbal feedback with your students.
Make homework a powerful and enjoyable process of providing high-quality feedback and learning opportunities for your students. Implement the following strategies today!:
Create a homework marking, setting, receiving and returning timetable for yourself, and stick to it!
Create a Learning Journals system – this will build routines and get your students into the habit of reviewing, customizing and summarizing their work on a regular basis
Try ‘Live-marking’: it’s such a powerful technique and it saves you so much time!
Use peer-assessment and self-assessment – why mark things yourself if the students can do it (and they’ll learn more from the process)?
Make use of intangibles, but don’t overuse them
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