The Fundamentals of Classroom Management: An online course designed by Richard James Rogers in Partnership with UKEd Academy
I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been busy building an online course that covers all of the fundamental concepts in my widely acclaimed debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, in partnership with my good friends at UKEd Academy. Details are given below:
A dangerous culture has quietly found its way into a large number of American and British schools in the past decade. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seems pretty on the surface but harbors malice within; over-rewarding continues to take hold like a malignancy to this day.
Betty Berdan was an American high-school junior at the time of writing thisexcellent opinion piecein the New York Times. She eloquently summarizes her thoughts on over-rewarding as follows:
Like many other kids my age, I grew up receiving trophy after trophy, medal after medal, ribbon after ribbon for every sports season, science fair and spelling bee I participated in. Today the dozens of trophies, ribbons and medals sit in a corner of my room, collecting dust. They do not mean much to me because I know that identical awards sit in other children’s rooms all over town and probably in millions of other homes across the country.
Rewarding kids with trophies, medals and certificates for absolutely everything they do, including participation in a sports event, seems harmless at first glance: what’s wrong with encouraging kids to take part, right?
My thoughts on this are simple:the real-world doesn’t reward mediocrity, and if school’s are designed to prepare kids for the real world, then they shouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity either.
Your boss doesn’t give you a pay-raise or certificate for turning up to a meeting: it’s a basic expectation. You don’t get instant recognition and brand awareness for starting an online business: you have to slog your guts out and make it happen.
The world is cruel, but it’s especially cruel to high-school graduates who’ve been babied right the way through their schooling and come out the other side believing that they’re entitled to everything: that they’ll receive recognition for doing the bare-minimum.
Some teachers may feel that rewarding everyone, but keeping ‘special rewards for winners’ is a good way to go. But what benefits can be extrapolated from removing first, second and third place prizes at a sporting event, or even removing winner’s trophies completely?
According toAlfie Kohn,author of Punished by Rewards:
A key takeaway here is that awards aren’t bad just because the losers are disappointed; everyone (including the winners) ultimately lose when schooling is turned into a scramble to defeat one’s peers
Really, Alfie? So awards are bad because losers and winners feel bitter? I think school culture has got a lot do with that. In school’s where students are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements, and aspire to do their best, overall achievement and attainment increases. A massive study by the University of East Tennessee, for example, found that classroom celebrations of achievement enhanced:
Sense of belonging
Teacher’s ability to find joy and meaning in teaching
…….reward does not decrease intrinsic motivation. When interaction effects are examined, findings show that verbal praise produces an increase in intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect appears when expected tangible rewards are given to individuals simply for doing a task.
This confirms what teachers have known for years (at least those with brains in their heads): that awards have no value when they are given to everyone, but have lots of value when they have to be earned. This coincides with the Four Rules of Praise that I wrote about in 2018 (supporting video below).
Teaching profession, some words of wisdom: Awards and rewards only work to improve motivation, attainment and achievement when the students have had to earn them. Foster a school culture of collective celebration when students achieve success (such as using awards assemblies), and articulate the skills and qualities needed to achieve success to those students who sit and watch the winners, hopefully with smiles on their face and pride in knowing that one of their own made it happen, and they can too.
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There are few issues that come up in education that literally enrage me. This issue, however, has done exactly that.
Browsing through my twitter feeds last week I came across this:
Hats off to the girls at a Sussex secondary school who are refusing to comply with new rules requiring them to wear ‘gender neutral’ uniforms. The gates were closed on them because – shock, horror – they want to continue wearing skirts! All power to them! pic.twitter.com/wwikWo6l53
Paul’s original tweet contained video footage showing schoolgirls being refused entry into their school because – shocking as it sounds – they wanted to wear skirts! The police were even there enforcing this idiocy.
The lunatics are well-and-truly running the asylum in the UK.
Sussex Police made this statement via Twitter:
Hi Richard. We have explained ourselves, but it’s not been reported by some media. We weren’t called to the school, we were aware in advance and attended to facilitate peaceful and safe protest. We had no part in the decision process of who was or was not admitted to the school.
Police and teachers have been criticised for locking school gates to schoolchildren who protested a new ‘gender neutral’ uniform policy this morning, leaving pupils to wander the streets of a Sussex town.
Angry pupils and parents protested outside the gates of Priory School in Lewes over the clothing policy for the new school year.
But teachers and Sussex Police officers locked the gates on pupils and refused admittance to girls in skirts – and according to one eyewitness officers were actually involved in selecting which students could enter and which would be barred.
He said: ‘It was like they were bouncers – they waved some through and stopped others.’
Police acting like ‘bouncers’ to stop skirt-wearing girls entering school? This certainly contradicts the official explanation given by Sussex Police.
This story also makes a few points perfectly clear:
The school is more concerned about pushing its leftist, pansy, wimpy and idiotic agenda than ensuring that proper teaching and learning takes place
Safeguarding is clearly not a priority at Priory School – they’d rather let teenagers roam the streets than let them enter school (for no good reason, I may add)
Good Morning Britain even picked up the story, and ran a short scoop on September 9th. You can watch some of the students and parents tell their side of the story here:
The school’s official response
The Priory School sent this official press statement to me via e-mail:
Priory School uniform is designed to be a practical uniform which encourages students to be ready to focus on their school work and activities. Our uniform also helps us to dilute the status placed on expensive clothes or labels and challenge the belief that we are defined by what we wear. Instead, we encourage individual beliefs, ideas, passions and wellbeing and an ethos of camaraderie that is reflected in this shared experience.
We believe that a uniform worn without modification is the best way to ensure equality. We do not want children feeling vulnerable and stressed by the pressure they feel to wear or own the latest trend or status symbol.
Priory school is not unusual in having a trousers as the uniform item for all students. There are at least 40 other schools which have a similar uniform requirement. Our core purpose remains the quality of teaching and learning and we aim to achieve this by maximising the time spent on planning, delivering and evaluating the quality of provision.
At what point do we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?
It’s about time that teachers everywhere rose up and spoke out, and took action, against malevolent individuals and organisations that wish to enforce their agenda on our students and our children. My concern is this – what’s next? Gender neutral uniforms for teachers? Imprisonment for criticizing the policy of a school or local authority (such as me writing this blog post, for example)? Compulsory lessons for kids on how they should ‘question their gender constantly’ and how they might not ‘really be a boy or a girl’? (That last one is already happening in some schools, by the way).
No more. I’m not tolerating this lunacy anymore.
A call to action
I would like to encourage my readers everywhere, please, to share this article with others in order to spread awareness of what is happening in some UK schools. Comment on thisarticle and let’s get the discussion going. When people take action in large numbers to spread awareness then real change can happen.
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I’m very happy to announce that my second-book, which has (to my shame) been in the pipeline for many years, has finally been published on the Amazon Kindle store. The paperback will be released in mid-September. If you click on the image below, it’ll take you directly to the Amazon sales page.
My new book is split into three sections:
The philosophy of praise (why praise is important and what its effects can be)
The mechanics of praise (how to actually implement the various tactics available)
Ways to accentuate the efficiency of praise (how to ensure that praise and feedback only takes up the time and effort that it needs to)
From the outset I make the point that praise in the form of marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as every student needs to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognized.
The implication of this statement is that quick turn-around of work is necessary so that students understand the reasons behind their feedback, gain empowerment maximally and receive positive reinforcement of the skills, knowledge and concepts that they are currently learning in class.
Teachers (me included) can find it a challenge to provide high-quality feedback in a timely manner, however. This is where praise mechanics and efficiency come into play.
There are a number of techniques that teachers can employ to save time whilst providing excellent feedback. In this new book, you’ll find sections on:
The effective deployment of verbal feedback
Automated assessment – the use of software to test our students
You can purchase my book here if you’d like a good, deep exploration of of a variety of praise-based techniques. As a little teaser for you, however, I’d like to share a particularly powerful technique with you.
‘Diffusive’ and ‘Absorptive’ live – marking
Diffusive live-marking is when the teacher walks around the classroom when the kids are working on a a task, pen-in-hand, and marks student work in real-time (i.e. ‘diffusing’ through the students).
Absorptive live-marking is when the teacher sits at a designated point in the classroom and calls the students to his or her desk. one-at-a-time, and marks work in real-time (i.e. figuratively ‘absorbing’ the students).
Coupled with verbal feedback, both techniques can be incredibly powerful. If you train the students to write “Mr Rogers said that………….(insert feedback here)” in a different color on their work, then you allow the students to process your feedback on a very deep-level, and this builds long-term memory. Obviously, use your name instead of mine!
Eventually, students will remember key mistakes that are repeating in their work and they will act to rectify those (they won’t like writing the same things over and over again).
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Getting back into the swing of things can be a challenge: especially after a long summer vacation. Our body clocks are normally out of sync and we’ve probably been taking life a bit easy for a while (and rightly so).
The new academic year pounces on us like a monkey from a tree.
In order to be prepared for the craziness ahead I’ve devised a list of ten things to do prior to the first day back at school. Follow these magic tips and you’ll be energized, prepared and ahead of the game.
Tip #1: Create a regular sleeping pattern
Get up at your normal ‘work day’ time each day for at least a week before school starts. This will calibrate your body clock so that it’s easier to get up when school begins.
It’ll be hard at first – if you’re like me then you’ll be exhausted at 6am. Just try it – force yourself to get used to getting up early.
Tip #2: Set up a morning ritual
Come up with a sequence of events that will inspire, empower and energize you each morning. For me, my morning routine looks like this:
Get up at 4.30am
Go to the gym (it opens at 5am)
Work out at the gym
Shower at the gym
Have coffee and breakfast at the gym lounge
Read over e-mails and lesson plans for the day ahead
Leave the gym and be at school by 7am
Getting the hardest things done in the morning (e.g. exercising) is a very empowering way to start the day. This ritual of mine also serves to give me energy – I’m not rushing to school and I’m fully breakfasted, coffee’d-up and mentally prepared before the school day even starts!
Tip #3: Read ahead
Whether you’re teaching the same subjects again this year, or if you’re teaching something totally new – it always helps to read ahead.
Go over the textbook material, watch out for subtle syllabus changes and make sure you read over the material you’ll actually give to the kids (PPTs, worksheets, etc.).
Tip #4: Prepare ahead
Linked to reading ahead but involves the logistics of lesson delivery – make sure your resources are prepared.
Don’t forget – every teacher will be scrambling for the photocopier on the first day back. Prepare your paper resources in advance, or plan to do photocopying at ‘off-peak’ times (e.g. late after school one day).
Tip #5: Set personal targets
Is there anything that you could have done better last year?
If you’re a new teacher, then what are some life-challenges that have held you back in the past? Procrastination? Lack of organization?
We all have things that we could do better. Think about what those things are for you and write down a set of personal targets in your teacher’s planner. Read them every day.
One of my targets, for example, is not to set too much homework but to instead select homework that achieves my aims most efficiently.
Tip #6: Get to know your new students
Spend time talking with your new students and take an interest in their hobbies, skills and attributes.
Look at previous school reports if possible and find out if any of your new students have any weaknesses in any subject or behavioral areas. Talk with members of staff at your school about ways to accommodate and target such needs if necessary.
Teaching is definitely a stressful job. In fact, a February 2019 study by England’s National Foundation for Education Research found that 20% of teachers feel tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those working in similar professions. Additionally, as if that wasn’t startling enough, a recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) survey found that teachers in England have one of the highest workloads in the world.
The statistics themselves are worrying enough – that’s one-in-five teachers in England carrying a burden of worry and stress on a regular basis.
As a teacher myself, I have certainly had my fair share of work-related stress over the past 14 years. Some of the problems I encountered were the result of self-sabotage and inexperience, and some were beyond my control.
Whatever the causes of your stress are, there are effective ways to deal with them and I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best ways to do just that.
Stress Tip #1 – When your lessons are not going well
This is often a result of poor or rushed lesson-planning and is normally avoidable. I have fallen into this trap many times in my career – using my ‘free periods’ to write rough lesson plans or spending a few minutes before a lesson to think about what I’ll actually do.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes it causes problems.
Take the time to spend a whole morning or afternoon each week to plan a week’s worth of lessons (I use my Sunday mornings for it). Get a good teacher’s planner and think about:
Where the kids will sit at different points during the lesson. Will they need their books at all times? Do you need a seating plan so that ‘problem’ students are not sat next to each other?
Breaking up the lesson into ‘chunks’ – variety is key if you want your lessons to be engaging and ‘fun’. Read myblog post about learning gamesyou can use here.
Syllabus content you will cover – with some classes you’ll have a lot of content to get through in a short space of time. Get your PowerPoints, presentations, quizzes, and other resources ready well in-advance of these kinds of lessons. You might also want to read my blog post aboutkeeping up with your teaching schedule here.
Stress Tip #2 – When you have too much marking to do
Marking tends to come in ‘waves’ in teaching: There are times of the academic year when you’ve just got normal, regular homework and classwork to mark; and there are times when high-intensity marking hits us like a bolt of lightning. For example:
When a ‘work scrutiny’ comes up and a line-manager wants to see your class notebooks
When you have a load of end-of-unit tests or exam papers to mark
When parents’ evenings/parents’ consultations come up and you need to mark a lot of work so that you have some good points to discuss in the meetings
Marking can be a big-problem for teachers, but again: it’s easily avoidable when a little bit of time is spent planning in-advance:
Use the technique of ‘Live Marking’ to keep those notebooks up-to-date. Live-marking is basically when you either call the students to your desk one-at-a-time and mark their work in front of them, or you walk around the classroom with a pen in-hand and mark student notebooks in ‘real time’. Read myblog post about ‘Live-marking’ here.
Take a deep breath and plan your time – if you find yourself with a tonne of exam papers to mark within 48 hours (I’ve been there), then the first thing you must do is sit somewhere quiet and plan your time for an hour. Think about your targets – which papers need to be marked by when? Should some papers be marked before others? Is it possible, or appropriate, to use peer/self-assessment for some exam papers?
Try using stamps and stickers – they’ll save you some writing time
Make sure you’ve got a set of model answers ready for your kids – this will save you writing out the correct answers for the kids by hand in their books (never do that, by the way).
Stress Tip #3: When you’re in trouble with your boss over something
One of the main causes of stress for teachers, I believe, is that we are held to a far-higher professional standard than those in most other professions. As ‘role-models’, we have to be extra careful about:
How we interact with our students and former students
We do need to be mindful of these things on a daily basis, but even then we may make mistakes. If you are called to a meeting with your boss over something, then don’t panic! Take a deep breath and think about your side of the story and the facts of the matter at hand.
In your discussion, focus on:
Solutions to what’s happened (‘How can we solve this?’ should be your mentality).
If you’ve done something wrong, then admit it. Covering something up will only cause more problems later on.
If you feel that you’ve been unfairly treated then speak with a union representative or a lawyer before making any big decisions (e.g. choosing to resign).
I know that this is not a nice subject to talk about, but unfortunately it’s one that does come up. Protect yourself and your reputation, do your best everyday and just let life roll – some things are just beyond our control.
Another thing, by the way, is that absolutely everyone makes mistakes. I know that’s cliched, but it is true. Keep a written record of the mistakes you’ve made in life somewhere, and read over it on a weekly basis at least. When people tell us to ‘learn from our mistakes’, they can sometimes miss the fact that in order to learn from mistakes we have to remember those mistakes. Keeping a record and consistently reading over it is a good way to do this.
Stress tip #4: When student behavior is poor
It takes time and experience to build up our skills as good ‘behavior managers’.
Things to bear in mind are:
‘Boring’ lessons can cause some kids to play up. Try to introduce a variety of activities into your lessons if possible, and be vigilant in watching your students carefully during practical activities, computer-based work and group work.
Good behavior management can only really be achieved with a long-term strategy: effective lesson planning, good use of praise, fair and consistent use of sanctions if necessary and good use of ‘professional intelligence’ to reinforce our students’ sense of self-worth and character. Readmy blog post on Subtle Reinforcement here.
There are many facets to being a good behavior manager, but it basically all comes down to the relationship, or ‘rapport’, that you build with your students. Please read my blog posts onbuilding rapportandbehavior management.
Stress tip #5: When a colleague doesn’t like you (or is causing problems)
When you begin to have a positive effect on your students and you gain a reputation as a ‘good teacher’, you may create some enemies. Some of your colleagues may not like you simply because you are ‘better’ than they are.
You need to be careful in these situations. Here are my tips:
Control your speech at all times when in the presence of your colleagues. Off-the-cuff remarks like “I’m behind with my marking” or “I got totally wasted on Friday night” can be used against you by conniving and jealous colleagues who want to secure your destruction.
Don’t gossip, and don’t associate with gossips. Gossips are notorious for being negative and untrustworthy. Just don’t do it. If you’re asked directly or prompted to gossip about a colleague, for example, you can respond with a “I don’t think I should talk about that” or even a “I don’t like to gossip about people”.
If a colleague is genuinely causing problems for you, then make a record of all interactions with that person (hand-written if necessary). Speak with your line-manager about it and ask for suggestions. It’s much better to tackle this issue in a professional way from the outset, rather than submitting a formal complaint when the problem has gotten out-of-hand.
If appropriate, speak with the colleague you are having issues with. You may wish to ask a third person to attend as a witness. Be polite. Be respectful. Show that you are the mature person in this scenario.
Keep all discussions with colleagues academic in nature. Try not to discuss politics or ‘touchy issues’ in society (e.g. Brexit, 2SLGBT+ rights, third-wave feminism, etc.). We live in a time, unfortunately, in which people can be easily ‘triggered’ by an alternative view you might have that challenges their perception of the world. Feel free to discuss this stuff with close friends or family outside of work, but don’t make the mistake of believing that your colleagues are your friends – they’re not. Your colleagues are the people you work with, and all interactions with them need to be professional in nature. If something is not related to your work or the curriculum, then you don’t need to discuss it. It’s that simple.
Teachers today are more stressed than we have ever been in history. Relax, plan-ahead, deal with issues head-on and don’t worry.
Two books I highly recommend for consistent worriers are given below:
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (click on the image to buy the book):
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle (click on the image to buy the book):
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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 isneeded to get higher pay) – well, you’ll probably be saddled withdebts 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 payschild benefitfor 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 dependence” on 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 thatrewards 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.
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.
As a 17-year-old ‘A’ – Level student I was a typical lovesick teenager. I was easily distracted, and if I got the chance to slack-off, then I was sure to take it! I look back at those days and, to my embarrassment, I sometimes have to cringe! However, one question does come to mind quite often – which lessons were the most productive for me at a time when my human nature (and my attitude) led me to be quite a disillusioned and lazy teenager?
The answer: it was always, without exception, those lessons that began promptly and had a definite focus.
As teachers we’re always very, very busy. There’s so much to do in such a small amount of time, and it can be tempting for us to take a rest whilst we’re working. Whilst a relaxed environment is generally conducive to the learning process, there is a danger that we can cross the line and create an atmosphere that’s too relaxed: one that encourages our students to be unproductive. To illustrate this I can use an example from my personal journey.
Perhaps you have had a similar experience?
As a pre-university student all those years ago, I remember some of my chemistry and biology lessons particularly well, but for all the wrong reasons. These lessons would typically begin with the teacher having a nice, casual chat with all of the students in order to create a ‘relaxed feel’. Sometimes we would even begin by making a cup of tea for each other, and this made myself and my peers feel ‘adult’ and ‘special’: reinforcing the fact that we were the big kids in the school and that we had a certain status.
This ritual would sometimes last for 15-20 minutes before any real learning took place, with one of my teachers in particular discussing anything that came to mind: whether it was a story from her past or an incident with another pupil. After this long ‘introduction’, in which approximately a quarter of the lesson had been eaten up, we would begin the lesson properly.
But were we motivated at this stage?
How had this casual entry into the lesson content affected our ability to learn thereafter?
The answer is that for many of us it had generated a lazy frame of mind, and it was difficult to come out of a relaxed state and go straight into a learning activity (which was often rushed, because of the time wasted at the start of the lesson).
Charles J. Givens, author and once a multi-million dollar business owner, summarizes this problem very eloquently:
Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.
Charles J. Givens (Author of Wealth Without Risk and Financial Self Defense)
From this we’re able to understand that for students to achieve results, they need to gain momentum within the lesson.
However, momentum can only be achieved if the teacher initiates it with an appropriate starter activity that requires at least some effort.
I’m sure that you’ll probably have other ideas to add to this list too, and that’s fantastic! If not, then don’t worry; formulating quick and productive starter activities is a learning process but the good news is that the more you do it, the more ideas you’ll have!
Remember: after the starter activity has finished, always review what was done. Get the students to mark each other’s quizzes, or comment on each other’s blog posts, or whatever assessment method you feel is appropriate for the activity.
Once that’s been done, you can move on to the next crucial step in the teaching and learning process: defining the learning outcomes (to be covered next week).
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My teenage years were brilliant, and one of the reasons for this is that I was involved in so many active clubs and hobbies. I was an army cadet, I did karate and I even tried hockey and acting for a short while.
The Extra-Curricular Activities I did as a kid shaped my character more than my lessons in school. I can say that with conviction.
In my ECAs I made new and lasting friendships and learnt cool skills (such as how to start a fire with potassium permanganate, and how to disarm an attacker with a pistol).
I still do karate to this day – it gave me self-discipline and the understanding that life can be painful; but instead of crying in a corner like a little wimp I need to man-up and fight back, and persevere through every storm that comes my way.
Yes: karate, and the Army Cadets, really taught me that.
Now, as a teacher, I warmly reflect on my childhood experiences and the enrichment that was brought to me through these extra dimensions in my life. I try, as best as I can, to offer modern and meaningful ECAs to my students in my current practice.
Why offer an ECA?
There are numerous benefits which compensate for the extra time it takes to run an ECA:
You get to build closer and more meaningful professional relationships with your students, and other students you might not teach
You become ‘that cool teacher‘ who goes the extra mile to run good clubs with the kids
You learn a few surprising things about the kids in your club – such as skills and abilities they have which you didn’t know about before
You will develop new skills along the way (e.g. I currently teach FinTech in one of my ECAs, which is a new area of knowledge that I’m learning about too)
You may change lives, literally. One of my former students 10 years ago attended a German language ECA that I ran. She’d never learnt German before, and absolutely loved the club. I later found out that she did a degree in German at university and now works as a translator here in Thailand.
What kind of ECAs can we offer?
Good ECA types include:
Anything involving a sport (e.g. football, hockey, tennis, etc.)
Languages that aren’t offered in the normal curriculum
Anything practical and hands-on (e.g. robotics, cookery, Science experiments, etc.)
Exam and study support
I tend to go with things I’m interested in that will also be fun and useful for my students.
How can we offer ECAs if our skills are limited?
We don’t have to be experts in the things we want to offer as ECAs. In fact, some of the best clubs I’ve run have been dynamic classes in which I learnt new things with the kids.
Running an ECA can even be a good way for us to skill-up as teachers.
Take a club I’m running at the moment, for example: Platform Building and Money Management. Now, I don’t know an awful lot about these subjects, but I’m learning FinTech with the University of Hong Kong and I’m reading books to learn about digital marketing and personal finance. The good news is this – each week, when I learn something new in my studies, I can then pass this on to my students in the ECA.
It’s a great way to help me with my self-discipline in my learning, and it keeps my ECA modern and relevant. The kids love it!
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I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.
However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.
Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)
Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)
University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent
Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check outedXfor amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).
Why were the best, the best?
There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.
I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.
There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.
Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.
That was powerful.
Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.
I left feeling dignified and educated.
Specific praise is powerful praise
Last weekI wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.
But what does ‘specific’ mean?
I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.
That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.
When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:
1. The effort that’s gone into the work:
“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”
“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”
2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.
“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”
“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”
3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”
Oh come on, that’ll take ages
You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.
Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:
Verbally – very memorable and effective
Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
Certificates and awards
Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)
Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.
It made me feel proud.
Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.