On Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

‘Gender-neutral’ or ‘mixed-gender’ toilets: A trend that seems to have hit British, Australian and American schools with thunderclap speed, taking even the professionals like me by surprise.

Art class

12-years-ago, when I was last teaching in the UK, this topic wasn’t even a topic. People were happy with toilets the way they were: male and female. A recent spate of moves to appease the transgender community have changed all that, however, with a lot of controversy and anger being stirred-up along the way.

Take this recent story of a new, multi-million dollar school set to open in Brisbane this month. Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will be the first secondary school in Queensland that actually forces students to share the same bathrooms. No male, female or ‘other’: everyone uses the same facilities. The only exception will be the changing rooms, which will contain separate male and female toilets.

This has caused outrage in the local community and in Australia as a whole, with parents, politicians, education experts and members of the public venting their anger on social media and through Australian media outlets:

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element.”

Education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell for The Sunday Mail.

Opposition education leader Jarrod Bleijie made his opinion known via Facebook, stating that “boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school.”


In defense of the school’s gender-neutral policy, an unnamed departmental spokeswoman said the following via Daily Mail Australia:

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meet contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”

I have contacted Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker today with a statement of my concerns regarding the safeguarding of students at her school (particularly teenage girls who will be most affected), along with a request for a reasoned justification behind why the decision to install gender-neutral toilets was made. I shall add her response to this blog post should I receive one.

But what about other countries?

Australia is not the only country in which the common-sense of the masses has clashed with the logic of ‘progressive’ liberals.

Take Deanesfield Primary School (yes, a primary school!) in South Ruislip, West London, where parents launched a petition in September of 2019 in an attempt to ban unisex toilets at the school. Complaints centered around concerns from menstruating girls, who feel like their privacy is invaded when they have to share toilets with boys.

One mother, who has two young daughters at the school, said:

“The cubicles were open at the bottom and top so older pupils can easily climb up the toilets and peer over.”

It’s unclear if complaints have been heeded by the school, and again I shall be e-mailing the school today and should they offer an official response then it shall be posted on this page.

How big is the problem?

Opposition to gender-neutral toilets in schools is so big that this one blog post cannot do the topic justice. Some recent stories that have broke are listed below:

UK Girls Skipping School, Traumatized After Being Forced to Share Toilets with Boys

Gender-neutral toilets don’t help our kids, but threaten them

My thoughts on this issue

A few things:

  1. Schools should always remember that the parents are their key customers. When gender-neutral toilets are introduced in a school, without prior consultation and approval from parents, then a school is acting like a totalitarian dictatorship. I don’t like the arrogance that such schools have when they believe that they do not need to listen to parents – the ultimate, prime educators of their children.
  2. I’ve yet to see any convincing research that suggests that gender-neutral toilets benefit the majority of students at school. I’ll be looking into this further and shall provide a ‘research synopsis’ next week.
  3. Such a tiny minority of school students identify as being ‘transgender’2% in the United States (according to the CDC). Should the majority of students change their routines to appease the minority? How should this minority be catered for in a way that does not negatively affect the majority (e.g. menstruating girls)? The solution, it seems to me, it not to force all students to use gender-neutral toilets but to provide enough ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘mixed-gender’ toilets for students to choose from. Schools will have to keep and maintain official registries of student genders to achieve this, so that only boys can use the boys’ toilets and only the girls can use the girls’ toilets.
  4. I take issue with small children identifying as ‘transgender’ and then the subsequent push by some parents to provide hormonal supplementation and ‘puberty blockers’ to facilitate a sex-change. In some cases, children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated in this way, with many of the risks being largely unknown:

“The bottom line is we don’t really know how sex hormones impact any adolescent’s brain development”

Dr Lisa Simons, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (via Frontline)

If a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse or activity, then how can a child consent to having their sex changed? This is an important question that urgently needs to be answered, otherwise we may see many of these children filing lawsuits against their parents when they reach adulthood. We may also see a rise in mental health issues as these children grow and mature, getting older and wiser along the way.

This leads into a much larger debate that goes beyond the scope of simply the installation of gender-neutral toilets in schools. It goes to the core reasoning behind this latest trend, and warrants further exploration in a future blog post.

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Happy New Year 2020

2019 has been a great year. I’m very grateful to all of the support shown by you: my loyal readers and fans. Some of the highlights of 2019 were as follows:

1. I released a second book for teachers: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback
2. More teachers than ever before read and benefited from the articles on this blog
3. I became a Google Certified Educator (Level 1) – I highly recommend this course for every teacher (check out my blog post on this at https://richardjamesrogers.com/2019/12/29/becoming-a-google-certified-educator/)

2020 projects in the pipeline:

1. I’ll become a Google Certified Educator Level 2 and then a Google Certified Innovator, and I’ll be sure to blog about the process so that others can learn how to do it.
2. My next book: The EdTech Book, will be released.
3. Giveaways of my first two books will happen from May – Aug 2020.
4. More blog posts and more frequent YouTube videos to provide teachers everywhere with practical tips
5. A new podcast will be set up to provide practical tips for teachers.

Happy New Year everyone and thank you for your continued support.

What Should Teachers do with their Time-Off?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video:

One of the massive perks about being a schoolteacher is that we get loads and loads of holidays. In fact, in my particular case, I’m only actually in school for around 180 days per year. That’s a lot of free time to deal with. 

snacking

So, with this in mind, I find myself asking a rather controversial question: Are we using this free time productively?  

I’ve been lambasted quite viciously in the past for expressing my views on this particular issue. My views haven’t changed, however, so if you’re one of those snowflakes who gets easily triggered, easily offended or who has a nervous breakdown when someone has a different opinion than you, then you might want to stop reading now.

The laziness of it all?

With all of this free time in-hand, I often wonder why more teachers aren’t starting their own businesses, writing books, setting up podcasts, starting up blogs, doing online marketing or anything to better themselves or improve their quality of life. 

sit n talk

What would Elon Musk, one of the world’s most successful businessmen, do with 185 free days each year? Perhaps this quote from an interview he did (video embedded below) will shed some light on things:

Interviewer:

Did you ever consider retiring?

Elon:

No, not really. I did take a bit of time off. I did reasonably well from Paypal. I was the largest shareholder in the company and we were acquired for about a billion and a half in stock and then the stock doubled. So yeah, I did reasonably well, but the idea of lying on a beach as my main thing, just sounds like the worst – it sounds horrible to me. I would go bonkers. I would have to be on serious drugs. I’d be super-duper bored. I like high intensity – I mean, I like going to the beach for a short period of time, but not much longer than a few days or something like that.

So we can conclude that this formidable titan: some would say an example of what we should all aspire to become, would use 185 days productively. He’d take some short-bursts of time-off, but mostly he’d be working on new projects and new ideas, or furthering current ones. 

An ancient Chinese proverb that keeps me striving and moving ‘forward’ when I have free time is this:

An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold.

Mediocrity breeds more mediocrity?

One core philosophy that I think all teachers agree with is that with enough hard work and effort, our students can become anything they want to become (notwithstanding significant physical and psychological hindrances). 

Surely then, as teachers, we also need to be at the top our game if we are to truly live that message: that a human really can become anything with enough effort. 

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Why then do so many teachers fall short of this principle? So many of us are one-timers: we got a university degree, trained to be a teacher and that was it. Zero significant achievements since then. 

And yet, we expect our students to be excellent. We expect them to make excellent progress. We expect them to use their free time productively. We expect them to aspire, push themselves, have goals and achieve big. 

Maybe it’s about time that we modeled that process. Only then can we really know what excellence is.

As for me, I’m not perfect but I’m no hypocrite either. This Christmas vacation, for which I get three weeks off school, will be divided between a number of tasks. I’ll take a short holiday for a few days, but the rest will be spent becoming a Google Certified Educator, completing a Certificate in Data Science from Berkeley and a number of additional tasks linked to this blog, my books, a new business and things to get me ready for my classes in January (including a rigorous gym schedule). 

jenga

If we’re not advancing personally, then how can we encourage our students to advance?

I’ll post an update at the end of my Christmas vacation, to let you know how I’ve managed. After all, if I’m going to preach the ‘be useful and be productive’ mantra to you, my readers, then I absolutely need to lead by example and practice what I preach. 

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Preparing Students for Mock Exams

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Mock exams offer an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to assess current knowledge and discover common misconceptions. They (should) provide a rigorous and thorough ‘trial run’ of the finals and may even act as a sharp and frightening wake-up call to some learners. 

chatting in class

Considering the immense importance placed on mock exams (not least for providing a good basis for making final grade predictions), one would assume that the preparation of students for them should be organised like a well-planned military operation. 

That’s certainly what should happen, and the aim of this article is to cover the ‘battleground’ that your students will need to fight through in order to be well-trained for those all-important practice exams. 

Roger that! Let’s get right into it then!

Go through past-exam papers

These are by far the best revision materials for exam-level students. Rigorous past-paper practice, under timed conditions, offers a number of benefits:

  • Students become used to the ‘style’ of questions that will be asked in the real thing.
  • Frequent exposure to the ‘command terms’ that will be used in the real exam (words like ‘Deduce’, ‘Explain’, ‘Sketch’ etc.).
  • The level of challenge presented by past-paper questions will be at the level expected by students of that age-group. 
  • When taken under timed conditions, students can develop their time-management techniques too (ensuring that they don’t run out of time in the real mock exam – a common problem!).

Giving feedback

Some examination boards share their past papers for free (e.g. Edexcel), whilst others sell them them for a small fee. If you have the money (or if your school has the budget), then they are always worth the spend. Some ideas for saving money when purchasing exam papers include:

  • Keep any spare examination papers that you get sent each year by the exam board, and scan them to pdfs. Within a few years you’ll have a comprehensive bank of exam papers ready to share with your students.
  • Purchase a user account to an exam-board’s question bank and share the account with colleagues.

Make sure your students go through the model answers (mark schemes) when they’re done, and make sure they know how to actually use the mark schemes (Do they know that OWTTE means ‘Or Words to That Extent’, for example? Do they know what M1, M2, etc mean?).

Should your students be strict or lenient when marking past-paper questions? 

Always be strict, because the examiner will strict and the final exams will probably contain questions that the students will never have seen before. If the answer does not match the mark scheme, then mark it wrong.

What about handwriting?

If the examiner cannot read the answers given, then your students will be penalized. Make this point really clear, as it is an issue that does affect many students (especially when rushing under exam conditions – another reason to train students by exposing them to past-papers under timed conditions).

sit n talk

Go through exam-style questions

These are a little different to past-paper questions and tend to be found within textbooks, on great websites (like BBC Bitesize) and inside revision guides and workbooks (like those made by CGP, for example). 

These provide much of the same benefits as a past-exam paper questions and are often organised by topic, allowing students to reinforce their subject knowledge in stages and target areas of weakness with relative ease. 

Make sure that model answers are provided and that students mark their work strictly (just like with past-papers).

sitting on the carpet

Provide a topic revision list

An obvious one I know, but worth mentioning. If students don’t know the topics that are going to come up on their mock exams, then how can they possibly prepare?

Share the official syllabus, perhaps through your school’s VLE, MOOC or even by e-mail if you have to. Make sure the students know which topics from the syllabus are going to come up in the mocks. 

Provide topic summaries

Summaries of key topic areas can really help students to grab the essentials in a short space of time. Share these as Mind Maps, bulleted lists, end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks and even, again, revision websites that you recommend.

making plans

Share textbooks

A lot of schools cannot afford physical textbooks for every student. However, we should at least be recommending textbooks that the students can buy themselves if they want to. 

One way to solve the problem of textbook costs is for schools to build their own (e.g. from slide presentations that teachers create), get students to create textbooks for themselves by setting up a learning journals system and even paying for an online subscription through the publisher’s website (which is often cheaper than purchasing physical books).

Recommend revision websites

There are many great websites that offer excellent, free resources for revision. My personal favorites are:

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David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me: What can Teachers Learn From This Book?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Warning! – This blog post contains expletives and graphic language. If you are prone to being offended, triggered or distressed by such language, then please stop reading immediately. 

84kg.

That’s how much I weighed three months ago. I was fat, tired and lazy. Too many things were not proceeding with momentum in my life. I had become ‘soft’. 

After a day of full-blown mediocrity at some point in mid-August (whilst I was still ‘resting’ in my summer vacation from school), I took the time to sit in a Starbucks coffee shop during the late evening and take-stock of my life. I’d woken up late, I felt like crap and I had procrastinated all day long. It was a wasted day, basically. 

What would my students think of me if they knew that I wasn’t ‘practicing what I preach’ to them: to chase your goals, be resilient and to work hard each and every day?

Then, I reflected on who I was as a teenager. Richard James Rogers: the kid version, went to karate class three times a week, absolutely smashed-it at Army Cadets twice a week (and many full weekends and summers on training camps) and never wasted a single second. He put up with some messed-up stuff too (home-life was a bit, well, crazy to say the least), but he didn’t point the finger at other people and blame them for his misfortunes or disadvantages. In fact, he saw his difficult life-situation as a powerful catalyst for self-improvement: he had every reason to just ‘go for it’, and he knew he would end up a total loser if he gave in to life’s relentless cry to ‘give up’. 

That woke me up. 

Army cadet
Me as a 16-year-old Army Cadet, 20 years ago

Sometimes, I believe, we have to look back on those things we’ve done many years ago and ask some very honest questions, such as ‘Am I better now, or am I worse?’. ‘Have I climbed, or did I slide?’ and ‘Am I a loser, or a winner?’

The ‘Goggin’s Video’ was something I had watched a while back, and I thought it was pretty cool. I thought it was time to watch it again that evening. I’ve embedded it below:

I’ve read a lot of great self-improvement books in my time (Awaken the Giant Within, Think and Grow Rich and Outwitting the Devil come to mind instantly). However, reading these books never really spurred me on to take the massive action that would cause big changes in my life. This Goggin’s video, however, with it’s raw honesty inspired me to actually do something about the pervasive mediocrity that seemed to have taken hold in my life.

If you feel that you could do more, or if you have a nagging feeling inside of you somewhere that says ‘you’re not enough’, then watch the video above in full. I think it will resonate with you. 

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In the video, Goggin’s talks about being brutally honest with yourself and taking action to change things. If you’re fat, then blurt it out: ‘I’m fat. Roger that. Now what am I going to do about it?’ 

As a former Navy SEAL (who’s been through Hell Week three times), the 2013 Guinness World Record holder for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (he did 4030) and the Infinitus 88K race winner in 2016 (one of the most brutal races in the world): Goggins knows more than a thing or two about perseverance and pain. His story inspired me to do more. 

I decided to hit the gym every day, running at least 3k each time (I’ve now brought that up to 5.5k) and doing abs and weights on alternate days. Some days it was really hard – I’d get home from school, nap (like a lazy *&^#@$%) and then wake up a few hours before the gym closed (thank God it closes at midnight!). I felt sluggish, but I said to myself ‘Do it now you ‘insert expletive here’).

78.6kg

That’s how much I weigh today. I’ve lost 5.4kg in three months. It’s not an amazing amount of weight, but I feel an amazing difference and my BMI (Body Mass Index) stands at 25.2, which is almost at my target (24.9).

I feel better. I look better. I wake-up better (I don’t feel too zombie-like anymore). This was me last week:

Richard James Rogers lost weight

Interestingly, as well as giving his insights on making massive changes in your life, Goggin’s also shares some really insightful stories from his time as a schoolkid. In his book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ (highly recommended), Goggin’s describes in graphic detail the massive difference between a teacher who actually gave a damn about him, and a teacher who gave up. I’ve included the extracts below:

Goggins 1.jpg

Goggins 2.jpg

Goggin's 3

Goggins 4

In these extracts we see clearly the differences between Ms. D and Sister Katherine, and the profound effect that a teacher’s behavior can have on student self-esteem. Here are the lessons that I drew from Goggin’s experiences:

  • We must take full responsibility and accountability for the progress of our students. We must never ‘give-up’ on a student and take the easy ‘way-out’ by using past academic struggles, Special Educational Needs or emotional problems as excuses not to try. 
  • Students remember the impact a good teacher has on them well into adulthood. Goggins’ fond memories of Sister Katherine show this. Can you remember a good teacher you had at school?
  • Sister Katherine had a ‘no excuses’ mentality, and made her students realize that it is their responsibility to make life happen. How taboo is that mentality these days?
  • A bit of extra time spent helping and mentoring a student can have a massive effect on their sense of self-worth. Does your school have an active and useful mentoring system in-place?
  • As soon as we ‘label’ students we have a choice to make – dedicate more time and effort to help them out, or give-up on them. We have to have the mentality that ‘all students can be helped’. We just need to figure out the best ways to help them. 

I highly recommend Goggins’ book to any teacher who wants to get a brutally honest insight into the life of child who went through hell growing up (it’ll help you get a perspective on the reasons behind some of the behaviors you might see in-class). It’s also a good book for leveling-up in life. 

Purchase Can’t Hurt Me from Amazon here

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Cognitive Sandwiching: A Method for Teaching Difficult Topics

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Memory is the residue of thought

 – Daniel Willingham

This is one of my favorite pedagogical quotes and I’ve found it to be 100% accurate over the years. 

As an International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry teacher at an international school, I often have to teach topics to my students that are really, really difficult. Furthermore, the students will be examined on these topics at some point in the future, and those grades really mean something: the students will be using them to apply to study at universities all around the world. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

A key question I often ask myself is how can I get my students to think deeply about the topics they are learning, so that they remember enough details to get excellent grades on their exams?

it integrated

I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, but I think I’ve finally nailed-down a system that works with every difficult topic I teach:

  • Explore
  • Question
  • Teach
  • Test

Hopefully you’ll see that this is a system that can be applied to your subject area/teaching context too. 

Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)

Provide the stuff you want the students to learn in multiple formats. Some that you may wish to use could be:

  • Online videos
  • Websites
  • Simulations
  • Textbooks
  • Podcasts
  • Magazine entries
  • Revision guides

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Get the students to work in groups or pairs to produce some kind of creative, collaborative output. Examples include:

  • Create a Google Slides presentation about…..
  • Create a stop-motion animation about……
  • Create a large infographic about…….
  • Create a digital animation about…..

At the end of this exploration step, the students should present their work to the class in some form. This simple act of articulating what they have learned will cause deep-thinking (and therefore, memory) to take place. 

Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)

Give the students a series of exam-style, challenging questions on the topic to complete under timed conditions. The students can work together on this if you wish, and may use the resources they have for help. 

When the time-limit is over, provide the model answers (and make sure you actually have model answers available). Students can go through these answers via peer-assessment, self-assessment or even automated assessment (in the case of online teaching systems, like MyMaths and Educake).

Discussing homework

As a teacher, I also like to go through any particularly difficult questions with the students so as to clear up any misconceptions. This is especially true if, for example, nobody in the class can do question 2. 

Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)

This acts as an incredibly useful review for students after what has been an intense exploration and self-assessment of stuff that was, essentially, self-taught (with a bit of help from the teacher).

Go through the key points of the topic traditionally, perhaps using a slide-based presentation, video, animation or even notes written and explained on the whiteboard.

Make use of a few learning games to spice things up a bit, especially if key vocabulary needs to be learned. Spend time going through common misconceptions: those things that students get wrong year-after-year. 

Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)

Test the content covered using the most difficult questions you can find. Don’t go beyond the syllabus or above what’s been taught (obviously), but use past-paper questions that really do get the students to apply what they’ve learned to unusual contexts. 

Prior to the test, you might want to provide questions of similar difficulty (with model answers provided) for the students to go through at home. 

chatting in class

Make sure you go through the test afterwards too. Provide the mark scheme and make it really clear where, and how, marks have been lost.

Fluctuations

By fluctuating the intensity of thinking in this way (2,3,1,4) we’re exercising the brain in a similar way to how we exercise the body – gradual increases in intensity, followed by rest, followed by higher intensity. 

I’ve found that this model works really well for getting students to understand really difficult topics. 

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Exciting New Online Course for Teachers!

UKEd-Acad

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:

Course link: https://uked.academy/product/cmf/

Price: £30.00 (which includes a copy of my book) or £20.00 if you’ve already got a copy of my book (you’ll have to enter a discount code found within the book)

Launch date: October 21st 2019 (but you can start the course at anytime)

End of course certificate?Yes, endorsed by UKEd Academy and Richard James Rogers 

Course structure: Videos, quizzes, study notes, reflections and activities

Course schedule: Flexible (work at your own pace)

After successful completion of this course you’ll earn a certificate that will look very impressive on your C.V. and you will gain lots of knowledge, new techniques, tools and skills.  

I look forward to mentoring and guiding you through the key concepts that make an excellent teacher, well, excellent!

If you have any questions at all about this exciting course, then please e-mail me at info@richardjamesrogers.com

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The Disconnect: How Over-Rewarding Fails Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Reading time: 3 minutes

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 this excellent opinion piece in 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? 

jenga

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?

award

According to Alfie 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:

  • Group solidarity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Teacher’s ability to find joy and meaning in teaching

I don’t see much about bitterness there, Alfie. 

Here’s another one I pulled-up: A meta-analysis of 96 different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta found that (look at the last sentence especially):

…….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). 

Conclusion

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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Digitizing the Learning Experience: EdTech 101

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A number of interesting trends in the automation and computerization of education have taken place in the past twelve months. These innovations build on the tech boom seen after the dot .com crisis recovery in the early 2000s and include:

  • Coding
  • Online learning
  • Robotics and AI
  • Cloud computing
  • Smart devices and the Internet of Things
  • FinTech
  • Data Logging
  • Adaptable ‘Smart Spaces’

it integrated

To put all of this into context one only has to look as far back as last week’s edition of the Economist. Page 11 presents a daunting synopsis of the digital web we find ourselves in via an article aptly entitled A Planetary Panopticon [print edition]:

In a world in which more things are computerized, more companies will come to resemble computer firms. In expensive, high-tech industries, where the economics of the IoT have made sense for decades, the results of this are already visible. Rolls-Royce, a big British maker of jet engines, launched its “Power by the Hour” service in 1962, offering to maintain and repair it’s engines for a fixed cost per hour. It’s digital transformation began in earnest in 2002, built around the ability to do continuous, real-time monitoring of its products.

The article goes on to describe how:

  • Data is becoming the new currency of developed countries (and even some developing ones, such as China, which has basically already become a cashless society)
  • Surveillance is set to become more pervasive as firms set-out to monitor consumer behavior more closely in an effort to improve products, services and marketing strategies
  • Smart-tech companies will become ever-more protective of their data: a valuable commodity. Apple, for example, “is famously unwilling to allow its customers to have broken iPhones repaired anywhere except in its own shops, going so far as to use software updates to disable replacement touchscreens installed by cheaper, third-party fixers.”

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I would even go so far as to say that teachers, everywhere, need to skill-up in computer science quickly, or else we could find ourselves out of a job! I talk about this in my video below:

From the perspective of helping our students make the ‘digital transition’, I’ve written two blog posts with some tips here: 

You may also want to check out these great blogs and websites:

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Letting Them ‘Roll With It’ – The Power of Exploration

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I had this crazy idea, some years ago, to offer a Computer Games Coding after-school club for the students to take part in. I had absolutely no idea how to code, but I thought it would be pretty cool. 

I was rather the maverick back then. 

I picked up a book about coding with Scratch (check it out by the way – it’s brilliant) to read up on the basics, but I didn’t have the self-discipline to actually read that book.

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I picked up the book, but I didn’t read it!

I stopped after the first few pages. 

Around 20 students signed up for this club, making it one of the most popular in the school. I was two days away from teaching my first coding lesson and I was panicking – how could I teach this stuff if I didn’t even know how to do it? 

I decided on Emergency Plan B – I would share extracts from Scratch textbooks for kids (and my book that I’d bought) with the students through our school’s online learning platform. There were a number of games that the students could decide to build: Ghost Hunter, Boat Race, Space Mission, Chat Bot, etc. I decided to let them choose and build the games in pairs or small groups

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

In those early days I would call students to my desk one-at-a-time and I would ask them: “How’s the coding going? What have you done so far? Show me the blocks you’ve created.” – Guess what: the kids were teaching me how to code!

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As each lesson went by I picked up more and more tips and knowledge and I was able to help the students out with more complex problems. The club culminated at the end of the year with a big assembly in which my best coders shown the whole school the games they created. 

Go on the journey together

My message in this article is that it’s not always necessary to know everything about your subject, especially if you’re new to teaching it. When I first came to Thailand in 2008, I was much less knowledgeable about Chemistry than I am now (I was a Biology Teacher in the UK). The strategy I took was this – I will learn with the students

So, get some fundamentals under your belt and think of ways to get your students to explore the topics they are learning. Get your students to use source material to:

  • Create Google Slides presentations (these are great, by the way, as multiple students can work on the slides in real-time)
  • Create a class quiz (e.g. a Kahoot!)
  • Create infographics (don’t go with ‘posters’ – they’ve been done to death)
  • Create a website or blog (Google Sites is brilliant for this, and is yet another reason why schools should take on Google Suite)
  • Create models of the concepts (simple materials are all that’s needed – bottle caps, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc)
  • Create a table display (e.g. for a Science Fair)

Don’t forget to reward the effort in some way: house points, merits, certificates, etc. 

Subject Knowledge Does Help

It is worth pointing out that it is always better to actually know the intricacies of the topics you are teaching. This always gives the teacher more confidence and more ability to help the kids.

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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