Secret Number 7: The ‘Three As’

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers 

Here’s a video I made about the ‘Three As’, which should act as a nice supplement to this blog post:

Firstly, please accept my apologies for missing my scheduled blog post last Sunday. Last weekend was a little crazy, and this past week was busy as I was perfecting, editing and preparing end-of-year exam papers for my Chemistry students. I also wanted to write a genuine blog post (which requires time), rather than just copy and paste something and make do with that.

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“An AMAZING book!”

Hopefully the seven-day delay (I know, I feel bad about it too!) is compensated with a better reading experience for you.

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Enough groveling. Time for the nitty-gritty.

Objectives

That’s a word that most teachers and students have heard. The idea of making our kids aware of the ‘mission’, ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ of the lesson, right at the start of the lesson, was drilled into me hard during my PGCE placements back in 2005 and 2006.

‘The kids must know where they are going, in order to realise how to get there’, seemed to be the central dogma of the time.

So, I followed the parade of keen twenty-somethings who were eagerly trying to inspire their new students. I wrote my objectives on the whiteboard every single lesson, or I projected them onto a screen. This ticked my appraisal boxes brilliantly, and gave my observers something positive to write about.

The strange thing was, however, that this ritual seemed to help me more than it helped the kids. It helped me to know what I must cover that lesson, but when I forgot to write those objectives I didn’t notice any detrimental effect on my pupil-enagagement. In fact, my lessons were often better when I didn’t follow the ritual of writing those objectives – I was more relaxed, and I think my kids were more relaxed too.

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I learnt later that my personality, and effort/attention during the lesson itself and in the planning process, were the key determining factors in how successful my lessons were. When I realised this, I boldly allowed myself to be more creative with my starter activities, and therefore more fun in my approach to each lesson.

The ‘Three As’

A turning point in my personal teaching philosophy came when I devised the ‘Three As’ and delineated them in my bestselling debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management.

It seemed to make sense to people.

The ‘Three As’ stand for Assign, Analyse and Ask. It’s a simple three-step process for starting each lesson, and allows for the teacher to be as creative as he or she wishes when articulating lesson objectives:

  • Assign a starter activity, that links to the topic somehow. This can be as simple as a video playing on the screen as the kids walk in, a worksheet or even a learning game.
  • Analyse the starter activity: This may involve peer-assessing the task, having a class discussion, quick-fire questions or a ‘True or False’ activity
  • Ask the students: What do you think we are learning about today? This may generate some discussion, but if the ‘Assign’ and ‘Analyse’ parts have been designed properly, then it should be obvious.

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This three-step method ensures that the students discover the lesson objectives by themselves, hopefully in a fun and interesting way, which makes those objectives far more memorable than if they were simply written on the whiteboard for the kids to copy down.

Let’s look at a real example of the ‘ Three As’ in action.

Year 9 Volcanoes Lesson (Science, the Rock Cycle)

Assign: National Geographic video on volcanoes (with subtitles enabled for extra clarity) plays for five minutes as the students enter the room and settle down

Analyse: I choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall, one wall to be the ‘False’ wall. I ask true or false questions about the video and the kids move to the corresponding wall (see the bottom half of the picture below):

Ask: “So, everybody, what do you think we’re learning about today?”

“Volacanoes” chirps one kid

“Kind of, but what comes out of volcanoes?”

“Lava” say a few kids

“Yes, and lava cools to form…?”

“Igneous rock” say another group of kids

“Yes, correct, we’re learning about igneous rocks. Give yourself a clap for figuring that out!”

[Class applauds]

Conclusion

  • Lesson objectives are more memorable when the kids have discovered them, rather than when they’ve been told them
  • Use the ‘Three As’ to make your kids aware of the lesson objectives in a fun and interesting way

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Secret Number 6: Start Lessons Promptly

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue

Related article: 7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers 

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.

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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)

 

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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.

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University describe the start and end of the lesson as being “important moments” of instruction. They describe the signifiance of these critical times of the lesson in rather bold terms:

The events that occur during these windows can influence the engagement of students in their learning as well as their ability to synthesize major concepts.

So, as soon as the lesson starts (or better: as soon as the kids walk through the classroom door), give your students something to do!

This can be:

  • A quick quiz or worksheet (requiring around five minutes to complete)
  • A question written on the board that the students have to answer
  • A quick vocabulary game (more on games here)
  • An ICT based task (e.g. using iPads to find out how Oliver Cromwell died, completing an online quiz about dinosaurs or writing a short blog post)
  • A role-play or conversation starter with students working in small groups (particularly good for language classes)
  • A practical construction activity (e.g. ‘Use the coins to make fifty-five pence’, or ‘Use the molecular modeling kits to make a molecule of glucose’)
  • Cut and stick activities (e.g. matching words to descriptions, adding labels to diagrams, making pictures out of shapes, etc.)
  • Surprise scenarios (e.g. turning your classroom into a ‘crime scene’, and getting your students to take samples and follow clues)
  • A QR code treasure hunt (these are particularly good fun, and are also a great way to build ICT into your lessons).
  • A Kahoot! quiz

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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News: Warwick University Fudges Exam Timetable

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Examinations are stressful for students at all levels of Further and Higher Education: whether it’s GCSEs, end of unit tests, IB Diploma exams, university assessments or any test that carries a significant weighting.

And that’s when the exams are scheduled properly.

Imagine how much more stressful it would be if you found out that you may have to take some of your exams six weeks earlier than you were originally told.

Surprisingly, this is exactly what has happened recently at Warwick University: one of the UK’s most prestigious institutions.

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According to the BBC report published yesterday, the university said that the provisional timetable had to be scrapped due to “significant” difficulties and students had been told to disregard it.

In some cases exams have been scheduled 42 days earlier than planned.

After scanning Warwick’s press releases page I could not find any official explanation or update from them. The new exam timetable was apparently shared on 17th April, but press releases on that day discuss regional investment and an explosion on a star.

Too much homework

Nothing about the new timetable.

I contacted Warwick for an official explanation and received this reply:

Due to significant, critical and unforeseen difficulties, the earlier provisional timetable was taken down and students informed it was inaccurate and to await updated accurate information.

The examinations team responded to feedback from academic departments and published the final timetable a week earlier than was originally planned.

Boards of Examiners and the Notification of Mitigating Circumstances process will operate as it has in previous years and the details can be found here:
https://warwick.ac.uk/services/academicoffice/examinations/students/mitigatingcircumstances

The ‘tip of the iceberg’

When delving deeper into this story I discovered that the provisional exam timetable, apparently released by Warwick almost two weeks later than expected, was also riddled with issues.

According to this article written by Steph Campbell at The Boar (Warwick University’s Student Newspaper), the provisional timetable showed some final year students’ exams being timetabled in June and early July, when the students were expected to be finished by the end of May.

A game of exam ‘ping pong’?

It seems that students were originally told that they would have exams in June and July, only to be told on April 17th that these exams were being moved to May.

Ping-ponging students like this is not a good idea, especially when so much is at stake (i.e. their entire futures).

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A MOUNTAIN OF REVISION TO DO IN SUCH LITTLE TIME: WARWICK STUDENTS TODAY?

My thoughts on this

Whilst Warwick doesn’t offer a course in Rocket Science (although their degree in Physics with Astrophysics comes close), they really didn’t need to assign this basic task to a rocket scientist.

If schools, colleges and exam boards can arrange exam timetables properly, then why not a top university?

It’s really simple:

Step 1: Find out which rooms are free and when

Step 2: Find out how many students can be comfortably accommodated into each room at once

Step 3: Find out the duration of each exam

Step 4: Match rooms and times with exams

Step 5: Tell your students

Step 6: Assign and hire invigilators

Warwick University may wish to take note of this process for future reference. It’s a tried-and-tested method that has been used successfully by schools and colleges for decades.

I contacted The Boar for an official comment but have so far not received a response.

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News: Students Must Learn to Outwit Robots

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Robots are taking over. Teachers everywhere need to skill-up, and fast.

This assertion, which I’ve been making for years, was further compounded by a news article I read from the Asia Pacific Entrepreneur on Tuesday.

The article, aptly entitled ‘Robots Are Stealing our Jobs, cites a report by the world-famous McKinsey Global Institute (and when they speak, businesses listen). Their estimation is that robots will replace 73 million jobs by 2030. (Secondary sources used, as McKinsey report link appears to be broken at the time of writing).

That’s only ten years away, by the way.

This got me reflecting on a recent experience I had.

Singapore, April 2019

I had the opportunity to spend a few days of the sweltering Songkran vacation in the beautiful island city of Singapore last week. It was a nice break from things, and a chance to see the wider-world a bit.

As soon as one lands at Singapore’s Changi Airport, one feels as though they are in a king’s palace – carpeted floors, an amazing array of shops and restaurants and one more thing: automation.

Checking in at Changi is easy – your thumbprints are scanned and you’re waved along. And there’s extra convenience when you leave Singapore – no need for any stamps in your passport anymore. You simply use your entry thumbprints to check out again when you leave.

I thought that was cool.

Then, as I was going down a random escalator at Changi I saw a robot cleaning the floors. No, not one of those small circular robo vacuums that some people might have at home – a big, industrial floor sweeper that was fully automated.

People stopped to take photos.

It was a weird feeling to be honest. Part of me thought this was so high-tech and unique. Another part of me thought: ‘someone has lost their job to that robot’

The hotel

I checked in at Studio M hotel in Singapore’s upscale Robertson Quay area.

Located next to a calm river and a cool spectrum of eateries and cafe’s (including the Book cafe – an author’s favorite, located just opposite), Studio M strikes you as a modern ‘hipster-style’ hideout.

I certainly got the hipster feeling in full dosage that night when I asked for some extra tissue paper. I dialed ‘0’ and asked for a resupply from the receptionist.

Two minutes later I opened the door to bleeps, flashy lights and a disco of childhood surprise – a cute robot was waiting with my order.

I and Nicki were in hysterics, and we took a video and photos (as you’ll see below). However, we took too long to video the robot and it ran away! We had to phone it to come back.

Colleges teaching students to outwit robots

Singapore validated my long-held suspicions that began when I started using MyiMaths – that technology will soon replace humans in almost every area of employment and business (including teaching).

Robots are efficient and cool, and they don’t require a salary. Call me pessimistic and a party-pooper, but I see that as being quite appealing to the typical business owner.

For teachers, we are already seeing the impact of technology on our roles. Computers are teaching our students at an ever-increasing frequency, and we are being increasingly relegated to the role of ‘facilitator’.

Imagine a panopticon-style school with super-surveillance, and a full suite of computer labs and robots to teach both practical and theoretical subjects. How many human ‘facilitators’ would that school need then?

Oh, but parents would never accept that, right?

Wrong – by 2030 most parents of school-age children will be

That’s why I am urgently warning all teachers, everywhere, to skill-up in any ICT-based field, and fast. I chose FinTech, because it interests me. You may wish to choose another field.

The rising state of anxiety about this issue has become so intense that some colleges are even considering ways in which they can teach students to ‘out-compete’ robots.

The Hechniger article cites Aoun as recommending all students to skill-up so that they can ‘outwit’ robots by:

  • Becoming exceptional public speakers
  • Optimizing non-robotic skills such as creativity, empathy and a sense of ethics
  • Understanding technology and data

He also argues that the era of getting a degree and being set-up for life is over. Universities now need to provide short courses that skill students up throughout their lives (hence my current enrollment in the Professional Certificate in FinTech course with HKU)

Conclusion

MyiMaths, Singapore, the Open University and HKU taught me something important – that automation is becoming cheaper and better as each year goes by. 

Teachers would be wise to keep this in mind, and take action now. 

Further viewing

An early video I made back in 2017 about this very issue:

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Secret Number 4: Use Positive, Specific Feedback

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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I was fortunate enough to go to a great university to do my bachelor’s degree, and the lecturers were absolutely brilliant. They cared about their students, fundamentally.

However, I look back with mixed emotions on my overall education as I was growing up.

Primary school – not so good (I’m sorry to say)

Secondary school – brilliant overall (but it was hard at first, especially because I was bullied – but that’s another story for another blog post)

University – loved it, but I found it a real challenge to live on my own and be independent

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Online learning with the Open University, and later with HKU – just brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. If you’ve never done a distance learning course, then now is the best time to start as technology has come a long way with MOOCs and online learning platforms. Check out edX for amazing online learning courses (very highly recommended, and affordable).

Why were the best, the best?

There’s a number of reasons why some of my educational experiences were better than others – the quality of teaching, the social setting, my personal maturity, etc. Bangor University stands out as being one of the best educational experiences I had, however, because my lecturers always took the time to give me high-quality feedback in a timely manner.

I commend them for that, because that’s not always easy to do.

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“An AMAZING book!”

There was that time, for example, when I printed out pictures of molecular models using an old-style Kodak digital photo printer, and glued them onto my assignment. My professor wrote ‘Wow!’ next to the picture with a big, specific explanation of why he liked my essay.

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Then there was that time when I and my friend just wanted to sit and chat with another professor in his office. Bangor’s lecturers were like that – approachable and happy to chat with students. I could tell he was busy, but he made us both a cup of tea and chatted with us about a range of different scientific issues. Shortly after the meeting has finished, I got an e-mail from him in which read ‘I really appreciate your enthusiasm, Richard. I really enjoyed our discussion about molecular chirality’.

That was powerful.

Then, there was a time when I had a dispute with the answer to one of my questions on a test – I had named a chemical wrong. I asked my professor about it, and he said he liked my answer because (and then proceeded to tell me why), and then he told me why my answer was wrong.

I left feeling dignified and educated.

Specific praise is powerful praise

Last week I wrote about the importance of positivity and praise, and the role that sincerity and collectivism plays in that dynamic. Those are important foundational principles, but in order to ‘turbo-charge’ our praise we must make it as specific as possible.

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But what does ‘specific’ mean?

I used to think that ‘specific’ praise meant highlighting the positive areas of a student’s work by using subject-specific language.

That’s important, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not enough.

When we praise our students, we need to make it emotional. It needs to stir up thoughts and feelings of achievement and empowerment. To do that, we must acknowledge:

1. The effort that’s gone into the work:

“When I was reading this homework, I could tell that you’d put a lot of time and effort into it, Richard. Well done”

“I really like how you’ve written both the word and symbol equations. That must have taken a lot of time, Well done for having such a good learning attitude”

2. Novel creativity that’s evident: To do this we must give our students the opportunity to be creative, and design tasks which naturally extract creativity from our students.

“You’ve designed the perfect predator here! Just brilliant! I love the sharp teeth and large wings!”

“I love this model of the atom that you’ve build. What a great idea to use different-colored bottle caps to represent the protons and neutrons”

3. The skills used to generate the output: this requires good task-design too, and we must try to capitalize on our students’ interpersonal, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“You guys worked together as a great team. John delegated well as a good leader, and I think he made sure that everyone knew what they were doing. Stacey made sure that all of the slides were really clear and presentable, and I know that everyone in the class could read the information properly. And Joe – good use of diagrams to show the processes of crystallization, distillation and filtration”

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Oh come on, that’ll take ages

You don’t have to write all of this feedback, and you should only give specific praise if a student has earned it.

Consider delineating your praise in the following ways:

  • Written comments
  • Verbally – very memorable and effective
  • Via e-mail
  • Through technology such as VLEs and MOOCs
  • By asking other teachers to also praise the student (collective praise)
  • Certificates and awards
  • Assemblies
  • Merits and points (but make sure the associated reason is made clear to the student)
  • Phone calls and letters/e-mails to parents
  • A discussion with a colleague in front of a student (e.g. when waiting in the lunch queue or if a student walks into the staff room or your office)
  • Showcasing work (e.g. on a noticeboard or just by holding it up to show other students)

Another point of happiness in my childhood was when my karate sensei told my dad, in front of me, that I had a ‘good attitude’. How come I can remember that when it happened 20 years ago? Because it made me feel good.

It made me feel proud.

Emotion goes hand-in-hand with praise, and that’s why all praise must be sincere.

Further reading

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power

The Four Rules of Praise

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Secret Number 3: Praise is Power!

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

Illustrated by Tikumporn Boonchuaylue and Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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Getting a handle on how to give sincere praise on a regular basis, and giving it regulary to the same students (i.e. all of our students), is a skill that the very best practitioners have mastered.

Praise is not the cute fluff-ball it appears to be, however. It is complex, dynamic and works effectively through a variety of methods. Let’s begin with a true story that illustrates the massive power of praise in teaching.

Joanne’s story

Joanne had recently qualified as a secondary school science teacher and had just started her new teaching post at an English comprehensive school. She was excited about the new challenges she would face. and was ready to put all of her training into action. She had been given responsibility for a Year 11 (age 15 – 16) general science class. Their previous teacher had left her some handover notes, and had specified that she must be careful when dealing with one student in particular: Damon. This young man was notorious for being argumentative, aggressive and non-cooperative. She was told that she must not con- front him under any circumstances. Naturally, Joanne was more than a little apprehensive when she met this class for the first time.

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Damon walked into the science lab slightly later than the rest of his peers, and Joanne greeted him with a friendly “Welcome in young man, please take a seat”. This caused a giggle amongst the rest of the students, who were naturally expecting the same reaction that Damon’s other teachers would have given him – a good telling off! Damon sat down as instructed, but, being a feisty young teen ready to push the boundaries and test what he could get away with, he pulled out a can of cola and started to drink it at his desk (something that is generally not allowed in a science lab). Joanne, knowing what she had been told about Damon, decided on a very positive and useful approach: she decided to ignore this misdemeanor at that moment and proceed on with the lesson.

chatting in class

As the lesson proceeded, Joanne set a group work activity and walked around the classroom to see how the students were getting on. As she passed Damon, she noticed that he had a very neat and organized set of felt-tip pens on his desk, arranged in a very nice standalone display case. Joanne praised Damon with a “You’re so organised, Damon. It’s good to see that you’re prepared for your lessons. I wish that every student was as prepared as you are.”

What do you think Damon’s reaction was? – He was absolutely stunned! This was a young kid who was accustomed to being reprimanded, put on detention and confronted on a daily basis. Here was a new teacher who could actually see his worth, and what he could contribute. He lapped up the praise, and responded with an “Umm, err thanks. I always like to be ready for my lessons. I also love art”. This led to a short conversation about Damon’s love of drawing tattoo designs. Joanne subtly drew his attention to the artistic graphics on the cola can, and reminded him he couldn’t drink it in the science lab. He smiled.

Later that lesson, Joanne assigned him the role of ‘Work Presentation Chief’ for the class. Each lesson, from then on in, Joanne made sure that she praised Damon for his work, and allowed him to go around the class and assess the presentation skills of selected students. What was the effect on Damon? – He became Joanne’s best student. He felt empowered, because, like all human beings, he craved a sense of importance and he craved appreciation. When Damon achieved his grade C in GCSE Science that year (a massive accomplishment considering his turbulent history) he said to Joanne “It was all because of you, miss”. Even at that moment, Joanne praised him by responding with “You did all the hard work, Damon”.

Block building

Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain – and most fools do

Dale Carnegie

What do most people do when they are criticized? How do most people respond when their character or judgement is scrutinized? Answer: most people try to justify themselves, and this often leads to resentment felt towards the person doing the complaining. Your students are no different in this respect than you or I. We all love to know that we’re doing a good job, and we all want to feel appreciated and important. Make your students feel appreciated by praising them often, and make sure you mean what you say!

The 4 main rules of praise

Every student we teach is different, and our styles of praise will naturally adapt to suit the personalities of each child. However, there are some fundamental rules that all forms of praise should follow (written rules follow the YouTube video):

Rule #1: Praise must be sincere

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

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Rule #2: Praise must be specific

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

Be specific. Here are some examples:

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

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

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

Try keeping a professional intelligence journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Secret Number 2: Use humor to enhance learning

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

Illustrated by my new illustrator!: Tikumporn Boonchuayluea

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

John’s Year 10 English class consisted of a cooperative and friendly group of students. One problem persisted though; a problem found in scores of classrooms the world over: low-level disruption.

This class was notorious for doing as they were told but having a lack-luster approach to tasks: often chatting when more ‘work’ should have been done. John, a man from a traditional British family, saw himself as a ‘staunch disciplinarian’, and he would often respond to student chatter and distraction by shouting at the students who he thought were responsible for it. He would hand out scores of detentions, all of which ate into his lunchtimes and his free time after school.

Had this have solved things, John might have been be forgiven for feeling proud of his vigilant approach. However, the problem didn’t go away, and students started to resent going to John’s lessons and they began to dislike him personally. John had effectively created a very negative environment in the classroom and this was not conducive to effective learning or positive behaviour.

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“An AMAZING book!”

As behavior got worse and worse, and students felt that they were being treated ‘unfairly’, John realized that he needed a radically different approach to his teaching methodology. He decided to attend a professional development course in accelerated learning, and after a day of various workshops his eyes were opened dramatically.

“I had been making fatal mistakes since I started working with this class” said John.

“I hadn’t shown them my human side, and I was too quick to criticize. I didn’t use my personality to generate humor and I created an environment of negativity”.

What do you think John did the next time he heard students chatting in his class? He used humor and his personality to ‘lighten the mood’ whilst, at the same time, getting the students back ontask.

“My student, Billy, was chatting to a girl called Sarah when he should have been listening to another student read a Shakespearean sonnet to the class. Normally, I would have responded to this by reading him the Riot Act and exploding, or putting both students on detention. Knowing that this could cause a backlash, or at least create an unhelpful atmosphere in the class, I decided on a different tactic. I said ‘Billy, please stop flirting with Sarah. You can do that at break time’ and I smiled. The response I got was a giggle from the class and a bit of teenage awkwardness from Sarah as she said ‘Ugh! I don’t think so’. After this, everyone listened attentively to the sonnet, and we proceeded on to our group activity”.

John’s story demonstrates the power that humor can have in making a lesson more palatable for students, and how humor can be used to keep students on-task. Again, it makes our human nature become visible to our students and, if used tactfully, it can even make lesson content more memorable and can help with behavior management. You have to be careful though, as some forms of humor will work with some students but not others. You need to have a good knowledge of your class before you employ the tactic that Josh used in the example above.

You really need to know your students well, as not every student you have will respond in the same way to the humor that you use.

I recall teaching a Biology lesson some years back in which we were studying inherited and environmental traits. One girl in the class asked to be excused to use the facilities and upon leaving she said something to her friend and was replied to with the word “retard!”.

Now I know that some people are going to tally disagree with I did in response to his, but in this particular situation it was definitely the right thing to do. I tackled this spontaneous outburst in a non-confrontational way by jokingly asking “Is that an environmental or inherited trait” and she said “both!”.

The whole class giggled, the situation was forgotten about and the students were back on task in a matter of seconds.

Had I have responded with some form of severe sanction, for what was essentially a typical exchange between two teenagers, then that would have created confrontation and a negative atmosphere in the classroom. This wouldn’t have helped anyone.

Word games: An idea worth exploring

Turn your key vocabulary into silly (bad?) jokes when talking to your students. Here’s an example: “I was sitting the staff room yesterday and Mrs Jones said ‘I like you, Mr Rogers, you’re funny’. I replied with ‘I alkalike you, Mrs. Jones: you are funny too’. This is the life of a Chemistry teacher, hashtag chemistrylife” (For those who don’t get it, I turned the word ‘alkali’ – a chemistry key word – into ‘alkalike’).

As bad as jokes like these are, I’ve found that students really like them, and they help the students to remember the key words they need for their tests and exams.

Suggestions: Ways to use humor in lessons

  • Tackle disruption with light-hearted comments that make the students aware that they need to be on-task, without being antagonistic. Use knowledge about student interests if possible (e.g. “David, I know you must be talking about the next ramp you’re going to fly off on your skateboard, but if you could please listen to me at this moment then I would be most grateful”, or “Simone, I’m sure that Diane already knows what a great dancer you are, so if you could please focus on the task in hand, then that would be great”). Remember, students may respond to this so be ready to be light-hearted and direct the conversation back to the task in-hand.
  • During group activities or short tasks, you can play some silly music (not too loud) to lighten the mood. You can start by saying something like “I’m going to play everyone’s favourite music”, and then proceed to play something funny and upbeat.
  • You can sing to your students. That’s right, I did just say that! You can make up silly songs about whatever the lesson content is and sing or rap them to the class. You can also get the students to do this too.
  • Use your whole physiology to generate laughter. A laugh eases tension and nurtures creativity. Use changes in your voice, funny personal stories, exaggerated facial expressions, dance moves and anything you can think of to raise a smile and a giggle.
  • Use learning games to make the atmosphere more happy and relaxed. If you’re a languages teacher, you may want to make your students formulate silly phrases, or use the vocabulary games mentioned in Chapter 2.
  • Make up rhymes, acronyms and funny mnemonics. For example, MR FAB is an acronym for Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Amphibians and Birds (vertebrate animals) and “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” is a mnemonic for “North, East, South, West”. Even better: get the kids to make up their own.

Conclusion

In summary, humour increases happiness in the classroom, removes inhibitions, makes the teacher appear more human and can even be used as a behaviour-management tool. To add to this, decades of methodical research have shown that humour can even help students remember key concepts for long periods of time, if it is used to illustrate a concept that has just been taught (Banas et al, 2011).

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5 Things Schools Should be Teaching Kids (But Probably Aren’t)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Thinking back to the pre-smartphone age in which I completed my studies at high school, I often wonder: did school achieve its purpose in my life?

Before I can answer that question I must first define what the purpose of a high school should be. Here are some thoughts from some of the best pedagogical experts on the planet:

The purpose of high school, I believe, is to prepare students for a meaningful life in the 21st century; to be a good citizen, economically self-sufficient and respectful of themselves and others. 

– Terry Doran, Retired School Board President, Berkeley Unified School District

Most of what our students need to know hasn’t been discovered or invented yet. ‘Learning how to learn’ used to be an optional extra in education; today, it’s a survival skill.

– Dylan Wiliam, Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms

My role, as teacher, is to evaluate the effect I have on my students.

– John A.C. Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

A variety of interesting thoughts, but are there some common themes in these quotes?img_0009-1

I’ve extracted the following:

  • School must prepare students for life
  • Schools must focus on the effect they are having on their students, and this effect would presumably be best measured by how students have fared in adult life
  • Students must be taught ‘how to learn’, in order to cope with a rapidly developing and changing skills market

Using these extractions and my own intuition as a compass, I believe that schools are focusing too much on real-time strategies that improve grades, but are not focussing enough on:

  • Alumni, and how school has actually helped or hindered them in life
  • Modern technology and the quick integration of this into the school curriculum
  • Skills and knowledge which are readily applicable to life after school

Using these conclusions as a solid foundation, I’ve drawn up my list of the five most important things that we should be teaching our kids at school (but most of us, through rigid curriculum expectations, cannot).

a guy sitting

1. Teach kids how to manage money

From credit card debt to budgeting and student loans: personal finance should be a thorough and comprehensive part of every high school curriculum.

2. Teach kids about FinTech

High school Business Studies and Economics courses haven’t caught up with the current trend in cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin and OMG), Distributed Ledger Technologies (such as Blockchain) and electronic forms of payment such as AliPay, WeChat Pay, Impesa and True Money Wallet (to name but a few).

The way that people use and perceive money is changing rapidly and in order for kids to be prepared for the ‘real world’ I believe they should be taught about these various technologies.

I’m currently studying for a Professional Certificate in FinTech through edX (with the University of Hong Hong) and I can tell you – it’s fascinating! When I learn something new from the course I pass it on to my students in my Money Management ECA, which I run after school once a week.

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3. Teach kids about digital marketing

Kids need to be taught about the power of social media – when used to promote products and services. By showing kids the benefits of digital marketing, we make them realize that compulsive selfies or photos of their dinner serve no purpose for their career in the long-term, and can be a real waste-of-time.

Schools should aspire to turn their students into independent learners and critical thinkers, and should, therefore, prepare students for the possibility of entrepreneurship one day. Digital Marketing is now an essential component of any company’s advertising strategy, and our students need to learn the power that social media can have in building a business’s platform.

woman-reading

4. Teach kids the importance of integrity

The importance of managing one’s reputation (especially one’s online reputation) has never been more important.

One inappropriate photo uploaded onto social media, or one public outburst recorded on someone’s smartphone, and everything you have worked for can literally be destroyed in an instant.

It’s not a nice thing to admit that we now live in a somewhat dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society; but it is the truth. Our students need to know the realities of this, and see it as an opportunity (not a disadvantage) – they can just as easily build up a good online reputation as a bad one.

Discussing homework

5. Teach kids problem-solving skills

As technologies rapidly develop, it’s now become impossible for schools to teach absolutely everything a child needs to succeed in the workplace or business arena.

Whilst schools must keep up with the times by upgrading curricula on a yearly basis (in my opinion), they must also give students the opportunity to work on projects in which they have to solve problems.

Theme days, group-work, camps and special programs like CREST Award are great ways to take students out of their ‘comfort zones’ and challenge their capacity to think laterally and quickly.

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

Conclusion

Just as salaried employees and business owners need to skill-up on a regular basis, schools should upgrade the skills portfolio that they are providing for their students in real-time. New developments in fields such as STEM, Business, ICT and Economics needs to be filtered down to the classroom level quickly, so that students receive relevant training in adaptability and problem-solving.

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What is ‘Question Level Analysis’?

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

Dr. Curry was a friendly, but direct, man.

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).

Giving feedback

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%.

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An AMAZING book!

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.

Discussing homework

Command terms are those words that tell you what to do in a question. Examples include:

  • Describe
  • Annotate
  • Explain

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).

chatting in class

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).

jenga

The method I like to use (because of its simplicity and ‘hands-on’ approach for the students) is as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.

poll-everywhere

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.

Q & A

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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Discussing QLA with Harrow International School staff last week 

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3 Cool Education Apps to use in 2019

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

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.

A bright light of hope was shone my way these past two days, however, when I attended an excellent Science JAWs (Job-alike Workshop) event at Harrow International School, Bangkok.

richard rogers harrow.jpg
Learning about EdTech with colleagues at Harrow International School, Bangkok, Thailand. I’m the one in the polo shirt ;-D

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

So here’s my list of what I believe to be the most useful apps I tested during this event. I’ll definitely be using them with my students and in my teaching. Enjoy!

1. Nearpod

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

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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

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

When I tested Nearpod 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 her blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

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

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

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

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

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

2. Noteability

Where to get it: App Store, Mac App Store

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

My thoughts on Noteability

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

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

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

3. Flipgrid

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

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

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

It’s super cool!

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

Image courtesy of Flipgrid

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

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

My thoughts on Flipgrid

When I tested it 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.

Conclusion

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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