Seeking Help from Colleagues: Tips for Teachers (Secret no. 11)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Have you ever noticed that there are some teachers in your school who never seem to have behaviour management issues? They just seem to be able to teach their classes with no disruption whatsoever or, at the very least, they deal with disruption or poor-behaviour quickly, fairly and consistently. These people are positive deviants  : they should have the same problems as you do, but they don’t. These are people you can learn from, and who you should consult with regularly.

talk n walk

In many schools around the world, teachers are made to feel inferior if they admit to having a problem. I have experienced this kind of culture first-hand, and it can be very disempowering. You speak up and you say “I’m having problems with ‘student x’, he just never seems to listen”, and one of your colleagues pipes in with a “Really? Well he’s fine for me.”

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An AMAZING Book!”

The person who dishes out this quick and smarmy reply is either a positive deviant, who you can learn from, or they’re lying so that they can make themselves look good in public. If conversations of this type are commonplace in your school, then it can be difficult to have the courage to speak up when you have a problem. However, it is absolutely essential that you do speak up because you’ll probably find someone who can help you when the problem is in its infancy, allowing you to deal with it before it becomes a lot worse.

Question time!

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

Answers can be found at the end of this article

Key steps to take when seeking help from colleagues

1. Speak up and admit when you have a problem: You can speak with a line manager or even another colleague you trust. If it’s a whole-class issue in which you’re having problems with disruption from multiple students, then try to find other teachers who teach that same class. Ask for their advice. The same rule applies if you’re having a problem with an individual student: find out who his or her other teachers are, and talk with them.

2. Identify positive deviants: Find all of those teachers who have a positive relationship with the student, or group of students, you’re having problems with.

3. Ask those positive deviants to observe your lessons: Make sure you seek feedback from the observer, and be sure to record everything that he or she says about your lesson.

jenga

4. Observe the positive deviants: Book a time when you can see the positive deviant ‘in action’. Try to observe them whilst they’re teaching the same students that you teach, and make lots of notes (or even ask for permission to video the lesson). Try to think of all of the things that this person is doing to reinforce and promote positive behaviour, and then try to model this in your lessons. You may even ask the positive deviant to observe you again at this point, if you wish, just so that you can ‘fine-tune’ the new techniques that you have learned.

5. Be sure to thank the positive deviant once the process is complete

Our colleagues are often the best people we can turn to for help – and another big advantage of seeking counsel ‘internally’ is that you’ll be liked all the more for respecting and acknowledging the expertise of the people you work with. 

That counts for a lot. 

I am borrowing the phrase ‘positive deviants’ from the excellent book ‘Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change’ by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I strongly recommend this book to any teachers who aspire to positively influence their students or who wish to be effective school managers.

teaching with laptop

Answers 

1. Do you know any ‘positive deviants’ at your school? What attributes do they have?

The answer to this question will depend very much on your own personal work environment.

I can share my own personal experiences with you in a effort to highlight the qualities you should look for.

When I was training to be a teacher and doing my PGCE I was lucky enough to be mentored by an amazing Biology teacher. The school I was training at was challenging, with students coming predominately from low-income families in an area of high crime. Kids came to school with a range of different forms of emotional ‘baggage’, and they would generally misbehave whenever the opportunity arose. It was difficult to maintain their interest and focus in lessons.

My mentor didn’t have the same problems as I did, however. When I observed his lessons I noticed that the same kids that were misbehaving in my classes were attentive and focussed in his. After careful study of this phenomenon, I discovered that this ‘positive deviant’ was doing the following in his teaching:

  • Listening very carefully to his students, respecting every question that came his way and offering the best answer he could
  • Using voice inflections to sound interested in the topic he was teaching (because he was, genuinely, interested)
  • Deploying activities to engage the students, such as practical work
  • Using the students’ names to address them (I’ve always found it difficult to remember student names)
  • Using ‘professional intelligence’ – knowledge of student interests and their ‘whole lives’ to build rapport. Common conversations he would have with his students would go something like this:

How’s your dad these days? Is she still working as an engineer?”

“I heard you did some great work in art class with Mrs. Stevens this week. Tell me about it.”

I’ve worked with so many excellent colleagues over the past 16 years. Teachers who have inspired me have had strengths in many areas, including the following:

  • Organization – I’ve learnt a lot about recycling resources, organizing homework and marking student work promptly from my colleagues over the years
  • Displays – some teachers are just naturals at creating beautiful classroom displays. A beautiful classroom is always conducive to learning.
  • Student-teacher rapport: I have learnt a lot about building rapport through showing a genuine care and concern for all of my students by following the examples of others. 

2. How can you share your skills and expertise with your colleagues at school? Could you use technology to help with this?

The first thing I’d like to say about this is that the teaching profession offers its family of educators two main opportunities: the opportunity to teach students and the opportunity to teach colleagues.

The past five years have given me tremendous scope to share my knowledge with people from all over the world – through this website, my books, social media and training sessions.

I can tell you this – teaching your colleagues can often be just as rewarding as teaching your students. 

We can share our expertise with our colleagues in many ways, including:

  • Running CPD sessions, perhaps after school on a rotational basis or during INSET/teacher-training days
  • Through blogs (WordPress is great as it allows people to comment and join in with the discussion – you can even comment at the bottom of this page, for example)
  • Virtual Learning Environments, where materials can be posted and shared with a network. Google Classroom, Firefly and Moodle are all great for this. 
  • Hosting or attending coffee mornings or meetups in your town or city. Check out meetup.com – there’s bound to be a teacher-training group on there. If there isn’t, then set one up. 

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5 Super Cool Teacher Hacks

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Supplementary video: 

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

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

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

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

Hack #1: Copy, paste and modify school reports

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

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

Here are the steps to follow:

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

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

Create a S.W.A.P. template

Every report should contain these four elements (at the very least):

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses (including targets)
  • Attainment
  • Progress

They don’t necessarily have to be in that order, but they should all be present somewhere.

A good template can save you tons of time, and will ensure that your reports are detailed and accurate. I’ve given an example with applications below. Please feel free to copy and paste and use this as you see fit:

x has had a disappointing/steady/good/very good term/half-term/year/semester. He/She has shown strengths in a number of areas including……………………….. . This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by………………………………. x’s most recent recent assessment score was ……………., which indicates to me that……………………….. Progress has been disappointing/steady/good/very good, as exemplified by the fact that………………… 

Let’s see this in action below:

Example 1: An excellent student

Joshua has had a very good half-term. He has shown strengths in a number of areas including modular arithmetic, definite and indefinite integration and differentiation. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more of the Higher Level assigned tasks on MyiMaths, as he does have the ability to challenge himself further. Joshua’s most recent assessment score was 83%, which indicates to me that he is completing the necessary revision at home. Progress has been very good, as exemplified by the fact that he has jumped from a level 6 to a level 7 in the space of just seven weeks.  

Example 2: An average student

Lisa has had a steady half-term. She has shown strengths in a number of areas including balancing chemical equations and completing laboratory practical work. This is pleasing, but even further progress could be made by completing more practice questions on Quantitative Chemistry and using the model answers as a good guide for improvement.  Lisa’s most recent recent assessment score was 54%, which indicates to me that she has a good knowledge of some areas of the subject, but needs to work harder to revise identified weaknesses. Progress has been steady, as exemplified by the fact that Lisa’s assessment scores have been consistently above 50% since the start of the course. 

Hack #2: ‘Live’ Marking

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

Discussing homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hack #3: Education Apps

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

1. Nearpod

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

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that sounds cool!

My thoughts about Nearpod

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

Nearpod ticks all of those boxes.

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

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

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

2. Noteability

Where to get it: App Store, Mac App Store

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

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

I use this feature of Noteability to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts on Noteability

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

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

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

3. Flipgrid

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

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

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

It’s super cool!

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

Image courtesy of Flipgrid

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

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

My thoughts on Flipgrid

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

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

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

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

Hack #4: Learning Journals 

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

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

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

2 MARCH

16 MARCH21 MARCH.jpg

25 MARCH

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

Wow! That’s quite a statement.

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

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

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

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

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

My updated (better) journaling system

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

Learning Journal System

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

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

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

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

A little ‘tweak’

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

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

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

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

Learning Journals Conclusion

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

Hack #5: Self and Peer Assessment

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

walking around wt laptop

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

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

That’s quite a convincing list!

Peer assessment

Not surprisingly, similar things can be said of self-assessment. This great overview by the University of Sydney advocates for the wide-use of self-assessment with students for the following key reasons:

  • It encourages student involvement and participation, so it’s great for students who normally find group activities or active class tasks a little uncomfortable
  • When used in conjunction with group work it can be a great way to assess one’s personal role and contribution in the group experience and learning process

self-assessment

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

But how should we use self and peer-assessment?

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

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

Art class

Training students to assess themselves

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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

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

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

Block building

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

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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

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

Art class

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Learning Games to Play With Your Students (Secret Number 8)

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

One of the fundamental tenets of teaching that I learned years ago was this: kids get bored very easily.

The modern teacher needs to be an excellent entertainer and educator; and that involves bringing variety into each and every lesson.

Over the years I’ve built up a ‘knowledge bank’ of learning games which require little-to-no preparation and which can be applied to any subject area. These games bring variety and ‘fun’ into our lessons, and are definitely very-highly recommended.

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“An AMAZING book!”

So bring your wallets and purses of learning because I’m about to share this knowledge bank with you.

Game #1: Splat

This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.

Game #2: Mystery Word

Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.

Game #3: The Poster Game

Possibly the most fun and competitive game I’ve ever invented for teaching new content. You’ll need space for the kids to walk/run, and the game does take some prep. However, once you (and your students) become used to playing this game you’ll find that it’s a doddle to set up in no time at all.

Game #4: Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts.

Game #5: Bingo

Got some equation symbols or mathematical problems to teach your kids? Perhaps the symbols of the periodic table is more your thing? Whatever it is, this simple game can be adapted to suit any subject.

Game #6: Vocabulary Musical Chairs

You’ll need a good rapport with you kids to use this one, as it needs to be controlled really well by the teacher (e.g. to avoid kids bumping into each other). However, it is simple, fun and worth the effort!

Game #7: Mystery Picture

This one takes some imagination on the part of the teacher, and some training of the kids beforehand. However, it’s really, really good for encouraging higher order thinking skills.

Games 8 and 9: ‘The Human Graph’ and ‘True or False Walls’

A ‘human graph’ is very simple to set up. Just ask the kids a series of questions and ask them to line up at the position that represents the answer. Hey presto – you’ve formed a human graph! It’s probably best to ask between 5 and 10 questions (forming 5-10 human graphs) in a real plenary and you might want to print and display the answers at different positions in the room. Its a lot of fun!

True or False Walls is another easy activity to implement. Choose one wall to be the ‘true’ wall and one to be the ‘false’ wall. Ask the students a series of true or false questions and get them to walk to the corresponding wall. This works much better than simply getting kids to raise their hands as they’ll be moving around the room. I’ve done this countless times with my students and they never seem to get bored of it. Can be used as a nice break in the middle of a lesson too. 

Game #10: Memory Mind Bender

I first learnt this game at 15 years old when I was an army cadet. My platoon commander was trying to get us to learn the working parts of an L98A1 Cadet GP rifle (Wow – it must have worked if I can remember that 20 years later!). 

Get your kids to sit or stand in a circle. One student starts with a phrase about the topic. The next student then repeats that phrase and one of their own. The chain continues and continues until all of the concepts have been verbalised in sequence. Don’t be afraid to start the chain again if a student forgets a phrase! See below. 

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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.

studying with com

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.

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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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