5 Ways to Use Past-Exam Papers With Your Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

Past-exam papers provide teachers with the opportunity to train students in time-management, exam-technique and key skills, since they provide students with exposure to the same style of questions that they will encounter in their final exams.

Think about anything at which you’ve become proficient: be that riding a bicycle, martial arts, painting, yoga or anything – it was practice (and lots of it) that made you proficient at that thing. Natural abilities will, of course, contribute to mastery, but ultimately the greatest way to achieve superiority in any endeavor is through practice.

Past-exam papers provide students with the vital practice they need to succeed in the final exams, and today I would like to go through some ways in which we can use past-papers in the classroom with our students.

Tip #1: Create end-of-unit assessments from past exam paper questions

Whenever I reach the end of a topic I use past-paper questions to test my students’ knowledge and understanding of what they have learned. These questions can either be pulled off pdfs through screen captures, or they can be built using question banks. Currently, I teach KS3 Science, Edexcel IGCSE Physics and Chemistry and IBDP Chemistry – and all of these courses have great question banks for teachers to use: namely Testbase for KS3, ExamWizard for Edexcel, and the IB Questionbank for IB subjects.

Of course, these question banks are not free, but they are worth the slice into the school budget in my opinion as they provide teachers with a very quick way to build test papers from past-paper questions. Another massive advantage of question banks over full pdf past-papers, other than speed and efficiency of test-building, is that questions are categorized by topic or syllabus statement too. Question banks will also automatically add up the question scores for you, saving you further time as you calculate how much the test should be out of.

And on that point: total marks – make sure you calculate your mark-to-time ratio too. For Edexcel IGCSE Chemistry, for example, students have to complete 110 marks in 120 minutes – i.e. about 65 seconds per mark. This means that when I am assigning a 1 hour test for this subject, it needs to contain 55 marks of questions. Any less that this and I’ll be giving the students too much time to complete the paper, which won’t be an effective ‘model’ of the real exam.

Tip #2: Use past-paper questions for in-class structured revision

Create special test papers that are built from past-papers and give them to your students to complete during normal lesson time. This, of course, works great when students are preparing for an imminent end-of-unit test or terminal examination (e.g. an end of year exam). Consider the following:

  • Students should receive quick feedback during these sessions, and should know exactly where they have lost marks (and why). Include enough questions to be completed during the lesson, along with enough time for checking through the mark scheme in a final peer or self-assessment exercise. In my case, for example, most of my lessons are 1 hour long. This allows me to create a 40 minute paper, with 20 minutes left over for marking and feedback.
  • Always provide the official mark schemes, so that students become familiar with the language and skills needed to gain top marks.
  • If possible, allow for a 5 or 10 minute discussion at the end of class to go through difficult questions, common misconceptions that are tested by the paper and even command terms like ‘evaluate’, ‘describe’ and ‘explain’.
  • During the final feedback and marking part of a revision lesson, tell your students to be VERY STRICT when checking the answers. If the answer that is written does not match the mark scheme word-for-word, then it could be wrong, and the student should come and seek your advice.

There are some nifty ways that you can make lessons like this more active, engaging and spatial for learners than they would be otherwise. Some ideas you might want to try are as follows:

  • Cut up the questions and answers (i.e. physically, with scissors). Give students one question at a time, and when they have finished they can come and collect the official answer from your desk.
  • Provide students with the official answers, one at a time, and ask them to write the question that each answer pertains to.
  • Consider using live quiz-based apps that have quizzes built from past-papers on them.
  • Play learning games with your students and use past-paper questions, key vocabulary and command terms to create the questions.

Please be advised that when students reach a certain age (i.e. mid-teens and older), their exams become very content-based and, therefore, revision lessons need to be quite intense in order to be effective. The odd ‘fun’ lesson here and there containing learning games and competitive quizzes can offer a nice break from the intensity of completing whole papers. However, ‘fun’ lessons like these tend to be less efficient at embedding high-demand content than, say, a lesson in which students complete a 40-minute assessment filled with past-paper questions.

#3: Create homework assignments from past-paper questions

This is a great way to train students in time-management. Make sure your learners know the mark-to-time ratio for your subject (e.g. 1 mark per minute), and specify how long they should spend completing the paper at home (e.g. if it’s a 35 mark homework assignment, then the students would have to time themselves for 35 minutes, if the ratio is 1 mark per minute). You may even want to share a Google Sheet with your students in which they can type their names and exactly how long, in minutes and seconds, it took them to complete the homework. The aim of this exercise would be to improve efficiency over time, with (hopefully) a downward trend being observed – the more past-paper homework the students get, the less time each one should take as the weeks go by. Another adaptation of this, is that you could ask the students to write down how much time it took them to complete the work on the paper itself (if you’re collecting it in and marking it by hand).

#4: Use ‘reverse questioning’

I mentioned this briefly earlier – provide the answers, and ask the students to write what they think the questions are.

This is really good for getting students to think deeply about the knowledge and skills they need to master for the exam, along with deep consideration of command terms and the key vocabulary requirements of their upcoming assessment. For me personally, a common command term that comes up is the word ‘explain’, and it takes time for many students to realise that they need to state why something happens when they are told to explain something. I train my students to always use the word ‘because’ when the question asks them to ‘explain’. For your subject, you may have similar challenges that only be solved by regular past-paper practice and a heavy focus on key vocabulary and command terms.

#5: Use past-paper questions and model answers to create ‘frameworks’

Give students past-exam paper questions and model answers for them use as ‘frameworks’, or skeletons, for building:

  • Flashcards: A lot of research has shown that flashcards are a brilliant revision tool. They can be created digitally (e.g. on websites like Quizlet) or physically on paper. Make sure the students write/type the question on one-side of the flashcard, and the model answer on the other side. This could even be done as a group activity, with different groups swapping flashcards and testing their knowledge as a plenary session to a lesson.
  • Consider asking your students to choose a live quiz app and create multiple choice quizzes using past-exam paper questions and model answers.
  • Mind Maps: Do some research into this, as many educators think Mind Maps are something they actually aren’t. Mind Maps are a very well-defined psychologically favorable learning tool created by the late Dr Tony Buzan (with whom I was very lucky to have a one-to-one video call with just before he passed). Mind Maps need to be created in a certain way in order to be effective, so make sure your students know the rules. Once students know the rules, they’ll then need practice in order to put past-paper questions and model answers onto their Mind Maps. These will often need to be shortened in some way, and illustrated.
  • Learning Journals: This very popular blog post of mine goes through what learning journals are, and how they can be used as a great revision tool. When used correctly, they can be VERY effective.

Conclusion

Past-exam papers really are the bread-and-butter of effective revision and exam-preparation. Use them to:

  • Create end-of-unit assessments
  • Guide in-class structured revision
  • Create homework assignments
  • Create ‘reverse questioning’ tasks
  • Create ‘frameworks

Suggested further reading

Wade, N. (2022) Are past paper questions always useful? Available at: https://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/insights/are-past-paper-questions-always-useful-neil-wade/ (Accessed: 10th April 2022)

Tan, A., & Nicholson, T. (1997). Flashcards revisited: Training poor readers to read words faster improves their comprehension of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 276–288. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.89.2.276 (Accessed: 1st May 2022)

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

5 Awesome Live Quiz Apps You Can Use in The Classroom

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback). This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

Children love competition – be that through sports, online gaming, traditional learning games, puzzles or even the drive to acquire more house points/plus points than their peers. Quiz-based apps, however, are unique in that they have finally allowed teachers to bring a healthy level of technology-driven rivalry into the remote, hybrid and traditional classrooms.

One big positive that we can attribute to these apps is that they have become very easy to use, and quick to set up – often requiring the students to simply type in a code on a website to begin the game. For the teacher, there’s the added benefit that games created by other teachers from around the world are often freely available to use on these platforms – saving you tons of preparation time.

What follows next is a list of the top five apps that I use on a regular basis with my students in my high school science classes. They are fun, easy to use and are great for reviewing prior knowledge.

#1: Blooket

I’ve only recently discovered Blooket but, I have to tell you: I’m already hooked!

Blooket distinguishes itself from other quiz-based apps in that there are actually ten types of game that you can play with the students (at the time of writing), all based on the much-loved multiple-choice quiz format. My personal favorites are:

  • Crypto Hack: With a dark theme and Bitcoin-centric atmosphere, Crypto Hack is one of the students’ favorites. After answering a series of questions correctly the students are then able to guess fellow students’ passwords (passwords are chosen from a pre-determined list that the game provides). A correct guess allows the player to hack the other player and steal imaginary crypto currency from them.
  • Fishing Frenzy: This one’s a bit crazy – hilariously so! Students, again, answer multiple choice questions but this time they cast a virtual fishing line into the water after answering correctly. What they pull out are usually different types of fish, but they can pull out junk and other crazy objects too. Players are ranked by the weight of fish they pull out of the water. Players can also ‘plunder’ other players’ fish and steal their poundage. It gets very competitive and you can expect to hear a lot of laughter in the classroom as this gets going!
  • Tower Defense: According to Blooket themselves, this is their most popular game. In this mode, the students answer multiple choice questions and are then presented with a map. On this map, the students must place towers in strategic positions to shoot enemies that appear on-screen. In this sense, Tower Defense is more similar to the kind of computer games that children are playing in their free time than all of the other game modes provided.

The main reason why Blooket is number one on my list is that you can replay the same multiple choice questions with the students but in different game modes. This can cause excellent knowledge recall and understanding to take place, especially after three or four attempts. This could be done in quick succession within a lesson (most of the game modes are exactly seven minutes long) or you could even play the same questions but in different game modes over a series of lessons. As with most quiz-based systems, there’s a searchable database of quizzes that other teachers have made – saving you tons of preparation time.

To summarise: I love Blooket.

#2: Quizlet Live

Hidden within Quizlet‘s excellent flash card system is a little-known activity called Quizlet Live. When the teacher selects this, the students in your classroom join the game (by entering a code on their devices) and are then placed into random teams. Once the game begins, all of the players in each team are given different questions to answer, so they MUST help each other (usually) if they want to win. The first team to pass twelve rounds of questions is the winner, and the teacher’s screen shows the real-time position of each team (1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and so on).

Quizlet Live has two features which I believe make it a very unique learning tool:

  1. Students can read through the flash cards for the game as they’re waiting for other students to join. This, I believe, gives Quizlet Live a big advantage over many other quiz-based systems as students are not sitting around doing nothing as they’re waiting.
  2. Quizlet Live provides each team member with a different question, making the game more thorough/rigorous than some other quiz-based systems. Every member of the team has to answer their question correctly before the team can move to the next round.

The only disadvantage I’ve found with Quizlet Live is that it doesn’t lend itself very well to hybrid/remote teaching, as the students have to physically be next to each other in teams in order to interact quickly. I guess it could be feasible to put students into Google Meet Breakout rooms, or even hangout groups, to do the Quizlet Lives. However, I’ve tried this and have found it to be quite problematic and difficult to execute in real time (not least because you, the teacher, has to manually put the Quizlet Live teams (chosen at random) into Hangout/Breakout Rooms, and even then interaction between team members tends to be poor.

Quizlet has an immense database of flash cards created by other educators from all over the world, so it’s highly likely that you’ll find a question set that is suitable for your topic. If not, then you can make a set yourself.

#3: Quizziz

Quizizz is a simple but very effective multiple choice question system. Students log in with a code and answer questions – that’s it really. However, there are a few bells and whistles, such as excellent graphics, good music, power-up tools available for students on winning-streaks and a real-time leaderboard display that the teacher can present to the class.

One unique feature of Quizizz, which could be seen as either a disadvantage or an advantage, is that the game only ends when every person has answered every question (the teacher can set time limits for each question of between 30s and 5 mins). I quite like this feature of Quizizz, because as soon as one student is finished I ask him or her to go and help a student who isn’t finished. This can be a great way to build a sense of community within the classroom, and reinforce any work you’ve been doing on sympathy/empathy with your students.

Quizizz has many cool integration options with Google Classroom and even MS Excel. Read this excellent overview by TeachersFirst for a more in-depth analysis of how Quizizz could be utilised in your classroom. Of course, Quizizz has a large, searchable database of ready-made games that will allow you to set up a suitable quiz in seconds.

#4: Mentimeter

This is another simple and effective system that is somewhat similar to Kahoot! (number 5 on my list) but with a higher-quality user-interface, in my opinion. One interesting feature of Mentimeter is that it supports multiple question types (not just standard MCQs) such as ranking, scales, grids and open-ended questions.

Mentimeter is well-worth a try if you’re looking for something different.

#5: Kahoot!

Kahoot! is the original behemoth in the EdTech Hall of Fame, and we cannot ignore the influence it has had on the classroom app-development landscape. Kahoot! is simple, but very effective, and took the teaching world by storm when it first came out in 2013. Almost all modern live quiz-based systems have been inspired by Kahoot‘s innovative approach to game-based learning, and that’s why I wrote about Kahoot! in my award-winning book for teachers: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. Kahoot‘s can be set as homework, or self-paced tasks too, which is handy if you want to help individual students in real-time.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to put Kahoot! at number five on my list as the system hasn’t really evolved much since 2013. Let me be clear: it’s awesome, but the other apps I’ve described today have additional features that make them somewhat more special than Kahoot! (in my humble opinion).

Conclusion

Use these game-based systems: it’s that simple! Students love them, and can gain a lot from their implementation when we plan their use carefully. They act as great starters, plenaries or even ‘chunks’ of lessons.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How to Become a Leader in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know.

Teachers are expected to demonstrate high competency in a range of skill areas. Some skills that may come to mind are personal organisation, classroom management, behaviour management and confidence in the use of educational technology. One skill that may not immediately come to mind, however, is leadership: yet this is vital, as teachers are required to be good leaders of their students (and, sometimes, other teachers). Today, I’ve invited Mitch from Destination TEFL, Bangkok, to to share his tips on how to be a good leader in the classroom.

This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Truly great teachers must also be leaders. By devoting time and energy towards developing leadership skills, along with technical teaching skills, teachers can make a profound impact on their students that transcends the information they teach.

Leadership seems to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but maybe there’s a reason for that.

Just take a look around. In government, the corporate world, and yes, in education too, our world seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership. We have a surplus of bosses, managers, and influencers, but not enough true leaders.

But together we’re going to change that.

The classroom is your domain, one place in the world where you truly can make a difference. You may not be able to fix the government, or even the overall culture at your school (toxic bosses tend not to take feedback well), but you can absolutely change your classroom and, in so doing, your students’ lives.

Here’s how to do it.

What is true leadership?

In order to become great leaders in the classroom, we need to really nail down what leadership actually is. And more importantly, what it isn’t.

Good leadership is NOT:

  • Being right all the time
  • Never making mistakes
  • Making all of the decisions
  • Always being strong, confident, and outgoing

Surprising, right? Many of the usual stereotypes we have about leadership (ones that many leaders today try a bit too hard to represent) aren’t actually what leadership is about at all.

True leadership, especially in a classroom full of students, is much more nuanced and, honestly, more accessible than many are led to believe.

In contrast to the list above, true leadership in the classroom looks a lot more like:

  • Being human, and acknowledging mistakes
  • Letting your students make decisions, and teaching them to make the right ones
  • Being the best version of yourself, not fitting into boxes
  • Focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence

Real leadership is about putting others first, and doing your best to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. As teachers, this is something that probably sounds familiar to us!

So now that we know what leadership is, how do we grow in these areas and incorporate them into our classroom?

Becoming a leader in the classroom

The first step in becoming a better leader is to know that you can!

People are conditioned to believe that you are either born with leadership qualities or not, and this is true for something like being naturally outgoing. But that’s not what great leaders are really made of.

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Emotional intelligence is something you can work on. Taking responsibility and acknowledging mistakes is something you can work on. Becoming the best version of yourself is something you can work on. 

Real leadership is accessible, and it’s accessible to you.

All becoming a leader in the classroom takes is recognizing areas you want to grow in as a leader, focusing on developing yourself in those areas, and (most importantly) finding opportunities to implement what you’re working on in the classroom.

Maybe you want to work on developing your emotional intelligence. So you take the first step and start reading articles about improving your EQ.

You listen to their advice and start doing things like labeling your emotions, practicing empathy, and opening yourself up to feedback. The more you do this, the more you notice your sensitivity to other people’s emotions increasing.

Now it’s time for the most important step: bringing it into the classroom!

What better group of people to practice empathy and emotional intelligence with than your students? You start looking for root causes of misbehavior, and the emotions that underlie them. You teach your students to become aware of their own emotions, and the emotions of their classmates. Most importantly, you provide an example of how to do this.

Congratulations, you have not only become a better teacher, but you’ve also become a true leader. You are now impacting your students not only through what you teach them, but how you teach them.

You’re no longer just teaching them about English, now you’re teaching them about life.

Final thoughts

Becoming a great leader, and a great teacher, takes time. It isn’t something that can be done in one semester: it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-improvement.

However, as people teaching abroad, we’re no strangers to this process. Living and working abroad is a journey of self-discovery, finding new and exciting pieces of yourself in different contexts and cultures, growing in ways you never thought possible.

Leadership in the classroom is another one of those ways, and it’s an area of self-improvement that will end up changing not only your own life but the lives of others.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about!

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Promoting Sustainability as a Teacher

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is defined by UNESCO as a pathway that allows “every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.” It’s importance has been officially recognised by the Council of the European Union, who state that “ESD is essential for the achievement of a sustainable society and is therefore desirable at all levels of formal education and training, as well as in non-formal and informal learning.” Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to teach children and young people about the importance of sustainable development.

If there are things all schools worldwide need to include in their curriculum as soon as possible, it would be sustainability. While ideas regarding the preservation of nature are touched upon in several science subjects, they fall short in hammering down the importance of sustainability in children.

Climate change threatens all of humanity, but it’s the children who will bear the brunt of it. When the current generation of adults and leaders passes, it’s the children today who will need to face potentially the worst of times. While we can still achieve a lot in terms of reversing the effects of climate change or slowing it down, it’s essential for the next generation to know how to build a sustainable future and why they must do it.

Sustainability might not be officially taught in all schools in the world today, but teachers can still promote it in a lot of ways. If you’re a teacher passionate about sustainability and want to go the extra mile to share your knowledge with your students and inspire them to fight for a healthier planet, we’ve got some pointers for you. But first, let’s define sustainability.

What is sustainability?

According to the University of Alberta’s Sustainability Council, sustainability is “the process of living within the limits of available physical, natural and social resources in ways that allow the living systems in which humans are embedded to thrive in perpetuity. This definition explains that sustainability doesn’t just deal with natural resources, but also social and economic resources, as those are also vital for the survival of future generations. Expanding on this definition, we can categorize sustainability in three ways: Environmental, Economic, and Social. Environmental sustainability is achieved when humanity consumes natural resources at a rate where they can naturally replenish. Economic sustainability is achieved when people are able to remain independent and have access to resources: financial or others. Lastly, social sustainability is achieved when people can attain all universal human rights and basic necessities.

Make your lessons eco-friendly

Teaching children sustainability means little to nothing if you don’t practice it in the classroom. Among the best ways to promote anything is leading by example. Ultimately, sustainability is spending your resources wisely, and you can show this by ensuring you don’t waste resources in your lessons. You can use recycled or eco-friendly materials in creating your teaching props, and if you can’t avoid using plastics, you can demonstrate the importance of recycling by reusing them in the next classes.

Don’t overwhelm your students

Discussing current and future environmental crises can be too much for your students to handle. They are young, and while you want them to learn young, the immensity of the problems humanity faces and the difficulty of solving them can be overwhelming. When students are feeling overloaded with negative emotions such as dread, they may disengage from the discussion, impeding learning.

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The key is not to focus on the problems alone. Make sure to discuss environmental success stories from time to time, to show that people are working hard to solve the problem and they are succeeding. You may discuss environmental policies, movements, campaigns, and other projects worldwide that have seen success. These stories will show students that our efforts do matter and theirs will, too. It will inspire students and give them the hope and enthusiasm necessary to face the seemingly overwhelming problems we face.

Tackle quality of life issues

Part of discussing sustainability is the idea that people need to consume less and live simpler lives, making students feel like their lifestyle is being threatened. If educators take an unyielding, self-righteous approach, the students will feel even more threatened and can end up abandoning learning about sustainability entirely. The technique is to engage the students by discussing their definition of happiness and quality of life, and whether their lifestyle correlates with overconsumption. You can discuss studies that show how the pursuit of material things doesn’t exactly correlate with happiness and satisfaction, providing a good starting point for discussing alternative lifestyles.

Discuss the Precautionary Principle

One of the most important principles discussed to understand in learning about sustainability or environmental science is the precautionary principle. The principle states that if an action risks causing harm to the public or the environment, and there is no scientific consensus that it is indeed harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Tackling or debating the principle serves as a good starting point in discussing how people can make decisions when faced with uncertainty. In addition, it’s also an opportunity to discuss policies regarding resource use and the balance between potential environmental harm and economic or political benefit. 

Let the students analyze

Most of the time, students are only given the results of analyses instead of dealing with empirical data themselves. Students will not always be equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand empirical data, but if they are, they should be given the opportunity to do so. Being able to get a closer look at the data themselves, students are bound to learn more. The experience they will get from analyzing data will also allow them to scrutinize environmental issues with more insight.

The road to net-zero emissions is a long and strenuous journey. It will require the efforts of the entire world, the current generation, and the next. Sustainability as a topic of discussion is becoming prevalent in the education system and while it’s not globally standardized, there’s nothing stopping educators from teaching it to students. There are plenty of tricks teachers can use in promoting sustainability in their schools, but the ones above should give you a good start.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but, unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back! She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How Students Can Help Reduce Single-Use Plastic

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in our Earth’s oceans every year. Campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy and the Project Learning Tree aim to inform young people about the environment and the harm that single-use plastics can cause. However, despite these excellent projects, much, much more still needs to be done to bring this critical issue to our students’ attention. Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to educate children about the dangers of single-use plastics, along with advice on how to utilise sustainable alternatives.

Single-use plastics are a modern convenience, but how much is that convenience costing the environment? The manufacture, spread, and waste of single-use plastic are a major environmental issue that has been talked about yet remain unsolved.

People still openly burn plastic waste and use single-use plastics even when they can not use such things excessively. It has been the great efforts of dozens of organizations to phase out single-use plastics in the industry and replace them with more sustainable options.

Decarbonization always starts on an individual level. The individuals most affected by a toxic environment are the youth who have to grow up in it. But now the question is, where can the youth start on the mission to reduce plastic waste in the environment?

Why Is It So Difficult To Enact Change?

One of the most deceptively simple tasks you can do is actually the hardest. Most people don’t even realize how much plastic and paper they waste. On an individual level, think of how many water bottles you have thrown away in your life.

Whatever the number is, it is most likely too much. Now multiply that number by the population of the globe. This is why it’s so difficult to reduce plastic waste. Most people aren’t even aware of the fact that they are wasting plastic.

Although big strides are being made in reducing the use of single-use plastics in many developed countries, it’s a different story in less fortunate places. Many people fail to consider the necessity of single-use plastics in these areas because of how cheap they are to produce.

Not to mention, the lack of education on the negative effects of pollution is still a real issue. More efforts should be made by local governments to teach their citizens about the effects of excessive waste. Eco-friendly practices, especially the ones discussed in this article, should be commonplace and enforced.

How To Reduce The Impact of Single-Use Plastics

Truth be told, the efforts of the individual do very little in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s important to uphold these practices and share them with as many people as possible.

The more people learn from your example, the better your chances of making a difference. Here are some of the practices you should follow:

#1: Start Reusing More Often

While you cannot stop the production of single-use plastics on an individual basis, you are still capable of going against its intended purpose. Single-use is just a suggestion, not a feature. Things such as plastic bags, cups, bottles, utensils, and food packaging should be repurposed in some form.

The concern with single-use plastic is less about the material itself than the excessive use of it. Plastic wouldn’t be such an issue if there wasn’t so much of it all around the world. However, many supposed single-use plastics are quite handy as use for containers and makeshift tools.

Just make sure the types of plastic you are reusing don’t start leaking the chemicals used in their creation.

#2: Replace Single-Use Plastics With Sustainable Options

That being said, switching to more sustainable materials is not a bad idea. Whenever possible, look for cost-effective alternatives to the usual functions you use single-purpose plastics for:

  • Instead of having them bag your groceries, ask if you can have them put in cardboard boxes instead. Cardboard boxes are much less impactful on the environment and offer far more utility in a home.
  • Alternatively, bring your own cardboard boxes and eco-bags. Eco-bags are one of the handiest grocery things you can have.
  • Instead of buying plastic cups, just shoulder the admittedly less enticing washing of extra glasses. There are several cheap reusable cups in the market that you can look around for.
  • Store your lunch in jars or bento boxes instead of Ziploc bags.

#3: Push Organizations To Value Eco-Friendliness

For a more significant dent in the use of single-use plastics, the best thing students can do is make their voice known. Kids, teens, and young adults are huge demographics for many companies.

If enough of them start caring and demanding products that maximize recyclability and reusability, companies will have to listen. The businesses to start with should always be on a local level because the transport of plastic goods is just as intensive as using it.

Also, push for businesses to consider the impact that end-of-use products have. They should have professional recycling or disposal plants on call for their waste.

Schools are also subject to this. Encourage your school to go green by doing all of the above in their daily routines. Schools often go through a lot of single-use plastics, especially in cafeterias.

Another great way to reduce both environmental impact and printing costs is to print only what’s necessary. For example, some events hand out paper cups with custom-printed logos that won’t last the day. Instead of doing that, just encourage students to bring their own thermos or tumblers.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

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Cognitive Challenges of Language Learners in the Digital Age

We must keep in-mind the unique challenges that new technologies create for all of our learners: especially those who are learning a new language, or who are attempting to access a mainstream curriculum via a second or additional language. Today, I’ve invited Tatyana Cheprasova (Senior Lecturer and EFL/TEFL instructor at Voronezh State University, Russia) to give her expert analysis of the situation, along with many excellent suggestions that we can all take on-board going forward.

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

With digital technologies rapidly taking over various spheres of our lives, a new pedagogical environment for acquisition, processing and transferability of knowledge and skills has been created. These digital shifts will inevitably affect the educational sector as one of the aims of any educational paradigm is to prepare learners to face the challenges of the real world which now cannot be conceived without digital imprints and influence. This article aims to explore the cognitive challenges this new educational reality places before language learners in the Digital Age. It also attempts to provide EFL teachers with insights into how their teaching procedures can be altered in order to meet the cognitive needs of ‘digital native’ learners.

In order to develop the right understanding of the factors affecting cognitive processes (such as perception, learning communications, associations, and reasoning) and the behavioural consequences for digitally native learners, it is deemed essential to explore the new educational environment within which they operate and develop.

The new pedagogical reality which integrates digital language learning (DLL), as with any educational paradigm or teaching tool, can have its own advantages and deficiencies which become visible and apparent when the context which coined a new pedagogical phenomenon is carefully scrutinised. The pedagogical settings we now operate within and which incorporate DLL need to be viewed as the natural evolutionary result of the educational development we have witnessed in the last few decades. According to Warschauer (2004:10), at the early stage, within the language learning domain of the final decades of the 20th century, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) or Structural CALL was strongly influenced by the behaviourist paradigm which shaped this type of DLL as merely stimulus-response, drill-based programmes which enhanced the learning of new vocabulary items or grammar under rigid teacher supervision. The ensuing transfer from a behaviourist to a communicative approach to language learning where meaningful interactions were given the priority also affected the whole nature of CALL design, giving rise to Communicative CALL which implied the use of computers to engage language learners in communicative activities (Warschauer, 2004:11). Finally, with the onset of integrative ICT, the technologies within the new educational paradigm have moved into the era of Integrative CALL which relies on agency and interactive communications (both of teachers and students) as an effective pedagogical tool to solve real-life tasks and problems in a community of peers on the internet (Warschauer, 2004:11).

The widespread implemetation of Integrative CALL which has soared in the field of ELT in the last two decades has been seen by many researchers as a mainly positive trend which has a lot to offer ELT practitioners in various educational contexts (Li and Lan, 2021). Thus, as argued by Grosjean (2019) and Al-Ahdal, (2020), the incorporation of AI and Big Data used in various language applications can facilitate ELT in that it provides learners with real-life language use settings as well as helping to trace down their language progress via the analysis of learners’ errors in L2 writing procedures. Additionally, the use of AI can lead to a more individualised, rather than one-size-fits-all, approach to language teaching where the pedagogical strategies and procedures are designed to meet learners’ requirements and profiles at its best (Li and Lan, 2021). Finally, mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and game-based language-learning (GBLL) have been regarded by many scholars as possessing high teaching potential in terms of EFL outcomes as they provide students with language learning opportunities at their fingertips, anytime and anywhere, stretching beyond learning a language as limited to only traditional classroom settings (Shadiev, Zhang, Wu & Huang, 2020; Li and Lan, 2021).

Notwithstanding all of the above-mentioned advantageous implications DLL can offer as the new pedagogical dimension, both ELT practitioners and researchers have started to question its overall positive effects on learners’ cognition,  psychological and speech development, and their flux of consciousness, thus approaching the issue from both cognitive and social perspectives (Warschauer, 2004; Komlósi, 2016, Voulchanova et al., 2017; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). The impacts these DLL-driven pedagogical settings can have on language learners are going to be discussed below.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the whole nature of the concept of ‘knowledge’ seems to have radically changed as the Cognitivism learning model has given way to the Constructivism Paradigm. Apparently, when learning occurs within a particular teaching model, the nature of knowledge evolves on the basis of how new data is generated and pedagogical assumptions about which strategies comprise the educational process, as the following comparison illustrates (see the table below):

As it is illustrated above, knowledge is no longer approached as a monolithic unit transmitted from a teacher to their students but rather as a dynamic heterogeneous construct characterised by boundless hypertextual structure where the reader (or a knowledge receiver) acts out as the author (or knowledge co-constructor) (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya, 2020).

This innovative type of knowledge might inevitably affect learners’ main cognitive processes. Indeed, as argued by the famous Russian neurolinguist Tatyana Chernigovskaya, the hypertextual nature of knowledge leads to the formation of an innovative learning environment, which she refers to as “shared consciousness”, where learners have to rely not on their memory capacity to recall various information quanta but rather on their ability to remember the source of the particular data storage, which, in turn, can seriously weaken working memory, especially that of young learners. Additionally, the hypertextual characteristics of the new type of knowledge  are believed to affect the development of learners’ reading skills as this process now implies the inclusion of critical literacy at the very early stages of their cognitive development. This represents a challenging task for young learners whose abilities to compare, contrast and analyse, as well as to make inferences, are not so well-formed as those of adult learners (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). These factors might lead to the formation of new and superficially scrutinised skills of digital knowledge management which will need to be specially addressed when teaching L2 reading comprehension.

More importantly, according to Zou and Xie’s (2018) research on the integration of MALL in language learning, this new format of learning, although enhancing personal learning processes, can seriously impede learners’ attention: shortening their attention spans for learning, and therefore, affecting learners’ ability to concentrate and control their attention. In the same vein, as argued by Hsu et al. (2019), adolescent excessive use of mobile devices might have adverse effects on their abilities to integrate scientific knowledge and to make inferences, thus leaving them with a rather distorted, disintegrated and mosaic-like scientific worldview.

Furthermore, as stated by Komlosi (2016:167), the onset of DLL will urge researchers to reconsider and revisit the essence of communication as the new digital teaching paradigm has introduced radical changes in social cognition and communication in the new form of digital culture, which implies that its members operate in connected networks constituted by several types of ‘cognitive identities’. This newly coined term refers both to human and non-human social actors that function smartly and are expected to operate within a highly interlocked framework of multifaceted information flow and exchange. The agents of info-communications in the digital world are related to each other not by commonly shared cultural narratives, as negotiated within the traditional cognitive cultural anthropology, but by fragmented narratives revealed through spontaneous and rather unstable shared interests in networking, information construction and exchange, thus facilitating non-linear, multidimensional communicative interaction which can seriously impede the traditional vertical, authoritative and declarative patterns of cultural knowledge transmission (Komlosi, 2016:167). This change in the social cognition and behaviour paradigm might have adverse effects on learners’ cognitive skills as the long evolutionary process of linear information processing typical for any culturally coherent human community is now challenged by parallel and connected network-based information processing: making use of fragmented, encapsulated information chunks provided by a plethora of information sources, which, in turn, forces learners and educators to seek new strategies of information management and info-communications in novel contexts (Komlosi, 2016:168).

Conclusion

At this point, an important conclusion which can be drawn is that the wide incorporation of DLL we are witnessing now needs to be approached as an irreversible process offering a new perspective on information processing and knowledge management of language learners in various contexts.  Notwithstanding its obvious advantageous effects, DLL has already signposted certain cognitive, behavioural and communicative challenges for learners. More research providing evidence of direct comparison between learning from others and learning from digital tools is required to develop a better understanding of the standard modes and channels of language transmission in in the digital age and to conceive the cognitive and behavioral consequences of learning in digital ecosystems.

References

  • Al-Ahdal, A. (2020). Using computer software as a tool of error analysis: Giving EFL teachers and learners a much-needed impetus. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change , 12(2), 418–437.
  • Chernigovskaya, Tatiana & Allakhverdov, Viktor & Korotkov, Alexander & Gershkovich, Valeria & Kireev, Maxim & Prokopenya, Veronika. (2020). Human brain and ambiguity of cognitive information: A convergent approach. Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University. Philosophy and Conflict Studies. 36. 675-686. 10.21638/spbu17.2020.406.
  • Grosjean, F. (2019). A journey in languages and cultures: The life of a bicultural bilingual. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Hsu, C.T., Clariana, R., Schloss, B., & Li, P. (2019). Neurocognitive signatures of naturalistic reading of scientific texts: a fixation-related fMRI study. Scientific Reports,9(1), 1–16.
  • Komlósi, L. (2016). 13. Digital Literacy and the Challenges in Digital Technologies for Learning. In D. Dejica, G. Hansen, P. Sandrini & I. Para (Ed.), Language in the Digital Era. Challenges and Perspectives (pp. 162-171). Warsaw, Poland: De Gruyter Open Poland. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110472059-015
  • Li, P., & Lan, Y. (2021). Digital Language Learning (DLL): Insights from Behavior, Cognition, and the Brain. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1-18. doi:10.1017/S1366728921000353
  • Shadiev, R., & Yang, M. (2020). Review of studies on technology-enhanced language learning and teaching. Sustainability, 12(2), 524.
  • Sidorova, I. (2019). Learning Via Visualization at the Present Stage of Teaching a Foreign Language. Astra Salvensis, 6 (1), 601-607.
  • Vulchanova, M., Baggio, G., Cangelosi, A., & Smith, L. (2017). Editorial: Language development in the digital age. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, Article 447. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00447
  • Warschauer, M. (2004). Technological change and the future of CALL. In Fotos, S & Brown, C (eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 15–25.
  • Zou, D., & Xie, H. (2018). Personalized word-learning based on technique feature analysis and learning analytics. Educational Technology & Society ,21 (2), 233–244.

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5 Ways to Prepare Students For Exams

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Accompanying podcast episode (audio version of this blog post, read by Richard):

Examinations really are the most visible culmination of what we do as teachers. They offer a no-nonsense assessment of student competency in particular subject areas and their results are still to this day considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of many schools: forming the basis of rankings’ systems, such as league tables, in many countries.

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that grades matter. They matter to parents; to the students taking the exams; to universities; to colleges; to employers and, unfortunately, to the teachers who are supporting the students (who may themselves be under pressure to raise attainment and get ‘good grades’).

I could have chosen to write about the great debate surrounding the real importance of grades, and the gracefully-aged topic of ‘skills vs knowledge’. That may be a good topic for another blog post, but today I’m going to get right down to the cold, hard-truth of what you really need to know: how to best prepare your students for their exams. So strap on your seatbelt: this is going to be a exhilarating ride!

Tip #1: Do past-papers under timed conditions

This is tip number one because, quite simply, it is the very best way to prepare your students for upcoming exams. Of course, you will have to have at least covered the content in-class before giving past-paper questions, but make sure that at some point your students do those questions!

Past-paper questions really give students the crucial experience of dealing with examination language and style – an experience that they can’t really get from any other source. You may wish to give past-paper questions covering a single topic for homework, or make your end-of-topic tests out of past-paper questions (highly recommended).

Available on Amazon now!

One technique I have started using with my IGCSE Physics students is the 20-10-20 technique: the students do 20 minutes of questions (which equates to 20 marks, in my case), followed by 10 minutes of peer-assessment using the official mark schemes. After this, I do a 20 minute review of the questions, going through each part in-detail.

This technique works for me because my lessons are all 1 hour long, so I can fit a 20-10-20 session into selected slots each week. For you, you may have to adapt this strategy to fit the timeframe of your lessons.

It is crucial that, at some stage, your students start doing past-paper questions under the same time-conditions of the exam. This will train them to write quickly and concisely – a massive key skill, as many good students lose marks simply because they run out of time in the real exam.

Tip #2: Use exam-prep software and websites

We really have to take advantage of all of the EdTech tools out there: many of which are available for free! Here are some great generic websites that I recommend (these can be used for any subject area, and all are free to use too):

  • Quizziz: Try the ‘live quiz’ and watch your students jump with joy as they compete with each other to answer examination questions. Quizziz contains many pre-prepared quizzes so you may find that you don’t even need to create one from scratch.
  • Quizlet: This is really awesome for reinforcing key words and definitions, and has a number of integrated games within the system that students can play (Hint: Try the ‘Match’ and ‘Gravity’ games – they’re awesome!). Don’t forget to try out Quizlet Live, which can be done in teams or as individuals – again, just like Quizziz, students compete with each other for points by answering questions.
  • Kahoot!: This is a great multiple choice quiz-based system: another spin on the Quizlet and Quizziz concept, basically. Again, students can compete as individuals or as teams.
  • BBC Bitesize: An old classic for a good reason – it’s awesome! The site contains some of the best revision notes on the web, and topics often have a multiple choice test at the end which is usually out of 10 (allowing for a quick percentage calculation). BBC Bitesize notes now have questions integrated into the notes themselves, making the website more interactive today than ever before.
  • Seneca Learning: I love this website! It’s like BBC Bitesize but more interactive, in my opinion. Students log in to the site (it’s free, but sign up is needed) and go to the course they are currently studying (e.g. GCSE German). Notes will then be displayed on-screen with questions throughout to test knowledge and understanding. One reason I love Seneca is that notes are divided by syllabus section and Seneca’s database keeps getting bigger each year (they now have some IB Diploma courses on there, for example).

Tip #3: Project work

Give your students revision projects to do: such as creating a Google Slides that covers a particular topic, and then presenting that to the class. Just make sure that when you do this you specify a strict time-frame and assign roles: does each member of the group know what their job is?

I recently did such a project with my Year 11 Physics students. They had to create an audio clip, Google Slides, worksheet and model answers covering the Magnetism and Electromagnetism topic in the syllabus. Every person had a distinct role (e.g. one person made the audio clip, one person did the worksheet, etc.) and this was a great skill-building task, as well as a great revision activity.

Tip 4: Offer designated revision time with suggested techniques

If you have time, then you may wish to use the lessons on the run-up to tests and assessments as ‘revision lessons’. This can be time in which students make flash cards, create Mind Map summaries, record audio notes, quiz each other or perhaps work through a Seneca section (see earlier notes). You might want to give your students some training in effective revision techniques prior to the session, and supplying materials (e.g. for making flash cards) is a good idea too.

Tip #5: Do a practice exam before the real thing

This is an awesome idea which I don’t think is used enough for low-stakes assessments. Even with younger learners who have an end-of-topic test coming up, a practice test can be a great way to offer a stark ‘wake-up’ call: shedding light on areas of strength and weakness, as well as providing the students with essential ‘exam technique’ experience. Students should be relaxed during this process and should know that this is not the final test, but is still important as it will inform them of what to focus on in their revision. For students who don’t finish on-time, it will offer a good opportunity to discuss strategies to speed-up, such as avoidance of ‘waffling’ and the importance of reading each question thoroughly (so that they don’t ‘go off at a tangent’ in their answers).

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How to Create a Calming Classroom Corner

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

A calming corner, sometimes referred to as a mindfulness corner, is a special space in your classroom where students can go when they need to manage their emotions. Calming corners are becoming more and more popular as they help students implement emotional and social learning skills.

The ideal calming corner should offer a wide variety of sensory tools. Some children benefit from reading books where characters resolve a conflict, while others prefer cuddling stuffed animals or playing with fidget toys. From breathing techniques and stretching guides to bubble wrap and coloring books, there are nearly endless options out there to help the kids in your class understand that their feelings are valid. Get inspired to create your own calming corner with the suggestions outlined in today’s blog post.

Strategy #1: Design the space carefully

  • Think about where exactly the calming corner should be. Perhaps a location at the back of the room will work well so that the children who go there do not feel as though everyone is looking at them. Perhaps a location to the side of the main class is useful, so that the teacher can easily supervise the students in both the calming corner and the main class effectively at the same time. The space should be well-lit (natural light is best) and comfortable. There will be some types of classroom in which a calming corner might not be feasible (e.g. a Design Technology workshop, or a Science laboratory), so in those cases a designated classroom where the students can be sent to, or perhaps a calming corner in the school library, might work best.
  • Choose comfortable furniture. As a bare minimum you will need a place where students can sit comfortably, and the size of this furniture will greatly depend on how much space you have. Bean bags can work well, and a small desk or table, or perhaps a lap-tray, can be useful if you want your students to complete some kind of reflection sheet (more on this later).
  • Include sensory tools. There are many to choose from, but the most popular include stress balls, Sensory Stixx (which are a type of fidget toy), fidget spinners, cuddly toys and old-style handheld games like gel mazes, pinball games and other push-button manual toys. I wouldn’t recommend modern computer games as these days they tend to be designed to get players addicted and can cause more aggression feelings, rather than encouraging relaxation. However, I do believe there’s something to be said for having a retro-computer (not internet connected) such as an Atari ST or BBC Microcomputer with old-style games loaded onto the system, for students to enjoy playing. These systems can be picked up relatively cheaply on sites such as eBay, and the games tend to be simpler and more kid-focussed than modern multiplayer, online games, such as Fortnite.

Strategy #2: Include self-reflection tools and activities

Children who wish to go to a calming corner should be encouraged to reflect upon their emotions and thoughts. This is really good for building self-awareness, which is desperately needed in today’s world.

“An amazing book.”

There are a number of well-established self-reflection tools out there already, and I personally would recommend the following:

  • Learning journals: A simple notebook for students to write down their individual thoughts and feelings can be a great way for them to see the progress they have made over time. I would recommend giving each student a personal notebook, which could be kept by the student in their bag at all times, or by the teacher. In addition, an online journal via Google Docs or Slides could also work well, and students who go to the calming corner could spend time adding their thoughts and feelings to the journal. I’ve written at length about how I use learning journals to help students prepare for exams before, but the same principles can definitely be applied to situations in which students are reflecting on their feelings and thoughts.
  • This great blog post by Martyn Kenneth goes through some useful acronyms that guide students through a self-reflection process. You may also wish to use his free pdf Reflective Journal for Students, and keep copies of this in your classroom’s calming corner.
  • Get your classroom calming students to create a ‘Me Tree’ – a very effective and fun self-analysis tool. Follow the steps outlined here.

Strategy #3: Teach students about the Classroom Calming Corner

The Mindfulness in Schools Project is still a relatively new national initiative in the UK, and the majority of schools internationally are still novices when it comes to getting students to reflect meaningfully on their thoughts and emotions. For this reason, many of the children in our care are simply not used to carrying out detailed introspections, and will need training in order to do so.

Encourage students to visit the classroom calming corner regularly at first – perhaps on a rotational basis, and use the self-reflection tools outlined to get students to reflect on their learning, thoughts and (later) emotions. Once this habit has been established, and any taboo/stigma has been removed, allow students the freedom to choose when they wish to go to the classroom calming corner. Of course, this will take vigilance on the part of the teacher as we don’t want 20 students going to the corner when a challenging task is given in-class, for example. A good way to overcome this might be to set a limit on how many students can be in the corner at one time, and schedule times in your lessons when students can have a menu of activities to choose from – one of which being ‘reflection time’ in the classroom calming corner.

Recommended further reading

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Hybrid Teaching Apps, Ideas and Strategies

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

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

Many schools are now facing an unprecedented challenge as the world learns tolive with‘ COVID-19: the need to teach students who are in-school physically and online at the same time. This is called ‘hybrid’ teaching.

I was surprised to discover during my research for this blog post that hybrid teaching has been around for quite some time – decades before the novel coronavirus even surfaced, in fact. In addition, the practice was initiated in a sector outside of education – business. As far back as 1993, astonishingly, companies around the world were holding seminars, workshops, meetings and training for employees who were both on-site and online at the same time.

In today’s blog post I’ll be drawing upon some of the hard-earned expertise that has come from the business sector when discussing some practical strategies for making hybrid teaching clear and effective. In addition, I’ll be describing a number of apps that I am currently using to great effect to keep my online and on-site students focused and stimulated. And the best part – all of the apps I will describe can be used at high functionality for free!

Hybrid teaching apps

  • Nearpod: This is one of my all-time favourite hybrid teaching apps. Nearpod is basically a very interactive slideshow application in which the teacher can add various activities, such as drawing tasks, multiple choice questions, fill-in the blanks questions, picture/word matching, a noticeboard and so much more. Moreover, it takes a matter of minutes to upload a slideshow to Nearpod (multiple file formats are accepted) and add the various activities. Once your lesson is ready, students simply go to join.nearpod.com and type in a code that you have shared with them. As a bonus – when the teacher moves from one slide to another, all of the students’ devices will show the slide transition too! It really is an awesome app, and one of the most popular among teachers who I deliver workshops to. Check it out!
  • Classkick: One of the most irritating things I find with using Google Docs/Slides with students is that the teacher cannot see all of the students’ work in real-time, in one place – you have to go into each student’s work separately to see what progress is being made. Well, some good news – Classkick solves this problem. Students log in to a classroom with a simple code and within seconds they are given a blank sheet in which they can add pictures, text, drawings and even voice clips! Additionally, as a teacher, you can see every piece of work in one place, in real-time, and can therefore easily see which students are not doing the work, or are working too slowly. It’s a great app for any kind of creative project that you would like your students to do, such as infographic creation, cartoon storyboarding, revision summaries or anything else that comes to mind.
  • Whiteboard.fi: Another legendary app that’s very simple to explain – it’s a virtual mini-whiteboarding app in which the teacher can see all of the students’ mini whiteboards in one place. It’s super cool, and again – students are able to log in within seconds by typing in a simple code.
  • Kami: This app turns static documents (e.g. pdfs) into interactive documents. Again, this app is super simple to use – the teacher uploads a static document, such as a revision booklet, and students can log in with a simple code and write all over the document. One amazing feature of Kami is its text-to-speech function – students can highlight any words within the document you’ve uploaded and the app will turn those words into an audible computer-generated voice. This is great for students who are learning how to verbalise key vocabulary.
  • Padlet: This is a very well-known and respected app for a reason – it’s simple to use and very customizable. Padlet is basically a noticeboard in which students can quickly log in (again, with a simple code) and post answers to a question, a summary of what they’ve learned that lesson, or anything the teacher chooses. Students can even post comments on each other’s posts (if that functionality is activated by the teacher). Filters for profanity can be activated and teacher-approval can be set up so that all posts can be checked before publishing. Check out the little-known ‘Shelf’ function on Padlet – this allows the teacher to post a sequence of questions or activities that students can complete at their own pace during a lesson. Here’s a screenshot of a very recent Padlet I created for my Year 11 Physics’ class – in this case I asked students to post a summary of what they had learned that lesson:
A recent Padlet I used with my Year 11 Physics class

Practical hybrid learning tips (from the corporate sector)

This great, free pdf book outlines some logistical enhancements that can be made to hybrid learning classrooms:

  • Remove background noise: Be aware that if your system isn’t on mute then eveyone can hear you rustling through papers, typing on your keyboard, drinking/slurping coffee, coughing, tapping on your desk and a variety of other noises. Some video-conferencing apps do have noise-reduction features built-in, so definitely activate those features if available.
  • Prepare: Do a test-run before the lesson begins. Make sure you know how to use the technology/apps you want to implement. Do you have a back-up plan in case something doesn’t work?
  • Consider lighting: Avoid bright background light (which can make you look like a silhouette on-screen). Test the camera to make sure that your students can clearly see your face.
  • Default to mute: Keep your microphone on mute, and unmute just before speaking, to avoid unwanted audio feedback.
  • Think about your location: Your desk space, background and location may be on display when you are video-conferencing, A messy space can reflect badly on you, so consider using a custom background image or moving the camera to a more favorable location.
  • Adjust your position accordingly: Make sure your head isn’t ‘cut off’ in the camera frame – position the equipment so that your face, neck and shoulders appear in the middle of the frame (if at all possible).

Your questions answered

Question about Nearpod from Mirian (via Facebook):

Sorry to ask but Nearpod seems to be really useful. Is it an app I have to download or a webpage? Because I logged in but then I couldn’t create my lessons or it didn’t generate a code for my students. Probably I didn’t do things properly 

Answer:

It’s a website. You’ll need to create an account, upload a slide presentation (as a pdf – just click ‘save as’ on your ppt and convert to a pdf.). Once your slide show is uploaded and saved (Nearpod will ask you to choose the subject and age level), you then need to click on ‘Live Lesson’. This will generate a code. Share the code with your students and you are good to go.

I have made a video describing how to create an awesome, free Nearpod lesson here:

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5 Ways That Teachers Can Work Effectively With Parents to Help Their Students

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

I’ve made the point before that parent’s are our allies, not our enemies. It’s important to foster productive relationships with the parents of our students so that our learners feel fully supported in their education. How exactly do we foster those relationships, though? This week, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento to share her thoughts on how to keep parents on our side.

Kat Sarmiento

Parents and teachers share the same goal: to ensure that students have the most excellent educational experience possible. In a study by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, one of the best approaches to creating a positive learning environment is encouraging parents’ engagement in their children’s school lives. 

Teachers who focus on involving parents see a profound change in their classrooms. Parental involvement begins at home, with the parents providing a safe and conducive environment for learning, experiences, support, and a positive outlook about the importance of education.

Parents actively involved in their child’s education provide the home support and knowledge that their children need—not just to accomplish assignments—but also to develop a lifelong love for learning.

Given that the importance of parents’ help in a child’s learning is beyond dispute, how can teachers work effectively with parents to help their students?

#1: Open reliable channels for communication

In a parent-teacher relationship, frequent two-way communication is essential so parents can stay updated on what is happening at school. At the same time, inform teachers about the important things concerning the child. 

A common mistake amongst teachers is not communicating enough or only getting in touch when there’s already a problem. It is best not to wait for situations to arise before reaching out. Teachers need to interact frequently and positively with parents to build a relationship before facing any roadblocks. Especially with today’s technology, teachers can do weekly reviews and quickly update parents on what’s going on in the classroom. 

It is critical to identify the best communication tools, develop messaging plans early in the year, and maintain consistent communication throughout the year. Maximize video conferencing apps, messaging boards, emails, social media, memos, newsletters, phone calls and find out what works best.

#2: Be collaborative

If communication is frequent, then collaboration will be easier.

A collaborative approach means that parents participate in the school’s decisions and work together to enhance the students’ learning and development.

Parents are well aware of their child’s lifestyle, developmental history, and interests. At the same time, teachers know how they can best guide and help their students perform in school.

Parents and teachers collaboratively sharing knowledge will go a long way to support a child’s growth and academic success. It includes relating what a child learns at school with what they learn at home.

The goal is to create a partnership in which teachers and parents share expertise to provide the best education for the students. Reciprocal respect, sharing of planning, and decision-making responsibilities are the essential components for true partnerships between parents and teachers.

#3: Encourage learning at home

Parents should support after-school learning by talking positively about school and teachers, creating a supportive home environment.

This form of involvement includes parents assisting their children with homework or taking them to a museum. These activities foster a school-oriented family and encourage parents to be involved in the school curriculum. 

Activities that encourage learning at home provide parents with information on what children are doing in the classroom and how to help them. Research shows that parental engagement is associated with increased productivity and academic achievement in many ways.

Participating in a child’s education shows that parents values their learning. The more help and guidance a child feels at home, the more effectively they will learn at school.

#4: Build a trusting relationship

In many respects, the first interaction between a teacher and a parent is the most crucial. During this time, a rapport is established, and trust can begin to develop.

Trust is a crucial component of any successful partnership. Teachers must maintain a trusting, private, open, and honest relationship with parents and ensure they always have the students’ best interest at heart. At the same time, parents should be confident in the competency of the teachers who are professionally involved in their children’s education.

#5: Make the curriculum transparent

Part of keeping parents informed is letting them know what their children are learning, how they are processing it, and how it will help their child succeed.

One way to do this is by conducting workshops for parents to inform them of the school curriculum and remind them that they are still their child’s most important teachers.

The bottom line is that education is a critical stage in a child’s growth and development. When parents and teachers collaborate as a team, children learn more effectively. And like any team, parents and teachers have one goal: provide the most incredible learning environment for children to promote their physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

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