Cognitive Sandwiching: A Method for Teaching Difficult Topics

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Memory is the residue of thought

 – Daniel Willingham

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

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

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“An AMAZING Book!”

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

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

  • Explore
  • Question
  • Teach
  • Test

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

Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)

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

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

Discussing homework

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

Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)

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

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

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

Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)

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

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

chatting in class

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

Fluctuations

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

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

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Exciting New Online Course for Teachers!

UKEd-Acad

The Fundamentals of Classroom Management: An online course designed by Richard James Rogers in Partnership with UKEd Academy 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been busy building an online course that covers all of the fundamental concepts in my widely acclaimed debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, in partnership with my good friends at UKEd Academy. Details are given below:

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

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

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

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

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

Course schedule: Flexible (work at your own pace)

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

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

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

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The Disconnect: How Over-Rewarding Fails Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Reading time: 3 minutes

A dangerous culture has quietly found its way into a large number of American and British schools in the past decade. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seems pretty on the surface but harbors malice within; over-rewarding continues to take hold like a malignancy to this day. 

Betty Berdan was an American high-school junior at the time of writing this excellent opinion piece in the New York Times. She eloquently summarizes her thoughts on over-rewarding as follows:

Like many other kids my age, I grew up receiving trophy after trophy, medal after medal, ribbon after ribbon for every sports season, science fair and spelling bee I participated in. Today the dozens of trophies, ribbons and medals sit in a corner of my room, collecting dust. They do not mean much to me because I know that identical awards sit in other children’s rooms all over town and probably in millions of other homes across the country.

Rewarding kids with trophies, medals and certificates for absolutely everything they do, including participation in a sports event, seems harmless at first glance: what’s wrong with encouraging kids to take part, right? 

jenga

My thoughts on this are simple: the real-world doesn’t reward mediocrity, and if school’s are designed to prepare kids for the real world, then they shouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity either. 

Your boss doesn’t give you a pay-raise or certificate for turning up to a meeting: it’s a basic expectation. You don’t get instant recognition and brand awareness for starting an online business: you have to slog your guts out and make it happen.

The world is cruel, but it’s especially cruel to high-school graduates who’ve been babied right the way through their schooling and come out the other side believing that they’re entitled to everything: that they’ll receive recognition for doing the bare-minimum. 

Some teachers may feel that rewarding everyone, but keeping ‘special rewards for winners’ is a good way to go. But what benefits can be extrapolated from removing first, second and third place prizes at a sporting event, or even removing winner’s trophies completely?

award

According to Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: 

A key takeaway here is that awards aren’t bad just because the losers are disappointed; everyone (including the winners) ultimately lose when schooling is turned into a scramble to defeat one’s peers

Really, Alfie? So awards are bad because losers and winners feel bitter? I think school culture has got a lot do with that. In school’s where students are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements, and aspire to do their best, overall achievement and attainment increases.  A massive study by the University of East Tennessee, for example, found that classroom celebrations of achievement enhanced:

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

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

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

…….reward does not decrease intrinsic motivation. When interaction effects are examined, findings show that verbal praise produces an increase in intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect appears when expected tangible rewards are given to individuals simply for doing a task.

This confirms what teachers have known for years (at least those with brains in their heads): that awards have no value when they are given to everyone, but have lots of value when they have to be earned. This coincides with the Four Rules of Praise that I wrote about in 2018 (supporting video below). 

Conclusion

Teaching profession, some words of wisdom: Awards and rewards only work to improve motivation, attainment and achievement when the students have had to earn them. Foster a school culture of collective celebration when students achieve success (such as using awards assemblies), and articulate the skills and qualities needed to achieve success to those students who sit and watch the winners, hopefully with smiles on their face and pride in knowing that one of their own made it happen, and they can too. 

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Digitizing the Learning Experience: EdTech 101

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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

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

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

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

The article goes on to describe how:

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

bean bags

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

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

I was rather the maverick back then. 

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

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

I stopped after the first few pages. 

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

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

It worked like an absolute treat! 

The teacher explores with the students 

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

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

Go on the journey together

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

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

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

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

Subject Knowledge Does Help

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

The point I’d like to make, however, is that it’s not essential. 
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A ‘Gender Neutral’ School Uniform – Mainstream Lunacy

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

There are few issues that come up in education that literally enrage me. This issue, however, has done exactly that.

Browsing through my twitter feeds last week I came across this:

 

Paul’s original tweet contained video footage showing schoolgirls being refused entry into their school because – shocking as it sounds – they wanted to wear skirts! The police were even there enforcing this idiocy. 

The lunatics are well-and-truly running the asylum in the UK. 

Sussex Police made this statement via Twitter:

I’m not surprised that the original video was taken down. It caused an uproar on social media. David Icke, for example, describes his view on this event perfectly with this meme:

David Icke Sussex School Gender Neutral

The Daily Mail, a British mainstream newspaper, ran an article about this in which they stated:

Police and teachers have been criticised for locking school gates to schoolchildren who protested a new ‘gender neutral’ uniform policy this morning, leaving pupils to wander the streets of a Sussex town.

Angry pupils and parents protested outside the gates of Priory School in Lewes over the clothing policy for the new school year. 

But teachers and Sussex Police officers locked the gates on pupils and refused admittance to girls in skirts – and according to one eyewitness officers were actually involved in selecting which students could enter and which would be barred.

He said: ‘It was like they were bouncers – they waved some through and stopped others.’ 

Police acting like ‘bouncers’ to stop skirt-wearing girls entering school? This certainly contradicts the official explanation given by Sussex Police.

This story also makes a few points perfectly clear:

  • The school is more concerned about pushing its leftist, pansy, wimpy and idiotic agenda than ensuring that proper teaching and learning takes place
  • Safeguarding is clearly not a priority at Priory School – they’d rather let teenagers roam the streets than let them enter school (for no good reason, I may add)

Good Morning Britain even picked up the story, and ran a short scoop on September 9th. You can watch some of the students and parents tell their side of the story here:

The school’s official response

The Priory School sent this official press statement to me via e-mail:

Priory School uniform is designed to be a practical uniform which encourages students to be ready to focus on their school work and activities. Our uniform also helps us to dilute the status placed on expensive clothes or labels and challenge the belief that we are defined by what we wear. Instead, we encourage individual beliefs, ideas, passions and wellbeing and an ethos of camaraderie that is reflected in this shared experience.

We believe that a uniform worn without modification is the best way to ensure equality. We do not want children feeling vulnerable and stressed by the pressure they feel to wear or own the latest trend or status symbol.

Priory school is not unusual in having a trousers as the uniform item for all students. There are at least 40 other schools which have a similar uniform requirement. Our core purpose remains the quality of teaching and learning and we aim to achieve this by maximising the time spent on planning, delivering and evaluating the quality of provision.

At what point do we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?

It’s about time that teachers everywhere rose up and spoke out, and took action, against malevolent individuals and organisations that wish to enforce their agenda on our students and our children. My concern is this – what’s next? Gender neutral uniforms for teachers? Imprisonment for criticizing the policy of a school or local authority (such as me writing this blog post, for example)? Compulsory lessons for kids on how they should ‘question their gender constantly’ and how they might not ‘really be a boy or a girl’? (That last one is already happening in some schools, by the way).  

No more. I’m not tolerating this lunacy anymore. 

sitting on the carpet

A call to action

I would like to encourage my readers everywhere, please, to share this article with others in order to spread awareness of what is happening in some UK schools. Comment on this article and let’s get the discussion going. When people take action in large numbers to spread awareness then real change can happen. 

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The Power of Praise: My Second Book

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I’m very happy to announce that my second-book, which has (to my shame) been in the pipeline for many years, has finally been published on the Amazon Kindle store. The paperback will be released in mid-September. If you click on the image below, it’ll take you directly to the Amazon sales page. 

The Power of Praise

My new book is split into three sections:

  • The philosophy of praise (why praise is important and what its effects can be)
  • The mechanics of praise (how to actually implement the various tactics available)
  • Ways to accentuate the efficiency of praise (how to ensure that praise and feedback only takes up the time and effort that it needs to)

From the outset I make the point that praise in the form of marking provides acknowledgement for work completed. This is essential, as every student needs to know that their time and effort has been noticed, is being monitored and has been recognized.

The implication of this statement is that quick turn-around of work is necessary so that students understand the reasons behind their feedback, gain empowerment maximally and receive positive reinforcement of the skills, knowledge and concepts that they are currently learning in class.

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Teachers (me included) can find it a challenge to provide high-quality feedback in a timely manner, however. This is where praise mechanics and efficiency come into play. 

There are a number of techniques that teachers can employ to save time whilst providing excellent feedback. In this new book, you’ll find sections on:

  • Peer-assessment
  • Self-assessment
  • The effective deployment of verbal feedback 
  • Automated assessment – the use of software to test our students 
  • Live marking
  • Many others

You can purchase my book here if you’d like a good, deep exploration of of a variety of praise-based techniques. As a little teaser for you, however, I’d like to share a particularly powerful technique with you.

‘Diffusive’ and ‘Absorptive’ live – marking

Diffusive live-marking is when the teacher walks around the classroom when the kids are working on a a task, pen-in-hand, and marks student work in real-time (i.e. ‘diffusing’ through the students).

Absorptive live-marking is when the teacher sits at a designated point in the classroom and calls the students to his or her desk. one-at-a-time, and marks work in real-time (i.e. figuratively ‘absorbing’ the students).

Coupled with verbal feedback, both techniques can be incredibly powerful. If you train the students to write “Mr Rogers said that………….(insert feedback here)” in a different color on their work, then you allow the students to process your feedback on a very deep-level, and this builds long-term memory. Obviously, use your name instead of mine!

Eventually, students will remember key mistakes that are repeating in their work and they will act to rectify those (they won’t like writing the same things over and over again). 

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Curriculum Clarity: Making Things Clear for Students

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video:

Preparing resources for students can be a really massive job: especially when you have the responsibility of getting kids ready for external exams. 

They’ll need:

  • Presentations (usually a series of PowerPoints)
  • Worksheets
  • Homework
  • Exam-style questions
  • Practical activities (for Science, D.T. and other practical subjects)
  • Learning activities along the way to make things ‘fun’ and ‘engaging’

mess around in class

In the olden days I used to source a ton of stuff from the web and make some stuff from scratch. The problems this caused were as follows:

  • An inconsistent teaching method/approach for each topic 
  • Inconsistent format and detail of resources (some PPTs were excellent. others only skimmed the surface of the topic)
  • Inconsistent direction and focus of the class (i.e. the ‘road ahead’)

Kids need to be very clear about what they need to learn for their exams, and in what order/topic sequence. So please sit back and relax as I share my consistency-generating tips for exam-level students. 

The Power of Praise
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Share the syllabus with the students on day one 

This will really help to make the ‘road ahead’ clear. Some teachers like to make a ‘kid friendly’ version of the syllabus – using language that is more easily understandable. In my experience, however, I find that this isn’t generally necessary – syllabuses tend to be clear enough. 

In addition to sharing the syllabus, map out the sequence of topics you will teach for the year ahead and share this with your students too. Some more able and hard-working kids will definitely read ahead, and it’ll help prepare your students for end-of-unit tests too. 

snacking

Keep the format and detail of all PPTs the same

I realized the importance of this when I was lucky enough to find Merinda Sautel’s amazing IB Chemistry PPTs on the internet. 

Check them out if you want to really understand the importance of this aspect of Curriculum Clarity – her PPTs follow the same format and layout for each topic and are all detailed enough so that a complete course is created. 

IB Chemistry is split into distinct topics that follow the Course Guide – there’s a PPT at Mindy Sautel’s site for topics 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, etc. Everything is sequenced and clear.

Keep homework and questions consistent and linked to the syllabus 

Maybe your syllabus is split into topics A,B,C and D with subtopics for each section. Do you have exam-style questions for topics A1, A2, A3, etc?

Organizing your questions by topic in this way will really build-up the subject knowledge that your students need to pass the final exam.

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5 Efficient Marking and Assessment Strategies

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying video:

Being a Newly Qualified Teacher was difficult. Getting to know my new students was a challenge, as was the daily grind of behavior management and classroom management. Building up the skills I needed to be effective in these areas took considerable time, and one of the reasons I wrote my book back in 2015 was so that I could have a record of all of the ‘nuggets’ of experience I had picked up over the years.

I wanted something I could read over on a regular basis to remind myself of the lessons that had been hard-earned. I certainly wasn’t expecting the book to become a bestseller, as it did on three subsequent occasions.

I think my ‘raw’ style really resonated with teachers: teachers who were fed up with the confusing (and often contradictory) ramblings of researchers and consultants in the field. They wanted real advice. They wanted techniques that worked.

One thing I touched upon, but didn’t go into detail about in my book was the plethora of marking and assessment strategies I have learned over the years. I have a separate book coming out about that, and this blog post will be a nice precursor to its release.

So, strap on your seat-belt because I’m about to go through the highest-impact, most effective strategies for marking and assessing work in ways that save you time and energy.

Strategy 1: Diffusive Live-Marking

This is really simple:

  1. Set a task for your students to complete (it could be a Google Slides presentation, a worksheet to complete, some questions from their textbook to do, etc.)
  2. When a few minutes have passed, ‘diffuse’ through the classroom by walking around with a marking pen in hand (I use a red pen). 
  3. Mark student work in real time, as they are doing it. Of course – reinforce your written comments with verbal feedback (and you can even write ‘verbal feedback give’ or ‘VF’ on the work).

Hey presto – you just saved yourself an hour or so of after-school marking time!

Strategy 2: Absorptive Live-Marking

In this scenario, one can imagine the teacher being like a ‘sponge’ that ‘absorbs’ the students: instead of walking around the classroom to mark work in ‘real-time’, you sit at your desk (or at a designated ‘consultation point’ in the room) and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. 

Q & A

Same result – you just saved yourself a ton of after-school marking time. 

Which is better – absorptive or diffusive live-marking?

In my personal opinion, both forms of marking have their place. 

Diffusive live-marking can actually double-up as an excellent behavior management technique – when you walk around the classroom and check work in real-time, pockets of low-level disruption tend to fade away because of the teacher’s proximity. The disadvantage of diffusive live-marking is that it can be difficult to stand behind, or to the side, of a student and mark work on a crowded desk. 

I tend to use absorptive live-marking more than diffusive as I am lucky enough to work in a school where the overwhelming majority of the students are very well-behaved. This means that I can call them to my desk one-at-a-time and the class will still stay on-task. A big advantage of the absorptive method is that I can give more detailed and personal feedback to each student and I have my whole desk-space to neatly mark the work on. 

Here’s a video I made about live-marking (very highly recommended):

Strategy 3: Peer-Assessment

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark. 

At first, I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ – where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. 

She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: my weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments.

teaching with laptop

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer-assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can also work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer-assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

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Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Strategy 4: Self-Assessment

Not surprisingly, self-assessment has similar perks to that of peer-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.

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 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. 

Strategy 5: Automated Assessment

I wrote a blog post about the effective use of ICT in lessons some time ago and in that article I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths. 

That was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work-life balance. 

Why? – That’s simple: students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:

  1. All of the students were focused and engaged
  2. All of the students were challenged
  3. The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems
  4. The content was relevant and stimulating
  5. No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working
  6. No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
it integrated
Instructional software can provide quick and comprehensive feedback to students, with little involvement from the teacher

There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from, Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a big and effective part of your teaching arsenal. 

Some good programs to explore are:

  • Kahoot! – Did you know that you can set Kahoot! quizzes as homework challenges? The software even generates student performance reports for you.
  • Subject-specific software such as MyiMaths (for maths), Educake (for Science) and Lexia (for English). 
  • Class Dojo – totally free and a great way to award points to students and set homework tasks (which they can submit online). 

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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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