Differentiation: The Magic Tool of Teaching

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was an unusually hot September morning. The year was 2005, and this was the first lecture I would receive at Bangor University’s prestigious School of Education. The topic: Differentiation.

Differentiation, in the context of education, was a totally alien concept to me before I embarked on my PGCE course. My degree was in Molecular Biology, so differentiation to me meant stem cells developing into specialized cells, such as red blood cells and nerve cells. However, this background knowledge wasn’t totally obsolete on this day, as I soon realised that educational differentiation means to specialise your teaching to suits the needs of different students, so that each student learns as much as they possibly can.

Here’s the best official definition of differentiation that I could find:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

 – Courtesy of Great Schools Partnership [Online]. Available at http://edglossary.org/differentiation/ (Accessed 21st April 2017)

I would like to take this opportunity now to explain some of the best “instructional methods” I have used to enable effective differentiation to take place.

Q & ALearning Style Tables: This is such a great activity for engaging a wide variety of learners. The idea is that you produce the same information or lesson instructions via pictures, audio, in writing or in clues that need to be solved or through some some other style, such as tablet PCs linked to online simulations. Students can go to the table that best suits their learning style or you can direct them to one. This takes some preparation but its well worth it.

Delegated Responsibility: Allocate different tasks to different groups within a class, based upon ability levels. For example, when analyzing a poem a weaker group might be asked to ‘describe the meaning’, whilst a higher ability group might be asked to ‘suggest the ways in which form and structure emphasize the meaning’.

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Student Teachers: This is one of my all-time favourites. In this activity, you give students responsibility for teaching part of a lesson. You’ll need to give basic instructions regarding the topic, length of time and essential points to cover. Leave the structure and delivery to them – students are nearly always incredibly creative with this!

Creative Styles: This is really easy to implement, and can be done on an individual basis (so its slightly different to the Learning Styles Tables activity). Offer students a range of ways in which to complete a task. For example, a verbal essay submitted via video; a traditional written essay; picture essay; a newspaper article and so on. 

Plenary Assessment: Get students to write down on a slip of paper the areas they are still having problems with, or any questions or queries they still have. Collect these in and use the information to plan the groupings and activities for the next lesson.schematic

Peer Enabling. This isn’t very hi-tech but it’s easy to put in place, and it’s very effective. Seat the students in mixed ability groups and get the students to decide a name for their group. Hold a group competition, perhaps using some of the activities like the ‘Poster Game’ here. Peer competition can improve performance and, in a mixed-ability class, weaker students won’t feel intimidated by the more able.

Questions. Give students some control over the lesson by getting them to write any questions they need answering as part of your starter activity. Divide them up and get students to suggest answers in their groups. This works particularly well with Science, Geography, English Literature, History and Poetry, but it can be applied to any task or text.

Economical Students. In groups, give students the opportunity to ‘buy and sell’ information, tips or ideas from you by giving them tokens or vouchers to swap for resources. They can then ‘sell’ the information on to other groups in the class. In a small class, this would also work well on an individual basis.

Glossaries. Prepare different types of word glossaries to support learning in class. This is particularly useful for ESL or bilingual students. If you can produce bilingual glossaries for individual students, then that would be a major token of help. Some can be to explain difficult words, whereas others can offer ‘wow’ words that need to be included in a piece of writing (for more able students).

projector interactiveDiscussion Statements. Provide a series of generalised discussion statements to which students can apply differing levels of knowledge. For example,  ‘If Tesla was alive today, he’d be trying to generate free electricity. Discuss’. For more specific topics, such as a historical account, use the statements to frame the entire lesson, allowing students to change their views as they gain more information.

Stepped Complexity. When writing comprehension questions, make sure you place them in order of complexity, so they become more open-ended and challenging as you go along. You could try structuring these around Bloom’s Taxonomy for extra effect. 

Assigning Roles. This is a very easy and powerful differentiation technique, which I talk about at length in this video here. Allocate tasks for any group work: leader, scribe, ideas people, speaker and so on. This makes sure everyone joins in and you can assign roles according to ability or character. In fact, roles should be assigned during all investigative group work, in order to maximise efficiency. 

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Mixed Starter. Have a PowerPoint or Prezi slide divided into four tasks. One focused on numeracy, another on words, another encouraging deeper thinking skills, one that’s really challenging (for the most able) etc.

In the Frame. Have differentiated writing frames with increasing levels of support available. Highlight the level each writing frame is aiming for – students accept this more readily and are likely to challenge themselves to the level above. Take a look at these Badger Science Assessments for some ideas. 

What’s in the Box? Have a ‘help box’ at the front of the class or place one on each table. Put tips, pictures, word glossaries or advice inside. Students use the box as and when they feel they need more help.

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Traffic Lights. This is a classic. Give students red, green and amber cards. When they are completely happy with a task, they display their green cards; when less certain the amber ones and when they are absolutely stuck, the red ones. This works well if students are encouraged to do this throughout the course of the lesson.

It Belongs to Me!: Get some envelopes and give each student personal instructions about what’s required with individual support that still allows challenge. Of course many will be the same but use their names on envelopes. This engages the students straight away!

Reverse Annotations. Try giving your annotations for a text or piece of work to students. They have to decide where they would place them and why. This provides structure for weaker students, but keeps the more able challenged. This works with diagrams and charts too. 

Class Q and AQuestionnaire: Use a mini-questionnaire to find out more about your class. Students love to tell you about themselves and you can tailor lessons or worksheets to include their hobbies and even favorite football teams. I write about this extensively here, in my guest blog post about building rapport. 

Must, Should and Could: This is an old classic. Phrase lesson goals in terms of: ‘All must complete …’, ‘Most should complete …’, and ‘Some could complete …’. This works well as an aspirational tool, because all students want to be in the elite, ‘some’ category and so tend to try harder.

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Effective Feedback: The Catalyst of Student Progress

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a mid-spring morning in 1996. I was 13 years old enjoying Science class with one of my favourite teachers up on the top-floor lab at North Wales’ prestigious St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. 

I loved Science. The feel of the lab, decorated with preserved samples in jars and colorful posters and periodic tables and famous Scientists on the walls, along with the cool gas taps and Bunsen burners that rested on each desk. This was my favorite part of the school.

Today’s lesson was special though, and I remember it for a very unexpected reason.

We were receiving back our Forces and Motion tests today. I loved getting my tests back, not least because I always revised really hard and was used to getting at least 75% on each one.

Q & A

I always used to do two things whenever I got my tests back:

  1. Check that the teacher had added up the scores correctly
  2. Check how to improve my answers

On this particular day I had lost marks on a question that was phrased something like this: ‘If a rocket is travelling through space, what will happen to the rocket if all of the forces on it become balanced?’

In my answer I had written: ‘The rocket will either continue travelling at a constant speed or will not move at all.’ 

Now, how do I remember this seemingly obscure moment in a sea of moments from high school, most of which I cannot recall? Well, that’s simple: My teacher came over and took the time and effort to verbally explain where I’d gone wrong.

I should have just written that the rocket will continue at a constant speed, not “or will not move at all”.

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A one-to-one conversation that I’ll remember forever

This moment of personal, verbal feedback from my teacher was powerful and precious. Not only did it serve to maintain my momentum in Science learning, but it left me with visual impressions of the memory itself: My friends in the Science lab, the posters on the wall and even the sunlight shining over the glistening Dee Estuary which was visible from the Science lab windows. 

This little story shows us the power of verbal feedback, and therefore the caution we should place on what we say to our students. Young girls and boys grow up to become men and women, and their teachers leave a number of impressions on them, some of which are permanent.

The trick is to ensure that the permanent impressions are useful, positive and productive: As was the case with my conversation with my teacher that day. 

And not all impressions need be verbal. Written feedback can be just as memorable.

Explaining
Do you empower your students with the feedback you give?

Let’s now explore the fundamentals of effective student feedback that are easy to implement, and useful.

Peer Assess Properly – The Traditional Method

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.

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When students reflect on their work they develop a ‘growth mindset’

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 with-ukedchatalso 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.

Experiment with automated assessment

I wrote a blog post about the effective use of ICT in lessons some weeks back, and I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths. 

It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life. 

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 focussed 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.
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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. 

Give verbal feedback the right way

Verbal feedback is a great way to have a personal one-to-one conversation with a student. It can help you to address systemic, widespread issues (e.g. not writing down all of the steps in calculations) and it can be a great way to motivate each student.

However, many teachers are only going so far with verbal feedback and are not using it as the powerful tool it is.

Take this piece of KS3 Geography work for example:

Geography not marked
Geography work from an 11 year old, shown to me on 21st June 2016

I received this work from a parent at dinner, who knew I was an educational author, on 21st June 2016.

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed the dates on the work: 1st December and 8th December 2015. I’m sure you’ll have shuddered upon the realization that this work hadn’t been marked in seven months! No peer-assessment, no self-assessment and no comments from the teacher. There aren’t even any ticks! Add this to the fact that this boy’s entire notebook was completely unmarked, just like this, and you can begin to understand why I nearly had palpitations in front of several avid noodle and rice connoisseurs!

When I asked the boy about why it wasn’t marked, he said that this teacher never marked worked, he just gave the occasional verbal feedback. My next obvious question was to ask what verbal feedback he’d received about this work. He said he

work overload
Is this you? It needn’t be didn’t know. 

With teacher workloads increasing globally, this kind of approach is, unfortunately, not uncommon, However, verbal feedback need not be time-consuming and can be executed in a much better way than is seen here in this Geography work. Here are my tips:

  1. 1. Set your students a task to do and call each student one-by-one to have a chat about their work. Be strict with your timings – if you have a 40 minute lesson and 20 students in the class then keep each conversation to two minutes.
  2. Mention the points for improvement and use sincere praise to address the good points about the work. Ask the student to reflect on the work too.
  3. Once the conversation is over, write ‘VF’ on the work, and ask the student to make improvements to it. Agree on a time to collect it in again so that you can glance over the improvements.

As you can see, this simple three step approach to verbal feedback generates a much more productive use of time than simply having a chat with the student. Action has to be taken after the discussion, and this places the responsibility of learning solely in the hands of the student, which is where it should be.

Be specific in your comments

Sometimes it is appropriate to collect student work and scribble your comments on it with a colored pen. When you do this, make sure your comments are specific and positive, Take a look at these examples, which all serve to empower the student:

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A piece of IBDP Biology homework. Comments are designed to empower and motivate the student, and address areas of weakness
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An end of semester test. Comments refer to specific progress made, and areas that require further attention.
Krishi Classnotes 1 electricity marked
This piece of work was sent as a photograph via Skype. The teacher has added word-processed comments and an encouraging smiley. 

Peer Assess Properly – The Technological Method

A growing trend that is proving popular with teachers is to use Google forms in the peer assessment process. I wrote about this in my book, and I’ve included the extracts here:

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A good form for students will look something like this:

Using Google forms in education-page-0

Using Google forms in education-page-1

Using Google forms in education-page-2

There are many alternatives to using Google forms. For example, you may wish to create a form via your school’s VLE, or even get the students to send each other their work through e-mail or a chat application (although this will remove anonymity). Either way, peer assessment with technology will save you time and provide your students with quick, detailed feedback.

Make sure students improve their work

A common theme you may have spotted in this week’s blog post is that of improvement. Students should always improve the work that’s been marked or assessed. This serves two purposes:

  1. The student will get into the habit of giving their best effort each time. After all, a great first attempt means less effort needed in the improvement phase
  2. The process of improving a piece of work serves to firmly cement concepts in the subconscious mind of the student, aiding memory and retention

Don’t forget to use rubrics, mark schemes and comments – students can’t possibly improve their work without these. 

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Teaching EAL and ESL Students: The Essential Guide

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a typical INSET/teacher-training day at my school, or at least it started out that way. 

I was up early at the ring of three alarm clocks, and a few snooze buttons worth of ‘sneaky sleep’ time for each (a habit which I have now, thankfully, changed. Side note: Check out a book called The Miracle Morning if you want your life to change immediately!).

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It was a long summer vacation, and now it was back to the daily momentum of the first semester. 

The morning was fairly standard: new staff introductions, receiving our timetables and talks from the principal and deputies about our school’s focus and aims for this academic year. A complimentary lunch of Pad Thai and iced tea followed. So far, so good.

And then came the afternoon slot. First session on the agenda: Supporting EAL students in mainstream classes. We all eagerly walked in, took our seats and got out our pens and notepads ready to take notes. One of our popular and friendly American colleagues was leading the session, so we were we’re all excited. 

The session began with a ‘Bonjour……, sava?” and that’s all the vocabulary I can remember from then on in. I had no idea that my American friend was a fluent French speaker, and I couldn’t speak even a string of three words in French: I dropped it at age 14. 

card gamesThis went on for about 15 minutes. The spoken language was French, the PowerPoint was in French and the handouts were in French. And then, oh no, the teacher asked me a question!

I did what all of my EAL students habitually do at this point, I turned and asked my friends for help, in my native language (English). Big mistake! My American friend turned into a ruthless foe as she launched a vicious and aggressive verbal attack on me (which I didn’t understand). Even though I knew this was a teacher-training session, and I was ‘supposed’ to make this mistake, I still felt humiliated.

I later learned that she said “Speak in French only”, in French. 

If you’ve never took part in an activity like this before, then try it. It is a very blunt and merciless reminder of the challenges our EAL and ESL students face when they are taught through the medium of English.

Over the past 11 years I have had the privilege of working with thousands of EAL and ESL students. It started when I was in the UK teaching the children of eastern European migrants, and then progressed on to a wide-spectrum of international students in the ensuing 8 years in Thailand, and my current year in China. I’ve learnt that some techniques work really well almost every time, and some can be a bit hit-and-miss (sorry for the colloquialism: that’s something you should avoid, by the way!). lab

Let me share with you the best techniques that will take your EAL and ESL teaching to the next level of excellence. 

Have sympathy and patience

Don’t forget that EAL students need time to process whatever you’ve said, or the task or information they’ve been given, in their native language before they can give you a response in English.

Allow students time to think. Pause a while, let the student discuss their answer with a friend who speaks their language if necessary. Listen carefully to the response you get. Praise the parts that were correct. Model good grammar and execution.

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Pause and allow your students time to process information. Praise them when they provide a good response. Have patience, and watch your students flourish!

Take a look at this short dialogue:

Teacher: “So, James, what does the word ‘Species’ mean?”

James: (Has a short talk with his friend in Chinese. Teacher pauses.) “Species mean when animal are like the same.’ 

Teacher: “Wow! Great answer James. A species can be a group of animals or plants that have similar characteristics. Well done for using the word ‘same’, but I think that ‘similar’ is a better word. Can anyone else tell me something about the word ‘species’?”

Focus on the long-term goals of improving your EAL students’ comprehension gradually. Don’t expect miraculous results overnight, but at the same time don’t limit your beliefs in these students’ abilities. 

Speak slowly and watch your accent

As soon as I landed in Thailand I discovered this important secret: EAL students need to hear a clear speaker when being taught through the medium of English, so that they can model good practice.

Slow your voice down, and speak loudly and clearly (but don’t shout). If you have a thick localised accent, try to make it more classical and concise. 

I come from Flint in North Wales: a small town with its very own unique accent that’s different to anywhere else in the UK! When my wife, who is Thai, comes with me to the UK to meet my family, she often cannot understand what we are all saying when we use the local dialect (including me, her husband!).

My wife has a master’s degree from the UK, so what hope would my high school kids have in understanding me if I tried Q & Aspeaking in ‘Flint’ to them?

I have learned to slow my voice down and speak in a more neutral/classical dialect when I’m teaching. You may have to do the same. Make a video recording of one of your lessons and watch yourself teach. You’ll be surprised at how many slip-ups you make, and there may even be times when you can’t understand yourself!

Elocution, elocution

Elocution simply means modelling good speech.

Speak your key words and key vocabulary clearly, and get your students to repeat them! I used this technique only three days ago in a KS3 Science class. One of the key words was ‘species’. The dialogue went something like this:

Teacher: “Say spee-shees”

Students: “spay-shees”

Teacher: One more time. Listen carefully: ‘speeeeeeee-shees”

Students: “Speeee-shees”

Teacher: “Perfect, ‘Speee-shees’ Well done.”

Class Q and A
Be vocal. Use elocution as a way to reinforce concepts, vocabulary and inflections

Don’t forget that written delineation is not enough to enable students to understand words and contexts. Visual and auditory outputs are essential too, and that’s why we must spend time on correct elocution.

Prompting

This is a classic technique that is very simple to implement. Prompting is when you say the initial sound of the word, allowing space and time for the students to complete it. Take a look at this example:

Teacher: “The force that pulls objects towards the Earth is called grr, grr, grr…….”

Students: “Gravity!”

Teacher: “Yes! Gravity. Well done!”

Use prompting often, even with written language. Point to words on your presentations, and make students say them.

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Do you prompt your students to use key vocabulary?

Use vocabulary journals

These are very powerful learning tools, but they are so underused in the teaching profession!

Take this week for example. My AS-Level Biology students had just finished their mock exams and I sat down with one young lady to provide feedback to her. She had great subject knowledge, but had used incorrect adjectives in some of her answers. For example:

Student’s answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disappears

Model answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disintegrates’

Any AS-Level examiner will tell you that this is a common way in which international students lose marks in exams. So, how can I help this student now?

discussing-homeworkThe solution is simple and effective: she’ll have a special notebook in which she writes down all of the model answers to questions she gets incorrect in the intense past-paper practice we’ll be doing for the next month and a half. She’ll be keeping a ‘vocabulary journal’, and I’ll be checking it and sitting with her to discuss it each week. 

Journals are a great way for students to constantly review their understanding and knowledge of key vocabulary. With students who have very low English proficiency, you may wish to use journals from day one. With others, such as my AS-Biology student who only needs some ‘fine-tuning’, they can be used at specific points in the academic year.

Make full use of dictionaries and translators

Many international students carry electronic or paper-based dictionaries with them to class. Personally, I think that all international schools should make this a requirement for all of their students, even native English speakers.

Why? Because they’re powerful learning tools.

Students can use dictionaries in many ways, but the most common and effective are:

  • Translating key words in their textbooks into their native language, allowing full understanding of terms and permannet record that’s all in one place
  • To support learning journals, where key words and adjectives can be written bilingually and checked regularly. Get parents and language teachers involved in this for extra credibility and scrutinizing
  • Some electronic dictionaries can ‘speak’ the word being researched, allowing good verbal modelling and repetition by the student
  • Creating bilingual displays in class (e.g. posters and infographics)

Use vocabulary games

I write about this extensively in my book, and my blog post here has some very clear instructions and ideas for using vocabulary games in class. My personal favourites are ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’, ‘corners’ and ‘bingo’ which I’ve included below. These are great fun, but they do take time to implement in class. It’s worth it though!

Never demonize the native language of the students

I had the unfortunate experience of working in a school that had an ‘English only’ policy, which was strictly and rather bizarrely enforced. As a British teacher in Thailand, I was expected by the management of my school to tell students not to speak Thai.

I thought we’d left this archaic ideology behind with the abolition of the ‘Welsh Not’ necklaces in 1888. I guess I was wrong.

out-of-control

Don’t forget: our EAL students will be using their native language to cognitively process facts and information. Try these strategies:

  • Allow students some time to discuss answers with a friend who speaks the same native language as they do
  • Pause, and allow the student to verbalise the answer in their native language before expressing it in English
  • Instead of saying “Don’t speak Thai” or “Don’t use German”, say something like “Try your best to use English please”, or ” I really want you to improve your English, so could you please try to talk in English?”. 
  • Posters and displays around school that promote English can be effective. Choose upbeat, modern graphics that show students why English is important. One school I worked at had a poster in every classroom that said “In this school, we try our best to express our ideas in English, so that we can get good grades in our exams”. 

Use groups strategically

You’ll come across two scenarios when using group work with international students:

  1. Groups where every students speaks the same native language
  2. Groups were some or many students speak different native languages
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Do you assign roles in groups?

Where possible, it’s a good idea to group together those students who do not speak the same native language, This forces them to use English in their group work (though, most probably, you’ll have clusters of two or three students per group who can speak the same native language). 

How you assign groups will depend on the age and emotional maturity of the students too. For example, you don’t want to group together students who you know will just chat aimlessly with each other, and you also don’t want to group together students of completely different nationalities who all have very poor English language proficiency – that would be a very quiet group!

Also, don’t forget to assign roles to each student in a group. Who will be the spokesperson? Who’s drawing the diagram? Who’s doing the research using the iPad? Who’s collecting the data? If you don’t assign roles, then you may find that the group work is slow, unproductive and chaotic. 

Differentiate your resources

This is a classic and vast area of pedagogy which is often made more complicated than it needs to be. 

Basically, make sure your worksheets, tasks and materials are neither too easy or schematictoo difficult for individual students. This website here provides some links to detailed strategies for this, but the most common ones that I’ve used include:

  • Breaking down prose into sentences, bullet points or ‘blanks’ to fill in.
  • Using pictures, lots of them! When student asks “What does ‘tripod’ mean”, are you going to give a lengthy explanation? Show the student! Type the word in on a search engine and show them an image of the object.
  • Writing out step-by-step instructions for any kinaesthetic task, such as doing an experiment or building a model
  • Changing your verbal questions to match the fluency of each student. Do you ask a student to ‘describe the electromagnetic spectrum’, or “Name the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, gamma rays, radio waves, and……… (prompting again)” 
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Differentiate the resources and tasks in your teaching to meet the needs and abilities of your learners

Conclusion

We all have a duty to help our EAL and ESL students in the best ways that we can. Our efforts need not be time-consuming nor difficult, just a few easy-to-implement strategies like the ones mentioned above are needed. Be consistent, have patience, never lose hope. Previous EAL and ESL students of mine have gone on to study bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UK and American universities and now have flourishing careers. 

Patience always pays dividends, so make sure you are patient with your EAL and ESL learners.

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Special Educational Needs: Supporting Our Students

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Teaching is an amazing and inspirational vocation. Just think: every single day we get the opportunity to literally help, inspire, motivate, coach and train young people. All of our learners are special and unique, but I’ve found that working with students that have Additional Learning Needs (ALN) can be the most rewarding part of the job.

Here’s my take on it all:

So how do we best help those students who may face additional challenges in school?

Whether it’s dyslexia, dyspraxia, English as a Second Language, problems with motor function or even low emotional intelligence and mood swings, I’ve found that the following actions always achieve positive results:

Create and use Individual Educational Plans (IEPs)

Two things amaze me about IEPs:

  1. Many schools (especially internationals schools) don’t create IEPs for their students with ALN. Moreover, despite easily having the ability to do so, many schools still don’t embrace the idea of enabling full provision for SEN students and instead focus on raising the grades of their high flyers as much as possible.
  2. Of those schools that do create IEPs, it is alarming just how many teachers don’t read them, use them or fully contribute to them.
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Do you really know and understand the learning challenges that your SEN students face? How are you targeting those challenges?

Creating an IEP should always be the first step in providing help for any SEN student.

It’s impossible to fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is

You don’t need a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) or even anyone with specific training to create an IEP. Follow these steps:

  1. Speak with all of the teachers of that student who have ether worked with him or her in the past and/or those who are teaching the student now. Take a survey of all of the concerns they have. What kind of challenges are commonplace? What kind of barriers to learning seem to be ubiquitous? What actions do you all agree on? What kind of help can be put in place? If the student is new to school then contact their previous school (even if it is in another country) and gather this information.
  2. Produce a table outlining all of the actions that have been agreed on
  3. Monitor progress along the way.

Rapport is the key strategy

SEN students often require much more one-to-one attention than students in the mainstream.

Embrace the opportunity to build up a great rapport with these students. You’ll notice amazing results within a very short space of time!

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Well-planned lessons which include a variety of activities often provide rapport-building opportunities as a valuable by-product

Rapport is the one key characteristic that all successful teachers have. It’s so important, that I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book. A summary of good rapport building strategies is given in this guest blog I wrote a short while ago, and a quick list is given below:

  • Take a genuine interest in your students. Find out what their hobbies and interests, and their likes and dislikes are. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them about it regularly. Remember what they’ve told you. For example: “Hi Mark! How’s
    with-ukedchat
    This is a great book for people who are struggling to get to grips with their busy teaching schedule – UKEdChat Book Review

    the violin lessons coming along? Are you ready for your concert next Tuesday?”

  • Use sincere praise as often as possible. Always encourage SEN students. Even for little steps of progress, such as using a ruler to draw a diagram. Record this progress. Remember it. Reward it with your school’s rewards system
  • Use tasteful, laid-back humour in your lessons. Plan well. Include a wide-variety of tasks that cater for as many learning styles as possible. Include cut-and-stick, model-building, ICT tasks such as movie-making and blogging. SEN students often adapt well to multiple tasks, activities and exciting learning challenges.

Personalize your resources

Are you giving all of your students the same material despite a broad ability range within the class? Do your ESL students read lengthy prose and try to decipher complex adjectives alongside their native-speaking peers?

Back in the day, we called the technique of personalizing your teaching as ‘differentiation’. It’s vital if you want your SEN students to access the curriculum.

Differentiate your worksheets, your verbal questioning, your ICT activities, your homework. It’s not ‘dumbing down’ and it’s not making life easy for some students and difficult for others. It’s called provision.

This website offers some great ideas for differentiating your resources. And don’t worry about time –  lots of differentiated material is ready made for you at places such as TES resources and ESL Gold.

If you do have to make resources from scratch, then be organized enough to keep them stored, ready to use again with future students.

Embrace the use of ICT

I write about this at length in my two previous blog posts here and here. SEN students loves using technology, and you can even use instructional software which does all the teaching, assessment and differentiation for you! Now what could be better than that?

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SEN students love using ICT (generally). Try using instructional software, games and even social media and blogging

Conclusion

Working with SEN students is rewarding and, when you get to my age, you’ll even see what happens to these kids when they leave school. Many of my former students who had incredible learning challenges in school, went on to become tradesmen and women, college graduates, business owners, artists and even teachers themselves! When you discover this, it’s brings a profound sense of satisfaction and happiness to your life.img_5938

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Using ICT in the Classroom Part Two: A Guide for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

ICT offers a whole new world of discovery and adventure to the learning process, but how many of us actually use it strategically?

Tragically, many teachers are still ‘ticking the boxes’ with ICT, using it as a means to impress an observer or inspector, or to fill in an obscure rubric.

This is concerning.

Last week, we looked at ways in which ICT can be used to support instruction and support learning, and we emphasized the fact that the full use of computer systems can even save you massive amounts of time and energy in lesson planning and assessment. 

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Are you working too hard? Computers can even do most of the teaching for you now, leaving you to embrace the roles of mentor and facilitator

This week, we will focus on exploratory and collaborative ICT systems, and how they can revolutionize learning and improve student grades. 

Exploratory and Collaborative ICT

I’ve grouped these methodologies into one category as groups of students often use ICT to explore and create content at the same time. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to implement this into your teaching.

Allow opportunities for research

If you are trying to teach a large topic (e.g. cell division, transformations of functions,

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Capitalise on the creative abilities of your students when using ICT to enhance learning

the Battle of the Somme, etc.), then you’ll naturally have lots of content to get through. Why not try the time-tested method of the market place activity, whilst using ICT at the same time?  Follow these steps:

  1. Split the class into groups, each with a specific task and roles to play (this is crucial). For example: Team 1: Rosie (Information researcher using iPad), Charles (Prezi creator using laptop, receives info from Rosie via e-mail), David (voice narrator using the AudioMemo app on the Smartphone), Thomas (Final editor and team leader, ensures good communication flow between members). Teams 2-4 would be constructed in the same way.
  2. After a suitable length of time, get the team leader to quickly go to another team and find out what they’ve been studying and researching. After about five minutes, the team leader can come back and report his or her findings to the group, so that they can put it into their presentation.
  3. At the end of this lesson (or the next lesson, if time is limited), allow students time to present their work. Perhaps each group could peer assess each other?

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    “This is a great book for people who are trying to get to grips with their busy teaching schedule” –

Think of novel ways to create content

Part of a new wave of educational culture focusses on achieving success criteria. This is language that you’ll have to teach to the kids, but once it’s in place it can work wonders in your classroom.

For example: Let’s say you are leading a Year 8 art class on city-scape images. The objective is to create an image of a metropolis from the perspective of an alien visitor. But what are the success criteria? How will the students know that they have achieved this objective, and what methods will they use to achieve it? If you plan in advance and you’re smart, you’ll let your students decide how to tackle the problem by themselves, using whatever technology is available. 

Now a traditional artist would quickly get to work with brushes, paint, pens, pencils and the like. But why be limited to this? Try providing the students with a wide-range of materials to use, including technology (e.g. Tablets, smartphones, camera’s, digital sketch pads, 3D printing, etc). Perhaps you can group the students, and allow them some planning time first, before they embark on their project.

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Try providing your students with as many technological options as possible when embarking on a project. Allow them time to plan. This builds up collaboration and problem-solving skills, and it’s enjoyable! Perfect!

Does this sound scary to you? Some educators and schools would frown on this, saying that students should never direct the methodology of the lesson and the teacher should always lead from the front. This ‘sage on a stage’ approach, however, doesn’t adequately provide students with the key skills that employers and universities are really looking for these days. Take this quote, from targetjobs.co.uk, for example:

Teamwork is one of the fundamental skills employers look for and it’s on the graduate recruiters’ high priority list. The best way to show off any skill is to explain how you used it to get results. However, with teamwork you will have to show how you achieved a group result.

So try killing two birds with one stone: Get your students working together and using ICT at the same time. They’ll be engaged, they’ll be learning and they’ll be building up their key skills.

Use, create and edit videos

You’ll notice that I’ve created my first ever instructional video this week! (Well, I would be a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t!).

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to do this. Videos can be used in all sorts of ways. See this extract from my book:

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When it comes to editing movies, iMovie (Apple) and FilmoraGo (Android) are great apps you can use. Why not ask your school’s ICT department to download these onto your school’s iPads or tablets? In addition, get your students to share their videos on the school’s VLE or official Facebook, Vimeo or YouTube site. This is great PR for the school and gives the students a wider sense of purpose to their work as they can inform a wide audience and showcase their project to their parents.

Try stop-motion animations

I’ve sued these many times in my career and they are great. Some of the earliest forms of film-making involve taking still images of a scene and then sunning them together to make a ‘moving picture’. Students can do this with model building to illustrate any process or strategy. Take a look at this video, for example, of a stop-motion animation illustrating DNA replication:

You Tube

Collate data in unique ways

These extracts from my book show how smartphones and tablets can be used to collate and present data:

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Just look at these beautiful charts that can be easily made on tablets and smartphones

Try using social media

It’s unstoppable: Social media platforms continue to grow in both influence and functionality. The following infographic outlines some cool ways in which you can use social media in education. Can you think of more ideas?

Using social media in education-page-0

Summary

I really hope that both this week’s and last week’s blog posts have given you some tips that you can use in a practical way in the classroom. Please feel free to comment below with any extra ideas you have, and please feel free to contact me through any of the social media buttons on the top right of the page if you have any questions or comments. 

The following summary extracts are taken from my very popular debut book. I hope they’re useful.

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Using ICT in the Classroom Part One: A Guide for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

We all know that we should be using different forms of information technology to enhance our students learning experiences. In my 11 years of teaching experience, I’ve had the great fortune of being able to experiment with different methods and I’d like to share my findings with you.

One thing is certain: ICT definitely enhances learning, when it is used and planned properly!

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The possibilities are endless when ICT is used to enhance learning

I’m going to split the methodologies into four streams for the sake of clarity: Instructional ICT, Supportive ICT, Exploratory ICT and Collaborative ICT. If all four of these streams are used in unison with each other, then teachers will find that their workload reduces dramatically, their students progress rapidly and parents are kept happy and informed. Now what could be better than that?

Safety First

Make sure your students are safe online. Educate them about the SMART acronym. See this extract from my book below:

SMART

Instructional ICT

Interactive Presentations

MS PowerPoint has been around for more than two decades. My lecturers were using it in university, and I even created PowerPoints as a student when I was in high school. Now I’m 33 years old, and some schools are still content with the notion that using a PowerPoint can count as ‘using ICT to enhance learning’.

I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t cut the mustard these days.

Try using presentations that get the students actively engaged. Do your students come up to the whiteboard to move objects around, match words to descriptions or interact with simulations? Do you use your PPT or other presentation as a prompt for getting students out of their seats, such as by making them stand on either sides of the room for True/False answers, or asking them to form a human graph?

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Are you just lecturing at your students lesson after lesson? Try making your presentations interactive, and get students up out of their seats.

Tablets, Smartphones and Laptops

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“This is a great book for people who are struggling to cope with their busy teaching schedule”UKEdChat Book Review

Portable technology has revolutionized every area of teaching. When embraced and utilised properly, mobile devices can assist in the the delivery, assessment, record keeping and discovery of content, as well as building up key skills such as communication and collaboration.

I wrote about this exhaustively in my book, which I would recommend for any teacher who wants to brush up their classroom management skills through the use of ICT. For the sake of conciseness, I shall summarise the main themes here.

Don’t be camera shy

Chapter 5 - seeking for cluesCamera’s on smartphones, tablets and laptops can be used for variety of purposes. Try the following:

  • Taking photos and videos of experiments, projects and fieldwork to put in reports
  • Setting up a QR code treasure hunt where the students have to hunt for ‘clues’ and information around the school campus (great fun).  Students can even compete in teams for this task, and collate the information together in a unique way, such as a flow chart, at the end of the lesson. See below:
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Instructions for using QR codes treasure hunts in your teaching practice.
  • You can also use smartphone, tablet, laptop and standalone cameras with students to create videos (which can be shared online), podcasts, radio shows, stop-motion animations and even instructional lectures, such as a model-building demo. I’ll write about this in more detail in next week’s blog post, in which we’ll focus on Exploratory and Collaborative ICT. 

Use instructional software

I’ll never forget when I first started using MyiMaths, an online maths tutoring and assessment system, to teach mathematics. It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life. 

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 focussed 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.
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Try using instructional software with your students. The benefits for everyone are enormous, and the cost is usually cheap.

Supportive ICT

Allow for research opportunities

Gone are the days when ‘chalk and talk’ and ‘sage on a stage’ methodologies permeated every school. ‘Collaboration’ and ‘exploration’ are the buzzwords of education now, and we are able to do this better than ever before.

Don’t be shy about allowing students to use their smartphones in class (but be sensitive to what they’re actually accessing, and also be aware that some students might not own smartphones. Have a stack of iPads or tablets ready, to give students the ‘choice’ of using walking-around-wt-laptopthem). 

Students can use the web to find out facts about their subjects, as well as for revision. Great websites to use include these classics:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education

http://www.s-cool.co.uk/

Also, check out this earlier blog post of mine where I provide great websites split into subject areas. 

Making graphs and charts and editing images

Any form of data set can be graphed in various ways by tablets and smart phones. This could happen in a history lesson in which you’re studying the number of new cases of the bubonic plaque over a set period of time; a mathematics lesson where the students have conducted a simple survey; a science lesson where the kids are measuring the light absorbance of different solutions or even an English lesson where you’re studying the frequency of particular adjectives in different texts. Good graphing apps include ‘Numbers’, ‘Viz’, ‘3D Charts’ and ‘Chart Maker’ (Apple™) and ‘Simple Graph Maker’, ‘My Graph (Chart)’, ‘ChartGo’ and ‘Juice Labs’ (Android™).

Portable homework diary

Are you sick of your students forgetting their homework? Does your school still use those

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Messaging systems and Virtual Learning Environments have revolutionized the way that students keep track of their homework and grades

old-fashioned homework diaries where everything needs to be written down? If your school isn’t using a homework database or a VLE to set assignments, then one way to solve this is to get the students to take a photograph of the homework task after you’ve written it on the whiteboard or projected it. This is also a very good option for students with additional learning needs and those who are operating with English as their second language. Additionally, if the homework is complex and involves multiple steps (e.g. navigating through a particular VLE portal), then students should be encouraged to take photographs of each step in the process.

Create!

There are a myriad of programs offered within the Apple™ and Windows™ suites can assist students in the creation of their assignments. You can be very open minded, and give your students the task of ‘using ICT to produce this homework’, or you can even train students in the use of a particular platform first, and then set them the task of creating something with it. Furthermore, online interfaces such as Weebly and WordPress allow students the opportunity to create websites quickly and easily. Websites that students create can be used for:

  • Blogging
  • Recording topic summaries each month or on a regular basis
  • Keeping track of coursework (the website itself can be a coursework log)
  • Homework assignments
  • Revision
  • Collaboration – working with teams at school or between schools
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Allow your students the freedom to be creative in their use of ICT

 

What if the kids don’t have any ideas?

The following form was included in my book and is great for getting students to think creatively about using ICT, with special reference to future systems that haven’t been created yet:

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Careers Advice: Your First Year at University

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Students all around the world are approaching the final sprint to their terminal examinations right now. Whether its ‘AS’ or ‘A’ – Levels, IB Diploma exams, SATs or IGCSE’s, students and teachers all over the world are feeling the pressure. 

However, one thing that can be overlooked at this time is good-quality careers advice for students who will soon (6 months in some cases) be at university starting their first of a degree programme. 

And yet, this careers advice is probably the most important facet of this approach to the exam apocalypse. Students need to feel excited by going to university now. They need to know why they’re working so hard for their final exams in the first place (the purpose). They need to have a dream; a goal, to work for.

with-ukedchat
“This is a great book for teachers who are struggling to get to grips with their busy teaching schedule”UKEdChat Book Review

Have you sat down with each of your final year students to find out what their dreams are? I promise you – you’ll be very surprised at what comes from this.

And then, what do you do? You reinforce the importance of each dream, as often as you can. “Debbie, I know you’re going to be a great drummer one day. The best. We will work together to get you to Birmingham City to start your music degree”. “John, I’m so pleased with this vectors homework you did. You put so much effort into this. You will use this material when you’re studying engineering at Loughborough. I know you’ll make it. Keep working hard. Keep up the excellent work”.

Do you know what effect comments like these can have on your students? They can be life-changing!

For my next book, I have compiled advice from 100 young graduates who have studied at universities all over the world. Many of these graduates are my former students.

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Going to university is a massive learning curve for many students

Take a look at these extracts below:

Name: Orachitr Bijaisoradat

Latest accomplishment: Ph.D in Polymer Science. The petroleum and petrochemical college, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Advice to freshmen

1. Make lots of friends and be sociable. Some students may struggle at the first term of uni but you will feel much better if you work as a team and help each other by sharing your knowledge. And knowing lots of people will help with connections for your future career. Sometimes connections are more important than grades.
2. Plan ahead. It is okay if you don’t know what you want to be when you graduate but it is best to plan so that you can have everything prepared for your next step. For example, if you plan to continue a master’s degree, what are the requirements that you need to prepare. If you want to apply for the top 10 famous universities but your GPA is lower than the requirement, then you won’t be able to apply.

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Students are required to take ownership of their learning at university

Name: Mintra Rungruengsorakarn

Accomplishments:
Bachelor’s Degree in Music from University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, Class of 2015
Master’s Degree in Music from Mannes School of Music, The New School, New
York, Class of 2017

Advice for freshmen: 
There were many things that happened during my studies in the United
States in the past five years and a half. Those memories and experiences were all valuable regardless of any rises and falls. As a second year Master’s student, I am here to share with you my advice from a perspective of someone who has graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree and is on her way to finishing her Master’s.

Here is some advice I would like to give:

‘Time’ is precious, and it is the only treasure that everyone has equally. Use your time
wisely, the better you manage your time the better advantage you have over others. Four years in a university is so short that you will be out of school before you know it. Secondly, be sure to know your responsibilities and realize how fortunate you are to be in school. School prepares you for the real world, as you are being exposed to new surroundings learn to adjust as soon as you can and stay strong, be positive and optimistic.

Do not start your new life with a goal to just graduate and leave. You need to strive and look for opportunities which are plenty out there, embrace the experiences which make you grow and never forget to consistently work hard. Appreciate the gift of ‘today’ and do your best so that you will not regret when you look back. For whichever route you are taking, there will always be certain things you would wish to have done better. However, that will always be alright.

Take risks and be spontaneous. Live life to the fullest while being generous and kind. Be happy and enjoy life. Be fearless and have faith, believe in yourself that you are capable and that nothing is ever impossible.

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Collaboration is key. Do your high school students collaborate enough?

What advice would you give to a final year high school student who wants to go to uni?

Check out my next book, to be published on March 31st:

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Working With Parents: A Teacher’s Guide

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Customer satisfaction is a key driving force of success in any business. Customers who are happy come back for more, and usually tell other people about the great service or product they’ve just bought.

In the teaching profession, your number one job is to do a good job. However, we often lose sight of the fact that our students are not actually the main people we’re aiming to serve. By providing the best quality of service to our students, we’re actually satisfying the needs of the parents by proxy. 

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All of your parents deserve respect and the highest level of service

In many service – based industries, the key goal is to make the customers happy. This poses a unique question for teachers, as it is sometimes unclear who our customers are.

If our customers are our students, then should we aim make them happy all the time? Not necessarily. Our aim is do what’s best for the students, whether they like it or not. A student may be happy if they do not receive any homework or if they’re allowed to sleep in class, but this would never help them in the long-term.

So that leads us to parents. Are they our customers? Yes. Absolutely yes. 

Most parents want the best for their children, and it’s always very important to know their expectations. Some parents are happy enough if their child is simply in class, being supervised and on-task. Others may have very high expectations, such as achieving a level 7 in IB Biology and then going on to study at an Ivy League or Russel Group university.

Our key priority, above all else, must be to exceed each parents’ expectations. We can only do that if we know what those expectations are in the first place.

with-ukedchat
“This is a great book for people who are struggling to get to grips with their busy teaching schedule”UKEdChat Book Review

Parent’s can help teachers in key ways, if we get to know them:

  1. Parent’s can offer a lot of insight into their child’s study habits, hobbies, interests and family situation. All of this information can be used to inform lesson planning, facilitate mentoring and provide a wider perspective into the life of the student.
  2. Parent’s can help you to keep track of work being done at home, and can help with reinforcing schedules. The advent of e-mail and chat apps has made teacher-parent communication easier than ever before.
  3. Keeping in touch with parents is a great way to keep your students motivated. A quick e-mail or phone call to praise a child for a great piece of work done, or showing a good attitude in class, can work wonders (especially with students who are consistently disruptive). 
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Parents should be treated as very important customers 

In my debut book, I wrote a whole chapter about working with parents. Getting this key-relationship right can help you in so many ways, even with the regular management of your students in class.
Chapter 6 - maxwell and jonesAsk yourself these questions to see how well you know your parents:

Do you know the first names of your parents? This is vital, as all humans respond in a more alert and friendly manner to people who address them by name. Make the effort to contact your parents at the start of the semester (or as soon as possible) and introduce yourself. You’ll be amazed at the positive impression this will give of you and your school.

Do you know what your parents do for a living? This is often overlooked, but it is such vital information. Knowing that John’s dad is an engineer, for example, allows you to reinforce the importance of a good education in your students, and build up their respect and pride of their parents. “Well, John, I know that your dad is good at mathematics because he uses it every day in his job as an engineer. You should be really proud of him”.  In addition to this, whenever you need guest speakers or specialist knowledge for your lessons, you could bring a fresh perspective to your teaching by contacting parents for help.

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Do you know your parents’ expectations? This is essential if you want to get parents on your side. Find out exactly what they want from you, and make sure they know that you know what they want. Keep them informed along the way, and always report on progress, or lack thereof. 

It’s quite time-consuming, but important, to know the desires of each parent you work with. If you don’t have this information yet, then a good starting point is the Seven Key Desires of Parents that I outlined in my book:

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In my opinion, parents are the most under-used resource in the education profession, and yet they can offer such rich benefits. I write about this at length in my book, and I’ve included the summary of the chapter below:

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Hell on Earth? – Teaching in the UK

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An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I still remember the day I walked into Rhyl High School as a PGCE student. The hustle and bustle of excited students, the long corridors of a traditional school and staffroom banter. My first experience of professional teaching was really challenging for me, not least because I was inexperienced and I found it hard to deal with many excited students asking questions all at once. Rhyl was a brilliant school and was my baptism, and I’ve loved teaching ever since.

I stayed in the UK until the end of the 2008 academic year before moving to Thailand to teach at an international school. I was initially reluctant to go, as I was unsure of what to expect in the Land of Smiles (and I didn’t even know it was called that until I landed and saw a big sign at the airport).

I loved teaching in the UK, but Thailand was so much better from day one. Why? That was simple: Students who were all willing to learn (no behaviour management problems at all) and much less paperwork and ‘red tape’ to contend with. One has to remember though – I was teaching in fee-paying, international schools in Bangkok. In the UK I was working in maintained state schools, where the abilities and agendas of the student populace can vary enormously.

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Some would say that this kind of classroom scene is more common in the UK than in schools overseas. Would you agree? I’ve never experienced large-scale student disruption or distraction in Thailand. Have you taught overseas? How does your experience relate to this?

That may sound condescending to educators currently in the UK, but my experience is not unique.

Take, for example, this quote from a damning article by the Guardian newspaper last year:

The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has claimed that the UK faces a “teacher brain drain” as newly qualified educators move abroad to find work. But actually it’s not just the warmer climate of places such as the Middle East that’s so appealing to the UK’s best teachers all of a sudden – it’s the warmer professional climate that the international schools offer that’s really alluring.

There was certainly a warm, professional climate in all of the schools I worked at in Thailand, but I also found that in the UK too. In fact, because a number of teachers were working together to deal with issues ranging from individual student behavior management to improving coursework collection and completion, I found the professional climate to be a little warmer (at times),  but a little colder when you were asked to justify things, such as putting students on detention to catch up with missed work.

Then there’s this alarming fact, which I also made reference to in my book:

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A mass exodus of teachers from the UK. Something must be luring them away.  

In fact, the UK has been facing teacher shortages for well over a decade. But what are the reasons behind this? The Huffington Post ran an article last year that listed five causes of teacher shortages in the UK:

1) Numbers of pupils are increasing

Whilst the British government makes the claim that more and more teachers are entering the profession each year, the Huffington post article makes it clear that this is not enough to compensate for the increasing number of pupils that are going through the system. In fact, the British government itself has made projections for the current decade up to 2020 predicting that school numbers could rise by 800,000 – 900,000 pupils nationally. If class sizes are to remain capped at 30, then this increase is unsustainable and the classroom management expectations of teachers are only going to increase.

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2) Graduates are finding jobs elsewhere

I can tell you from my experience that UK graduates are among the most valued globally in the teaching profession. Our world-class universities, along with our country’s reputation as a beacon of etiquette and good morality make us very marketable to parents of international students. The implications are that UK graduates, and especially

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“This is a great book for people who are struggling to get to grips with their busy schedule”UKEdChat Book Review

those with some UK teaching experience, can find a job overseas relatively easily (although, of course, there is still competition for places). This, coupled with the fact that international schools tend to offer very attractive salaries and benefits packages, with some even offering free accommodation, makes the UK seem like a bit of silly choice for any talented, aspiring teacher. 

Also, by ‘elsewhere’, I don’t just mean outside of the UK. Many graduates are now choosing alternative careers to teaching as a starting profession, especially since NQT pay has not kept up with the increases seen in the past five years in other job sectors. Graduates are simply choosing other careers paths that pay more, and require less training. 

3) Routes into teaching have fundamentally changed

I graduated back in 2005 thinking that taking a  PGCE was the only way to become a secondary school teacher. I was wrong, of course, and now there are even more options than ever before. During his time as Education Secretary, Michael Gove made some of the most radical reforms to teacher training ever seen in the history of the profession. Traditional routes into teaching could be bypassed by the new School Direct approach, which basically placed pressure on schools, rather than universities, to fully train new teachers. 

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One might think that this would help increase teacher numbers, but the opposite seems to have happened. Estelle Morris, the British Labour Party MP, famously criticised the School Direct approach in 2013 by making the following points:

  • Since the TDA’s removal by the government coalition, schools have not been obligated to recruit enough teachers to fill the places they’ve been allocated. Training new teachers is burdensome and time-consuming, and there are no penalties for schools that under-recruit. For many schools, it’s easier to allocate more classes to their experienced teachers rather than hire and fully train new staff.
  • School Direct places are not evenly allocated around the country, and some schools don’t even have access to this recruitment channel!
  • The approach has destabilized University-based teacher training provision, with some universities, such as Bath, proposing to scrap their PGCE courses.

4) The burden on teachers is greater than ever before

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Teachers in the UK tend to find themselves ‘bogged down’ with lots of paperwork. And it’s not just marking the many assignments from large classes that contributes to this, it’s lots of other things too. Should teachers really be taking on the role of ‘office clerk’ at the same time as being an educator?

Teachers are more accountable now than they have ever been. Couple this with the fact that technology has increased along with paperwork, and it’s easy to understand why teachers are finding themselves overworked, particulary in the UK. Many recent surveys have shown that British teachers are working longer and longer hours. Just think of all of these things a modern British teacher is expected to do:

  • Mark and assess a variety of student work thoroughly and record grades and scores accurately, often on shared mark books where other teachers can see your students’ marks
  • Adapt to almost constant changes in curricula, syllabi and the National Curriculum
  • Find novel ways of assessment in which the criteria are often blurry, including assessment without levels
  • Constantly learn and develop new ways of using technology and ICT in the classroom
  • Prepare detailed termly plans, weekly plans and Schemes of Work
  • Deal with parents and their concerns, particularly if you have a pastoral role (such as being a form tutor)
  • Be ready for a snap Ofsted inspection at any time
  • Deal with a variety of targets, particularly if you’re working in an academy school (and, over the past 5 years, 1100 UK schools have converted to academies)
  • Photocopying and preparation of resources, which can be particularly time-consuming if you are trying to differentiate to a variety of learning-styles or special educational needs.
  • Mentoring of trainees (especially if your school is involved in School Direct)
  • Can you think of more to add to this list?
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Have you ever had a telling-off from your line-manager? From lack of ‘effective’ planning to not performing well in snap Ofsted inspection, there are more reasons than ever before for school managers to reprimand their staff.

5) Education budgets are seeing real-terms cuts for the first time in decades

The Comprehensive Spending Review published last November announced a £600 million cut in schools’ Education Services Grant and a six per cent real-terms cut. The impact of this on the recruitment crisis is huge. Schools are facing the risk of bankruptcy, and are having to make wide-ranging savings. This means fewer support assistants, tighter budgets for essential resources and considerably less for ICT, and less money to spend on furniture at a time when research demonstrates its impact on attainment.

But it’s not all rosy overseas either

In my book, I listed some major reasons why teaching overseas can have its drawbacks too:

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Conclusion

Every school is different. It is wrong to say that teaching overseas is better or worse than teaching in the UK. Every school has their own individual merits and downfalls, and it is important to research carefully before applying for, or accepting, a teaching position at any school in the world.

Make sure you consider the country profile of a particular location before moving there, and you may even be able to read reviews of your chosen schools before making a final decision. 

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Fresher Freshman: Your First Year at Uni

Are you a final year high school student? Do you know someone who’s thinking about going to university? If so, then read on!

Taking those first crucial steps into higher education can be daunting! Everything is new: teachers, friends, courses and the city or country you’ll be studying in!

This ground-breaking new book is filled with great advice from 100 graduates from all over the world! Students who’ve been there an done that in America, the UK, Europe and Asia. This is the must-read book for anyone who wants to make their first year successful, enjoyable and hassle-free.

Beautifully illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati, and compiled by Richard James Rogers (High School Teacher and Author), this book will be released globally on Amazon on Feb 20th.

Watch this space for updates!