Homework: A Headache We Can All Easily Cure

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

I received a message from a very stressed out Newly Qualified Teacher a few weeks ago. It pertains to a problem that many educators face: dealing with homework. When I told her that I was planning to write an article about this very issue, she agreed to share her message with all my readers:

Dear Richard. I’m about to finish my first year in teaching and I’m really ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to mark my students’ homework on time each week. In fact, I’ve set so much homework that it has just piled up and piled up over the course of this year, to the point where I now have a literal mountain to deal with! I’m kind of hoping that most of my students will forget that I have their work, and this seems to be happening as some of it is months old. I’m so stressed out! How can I make sure that this never, ever happens again?! – G 

work overload
A letter from a stressed-out NQT. Are you facing similar challenges?

Being overwhelmed with marking, particularly that caused by homework, is a common problem for new and experienced teachers alike. In this article, I’ll examine the best ways to design and organise homework, as well as ways to avoid being bogged down and ‘up to your eyeballs’ in paperwork. If you would like an audio version of my strategies, then please listen to this excellent UKEdChat podcast (highly recommended for anyone who wants to get better at assigning and organizing homework) here.

with-ukedchat
An AMAZING book! A must read for all teachers!

Consideration #1: Homework is not pointless

It’s really important to make this point from the outset. A number of articles have come out in recent years causing us to question the merits of setting homework. At one point this message became so distorted that I remember sitting in on a departmental meeting when a number of teachers suggested that we shouldn’t set homework at all, as it’s totally pointless.

This might be a nice excuse to use to avoid some paperwork and marking, but unfortunately it’s not true at all.

In my experience, homework is only pointless if the kids never ever receive feedback, or if the homework doesn’t relate to anything on the curriculum. Then, of course, their time has been wasted.

I’ll always remember one school I worked at where all of the teachers had set summer homework for their students. Piles and piles of homework were set, including big, thick booklets full of past-papers. Guess what happened when those students returned to school the next academic year; many of the teachers had changed, and the work was piled up in an empty classroom and never marked. What a tragedy!Marking work

We’ll explore some ways in which we can give feedback in a timely manner today, as well as ways in which we can design our homework properly. 

Consideration #2: Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of homework you set

This is crucial. Ideally, all homework should fall into one of four categories:

  1. To review concepts covered in class
  2. To prepare students for new content they will cover in class
  3. To prepare students for examinations (e.g. with exam-style questions, revision tasks and past-papers)
  4. A combination of two or three of the above

If the homework you are setting does not fall into these categories then you are wasting both your time and the students’ time by setting it.

Consideration #3: Think carefully about how much time the students will need to complete each piece of homework 

Explaining
Homework affects whole families, not just the kids you teach

This is an important consideration. Put yourself in the students’ shoes. Is this homework too demanding, or too easy for them? Will they actually have enough time to complete it? Is your deadline reasonable? 

Consideration #4: How much self-study or research will your students have to do to complete your work? Where will they get their information from?

If the piece of work you are setting involves preparation for content or skills soon to be covered in class, then your students might have to do some research. Is the level of self-study you are asking of your students reasonable? Are they old enough, and mature enough to be able to find this information on their own? If not, then you may need to give some tips on which websites, textbooks or other material to look at.

Too much homework

Consideration #5: Can you mark this work?

This is such an important consideration, but can be overlooked by so many teachers who are in a rush. 

self-assessmentThink carefully: if you’re setting a booklet of past-paper questions for ‘AS’ – Level students, then how is it going to be marked? Crucially, how will the students receive feedback on this work? And remember: homework really is pointless if students don’t get any feedback.

Be honest with yourself. If you honestly don’t have enough time to mark such large pieces of work, then it’s much better to set smaller, manageable assignments. At least that way your students will get some feedback, which will be useful to them. 

Also, don’t try and do everything yourself when it comes to marking. Use peer-Peer assessmentassessment, self-assessment and even automated assessment (such as that found on instructional software) on a regular basis. Be careful though –  make sure you at least collect in your peer-assessed and self-assessed assignments afterwards just to be sure that all students have done it, and so that you can glance over for any mistakes. Students can be sneaky when they know that the teacher is trusting them with self-assessment each week by simply providing the answers to the work. 

Automated assessment.jpgAnother good tip is to spend some time on the weekend planning your homework for the week ahead. What exactly will you set, and when, to allow you enough time to mark everything? How can you set decent homework that’s not too big to mark? An hour spent planning this on a Saturday is much better than four hours cramming in a marking marathon on a Sunday because you didn’t think ahead. 

Consideration #6: Are you organised enough?

Not to sound patronizing, but are you, really? 

If you’re a primary school teacher then you’ll be collecting in assignments relating to different subject areas each week. If you’re working in the high school, then you’ll you’ll be collecting in work from potentially more than a hundred students on a regular basis.

You need to have some kind of filing system in place for all of this work. Maybe a set of draws? Folders? Trays? Electronic folders?

Teacher-led assessment.jpgOne strategy that absolutely works for me is that I get all of my students to complete their homework on loose sheets of paper, not their notebooks. Why? Because if they do it in their notebooks, and I haven’t had time to mark their work by the very next lesson, then it’s a nightmare having to give back notebooks again and collect them in continuously.

With loose paper its easy. I collect it in, and put each group’s assignments in a set of trays. I have one set of trays for work collected in, and one set for work that is marked. It stops me from losing students’ work and losing my sanity at the same time! The students then glue the work into their notebooks afterwards.

In addition to organizing my paperwork, I also organise my time. I use every Saturday morning for marking, which really saves me lots of headaches during the week. Do you set aside a fixed slot each week to do your marking? 

Summary

  1. Think carefully about the purpose of each piece of work you set
  2. Don’t set work that will take the students too long, or too little time, to complete
  3. Think carefully about the demands of any research that students will have to do. Maybe you need to point them in the right direction?
  4. Use a variety of assessment strategies to mark student work. Don’t make assignments so big that you just don’t have time to make them.
  5. Make sure you have some kind of filing system in place, so that you don’t lose work.

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Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom: Essential Tips for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Fostering creativity in the classroom is more important now than ever before. In fact, Ofsted’s own inspection handbook for schools states, under section 133, that the spiritual development of students is shown by their “use of imagination and creativity in their learning.” I talk about the importance and excitement of encouraging creativity in the classroom, along with some practical tips, in this week’s UKEdChat podcast here.

Clay class
Allowing students to ‘build’ something is a great way to encourage creativity
with-ukedchat
An AMAZING book! A must-read for all teachers!

As service-based and online businesses become more numerous, the need for effective skills in marketing, social media marketing, branding and sales in the workforce will naturally increase too. In addition, the need to solve problems in a new ‘robotic era’ places increased demands on new graduates to be creative thinkers. And that’s one thing robots cannot replace: Human creativity and ingenuity.

Pop: A True Story of Creative Genius

Pop
Pop: The Best Illustrator in the World!

When I reflect on my 12 years of teaching experience, one very obvious example of the benefits of encouraging creativity in school comes to mind.

Back in 2008, Sutthiya Lertyongphati (or ‘Pop’, for short), was my IGCSE Chemistry student at Traill International School. She was always very hard working in Chemistry – considered to be a left-brain, analytical subject; but at the same time, she was also very artistic and creative. She would spend lots and lots of time making beautiful, elaborate drawings in her notes. Take a look at these beautiful Chemistry notes of hers, from way back when she was 16, for example:

2 MARCH

16 MARCH.jpg

21 MARCH

When Pop left school after finishing her ‘A’ – Levels, she went on to study Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Nottingham. During her third year, back in 2015, I was busy writing my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. I needed someone to illustrate my book in a way that would catch the excitement, childish wonder and essence of different parts of the text. Images needed to be attractive and stimulating, so that readers would not only learn from my book but enjoy it too.Block building

So who do you think was the first person to come to mind? The amazing and wonderful student who created those beautiful chemistry notes all those years ago of course: Pop.

Pop agreed to illustrate my book, along with another very creative former student of mine, and Pop’s friend, Khim Pisessith. Just look at these beautiful images they created, now enjoyed by thousands of readers all over the world:

 

teacher beahviours

 

Pop and Khim’s beautiful images were well-received by the readers of the book, who described it as “beautifully illustrated” and “Playfully decorated with tactful drawings that really bring the techniques into context”

I was so honored and thankful for Pop and Khim’s work, and so happy that I could actually show my readers that my 45 secrets to Classroom Management actually worked. Pop and Khim were both very hard-working students and were a living testament to what effects personal determination, a nurturing school environment (and Traill International School is certainly that!) and good parental guidance can have on the outcomes of students’ lives.

I’ve been teaching long enough to now to be able to see the end result. I’m still in touch with many of my first students I taught back in 2006 in the UK, and I’m proud to say that they are now all mature, professional, inspiring young men and women in their early to mid-twenties. I see the output that results from encouraging students to fully express themselves through their schoolwork by being creative, and the results are always profound and positive, even after decades have passed.

Pop: The Greatest Illustrator in the World

As well as working full time and doing a regular day job, Pop is now my regular illustrator and a key factor in the success of this well-loved blog you’re reading now. Most notably, she drew up the plans for the 7 Starter activities blog, which is my most popular article ever. The beautiful images on creativity that color today’s article were also created by her.

Who else could I assign this role too? Pop has her own unique style of expressing herself through her art, which my readers absolutely love. Additionally, having known her many years, I know that she is determined and trustworthy. Her reputation speaks for itself.

Creating the Pops of this world

So, how do regular teachers create more Pops – students who are successful, creative, confident and turn out well in life. Well, one of the main ways is to encourage exploration, which is really just another word for creativity. Here are my top tips for encouraging creativity in the classroom:

  1. Get the students to decide on the success criteria or output. Once your learning objectives have been made clear to the students, (e.g. Describe the stages of cell division), ask them to decide how they can show you what they have learned. Students are nearly always very creative with this kind of task, and Pop always loved using her creative juices with this kind of work in class.
    Singing class
    Song is just one way through which students can creatively express themselves

    To assist, you can even give them the world-renowned Osborne-Parnes model to work with, which has six stages:

  • Mass-finding: Identify a goal or objective
  • Fact-finding: Gathering data
  • Problem-finding: Clarifying the problem
  • Idea-finding: Generating ideas
  • Solution-finding: Strengthening and evaluating ideas
  • Acceptance-finding: Plan of action for implementing ideas

If you’re doing group work with the kids then you could assign these stages to different students in each group. And that’s another point to remember about creativity: it tends to be fostered brilliantly in groups, especially when a technological output is required. I’ll never forget when I asked my IBDP Biology students to create a summary of DNA replication using technology. One group produced a website, one produced a stop-motion animation, one produced a Prezi and one produced a really funny song about the process. Try using the age-old differentiation technique of heterogeneous grouping: that is to make sure that each group contains a real mix of abilities and skill sets. Doing this, you’ll find yourself rather surprised at the quality and creativity of each group’s output.

Art class.jpg
Art is not just for art class. Students can express any concept through art.

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

Try this list

Allow students to express themselves and the output of a task through:

  • Model building
  • Song
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Art (e.g. posters, infographics, news reports)
  • Technology (e,g, creating movies, computer games, simulations, Prezi’s)
  • Games such as ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’ and ‘who am I’
  • Puzzle making vr
  • Storyboards
  • Journals
  • Nature (e.g. bringing plants or animals to school to act as analogies)
  • Displays (Such as Science fairs and posters)
  • Music
  • Practical experimentation and investigative design 

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Outdoor Learning: Practical Ideas That Every Teacher Must Know

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati and Khim Pisessith

It was a cold December night at Kinmel Park Training Camp. I was all done up in  camouflage: sticks and twigs even stuck out of my epaulettes. It was pitch black, and my seniors had L.S.W. rifles pointed diligently in the perceived direction of the enemy. A helicopter flew overhead. I really felt like I was a soldier, even though I was only a 13 year old Army Cadet recruit. This was awesome!

Army cadet
One of my first experiences as a teacher: A 14-year old Lance Corporal instructor in the Army Cadets

I was really fortunate to have a childhood that literally depended on the outdoor environment. I grew up in the town of Flint, North Wales: A place that’s surrounded with some of the most amazing countryside in the world. As a kid, I would roll down the old moat like a sausage at Flint Castle and I’d go walking and running in the mountains, forests and on the beaches that literally surround this ancient town. I wasn’t afraid to get dirty either – riding my mountain bike down Cornist Hall hill and tumbling over in the mud, building dams in streams and digging holes to bury toy soldiers. All of this was a normal part of my childhood, and I loved it. It toughened me up and taught me skills that I’d use later in life when I would live in big cities like Bangkok and Chongqing.

Joining the Army Cadets really changed my life, and I don’t think I’d be here writing this blog post as a seasoned educator now if I hadn’t have joined. What did the Army Cadets give me? That’s easy to recall: Confidence in my abilities (tons of it), the best friends in the world, a mentality of pushing through when life gets tough and a sense that being a layabout was never a good, or satisfying, way to live one’s life. I would never have been adventurous enough to leave the comfortable climes of North Wales and work abroad, for example, if it wasn’t for the tenacious spirit that the Army Cadets instilled in me.

I was lucky, and I talk about my childhood experiences with the outdoor environment in this amazing UKEdChat podcast about Outdoor Learning (highly recommended) at 30:06 here:

The modern problem

Continent InvestigationWith increasing urbanization happening globally, many schoolchildren these days are not lucky enough to have the intense outdoor immersion that I had as a child. However, there are multiple, daily opportunities for outdoor learning that teachers can work into into their lessons that we will explore now. 

The misconception

In my opinion, Outdoor Learning doesn’t just have to be achieved through a field trip, residential or a visit to a special place. Outdoor learning can happen within the immediate environment of the school, and this can be worked into many curriculum areas. Let’s explore some practical strategies.

#1 Use the school’s plants and foliage

Even in the most built up of environments, schools will have some plants on site. I once worked at a school in Bangkok that had an astro-turf football pitch (so no grass) and the only accessible outdoor plants were some climbers on a back wall.

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! Essential reading for all teachers!”

But at least it was something.

A funny thing happened one day at that school. I was teaching my Year 9 students about biodiversity and we all went down to those creeper plants with pooters and sweep nets. I thought we wouldn’t find anything, but to my amazement the students collected loads of crickets! I was befuddled, but rather pleased at the same time! We took them back to class and took a look at them.

I later learned that day that my Science colleague had been using crickets in his lab the lesson before, and had just released them onto those creepers minutes before my kids came down swinging their sweep nets! Poor crickets – they’d been prodded and poked and released and recaptured and prodded and poked some more! We had a good laugh about it that afternoon!

This short story teaches us that there are always benefits to using the school’s plant life, even if it’s skimpy. You never know what might come of it, even if a weird coincidence like the one just mentioned doesn’t happen. In addition, students will learn to appreciate their school environment even more than they did before. 

#2 Make use of the unexpected

You never know what might happen, but when it does happen, use it!

A classic example was at another school I worked at in Bangkok when a snake slithered into the grounds! It was long and green and had a fat part in the middle: as though it had just eaten a rat. What a memorable experience! It’s a shame my school didn’t use this fully. Just think what could have been achieved:

  1. Photos of the snake could have been taken and sent to all teachers
  2. Teachers could show the students the photo and link it to curriculum areas. AttributesFor example – The serpent in the garden that tempted Eve (Religious Education), an analysis of this snake species and it’s global distribution (Biology and Geography), adjectives used to describe this snake, such as ‘slithering’, ‘creeping’, ‘demonic’ and ‘scaly’ (English language). 
  3. After the snake had been captured by the professionals who were sent in, it could have been contained in a glass tank and students could be allowed to visit the snake safely for a few days before it was taken to it’s new home. Great for primary kids!

Where were you when 9/11 happened? I bet you remember –  of course you do (if you were alive and conscious then). Unexpected events etch their engravings deep into the subconscious memory, allowing recall to take place decades after the event has happened. Surely, then, it is foolish not to make the most of the unexpected, if safe and practical to do so. 

#3 – Outdoor Learning is not just for Science teachers

As we’ve already seen, many curriculum areas can be supported in the outdoor school environment. 

a-girl-holding-foldersAre you teaching IGCSE German? Take a walk around the school and get your students to identify key items, such as leaves, bricks, walls, grass and trees, in German. Maybe you’re teaching a History lesson about Offa’s Dyke path – why not get your kids to build a mini-dyke on the school field? How about mathematics? – Well geometry and shapes burst to life in both the built and natural environments.

In short, there are always ways to use the school environment in your subject area. Build opportunities into your Schemes of Work and planning documents, book spaces in advance (e.g. the school field) to avoid clashes and be creative!

#4 Your school environment provides space

Many of the learning games I use frequently in class, such as corners and vocabulary musical chairs (shown below), require lots of space. Why not take the kids outside to play these games from time to time? It’ll make the content more memorable and you’ll avoid problems such as trips and falls, which can sometimes happen in a cluttered classroom. 

Corners.jpg

Vocab musical chair.jpg

Try doing a QR code treasure hunt around your school too! It’s great fun!

#5: Embrace the opportunities offered by field trips and residentials

Sometimes the best way to benefit from the great outdoors is to completely leave the confines of the school premises with your students. If you’re asked to go on a residential or field trip, or are responsible for planning one, see this as a tremendous opportunity to enrich various curriculum areas.teacher beahviours.png

With this kind of event, individual subject teachers are almost never consulted on what kinds of activities they would like to see happen. This is unfortunate. Try to involve all members of the teaching team in the planning process, so that maximum benefit can be made. Field trips and residentials often provide the perfect environment to get coursework done, for example, and are great for project-based work. 

Conclusion

Outdoor learning does not have be outdoors, in terms of being outside school. Find opportunities to use the school environment to enrich various curriculum areas

Use the unexpected: Caught in a downpour? – go and collect some rainwater and test the pH, or use it as a symbol of cleansing in Religious Education, or talk about precipitation in Geography. The unexpected can often offer opportunities for serious long-term knowledge retention. 

Use the vast space that your school environment provides to play learning games and explore the richness offered within the school grounds. 

Plan field trips and residentials fully, so that key curriculum areas are enriched.

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Amazing SPaG Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

As an author for the Times Educational Supplement teacher resources site, I was very excited to receive this month’s Author Newsletter. In it was a breakdown (the first of its kind), of all of the resources that are in the highest demand at different points in the year. For April, SPaG (meaning Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) card gamesresources were listed as being bestsellers, indicating that demand for SPaG tips is high at this time of the year. I thought, therefore, it would be helpful to begin May with some great SPaG review tips and tricks.

For those readers who are teaching a non-British curriculum, you may not be aware that SPaG tests are now compulsory in England at the end of Key Stage 1 (Ages 6-7) and Key Stage 2 (Ages 8-11).

SPaG schedule.jpg

However, as a teacher who’s teaching Science and Mathematics through the medium of English, I vehemently believe that good SPaG teaching is the responsibility of all educators, whether you’re teaching small children, teens or adults. SPaG can be effectively reinforced in any subject area, and I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve actually been doing this for years, without calling it SPaG!

Here are my top tips for teaching and reviewing SPaG, which are all tried and

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! Essential reading for all teachers!”

tested and highly effective.

Play vocabulary games

The following vocabulary games are awesome! I’ve used them for years, and my most popular blog post ever provides 7 of the very best games you can play with your students. Try these for SPaG specific benefits:

Splat

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

Splat

Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):

Mystery Word

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

Mystery word

Who am I?

A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. I just played this last week with an AS-Biology class and they loved it!

Who am I

Corners

I love this one! It gets very competitive so be prepared for a noisy lesson!

Corners

Use vocabulary journals

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

Take two weeks ago 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?

The 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 Explainingpast-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.

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.”

Elocution might seem like a silly way to review concepts that will be tested in a written exam paper. However, many studies have shown the remarkable benefits that elocution can have on spelling proficiency, as well as conceptual understanding. 

Follow Me cards

This is a classic technique, which can be applied to many subject areas. Share a large number of cards around your class (e.g. 32). Ask one child to read the definition on their card. The child who has that definition then has to read their word and also the definition on their card. This continues until all 32 words and definitions have been shared. 

If you complete it correctly, the game should end with the person who started it!

More SPaG resources

For tailor-made made SPaG tips and resources, try these links:

Times Educational Supplement SPaG site

Just filled to the brim with superb resources! Check it out!

http://www.tesspag.com/

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AQA Education Teachit English site

Brilliant all-in-one holistic resources, as well as specific items for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Well worth a visit!

https://www.teachit.co.uk/SPaG

SPaG sites

Twinkl Literacy site

Some very fun and creative resources. More tailored for younger children, but well-worth a try with older kids too.

http://www.twinkl.co.uk/resources/literacy/grammar-spag/6

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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 suit 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. I also talk about my top three techniques in this UKEdChat podcast here: 

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’.

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book! Essential reading for all teachers!”

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. 

card games

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”.

Giving feedback
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.

teaching with laptop
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.

discussing-homework

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!).

with-ukedchat

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.

High five
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)” 
PC activity with mouse pen
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
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    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:

Blog 26th March 1

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!

Chapter 5 - drones and hacking
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

Chapter 7 - sending emails
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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