Seven Tips for Engaging Distracted Students

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy. 

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone only to suspect that they were not listening? In a half-daydream, the other person hears you say “What do you think?”, to which they sheepishly reply “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening”.

Here is a video summary of today’s article:

Today’s kids are more distracted than ever before, thanks, in large part, to technology. One only has to sit on a bus or a train to see swathes of people, young and old, consumed by a digital trance as they dance their fingertips across brightly-lit handheld screens.

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But technology, and dependence on technology, is not the only thing that causes kids to switch off.

Students may simply be bored with what’s going on in class or may find the subject matter dull. They may have things on their mind (such as missing their chat time on the latest app) or may even not be feeling good that day. They may have pressures at home that they are dealing with, or social problems at school that are causing anxiety.

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“The perfect book for NQTs”

The first important point to make, in defense of all teachers, is that quality of teaching is only one factor that can cause students to switch off. I feel that this is often overlooked by school inspectors and some so-called ‘experts’ in the field. It’s impossible to solve or transmute all of the personal emotional problems of your students within the framework of a taught lesson. This is why good pastoral care, mentoring and counseling are such a vital part of a child’s care and education. 

In this article, we will focus on bringing students back from the abyss when they begin to drift. If, however, you’re looking for more strategic tips for behavior management, then this blog post of mine here will help. We will also touch upon some holistic strategies for dealing with problems beyond the parameters covered through direct teaching. 

Tip number 1: Find out what they’re interested in

Using the interests and hobbies of your students to inform your teaching can be a very powerful method of getting students to engage with the lesson content.

Let’s examine a real example of this technique in action. Here follows a short extract from my book:

Charlene was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work. One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. John, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Charlene immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

always learn

In John’s next physics lesson, Charlene was teaching the class about forces and motion. As John entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked John how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms. Charlene mentioned that “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?” John said sure.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms. Charlene asked John to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms. Charlene asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humor and good teaching practice, she said, “So using John’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be?”

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like John did, which Ms. Charlene responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall. At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Charlene allowed her students the opportunity to sign John’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

Let’s examine what Charlene did that made this lesson (and her rapport/relationship with students) so special:

  • used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
  • showed a sincere care and concern for her student
  • was genuinely interested in the whole life of her student (as she was with all of her students)
  • used student ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks John to talk to the class about what had happened)
  • was tasteful in her humor, and made sure that John is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
  • rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign John’s plaster cast; not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole

Being interested in the holistic attributes of our students can do wonders in terms of rapport, which can help a lot when engaging students. I often refer to the goals and dreams of my kids to get them focussed. “John, you must learn about this if you want to be an engineer. All engineers must be good at using mathematics”

robot

Even a short conversation in the lunch queue can work wonders in terms of rapport building. “What are you guys having for lunch today?”. “How’s everything going?”. “How did last night’s football match go? I heard that you were playing against Grange Hill”

Remember the info you extract from these conversations, and use it to compound your rapport with your students. Refer to it when needed for motivational purposes “Miss Claire tells me that you produce beautiful homework in History class, so I know that you have the ability to produce great work. I know you can do this!”

be enthusiastic

Whilst this is a long-term technique that takes time to produce significant results, it is one of the most powerful. Students tend to be more focused in class when they like their teachers, and rapport-building is the key to getting students on your side.

Tip number 2: Ask the students to help out with something

Ask disengaged students to help you with something, even if it’s small. I’ve used this consistently with some of the most notorious students of the moment, and it works like a treat.

My most memorable, and most celebrated example, is that of a boy called Billy.

I’d just started working at a high school in northern England. I was taking over a class from a teacher who had left the school. That teacher left me some handover notes, in which she had said ‘Do not confront Billy under any circumstances”

I asked my HoD to elaborate, and he repeated the message. This was before I had even met the class, so naturally, I was a little nervous!

My first lesson with this class started normally. The students were seated and attentive. Then, a kid walked in late – it was Billy. He walked in, and said “Hello”. Since I’d been warned about him, I responded with a friendly “Come on in young man. Take a seat. Nice to meet you.”

There was a giggle from some of the students in class. They expected me to shout at him. But I knew better. I knew that I had to build up a good rapport with this student in order to be effective and use sanctions later on if necessary.

Billy then took out a can of cola and began drinking it in class. A big no-no in the Science lab.

I set the kids some work to do, and I walked over to have a conversation with Billy.

As I approached Billy’s desk, I noticed that he had a beautiful display case of felt-tipped pens in front of him. I said to him “Wow! You’re so well-prepared. I wish that all of my students were as organized as you”

He was stunned!

2 stars and a wish

This was a kid who was on detention daily, getting into arguments with virtually all of his teachers. Now he was being recognized for something of value that he had. The effect was utterly transformational.

“Err, well yeah, I always like to be ready for my lessons”

We had a nice conversation in which he told me that he wanted to be a tattoo designer. I then drew his attention to the artistic design of the cola can, and reminded him that he could not drink it in here. He smiled. 

After allowing him a few minutes to drink it outside, he came back in. I gave him the unofficial job title of Class Presentation Chief, and his job was to walk around the class on occasion and check the presentation of people’s work. I’d also ask him to help out in class demos.

The effect was transformational – he loved the responsibility, and he loved the sincere praise and encouragement he was getting. He was like an angel in my classes, to the point where staff room conversations about this kid were abruptly stifled when someone would ask me ‘How’s Billy doing in Science”, and I would say “He’s great”. 

At the end of that academic year, I saw Billy on GCSE results day. He’d achieved a grade C in Science – his highest score out of all of this subjects. He was chuffed.

High five

Giving students tasks to do, whether on a long or short-term basis, can really have a massive effect on their sense of empowerment and importance, which can lead to extra motivation and a determination never before seen. 

Tip  number 3: Use body language and keys
Where possible, it is always best to stop low-level distraction in its infancy, before it manifests itself into something bigger. One of the best ways to do this is to use subtle, low-key expressions using your physiology. Some examples include:

  1. The ‘look’: When I hear low-level chatter or disruption, I often pause mid-sentence (or I pause the video or slideshow if that’s the media I’m using at the time), and I simply look at the student in a way that says “We’re all waiting for you to be quiet”. This immediately draws the attention of all of the students, and it can have quite a large impact. I often accompany ‘the look’ with a half-grin, so as to not appear too aggressive or antagonistic. I also accompany this by opening my arms as if to say “Come on, you know that’s wrong”.
  2. Maintaining proximity: Being in close proximity to the disruptive student can be a very effective, non-invasive way to keep him or her on-task. I may also tap on the student’s desk and point to their work, to remind them that they need to stay focused.
  3. Stimulus actions: These are particularly helpful when there is a lot of whole class disruption, but you may need to give the kids a little bit of training beforehand. In the past I have used the following:

Clapping twice, after which the students all clap three times (this is a ritual they have memorized)
Singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” and all the students clap

Raising my hand, after which all of the students copy by raising their hands
These low-key, non-intrusive behavior management techniques are highly effective at stopping distraction before it manifests into a confrontation. This works particularly well if it’s done in a light-hearted, happy way.

Tip number 4: Move the students to the ‘action center’

Basically, if kids are persistently distracted, then move them.

You may wish to set up some kind of seating plan (seating disruptive kids with a cluster of more focused students can sometimes help). You may even wish to bring distracted students to the front of the class, where possible.

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If two or more kids are chatting persistently, then it’s a good idea to split them up before dishing out any kind of sanction (e.g. a detention). It’s useful if this kind of rule is imposed since day one (Consistent chatter and you’ll be moved), otherwise, you may end up with a confrontation on your hands.

Tip number 5: Praise and encourage your students regularly

Praise is powerful if it’s used properly. Here are some tips:

Here are some tips:

  • Praise only works if it is sincere. Flattery loses its effect over time. Always find something genuine and meaningful to celebrate.
  • Use a variety of methods to praise and encourage your students. Comments written on their work, verbal praise in the classroom, multimedia-based praise (e.g. comments on blogs, stars on student-generated websites, ‘stickers’ in learning management system (LMS) forums, etc.) and informal chats outside of the classroom are all great ways to make your students feel appreciated and important.
  • If a student produces a really good piece of work, make sure you show it to the class as a good example to follow. This will make the student feel extra special and will encourage both the student and the rest of the class to work even harder. If your school has an LMS, a novel way to do this would be to scan the work and post it on your subject page. If not, simply projecting the work onto your interactive whiteboard or just holding it up in front of the class will have an uplifting effect on that student.
  • When you do have to reprimand or correct your students, make sure you praise them for something first. Every human being, no matter who they are, receives criticism much better if their inhibitions are overcome with praise first. A good rule is the “two stars and a wish rule”, where you praise two things that went well, and you suggest a target to make this work ‘even better.’

Tip number 6: Play games with your students and get them competing with each other

Friday afternoon of the 2013/14 academic year was a challenge for me at first. I had double Year 9 Science, and many of the kids were exhausted after running around like crazy on the school field at lunchtime.

However, things soon changed.

I used Friday afternoons as a competition and review time, where my kids would play learning games to earn House Points. It worked like a treat, with the students loving each lesson and going home for the weekend on a high.

Try playing these games with your kids:

#1: Splat

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

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):

 

#2 Mystery Word

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

Mystery word

#3 The Poster Game

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

Poster game page 1poster game page 2Poster game page 3

#4 Who am I?

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

Who am I

# 5 Bingo

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

Bingo

# 6 Vocabulary Musical Chairs

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

Vocabulary musical chair

# 7 Mystery Picture

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

Mystery pictures

Tip number 7: Have a one-to-one conversation

One of the key mistakes I made in my first few years of teaching was that I would sanction my students too quickly, citing whatever system was in place as my justification. This sometimes led to a confrontation, and a lot of extra work on my part (e.g. supervising detentions).

Sometimes students can get really ‘stuck in a rut’ with their behavior and lack of focus, often going on ‘auto-pilot’ for no apparent reason.

Giving feedback

Sit down with students like this and have a one-to-one conservation. Listen to them. Find out what their ambitions in life are, and reassure them that you are there to help them to succeed.

Refer any important information to a pastoral leader or school counselor if necessary (e.g. if a student is in danger). This website acts a good guide for gauging when this kind of referral may be needed, but always check with your school’s leadership first.

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Creating Classroom Displays: Essential Tips for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A new academic year is fast approaching, and no doubt you’ll have some INSET or Teacher Training days coming up very soon. One of your first duties might be to do up your classroom and make it look pretty.

A warm, inviting classroom that’s colorful, fresh and light can really benefit your students. In fact, expansive research published by the University of Salford shown that well-designed classrooms can improve learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16%.

This was the first time that clear evidence of the effect of the physical classroom environment on learning was established.

 

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An AMAZING book!

Oftentimes, teachers are stuck with the classrooms they are given. If your furniture is old, natural light is bad or the air-conditioning isn’t perfect, then it’s tough luck. One thing we can change, however, is the quality of our displays. Other aspects of the classroom environment can also be adjusted alongside this (See my article about this here: The Starbucks Protocol), so don’t neglect that side of the equation either.

 

So what are the best ways that we can create beautiful classroom displays?

 

#1: Display Student Work

ONE blog student work
‘Works That’s Out of This World’ Courtesy of Jenn Bair

Why?: 

  • Provides kids with a sense of pride and accomplishment
  • Acts as a ‘living demonstration’ of the excellent learning that’s going on in your class
  • Provides a benchmark for all students to aspire to

How?

  • Provide opportunities for students to complete large projects (groupwork lends itself well to this). 
  • Make the output theme-based and creative (e.g. ‘Create an infographic about the events leading up to World War Two)
  • Have very clear success criteria in place (e.g. The newspaper article should contain at least three neat paragraphs and two clear and colorful pictures)
  • CRUCIAL: Select work to display based on the agreed success criteria

OPTIONAL EXTRA’S:

  1. Get the students to select the best work to display
  2. Display the brief of the task given and the success criteria
  3. Display your comments on the work (or, even better. get the students to write two things they like about each piece of work and use sticky notes to attach to each)

#2: Display Student Achievements and Progress

award

Why?

  • Can motivate high performing students
  • A number of parameters can be celebrated: attainment on tests, sporting achievements, progress made on a project, etc.
  • If done properly, it will develop a ‘growth mindset’ in your students, where they realize that they can always learn new things and make progress
  • Creates ‘lifelong learners’

How?

  • Try setting up an ‘Achievements Wall’, where examples of achievement can be constantly updated as the academic year progresses
  • Maybe get the kids involved –  set up a plastic wallet for each kid where they can add examples of work or achievements they are proud of
  • Hold an ‘achievement sharing’ afternoon or lesson, at the end of each term, where students can talk about each other’s achievements
  • Include all of your students – don’t leave anyone out
  • Possibly use this kind of display to track progress on a project the kids are doing (e.g. you could have a large column for each group, where each lesson one group member adds a few bullet points to summarize what the group did).

#3: Display key words and command terms

key words.jpg
‘Wow Words’ – Courtesy of Abby Jean Saxby

Why?

  • Every subject has its own set of key terminology which is essential to understanding and expressing concepts, contexts, events, and processes.
  • Regular exposure to the correct use of key terminology creates greater confidence in exam-prep classes
  • Great for bilingual, ESL and EAL students
  • Works with any subject

How?

  • Display command terms and meanings for examination classes (e,g, ‘Explain’, ‘Describe’, ‘Outline’, etc.)
  • Display different versions of common words for your subject (e.g. subtract/minus/take-away)
  • Display topic-specific terminology when kids are learning particular units (e.g. Food and Digestion words might be ‘Stomach’, ‘Foodpipe’, ‘Small Intestines’)
  • Use diagrams to display the key terminology for visual concepts (e.g. the parts of parallel electrical circuit)
  • If some students in your class speak a language other than English as their mother tongue, then you can even make your terminology multi-lingual by getting those students to translate the words

#4: Use plastic wallets

plastic wallets
‘Finished? Try One of These….’ Courtesy of Miss Tait

Why?: 

  • Plastic wallets keep work neat, they’re easy to stick up (only a pin is needed for each one) and they’re easy to update
  • Plastic wallet displays lend themselves to being more ‘interactive’ than traditional displays

How?

  • Fill plastic wallets with samples of excellent student work (see number 1 above)
  • Put the exam syllabus, program of study and exam papers inside
  • Students may wish to use them to store answers to quiz questions, clues for crosswords and puzzles and even revision cards for exam-preparation
  • If you use them to keep key words inside, then this allows you a quick access point when playing learning games such as ‘Mystery Word’ (see instructions below)

Mystery word

#5: Display upcoming events

making plans

Why?:

  • Students need to know their key deadlines and key events (such as coursework hand-in dates and examination days)
  • They can be used to get students excited about a theme-based event, such as World Book Day, British Biology Olympiad or school Sports Day
  • They can motivate students to get moving on their projects and coursework, such as their IB TOK Presentation.

How?

  • If the event has a glossy poster that goes with it, then definitely display that
  • Display the key parts of the event (e.g. the schedule for the day)
  • Clearly display the instructions the students must follow to get ready for the event
  • Display photos of past-students who were successful at this event last time (if available)

#6: Display Mission Statements

mission
‘Class Mission’ Courtesy of Margaret Mooney/Warren County Schools

Why?

  • When students are reminded of their school’s overall aims, theme, and focus, it gels the school together as a winning community
  • When mission statements specific to courses are displayed, discussed and applied (e.g. the IB Learner Profile), they can provide students with valuable principles that will guide them their whole lives.

How?

  • If your school already has a published poster/document containing their mission statements, then display that
  • Think of ways in which the statements apply to your subject area, and display that (e.g. We are thinkers – ‘We critically evaluate our experimental methods and use the lessons learned to modify future methods).
  • Displays large, colorful key words from the mission statements and get your kids to add ideas as to how they can be applied inside and outside of school

#7: Display biographies of famous people

famous people

Why?

  • Provides inspiration
  • Can be used to teach about the skills and personality traits the famous people have or had

How?

  • Get large, clear photographs or paintings of the famous people and display those
  • Try to make it subject specific (e.g. Science could be Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc.)
  • Include a paragraph or two of each person’s story. Make the text large. Emphasize the fact that they all worked hard in the face of adversity.

#8 Display memorable events

events
‘First Grade Timeline’ courtesy of Laura Gibson

Why?

  • Events which have already passed, especially if used to reinforce a subject area, can provide students with useful triggers and memories than can help their exam performance
  • Provides lots of talking points, which gels the school or class together as a community

How?

  • Include lots of photos of the event that took place
  • If the kids produced some kind of output (e.g. baking cakes, making scarfs, etc.) then display the work or photos of it
  • Try to include student summaries of what they enjoyed about the event, and what they learned from it

#9: Display exam-style questions and model answers

 

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‘Writing About Macbeth – Exam Paper and Exemplar’ courtesy of Melanie Guidera

 

Why?

  • Reinforces the urgency and importance of the exams
  • Provides a benchmark (again) of excellent responses to questions
  • Acts as one way to teach students about exam technique

How?

  • Print questions from past-papers (maybe as A3 sheets) which cover fundamental, key concepts in your subject area (e.g. A classic right-angled trigonometry question in maths)
  • Get your students to fill in the model answers using exemplars you give them, in different colors
  • Display the model answers yourself, but get the students to annotate the answers in colored pens with the marks given at each stage, plus reasons why. 

#10: Display revision summaries

revision.jpg
‘Revision Wall’ courtesy of Kate Broadribb

Why?

  • Brings all of the concepts together
  • Provides a point of reference on the run-up to exams
  • Provides stimulus material for student-led revision
  • Provides motivation to revise

How?

  • Use mind-maps, bullet point lists, infographics and checklists
  • Display every page of the syllabus
  • Split the class into groups. Each group produces a revision poster for a particular topic
  • Display the URLs of websites that students can use for revision

#11: Display processes

stoplooklisten11.jpg

Why?

  • Many subjects have processes (e.g. T, F, A, R means Thoughts lead to Feelings, Feelings lead to Actions, Actions lead to Results)
  • Can be used to reinforce moral or logical principles (e.g. the Four D’s of success: Discipline, Dedication, Drive, and Desire)
  • Can be used to memorize physical actions (e.g. DR ABC from First Aid – Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing, and Circulation)
  • Can be used for essential safety information (e,g, the Green Cross Code: Stop, Look, Listen)

How?

  • Colorful flowcharts lend themselves well to this
  • Display photographs or pictures of each stage
  • Display instructions for each stage
  • Show a completed template at the end (e.g. a completed scientific report on an experiment)

#12: Make it 3D

 

dscn3369
‘Our Targets’ courtesy of artforschools.wordpress.com

 

Why?

  • 3D displays look impressive!
  • They can often include materials from the topic being covered

How?

  • SAFETY: Make sure no hard parts stick out too much. I once remember a display on the corridor in an old school where a glass trophy was displayed on a glass shelf, at about head-height. A partially blind student walked into the shelf and really hurt himself. 
  • Paper is the best material for turning in 3D shapes – it’s cheap, available and relatively safe
  • Students can make little boxes out of paper, attached to the display board, containing answers to quiz questions
  • Pop-up images and ‘flip to see the answer’ type pieces lend themselves well to 3D displays

#13: Make it multi-sensory

Why?

  • Tons of research shows the benefits of stimulating multiple senses during the learning process
  • It makes the display interactive and attractive

How?

  • Think of ways to include smells, textures and sounds to your displays (taste probably won’t work well!)
  • Fabrics work well for textures. Sometimes you can use the materials discussed in the display (e.g. copper wires for a display on electricity, aluminum and steel cans for a display on recycling)
  • Try to rig up a push-button sound system (e.g. an iPod connected to speakers with pre-loaded audio files installed)

#14: Display essential course information

cousre info
‘Aim High’ courtesy of Zoe Atkins

Why?

  • Vital for exam preparation classes – they need to know what % each exam paper counts for, what their coursework is worth, etc.

How?

  • Include large, colorful titles of the course components along with their percentages
  • Include exemplar work for each component
  • Include real case-studies (e.g. Student X got 83% on Paper 1, 65% on Paper 2 and 71% on Paper 3, and ended up getting a grade B)

 

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Teachers: Relax and Use Your Summer Vacation Wisely!

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrations by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It’s finally here! You’ve worked hard all term, perhaps even counting down the days, and now it’s the summer vacation! If you’re teaching in a British or American school, or at an accredited International School overseas, then you’ve probably got a nice 6-8 week holiday to look forward to! Time to put your feet up!

Or is it?

Chapter 8 - going to bkk

Most teachers would agree that we need our vacations. We work so hard during term time and we only really realise the strain this has placed upon us mentally and physically when we do get the chance to have a holiday. It’s DEFINITELY important to rest now, but; and many experienced teachers will hate me for this: it’s also time to start considering your plans for the next semester/term!

This great 5-minute video summarises some easy things you can do this holiday to get a head start and acts as a supplement to this blog post:

In my debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, I include numerous case studies of teachers who got their time-management all messed up, and paid for it massively! For my next book: Marking and Assessment Strategies, I invited twenty educators from all over the world to offer their advice on time-saving marking tips. One common theme that permeates their advice is the productive use of holidays and break-times, along with great tips such as ‘live-marking’ and using peer-assessment strategies.

What do you plan do during this school vacation?

sitting on the carpet

Take a look at this list. Could you find time for some (or all) of these? 

Top Tips for Time-Saving Teachers: Using your holidays to relax AND get a head start!

  1. If possible, find out which classes you will teach next semester. Even if you only know some of them, start planning ahead. Draw up a curriculum map of the topics you will teach and the order you will teach them in. This will save tremendous time at the start of the new semester. You’ll be ahead of the game when everyone else is rushing around trying to figure things out!discussing-homework
  2. Plan your marking! I talk about this extensively in my soon-to-be released book. Examine your syllabuses and long-term planning closely, and cross-reference it with your school’s academic calendar. Look for weeks when paperwork could get heavy (e.g. around the time when reports need to be written, parent consultations take place and when exams and tests need to be taken). Think about the assignments and homework you will set, and plan ahead so that you spread out your marking evenly over the whole year. This will save you many a future headache!
  3. Read ahead! If you’ll be teaching unfamiliar topics then look them up, and make sure you can do the questions that you’ll set for kids. Subject knowledge acts as a great confidence base that improves and enhances your classroom performance. making plans
  4. Gather your resources together! The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around finding PowerPoints, Prezi’s, worksheets, assignments, and tasks whilst you’re on the job, teaching a full timetable! Get prepared now, and enjoy a happy work-life balance when you’re back in school!
  5. Go to school the week before you start and get some printing done! Now, I know that many readers might not like the idea of this. However, when you consider the mad rush for the photocopier that will ensue in your first week back, you can see new doc 27_6how it makes sense to get a head-start. 
  6. Get your life back on track! Have you been skipping your gym classes? Too tired to do your morning run? Get your routine back in order and set your body clock to rise early and retire at a reasonable time. Keep up your new routine, and plan ahead so that you can keep doing it when you’re back at school!

 

Can you add any more items to the list? Please feel free to comment in the box below. 

Have a happy, relaxing (and productive) holiday!IMG_5942Check out Richard’s Pedagogical series of books here:

Marking_and_Assessment   IMG_4498

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Outwitting the Devil: Napolean Hill’s Suggestions for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A few days ago I was strolling through Em Quartier’s sprawling Kinokuniya book store in the heart of Bangkok. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular since I was already reading through three books simultaneously. I was just looking for anything that would catch my eye.

And then, something did.

On my way out of the store, I glanced over at the Special Offers shelf. I saw ‘Napolean Hill’ sprawled over the cover of what looked like a very unusually entitled book: ‘Outwitting the Devil’.


I finished the book in two days. It absolutely amazed me.

From the depths of despair

Napolean Hill sets the scene in his book by describing the recent pain, suffering and dread he was going through. He describes being totally broke after making a number of unwise decisions to leave behind businesses he had started. His interview with the Devil starts at his second peak of total despair in his life – totally out of money, sat in front of the Lincoln monument wondering what to do with his life.

Napolean Hill makes it very clear in his book that he really believes that the Devil came to him at his lowest point and answered his questions.

The entire interview was produced in manuscript form in 1938, but the entire Hill family were so concerned about the way it would be received by the churches, the education system and society as a whole, that they decided to keep it locked away.

The final book was published in 2011, and contains some very radical thoughts on education. Here are the three that resonated with me the most:

1. Reverse the present system by giving children the privilege of leading in their school work instead of following orthodox rules designed only to impart abstract knowledge. Let instructors serve as students and let the students serve as instructors.

card games

In my article on differentiation, I describe a great technique for getting individual students creatively involved. The technique is talked ‘teen teachers’, and involves getting students to teach a sub-topic or topic every now and again to the whole class. Oftentimes this is done as a revision aid, rather than a way to introduce new knowledge to a class. 

Surely we can’t trust students to teach themselves! 

Or can we? 

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

Hill’s Devil seems to imply by this quote that students should be involved in the curriculum design and then decide how to teach it, with the teacher being a stimulator of ideas, facilitator and behaviour manager. 

Thankfully, we are seeing a move in this direction in a number of schools, especially with respect to getting students to be more involved in teaching themselves (the use of instructional software and project based learning for the International Baccalaureate come to mind). However, we’ve yet to see massive strides take place in the area of student-led curriculum design. Is this a good idea? 

Certainly, students would learn tremendously important skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, creative design and leadership qualities; all of which are vital in business and management fields. But how would all of this be assessed? Does it need to be assessed? 

2. Ideas are the beginning of all human achievement. Teach
all students how to recognize practical ideas that may be of benefit in helping them acquire whatever they demand of life.

different words

The Devil makes the point time and again in the interview that successful people always have definiteness of plan combined with definiteness of purpose. 

When one has goals in mind and works towards those goals every day, ideas naturally come along in the process. These ideas should be written down in some fashion and pondered, say on a weekly basis, to determine which ones are valid and reasonable to implement towards the pursuit of those goals. 

How many students leave school actually knowing this stuff? How many kids have no clue what they want to do with their lives at age 18? 

All too often we quickly suggest that a clueless 18-year-old is just young and inexperienced and it’s perfectly normal and fine to not know where you want to go in life at this age. 

Napoleon Hill disagrees.

He argues that people without goals are ‘drifters’ – shaped by the circumstances they find themselves in rather than shaping those circumstances with their thoughts. 

How much goal setting actually takes place in schools these days? I’m not talking about ‘I’d like to get a grade C in maths’ goals, I’m talking about ambitious, long-term, life-shaping goals that are truly inspirational. 

3. Teach the student the basic motives by which all people are influenced and show how to use these motives in acquiring the necessities and the luxuries of life.

walking around wt laptop.jpg

Since a young age, I’ve wondered why human psychology, conflict resolution, and human relations aren’t taught in any great detail in today’s schools. 

Surely these are vital skills, right? 

What’s more important at the end of 15 years of schooling – knowing how to perform Integration by Parts or understanding how to negotiate with people? 

We hear the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” all the time, but how is this ever reinforced in the education system? 

Hill makes a valid point that knowledge of common courtesy, respect (for yourself and others) and good communication skills form the fabric and fiber of every successful person on the planet. 

Surely our students need to know this, right? 

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Personality Traits of Champion Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

The events in this article are based on actual occurrences. The names and, in some instances, the genders of individuals have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

Was machst du am Wochende auf?’ – That’s German for ‘What do you do on the weekend?’. 

I haven’t studied German for 20 years, but I still remember the overwhelming majority of the words and phrases I was taught for my GCSE. I was lucky to have a brilliant German teacher. She, like all of my teachers at North Wales’ elite St. Richard Gwyn High School, was a Champion Teacher. Champion teachers like her literally have the power to make the wildest dreams of their students come true. They inspire, they care and don’t give up on you.

making plans

Let’s examine the features that all Champion teachers share. You’ll find that everything on this list is believable and achievable. 

Champion teachers are:

  • Good role models
  • Dedicated and committed to their students
  • Provide good feedback
  • Use a dynamic and effective range of teaching methods
  • Are caring
  • Understand that the world is ‘getting smaller’

Whilst this is not exhaustive (please add any more you can think of in the comments below, on my Facebook page or please tweet to me), it does include the core elements that all Champion Teachers share. Let’s look at each one, one at a time.

Good role models

Champion teachers understand that they are always communicating something about themselves. The way they dress, their tone of voice, their posture, their habits, their cleanliness and even their table manners at lunchtime. They understand that students learn the majority of their behavioural and moral features not from what they hear in a typical classroom, but from the subliminal cues they pick up from their environment on a daily basis.

be enthusiastic

Charlotte was a high school chemistry teacher in a comprehensive school in England. She was also responsible for teaching lower school (KS3) Science. She enjoyed her job but didn’t really like teaching about health and fitness in the biology classes she was required to teach. She always found that the kids were disruptive and even make silly giggles whenever she talked about any topics relating to health. Then, one day, she found out why this was happening.

She found a note on scrap paper left on a student’s desk. The paper shown a drawing of Charlotte smoking a cigarette in the fume cupboard of her prep room. Then she remembered, a kid had walked in there one lunchtime a couple of years back and had caught her smoking. She went ballistic and told the boy off for walking into the prep room without knocking.

This story reminds me of a key phrase an old colleague of mine once said: “There’s no such thing as an off-duty teacher”.

How can a Science teacher lecture kids about the dangers of smoking when she’s smoking in school? How can the P.E. teacher maintain his credibility when he’s seen scoffing jumbo beef burgers downtown, posting pictures of himself binge drinking with his mates on social media and then turning up to school drained and out of shape?

award

Teachers need to be very careful about the images they portray of themselves to students, parents and the community. Watch out for the following:

  • Turning up late: Be organized and be on time. That counts for lessons, meetings and your required start time for the day. How can we expect our students to be on time if we are not?
  • Looking dirty or shabby: Keep your clothes in good order. Schedule your free time to get them all cleaned, dried and ironed. Shoes should be shiny and/or clean too, and try to wear different clothes each day. You don’t need to break the bank for designer labels – neatness and tidiness are the themes to remember here.  
  • Using foul language: Be particularly careful when talking with colleagues on corridors or open spaces. If kids are walking past and you’re swearing, it doesn’t look good and sets the wrong kind of example.
  • Websites: Be careful what you look at on your mobile device or computer whilst in school. Students can suddenly turn up behind you and see what you’re doing. If it’s something that you wouldn’t want a student to see, then don’t view it.

always learn

Dedicated and committed to their students

What’s your aim when you go into school? Is it to just to ‘get through the day’ or is it to inspire your students?

Champion Teachers always start their day the right way. I wrote a blog post about effective morning routines for teachers a while back,  but basically the idea is simple – set yourself up to win each morning. 

My German teacher had lots of energy. She would even give up lunchtimes to help me with my speaking practice. My maths teacher would also give up her free time to help me with my questions and problems. Are you willing to do that?

Keep the success and wellbeing of your students your primary focus at all times and watch success and fulfillment magically come your way. 

Provide good feedback

Feedback is one of the major cornerstones of success in education. In fact, John Hattie, the eminent Professor of Education at the University of Melbourne puts it this way:

The greater the challenge, the higher the probability that one seeks and needs feedback, but the more important it is that there is a teacher to provide feedback and to ensure that the learner is on the right path to successfully meet the challenges.

I wrote a lengthy blog post about the details of effective feedback here. However, the basics really are common sense:

  • Students should always get their work back
  • Students should know how they did, what went wrong, and how to improve their work
  • Students should always be given the opportunity to improve their work
  • A variety of assessment methods should be used (see my blog post here)
  • Progress should be measured
  • Assessment should be used to inform teaching (if students have not understood any content, then you need to plan ways to address that).

Use a dynamic and effective range of teaching methods

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book!”

This would require a whole book in itself to talk about (and I highly recommend my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, if you want a series of great tips and ‘teachniques‘ to enhance your teaching). 

In essence, it all boils down to variety. Are you providing enough variety of tasks, activities, and challenges each lesson to engage your students? 

You don’t need flashy technology or special skills to do this. Try implementing some simple learning games, use a greater variety of worksheets, tasks, and questions and try using model building, experimentation and practical activities in your classes. 

Find out what works for your colleagues. Join online communities such as Facebook groups and get the ideas flowing!

Are caring

I was a very shy and sensitive little boy when I was 11 years old. I was bullied too, and I would always go and see my Head of Year for help when things got too tense. He always had a sympathetic ear and always had time for me.

I cringe when I look back at how childish I was back in Year 7. One snowy day I walked onto the playground and tried to join in the fun of throwing snowballs. Stupidly I went to the bottom of a grass verge and tried to throw snowballs uphill. I bet you know what happened next. 

A flurry of icy cold pellets of snow hit my face and body. A whole army of school kids turned on me and I was covered in snow. It dripped down my back, my face hurt, my ears rang. I started to cry.

I immediately went to my Head of Year’s office and he was very sympathetic. He said ‘Oh Richard, what’s happened?” and he put his hands over my ears to warm them up. He sent me on my way.

Looking back, all I really needed that day was assurance that someone in this world cared about me. The sympathy of my Head of Year was enough to stabilize to my mood and keep me going that day. 

Kids go through all kinds of problems when they are in school. Be sympathetic. Understand what it’s like to be kid vying for attention, popularity and parental approval. Consider that you may not know everything that’s going on in a person’s life, even if he or she is your student. 

instructional software

Understand that the world is ‘getting smaller’

This is one area of danger that teachers can unwittingly walk into.

Call it the Big Brother society if you like, but no one can deny that we are under more surveillance than ever before. I’m not condoning or agreeing with the way that everyone’s lives are open for all and sundry to see, but it is an important consideration that wasn’t a problem a few decades ago. 

John was a high school Geography teacher who loved to play in a band. He had his own YouTube channel and was growing in popularity throughout the underground clubbing scene in Los Angeles. He released a new video.

In this video, there was swearing and scenes of him drinking beer and waking up semi-conscious. Covered in tattoos with spiky hair to match, he looked like the pop-culture rebel many were waiting for.

His principal didn’t think so.

He was called into a meeting after a number of parents had complained, and a number of students had even commented on his video. He was asked to resign, with immediate effect.

The moral of the story – if you’re going to be a teacher, then you must present yourself in a positive way online as well as in person. Jim Rohn, the legendary father of personal development coaching (Tony Robbins’ coach), puts it this way:

Make sure your behaviour is acceptable to the marketplace

Conclusion

Champion Teachers understand that there is no such thing as an ‘off-duty teacher’. They care about their students, no matter who they are, and they behave in ways which are acceptable to the marketplace. They are dedicated, constantly review their methods and are not afraid to keep up to date with effective pedagogy.

 

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The Top 7 Stategies for Efficient Lesson Planning

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a warm September Sunday evening back in 2006. I was in my second week of my first teacher-training placement for my PGCE. My mentor wanted all of my lesson plans, as full A4 rubrics filled to the brim with activities, learning outcomes and all manner of wonderful musings. I was in hell right now.                             

Chapter 7 - sending emails
The smile on a trainee teacher’s face as she sends her weekly lesson plans to her mentor

Back then I was required to plan my lessons in a certain way. It was difficult – it took up lots of time, required multiple discussions with many people (including the subject teachers who would observe me) and often involved re-drafting multiple times before a perfect plan was complete. Was it a waste of my time? Looking back, I can honestly say NO! It was worth it. I was completely inexperienced back then. I made many, many blunders. The year of hell that was my PGCE was exactly that  – my baptism by fire. It forged me into a capable teacher, albeit still with much to learn.

Quick advice for PGCE students or trainee teachers

If you’re going through the same hell that I went through, then keep going! There is light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not an oncoming train). When I passed my PGCE and started teaching for real, I knew what that year of pain was all about – getting me ready. It was so nice to be finally trusted to teach classes on my own, without being observed every single lesson.

being-told-off
Listen and learn, even if it’s unbearable

Listen to your mentors and tutors. Do what they say. Don’t argue with them. Listen to feedback, however negative, and genuinely ask for help and solutions. Act on the advice you are given. Regardless of how many mistakes you make (and you’ll make many), you’ll be widely admired if you can accept your blunders, seek counsel and try your best to make progress. 

Efficient Lesson Planning for Schools and Teachers

I was honoured to feature in this week’s UKEd Podcast from UKEdChat.com. I appeared alongside a number of guests, and we all vehemently agreed that lesson planning is a vital component of effective teaching. You simply can’t do this job properly if you skip the planning stage. In fact, it’s so important that I even dedicated a whole chapter to planning in my debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. 

But does it need to take ages and ages? Should it be a chore? Absolutely not!

Strategy #1: Plan in a way that works for you personally

This is a message for schools as much as it is for teachers. When a particular method of planning is forced upon a team of teachers, such as filling in a rubric on paper or online, the whole process can become burdensome and unenjoyable. This is cause for regret.

walking-around-wt-laptop
Lesson planning should be enjoyable. Find a method that works for you personally.

The methods of lesson planning that I use personally have changed and evolved over the course of my career, just as I have changed and evolved too. The methods I use work for me, and that allows me to express myself in the best and most natural way possible.

When teachers do not have the freedom to plan their lessons in their own way, their creativity and self-expression become stifled in the process. Whilst a lesson-planning rubric may be essential for a trainee teacher, schools should not aim to enforce rigorous planning strategies on their entire teaching team. This serves no purpose except to reinforce authority, which can cause resentment.

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING Book! A must-read for all teachers!”

Now, here’s a funny question: Do you enjoy lesson planning? Most teachers would say ‘Are you kidding?’. However, I can honestly say that I do love the process of planning. 

Every Sunday morning I get up nice and early and read over my plans for the week just passed. This allows me to review what worked well and what needs improving, and where to go next. Then, I pen in my plans for the whole week ahead. I personally use this planner from Teacher Created Resources, as it has a nice clear layout and allows me to make special notes for each week (such as house points and homework deadlines). I also like using the TEEP Learning Cycle. There are a number of colourful, teacher-friendly planners available from places like Amazon, which really help to make the lesson planning process fun.

And lesson planning should be fun. If it isn’t fun for you, then something needs to change.

Strategy Number 2: Always get a quick starter activity ready

You’ll often find that there are many great workbooks full of activities and worksheets published and ready for you to use. A small investment of money in resources like this can save you loads of time that you may have spent making resources from scratch. 

Clay class
Engage your students from the very beginning with a quick starter activity

Strategy #3: Always include a quick plenary

This can be as simple as getting the students to stand at the front of the class and do some quick-fire questioning, playing a learning game or even getting groups of students to verbalise their own summary. 

card games

Strategy #4: Keep your plans and reuse them year after year

There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. Keep your planners safe and organised and use them again and again when you teach the same or similar content. Modify as you go along. 

Surprisingly, very few teachers do this.

Strategy #5: Look online for Schemes of Work, Programmes of Study and lesson plans that other people have created

You’ll be surprised at the wealth of information available. I’ve personally done this many times in the past. A quick search on a search engine can pull up many documents that you can use, modify and change to suit your own lesson planning.

Why do everything from scratch if a lot of stuff has been done for you? It makes no sense to me. 

bean bags

Strategy #6: Use published Schemes of Work to assist you

All examination boards produce Course Guides or syllabuses, and some will even provide Schemes of Work. Use the content from these to inform your lesson planning, particularly if you’re filling in an ‘Objectives’ or ‘Learning Outcomes’ section. You’ll often find that those objectives and learning outcomes are published in the Course Guide, syllabus or the exam board Scheme of Work already.

Strategy #7: Take a long-term view

This is so vital! 

If you teach students who will take exams in May, for example, then you should know which exact topics you’ll need to cover each month in order to give you enough time to do revision and get the students ready for their exams on time.

Conclusion

  • Lesson planning is an essential component of effective teaching
  • It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be enjoyable.
  • Use what works for you. Try out some of the lovely planners available on places like Amazon.
  • Start each lesson with a quick starter activity. Build this into your planning every time.
  • Always include a quick plenary for each lesson
  • Look after your planners and plans. Reuse them, modify them and adapt them as each year passes.
  • Look for lesson plans online. You’ll be surprised at what you find!
  • Use the Schemes of Work, Course Guides and syllabuses published by your school’s exam board to help you articulate your personal plans.
  • Take a long-term view. How many topics can you realistically cover in one month? Check your academic calendar for any events that might scupper your plans and interfere with your lessons!

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The Starbucks Protocol: Designing a Nurturing Classroom

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a sunny June morning when they paraded us in. Beams of sunlight hit the aged oak of the tabletops, and colours of all varieties jumped out of happy childrens doodles that were covering the walls. Eyes glared at me through glass jars, as rainbows danced on an LED circuit board. I was in heaven.

Too many of us shade our childhood in the greys and gloom of ‘bad experiences’. I know I had my fair share of those, like we all did. But I was lucky, very lucky. I was 11 years old and being shown around the Science labs of my new high school: St. Richard Gwyn High School, Flint. It was magical – that’s the only way to describe it. This was the best school in the history of all schools ever created.

sitting on the carpet.jpg

How many of your students feel enchanted when they enter class? That’s how they should feel – like this is magic. I call it the ‘Starbucks Protocol’, for practical reasons. Let’s examine why.

Ensorcelled 

I am writing this blog post in my favorite place I like to go in my free time. As bland and as staple as some may think, I’m at Starbucks in Chongqing, China. This is the perfect place for me to work and be inspired whilst I work. But why?

Teachers and schools can learn a lot from Starbucks. Despite their beverages being priced slightly towards the higher end of the market, every single branch I’ve been to around the world attracts crowds in their multitudes. People love coming here. The demographics of the local population don’t seem to matter. People flock to their favourite place to relax and enjoy a caramel macchiato, a flat white with low sugar or their preferred speciality beverage. It’s personal to them. They connect with this space. It’s part of their identity. It’s woven into the fabric of their memories.

Starbucks Banan Wanda Plaza
A photo I took of my local Starbucks at Banan Wanda Plaza, Chongqing, China, at opening time on a Sunday morning. A beautiful and inviting workspace, from which teachers and schools can learn so much

Starbucks offers an enchanting and practical environment for its guests. In my humble opinion, I believe this is due to the following parameters, which can all be applied to an educational setting:

  1. Staff always know your name, remember your preferences and are friendly and happy
  2. The physical space is clean, uncluttered, varied and attractive
  3. Resources are freely and abundantly available (tissue, sugar, milk, stirrers and paper cups in the case of Starbucks)
  4. The opportunity to further your association with the brand is available through merchandise and products such as cups, coffees to take home and even water bottles and tins of tea
  5. The environment is conducive to working as well as being a place to relax. Sockets to plug into are numerous, and wifi and workspace is usually abundant and suitable
  6. Space is bright and well-lit
  7. Promotions and special events happen regularly, allowing guests to gain more for their money – both in terms of products and experiences.
  8. Products are tailor-made to the guests’ preference. If they want no sugar, low sugar, extra whipped cream, a medium-size or even a mixed-blend, it’s no problem

bean bags.jpg

I believe the secret to amazing educational experiences that magically and profoundly enchant and embrace wonder in our students has been hidden under our noses for a number of decades. I suggest that the Starbucks Protocol is this secret.

1. Staff always know your name, remember your preferences, are friendly and happy 

It’s amazing and staggering the number of teachers who don’t fully know their students. When teachers do not show a genuine interest in the whole life of their students, they are not able to fully engage with them and build trust, which allows for a comfortable learning experience.

At Starbucks, staff are specially trained to remember their customers’ names, and to engage in conversation with them. Staff become your friends, and they always remember your beverage preferences if you’re a regular customer. I believe this to be a major factor in the genius and global success of Starbucks.

alphabetic mat

The first chapter in my debut book deals with the issue of student rapport – the professional relationship that is the foundational groundwork of all good teaching. Nothing else works in education without good teacher-student rapport, just like a cup of coffee at Starbucks would be most unpleasant if the baristas were grumpy and aggressive.  I write a guest blog about building student rapport at The Cornerstone for Teachers site here. An important extract is given below:

#1 Take a genuine interest in the ‘whole life’ of your students

Charlene was an experienced and well-liked teacher of secondary science. She got on very well with her students, and parents would often mention that they appreciated her ‘special attention’ to their children. She was liked by her colleagues, and she enjoyed her work. One day, her physics student came to school with a broken arm in a plaster cast. John, a keen gymnast, mentioned that he had fallen very hard in a training session two days ago. Charlene immediately knew that this was golden information for her lesson planning.

In John’s next physics lesson, Charlene was teaching the class about forces and motion. As John entered the class, she presented him with a starter activity revolving around the forces that act upon a gymnast when taking off and landing on a springboard. She also asked John how he was doing (and she was sincere in asking). He said he was healing well, and Ms. Charlene mentioned that, “We can use your experience to help the class today, would that be okay?” John said sure.

After completing and peer assessing the starter worksheet, Ms. Charlene asked John to tell the class what had happened to his arm. He gladly told his story, and Ms. Charlene asked for everyone to clap after he had finished. Using humor and good teaching practice, she said, “So using John’s story to help you, what do you think one of today’s objectives could be?”

One student mentioned a funny comment about how you should always land on your feet and not on your arm like John did, which Ms. Charlene responded to with a smile and a giggle. After this, and with some prompting from their teacher, some students spoke about the importance of gravity in determining the force upon impact, and the speed of free fall. At the end of a very interesting and varied lesson, Charlene allowed her students the opportunity to sign John’s plaster cast, if they hadn’t done so already.

Let’s examine what Charlene did that made this lesson (and her rapport/relationship with students) so special:

  • used the hobby of her student to generate a lesson activity (the starter worksheet)
  • showed a sincere care and concern for her student
  • was genuinely interested in the whole life of her student (as she was with all of her students)
  • used student ‘expertise’ to enhance the lesson content (she asks John to talk to the class about what had happened)
  • was tasteful in her humor, and made sure that John is happy to share his story before she asks him to do so.
  • rewarded the class for their good work by allowing them a few minutes at the end to sign John’s plaster cast; not only did this subtly reveal her caring and ‘human’ nature, but it also bonded the class together as a whole

So follow the Starbucks Protocol and take a genuine interest in your students – their learning preferences, their hobbies, their ambitions and their abilities. You will immediately see an enormous transformation in your professional relationships with them.

2. The physical space is clean, uncluttered, varied and attractive 

Various studies have shown that colorful. attractive and uncluttered learning spaces have an enormous impact on the willingness of children and young adults to engage in the learning process.

What does your classroom look like? Is it a place where kids want to be? How often do you change your displays? Does fresh content go up on your display boards regularly?

box seats

Consider the following upgrades you could make to your classroom:

  1. Put good student work on display for all to see. This motivates the students who did the work, as well as providing a benchmark for others by association. You can often use this work as exemplar material when setting similar projects in other topics too.
  2. Keep all resources (e.g. scissors, pens, coloring pencils) in one part of the room so that they are easily accessible and tidy
  3. Get your students to tidy up their workspace at the end of each lesson, or before each break time. Clutter can be created throughout the day through loose pieces of paper, litter, pencil sharpenings and poorly stored textbooks. This can be a particular problem in the high school.

Starbucks branches are always clean, tidy and fresh. That’s because staff regularly go around to clean up and tidy, and because litter disposal is easy for customers too. Displays are changed regularly (particularly displays of products and promotional material), and many Starbucks branches will even be specially decorated on special events like Christmas and Halloween. Resources are freely and abundantly available (tissue, sugar, milk, stirrers and paper cups in the case of Starbucks).

3. Resources are freely and abundantly available (tissue, sugar, milk, stirrers and paper cups in the case of Starbucks)

Do you want to know the best way to create disruption and bad behavior in a lesson? It’s easy: set your kids a task, and then make it difficult for them to get the basic resources they need to complete the task. Many teachers will blame the poor behaviour on the kids in this scenario, when it was actually lack of planning on the teacher’s part that created it. 

One of my favourite stories I tell is from when I was an NQT in the UK way back in 2008. I was asked to cover a lesson for an absent teacher, and the class I was covering was notorious for bad behaviour.

with-ukedchat
“An AMAZING book!”

I booked the computer lab, and the kids worked brilliantly. No problems at all, but one thing concerned me. The students were working on their GCSE Science coursework. Over the previous few weeks, they had completed some written work on paper, which was rather messily kept in a tray in an unorganised way by the previous teacher. I later learned that students would start being disruptive when they were searching for scraps of their work from this tray, and complaining that pieces of paper were missing. No wonder they were playing up – it was difficult for them to find the work they’d been working on.

Later that day I organized their coursework into a folder, with each student’s name on a plastic wallet. The result – teacher’s were telling me in the ensuing weeks that the kids had calmed down a lot because of my simple act of organizing their work so that they could find it easily.

It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? How often do you get frustrated when you can’t find your keys, wallet or phone? I know it drives me mad at times. Think about this when organizing your learning space and resources for your students. Are essential items, such as scissors, paper, pens and pencils organised and ready in the classroom for kids to use?

4. The opportunity to further your association with the brand is available through merchandise and products such as cups, coffees to take home and even water bottles and tins of tea

I love this about Starbucks. They offer so many great products that are really collectible and special. Take this special Chongqing mug, for example:

Chongqing Mug.jpg

So how do we use the Starbucks Protocol to create collectible and special experiences for our students that allow them to further their association with the subject we are teaching? Normally this is achieved through exploration.

Is your classroom set up well for exploration? Can groups of students easily work together on a project, such as model building or poster making? Does the opportunity exist for students to take home their ‘merchandise’ (the things they’ve created in class)?

Don’t be afraid of rearranging your desks and tables to make them more conducive to special activities. Even in a Science lab, I have rearranged the space to allow for drama, movie making, experiments and even relay games and competitions. All of these experiences enrich student learning and allow them to take home a great association with the subject. Consider ways in which your students can take home physical items too, such as models they’ve built, movies they’ve made or even project folders they’ve created. They’ll look back these items regularly and feel more connected with the experience, and the subject – another key to the genius of Starbucks.

5. The environment is conducive to working as well as being a place to relax. Sockets to plug into are numerous, and wifi and workspace is usually abundant and suitable.

Are your students hunched up together with no room to move or do they have plenty of space? Do you book technology in advance, such as tablets and laptops, so that students can effectively engage in the learning process? Are your desks clean and tidy, or covered in graffiti?

Starbucks have mastered the art of creating effective workspace. It’s easy for me to get out my laptop and plug-in, as well as listen to music and charge my phone at the same time. In fact, very few other coffee shop chains can offer such amazing facilities, which is why they are not so popular.

6. Space is bright and well-lit

Have you ever noticed how a rainy day affects your students? You’ll often find they are less engaged on a cloudy afternoon when the pitter-patter of raindrops fall. Poor lighting can even make students lethargic, resulting in lack of focus.

Art classEvery Starbucks branch I’ve been to around the world is well-lit. Light creates happiness, and many branches have very large windows because natural light is the best at creating alertness and happiness in the moment.

Happy students learn better than unhappy ones, and the simple process of letting the sunlight come into your classroom (as long as it’s not too bright) can have an amazing, transformative effect on the mood of your students.

Put all of your classroom lights on on gloomy days, and let the sunlight in where possible. Keep the learning space bright and fresh, and watch your students become more focussed.

7. Promotions and special events happen regularly, allowing guests to gain more for their money – both in terms of products and experiences.

Are you just following the predecessors of your curriculum and going through the motions, or are you being innovative with your space?

Only two weeks ago I was teaching a group of 12-year-olds olds about weathering and erosion. I could have used my classroom space in a traditional way – by showing a PowerPoint or letting the kids do some web research when sat down at laptops. However, I decided to move all of the tables and chairs into the middle of the room, and my students became ‘living rocks’ and moved around the room in different stages, effectively modeling the process with their bodies.

High five

This kind of variety can really serve to lighten things up mentally for the kids. Starbucks understands the power of variety, which is why they often host coffee tasting parties, change their products and services to match different seasons and key events, and even change their furniture around from time to time to create freshness. It works well, as people know that they are always getting a unique experience whenever they go along.

8. Products are tailor-made to the guests’ preference. If they want no sugar, low sugar, extra whipped cream, a medium-size or even a mixed-blend, it’s no problem

How often do you use your class environment to tailor-make the learning resources to meet the needs of your students?

In pedagogy, we call this ‘differentiation’. There are many ways in which we can differentiate our teaching (see my earlier blog post here), but one way in which we can manipulate the classroom environment to do this is through ‘styles tables’ and ‘what’s in the box’ activities. I did a YouTube video about this, which is given below. Extracts from that differentiation blog post that pertain to manipulating the physical environment of the classroom are given below the video.

Learning 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 themto one. This takes some preparation but its well worth it.

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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The Top Five Accelerated Learning Techniques Every Teacher Needs to Know

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accelerated Learning refers to a series of simple techniques that any teacher can incorporate into any lesson to ensure that a maximum amount of learning takes place. It works on the premise that time spent in class must be efficiently used, implying that sound lesson planning forms the foundational framework.

Singing class

Let’s take a look at five simple, but highly effective techniques you can use to accelerate learning.

Technique Number 1: Practice and Application

A lecture or talk is usually not enough to make content stick. Students need to know how to use it in order to understand it. 

In short, this means that students need to complete lots of questions or tasks on the content and, crucially, receive feedback on their work.

Art class

Most school textbooks have cottoned-on to this by providing lots of questions within the pages themselves. However, you should look into extra ways to supplement these in-text questions with workbooks, past-paper questions, worksheets, puzzles, and games. On top of creating and keeping my own resources, I personally source extra materials from the following places:

  1. Workbooks: Letts, CGP, and Barron’s provide amazing workbooks which go
    with-ukedchat
    An AMAZING book! A must-read for all teachers!

    alongside many American and British school courses

  2. Past paper questions: Your exam board will be able to provide these for you. At the moment I’m teaching CIE courses and past papers are available on their teacher-support site. I often group these past-paper questions by topic, and many courses like the IBDP even provide easy-to-use question banks. 
  3. Worksheets, puzzles, and games: The TES and UKEdChat are great places to go for these. You can even sell some resources you’ve made on TES too. For games, I like to use my personal choice of seven, which are very effective. 

it integrated

Technique Number 2: Break Content Down into Achievable Goals

It was the famous Anthony Robbins himself who said that “If it’s believable, it’s achievable”. Students need to know where they are going, and how they are going to get there. Break down their progression into a series of simple, believable stages, or targets, that they must achieve. 

self-assessment

Use level ladders, progression charts, and even your own tailor-made tables. These can be stuck into student notebooks so that they constantly have a reference guide. Also, use student self-assessment checklists regularly so they can assess their own progress. An teacher example is given below. You would probably adjust this for students to make it more encouraging:

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 4.54.23 PM.png

Technique Number 3: Use the 80:20 Principle

Have you ever heard of the Pareto principle? It’s a golden rule that says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your work. It’s used widely in business (80% of sales, for example, coming from 20% of marketing campaigns).

The Pareto principle can be applied to anything.

robot

In English, 20% of words make up 80% of written scripts. In music, 20% of chord progressions make up 80% of all pop songs. Accelerated learning requires that you focus on the vital 20% and avoid wasting time on the less vital 80% of the task.

Try breaking your subject down into the vital 20% of skills and knowledge students will need, and practice these regularly. To do that, you’ll need to know what the 20% is, to begin with. You’ll need to scour through your syllabuses and Course Guides, use your own knowledge and experience, and experimentation. 

Apply the Pareto principle to all of your teachings, from foreign language vocabulary to cookery, and your students will learn faster than ever.

Technique Number 4: Block Out Distractions

I once gave a stern lecture to the entire final year cohort of a previous school. I had noticed that many of the students were getting distracted by the internet, chat, apps, gaming and smartphones. Some parents were complaining that their children were not getting enough sleep because they were staying up too late chatting through Skype with their friends.

Block building

It’s really important to educate students on the dangers of distractions. Technology can be a transformational tool in the learning process, but it can also be a dramatic procrastination tool. Watch your students closely when they are using technology in the classroom, and constantly create an atmosphere of urgency – that things must be done quickly and on-time. 

lab

Technique Number 5: Teach Students How to Revise

Too often we assume that students already know how to revise properly for exams, and many receive no formal education on the process of learning itself.

This is cause for regret.

Hold special study skills classes with your students as the terminal exams approach, perhaps through some kind of school mentoring program. Teach your students about mind-mapping, cue-cards, recording audio notes and other revision techniques. This Guardian article offers a great place to start. 

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Future Teaching Technology: A Warning!

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Using technology in the classroom can be very exciting. Some would say it’s essential. Most teachers embrace the idea that as the years roll by, more and more electronic systems must be incorporated into teaching in order to keep pace with the ‘real world’. That being so, the future of the teaching profession as a whole looks very bleak from my perspective. There’s not just a few rocks our boat can bump into along the way – there’s a gigantic waterfall coming.

Summer Money

I recall sweating my guts out at a local cosmetics factory in my hometown of Flint every summer whilst I was at university. 

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

From the age of 19 to 23, when the end of the academic year came I would spend anywhere between 10 and 12 weeks doing all kinds of routine work in the factory: screwing lids on perfume bottles (which gives you blisters if you do it all day), packing baby wipes into boxes and shrink-wrapping and packing all manner of toiletries; from talcum powder to aftershaves and even scented massage oils at one point.

That was roughly ten years ago.

Last year, I went back to the factory to see how things were getting along and to visit some of my old friends. Lo and behold, things had certainly changed. Machines were now screwing those lids on the perfume bottles (albeit, clumsily, I have to say), and a conveyor system cleverly placed the baby wipes into boxes. The need for human manpower had reduced somewhat, which meant less staff were being hired.

robot
Droids can be super cool, but robots are already replacing humans in a number of fields

I kind of suspected that machines could replace my chubby fingers even back when I was 19. Now, finally, the factory had taken this automation step. I guess it made sense from a business perspective – you don’t have to pay a machine a salary, and it will never argue with you. It just does what it’s designed or programmed to do. End of story.

That got me thinking about my job as an educator. Could I be replaced with machines, technology or even robots now that I’ve graduated from the perfume factory and become a teacher?

The answer is an alarming yes, and it’s already happening,

Instructional Software – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

I’ve advocated and even praised the benefits of instructional software many times in the past. I often share my experience of using MyiMaths for the first time, and how it ‘transformed’ my teaching. I was telling the truth – the software basically replaced me. I became obsolete. In a frightening replay of my summers of fun at the cosmetics factory, I realised the fact that this software was only a few steps away from taking over completely. It taught the kids, it assessed their work and kept them engaged. All I had to do was walk around the classroom and occasionally clear up a misconception or two – something which could be done by other students.

instructional software
Happy students, happy teacher

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.

Surveillance and Profit

I’ve worked in international education for best part of ten years, and I’ve seen how schools can be mercilessly run like businesses – with brand identity, marketing, brand security and, of course, profit margins being the key priorities. Many would argue that this is a good thing, as to achieve success in all of these areas a school must provide a great quality of service to parents and to students. (Side note: I talk about how parents are a teacher’s key customers in this blog post here).

But what about teachers?

At the moment, teachers and support staff are crucial to a school’s operation. School’s just don’t work without them.

But does it have to be like that?

it integrated
Can computers replace the human element of teaching?

In theory, teachers can easily be replaced with instructional software delivered through a school’s computer suites, or even the kids’ own laptops and devices. Instructional software is so good now that it can replace almost every function of a teacher. Imagine a school where cameras are in very classroom, kids learn through instructional software, grades and assessments get automatically and rapidly sent to a central control system and progress is quick and easy to track because the software does it all for you. All you need next are classrooms with large windows, or even a Penopticon-designed building, and the need for human teachers becomes close to zero. A few ‘police’/’watchers’ are all you need.

vr

Parents will be happy: kids are on task and learning properly because the software just delivers what it’s programmed to deliver – no unpredictability factor

Student’s may not be happy, but they’ll be learning and on-task, which is really what most parent’s (though not all) care about. It’s enough the create a market to sell to.

School owners are happy – management is easy, with very few salaries to pay. Overheads are easy to calculate, making cash-flow forecasting simple. No need to spend tons of money on recruitment each year.

Can a computer really be as good as a human teacher? 

It would seem so. 

In 2010, an ex-physicist and professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, Sugata Mitra, conducted the second of his quirky educational technology tests

Mitra placed a computer in the middle of a remote and underdeveloped village called Kalikuppam in Tamil Nadu, India, and loaded it with molecular biology educational material in English. He then disappeared.

Upon returning 75 days later he found that many of the children could answer one out four questions correct on a test he gave them. Upon leaving then returning sometime later, he was astounded to find that the kids could answer 50% of the questions. 

schematic
Young people almost always engage fully with computer systems

Bear in mind that these kids knew no English or any molecular biology before the computer was installed. They had no human help either, except for a non-English speaking non-Biologist, who just simply encouraged the children to play on the computer. 

But what about practical subjects?

But surely you need humans to teach subjects such as art, design and technology and cookery, right?

Wrong.

ICT, including the use of streaming videos and simulations, have been used successfully to teach cookery, art (where technology even seems to influencing the subject itself) and even pottery and dance.

Solutions for teachers 

It seems inevitable that as education becomes more commercialized (e.g. With more and more UK state schools becoming academies), the focus of school owners will be solely on profit margins. How are good profit margins achieved? By spending as little as possible to achieve the best results. 

If schools have the opportunity to deliver excellent education, without paying salaries, they’ll take it. An initial investment in ICT, surveillance and robotic systems is worth it in the long term. 

Q & A
Get skilled up, before you’re skilled out

Teachers, it would seem, are becoming  more like wardens and facilitators as computers take over. It seems logical then that teachers should skill up in the areas of behaviour management, educational management and all things ICT – digital security (which will be essential as schools automate more), coding, software design and organisational management. 

If you’re very creative and hard-working, you may even want to create the software and systems that will teach our students. 

Even the role of examiner is no safe haven for a human teacher – more and more exams are being graded by computers than ever before. 

Droid Alert 

Earlier this month, it was reported that Dubai had commissioned its first AI police officer. Brigadier Khalid Nasserl Al Razouqi, from Dubai police’s Smart Services department, even predicted that “By 2030, we will have the first smart police station which won’t require human employees.”

robot
Cute robot, until there’s no remote  

If droids can replace police, then is it too large a stretch of the imagination to see RoboTeach patrolling our classrooms in the near future? Maybe the Police Smart Services Droids will take over?

I fear that the teaching profession will lose the human element very soon, and it will spring on us like a tiger waiting in the bushes. We’ll be totally unprepared unless we skill up, and wise up, soon. 

Technology should be embraced if it enhances learning, but we need to be careful how far we take it. 

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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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