Motivating Students

motivating students

Motivating students after Results Day

As a teacher, motivating students is one of the biggest challenges we face. There are probably a number of reasons, other than the quality of teaching, to explain why some students didn’t make as much progress as they could have done. Lack of motivation, distraction, tiredness, ineffective study techniques, porr homework record, the list goes on.

But no matter what the reason was for their underperformance, we, as their teachers or Heads of Departments, will have to quickly deal with the areas that have held those students back from achieving their potential. Otherwise, we fail too.

Take action

In your first lesson back after the summer holidays, take some time to explain to students the context of their results: why the results matter, but also why students are not defined by their exam results. They are people, not data. This may offer little comfort to some who think that they’ve wasted a year or two, but at least they will see you as being on their side and being willing to look for solutions. This will help later on when things get tough again.

However, most importantly, it’s true. Students are people, not little marks on a chart, or a step towards achieving an acceptable percentage for the cohort. Teachers can lose sight of this when schools are increasingly measured by exam data. If this thought isn’t central to our thinking, then we will lose sight of the entire purpose of education – to help people achieve their full potential and contribute positively to the world.

Below I’ve outlined a few solutions, as a way to begin helping your students to the next level after their exams. It’s a starting point, not a complete solution. So if I’ve missed something obvious, or you would do things differently, then good! You know your students better than I do!

Priorities for improving student achievement:

Motivation

Sometimes it’s important to refer back to the big picture. Ask the students why they are here, studying your subject. Get them to see both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of performing well your subject. Will high performance in the subject lead to Higher Education, a career, further vocational training? Will proficiency in the subject develop skills relevant to a wide variety of industries? Will the skills increase enjoyment, or be useful in everyday life? So long as you can find a “yes” for each of your students, you will be able to do something to improve their motivation.

Unsurprisingly, students will be very emotional. Surprisingly, though, many teachers do not tap into this to see if there is some way to get students to focus on positive emotions. I find that visualisation can help here. Tip for motivating students: Have the students close their eyes and talk them through what the upcoming year will look like, leading through various stages, all the way up to results day when they will open their results envelope, discovering the grades they are hoping for. By giving students the time and by creating the conditions for them to imagine the simple stages leading to success, they will see the end result as attainable. This will help prevent the familiar “I can’t do that” mindset that can emerge after a poor performance in an exam. Resilience is key. You can read more on developing resilience here.

Distraction

Focus is crucial. Distraction is the enemy of focus. If there are distractions, then identify them. Remove the distractions when the revision is supposed to take place. Once temptation to procrastinate is removed, focus will be easier to achieve. Popular distractions for my students include:

  • social media
  • computer games
  • nights out
  • part-time employment
  • an infinite number ways to procrastinate online

By far the biggest distraction for my students is social media. I tell my students that when revising, turn off your mobile and put it in another room. Try to revise using offline methods wherever possible. Anecdotally, it works. Try it – it might work for your students too!

Motivting students

Zzzzzzzzzz…….

Studies suggest a wide range in the number of hours that we need, but they generally all agree that students need even more! Remind students to get to bed early more often than not and over time it will have a huge impact on their attention spans and ability to retain information. Revising whilst tired is a poor substitute for revising whilst alert.

Effective vs ineffective study techniques

Get the students to mind-map their revision methods (if they used more than one – hopefully they did). Then get them to list the most effective and least effective methods they used – NOT the ones they enjoy or prefer. A discussion of the results will help groups of students to see what ‘busy work’ they should avoid next time, leaving time to complete effective revision. There’s nothing worse than finding out that you’ve worked hard and been busy in the lead up to an exam, only to find that your revision didn’t actually work!

Motivating students is a much simpler task if you can clearly show them the best ways to achieve success.

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Homework: What’s the point?

Homework Project

Does Homework Matter?

Ok, time to get your homework planners out.” [Groans are heard around the classroom].

Is this a familiar scene? Was it just the same when you were at school? As a teacher, do you give the same types of homework tasks over and over? Are your students bored by this? I’ve started introducing some homework tasks that are slightly different to what they’ve been used to. Things that take the students out of their comfort zone.

It’s making a difference.

This week I’m looking at homework – what we do, why we do it and why we should view homework differently.

What exactly is the purpose of homework?

1. Link between lessons

When we plan a sequence of lessons, there should be a common thread running though them. Good sequences of lessons flow naturally from one lesson to the next. Students should be able to understand why one lesson follows from a previous one. Setting homework can ease this transition. It gives the students the opportunity to see the wider context of the topics they are studying.

For example, if planning a lesson on global warming, followed by a lesson on natural resources, you could bridge that gap, helping the students to see why they are interconnected. In this example you could set a task that encourages the students to consider how the causes and effects of global warming could be mitigated by different factors and specify the use of natural resources as one of these factors to consider. This introduction to the topic will show students how the topics are linked and will also improve the starting point for each student the following lesson, enabling progress to develop further and quicker.

2. Opportunity to go into detail without time constraints

Students are required to learn in ever increasing levels of depth and breadth, to satisfy the requirements of exam boards and government targets. However the amount of lesson time that can be devoted to this is not increasing to cope with the demand. Homework is the most obvious solution. But there are so many questions to consider here. How should we use homework? Should we just give more homework? Should we change the type of homework we give? Should we do both? When? For which student groups? When? The list goes on…

In my own experience, there are some specific areas that we could devote weeks of teaching-time to, but we only have days to work with. Effective homework tasks are far better than higher volumes of homework. Not only because they place less pressure on students and teachers (we need to leave time for quality marking too remember!), but many tasks we use are slow to achieving our learning objectives. My advice here (again from my own experience) is to select a niche in a very specific topic area and to ask an open question to the student (e.g. “analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of…”, “how does x compare to y?”, etc).

You could give further support to scaffold the students’ responses if they need it (sub-questions, particular areas to look at, sentence-starters, etc). The open question will enable higher level learning to take place, whilst the support makes the depth of learning accessible to students who otherwise might not develop further. I’ll be writing about Effective Questioning in a future blog post. Subscribe so that you don’t miss it!

3. To ensure progress across a sequence of lessons

Progress is not linear. I’ll repeat that: PROGRESS IS NOT LINEAR! I make this point regularly to colleagues who feel that lesson observations and data points throughout the academic year should be used to monitor quality of teaching. To put my point quite frankly, lesson observations as a way of measuring student progress are a blunt instrument and should be abandoned immediately. More on that in a future post I think! Progress happens at different rates, at different times in the course, for different students. In order to ensure progress over the long-term (the true purpose of education?) students must be able to go beyond what is taught in the classroom. Some topics require much greater depth of understanding, or a broader range of ideas to be considered, before progress can really be ‘achieved’. Independent learning and homework are two solutions to this.

Blogging Homework

Use project-based tasks to deepen understanding and develop skills further

I recently began setting my students longer, more project-based tasks. This meant that they could take time to develop depth and breadth in the knowledge and skills that I wanted them to focus on. One task was for students in small groups to create a “viral video”  on the ethics of animal experimentation (on either side of the debate). I wanted students to develop their responses, but also to try to convince others to side with their view. The students not only improved their argument skills, but they also developed a greater awareness of how others perceive their arguments, how to use language to convey meaning and how to use technology to raise awareness and increase engagement of an issue. These skills will be invaluable to the students in their exam, but also after they’ve left school to work in a whole variety of industries.

Getting students to create or contribute to a blog is another method. In doing so, students begin to develop a long-term approach to the way they present their information, redrafting, responding to feedback, etc. You could create a blog for the class, or you could have the students (individually or in groups) create their own.

Practice independent learning

With so much pressure being put on students and teachers to raise achievement in exams, it can be very tempting to “teach to the test”. The result? Students achieve good exam results, but they have little ability to do anything else – things that would be useful in the “real world” once they leave school.

We deal with this, not by ignoring the teaching of exam technique, but by supplementing what students do in class with guided independent tasks. I’ve seen good examples of this amongst my colleagues, from wider reading lists, to homework menus, to term-long homework projects. The common theme throughout is that the student retains some autonomy over what sources of information they use. They can use as much or as little as they like and they can present their findings via a method of their choosing. The result? Higher levels of engagement, more creativity, the students retain the information for longer and they develop “real-world” skills.

Opportunity to learn outside of the limitations of the classroom

The last thing we want to do as teachers is to limit our students in any way, I’d certainly be horrified by this, as would many parents. However, we often don’t think about the ways our students can be limited. A classroom limits learning. By its size, by the resources available, by the students present and by the teacher leading the learning within it. Homework allows for students to free themselves from these limitations. They can access resources not available to schools, they can free themselves from peer-pressure when doing things their own unusual ways. The depth of student responses improves, as does the breadth of their studies.

But perhaps even more importantly, it can contribute to the teacher’s understanding of what the students are capable. This will influence how the teacher leads the learning of other students, now and in the future. Setting “the right” homework enables students AND  teachers to develop in a significant way.

 

There are tonnes of other ways that homework can raise achievement in our schools, far too many to mention here!

I’d love to hear of any methods you use to increase engagement and deepen learning. As usual, drop me a message!

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Independent Learning: Three Top Tips

Independent Learning

Why is independent learning so important?

Top students often go beyond what they’ve been asked to do when it comes to producing extended pieces of work, especially if given the chance to conduct research. It’s a virtuous circle, helping students become top students and then because they are top students they continue to learn independently as that is now their new ‘normal’ expectation. Depth and frequency of independent learning typically lead to better results in formal assessments. So the question is, how do we get the rest of the students to conduct independent learning?

Below are three handy tips you can use to encourage students to engage in independent learning.

Checklist

1. Guide your students

Most students don’t use independent learning to complement the required tasks they are given. Sometimes they just can’t be bothered. However, many students don’t bother because they haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. One thing you can do for them is to provide a simple and unintimidating list of sources they can use for specific topics. Break it down to page numbers and even paragraphs if need be, just to get them started. You could give the students this menu of options at the beginning of each topic, each term, or as I’ve done, at the beginning of the year to glue onto the inside cover of their folders. I give a copy of a Wider Reading List to my A Level students at the beginning of their final year. They should aim to use at least one of the sources in addition to the textbooks and other materials they receive in class when they submit an essay. I also encourage them to add a source to the list, to demonstrate even greater independence. The list offers guidance to those who don’t know where to go for information, but allows them to be independent learners too.

Independent Learning - Wider Reading List
Wider Reading List

Choice is important too. If the students feel as though they can pick whichever source they like, they will feel a greater sense of ownership over their learning. This is a well-documented way to boost engagement. Not only that, but once students are offered a choice, they are able to consider a range of alternatives before finally deciding upon a source to use. Their skills of source-selection and evaluation become more refined, allowing them to be even more independent in the future.

2. Choose your sources carefully

If independent learning is not a common feature of your class, then ease yourself into it. Don’t pick a stack of weighty titles from the bookshelf, or the top ten ranked pages on Google – the students won’t thank you for it and will most likely just not read it.

Instead, choose two or three easy-to-access resources and not necessarily written ones either – YouTube is brilliant, so are Vimeo and Slideshare. Students who have conducted independent learning before are much more likely to do it again, compared with students who have never done it before. Remove the barrier to starting independent learning by making it less demanding first round.

3. Set your expectations and monitor them

Students must know that independent learning is not an optional extra, but a required part of the course. Those of you operating a Flipped Learning model will understand how homework can be used to gain huge advantages. Here, the student gets to choose what, when and how they use the independent learning material. They choose how much advantage they want to take and in what direction.

How do you know they’ve done it?

At the bottom of the options menu, create a box where students can write down each time they’ve used one of the sources. You could even give a termly reward for those who have made the best use of the menu, or for those who have shown the most progress. Make it meaningful to students and they will adopt it.

 

I would love to know how you promote independent learning in your classes. Send me a message!

Also, if you want to see an example of a menu that I’ve used then leave your email address below and I’ll send you a free copy.

Enjoy!

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How Flipped Learning Works

How to use flipped learning

What is Flipped Learning?

Flipped Learning is how we should all teach, all of the time. This is a bold claim, but I mean it sincerely. Not because I know it all (I really don’t!) and not because other methods don’t work (they do!). The simple aim of Flipped Learning is to ‘flip’ delivery of content, creating more independent students. Less challenging tasks are completed outside of the classroom, where there is less support available from the teacher. More challenging tasks are completed within the classroom, where there is more support available from the teacher. Independent learning becomes more embedded, student engagement increases and progress over time speeds up. Oh, and the best part is that it reduces teacher workload.

Flipped Learning has been around for a long time, but many of us haven’t thought to utilise it properly. Instead, we focus on a more traditional method of teaching. Teachers often deliver basic-level content then set a more complex task for homework that builds upon the activity from that lesson. The homework task is often difficult, pushing the students to their limits. After all, we do want our students to be challenged! However, little Jimmy returns the next day and says he hasn’t completed his homework as it was too hard. Weeks go on and the gap widens between those who are more-able and those who are less-able.

So, back to little Jimmy…

Solution 1: Provide little Jimmy with a more detailed set of instructions for each homework task?

Solution 2: Provide little Jimmy with a different task to the rest of the class?

Solution 3: Assume little Jimmy was lazy, tell him off and don’t change your homework policy?

Question: Which of the above solutions is the right one here?

Answer: ALL of them.

However, we’ve tried all of these and had mixed results. Not only that, but you might even be tempted to dismiss the third solution, viewing it as too hard to implement, or even a ‘waste of time’ if it doesn’t work. Either that or you are afraid of making changes that you and your colleagues view as adding further unmanageable workload. But I can tell you from experience that there is a way to implement a Flipped Classroom approach without increasing workload. In fact, when used properly, you actually reduce your workload over time, something we should all aspire towards. You can read this post for more tips on reducing workload.

Encouraging and guiding independent learning is the key to success

Mastering independent learning is what will ultimately make you students more resilient and less likely to give excuses for missing deadlines and failing to complete work. Furthermore, it will enable the students to go beyond what you as the teacher are able to achieve, in the limited number of hours that you see them in the classroom.

In reality, the Flipped Learning method of delivery, when approached sensibly, reduces the incidence of missed deadlines, challenges students further within a sequence of lessons and REDUCES WORKLOAD! That’s right – it’s that magic wand we’ve been searching for. You can click here to read my Seven Ways To Reduce Teaching Workload.

Why is Flipped Learning important?

In order for students to make outstanding progress, they must be able to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, from the basics of remembering information, to being able to deploy that information is a meaningful and complex way. To achieve such a feat in lesson-time alone is almost impossible today. However, the Flipped Learning approach leverages time outside of the lesson, in order to move through the stages at a quicker pace whilst supporting students during the most complex parts. All you are doing is re-ordering activities, so that students are supported when they need it.

Bloom's Taxonomy for Flipped Learning

How can I use Flipped Learning in my lessons?

Lesson 1: Introduce students to the course you are teaching – give out information on the basic outline and discuss future issues to be studied further. This allows students to read ahead if they wish. Your more engaged students will do this if you open the door for them.

Homework task 1: Students research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc, then answer a set of questions based on comprehension or evaluation of the material.

Lesson 2: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem-solving activity, an evaluative task, a scientific experiment, creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport. Higher-order thinking skills are best studied and practised with you in the room to support the students. Many of them may not have this support at home.

Homework task 2: By this point, your students have established a basic understanding of the topic, have practised skills of analysis and evaluation and have seen model answers in class. The timing should now be perfect for students to tackle much more challenging tasks which synthesise their knowledge and understanding of the basics, with more complex material. The complex material that you add here should form a bridge from the topic which has just been taught, to the topic that you will cover in the next lesson.

Repeat this sequence until you have completed the course.

Examples of Flipped Learning resources to get you started

  • Podcasts – I often direct my students to iTunes as there is pretty much a podcast for anything you can imagine. Also, Audiopi has developed an extensive range of podcasts, created with GCSE and A Level students in mind. Read my post on Why Podcasts Improve Learning.
  • Video clips – As with podcasts, there are videos on everything. Youtube and Vimeo have an excellent range.
  • Books – Good old-fashioned words on pages. You can find books everywhere.
  • Market research – send students out to gather research on a topic from people they know. A simple Google Form can be created in minutes and emailed to anyone.
  • Blogs – You can find blogs on most topics, but make sure you thoroughly vet them first before directing students to them!

Nowhere in the Flipped Learning model has the teacher delivered basic-level content

Students can gather this information on their own. Obviously, don’t hand a ten-year-old an undergraduate textbook, or use a grainy video with a monotonous voice-over. The material must not only be accessible, it must also be engaging. Otherwise, students will ‘switch off’ and claim they couldn’t complete the task when in fact they just didn’t want to attempt it.

There are times where you, the teacher, as a subject-expert, needs to act “the sage on the stage”, but just not as often as previously thought. You can let go of the reins a little! Independent learning conducted frequently by the students relieves a lot of the pressure on you to deliver a high volume of content. The students are fully able to complete lower-intensity research tasks in their own time, freeing up lesson time for you to develop more advanced skills of analysis and evaluation and to deepen their understanding of key issues.

Congratulations!

You have saved time on delivering content, students have managed to do this for themselves! You have spent a higher proportion of classroom time on higher-order learning activities (see Bloom’s Taxonomy for details), challenging students to use information in a range of practical ways. Less time and energy has been spent chasing students for missed homework deadlines, as students now find homework tasks easier to do – they have fewer excuses!

But more importantly, your (previously sceptical) colleagues now want to know your secret to having more free time, happier students and higher exam results. You don’t have to “sell” Flipped Learning to them anymore!

My challenge to you

Dive in. Have a go. Try it. PLEASE! (You can thank me later!) And then use those extra hours you’ve freed up each week to have a rest.

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