Christmas and New Year are already over in a blur and no doubt you are back in the classroom seeing friends and family’s resolutions taking up your newsfeed or inbox. It’s easy to fall back into the usual teaching rhythm… After all, it’s what we’ve always done. Might it be the perfect moment to take stock and strive to be better? This year, we’d like to suggest some teaching resolutions for a new year, new classroom, new you and ones that will improve engagement and interest year-round for your students. So buckle in, It’s time to become a truly 21st century teacher this year!
- Start Fresh
After the holidays, everyone is dragging their feet upon their return to work or school so instead of picking up right where you left off, use them as a springboard for starting afresh. Try new approaches in the classroom, whether that’s standing desks, incorporating games or the layout of your lesson plan to get your learners’ attention. For example, you could incorporate a quickfire question and answer session to boost engagement.
If you know you have challenging content to cover this term, encourage students to go full steam ahead with positive phrases and quelling their fears. Once they delve in, they’ll forget about everything else and get down to working on their next challenge.
A good teacher knows when to use their resources and with a plethora of teaching software available, if you aren’t already, you need to. From keeping track of student progress and grades to making easy, online quizzes it can save you time and energy, that can be better spent moulding young minds with killer content.
- Use A Virtual Learning Environment
On the subject of technology, virtual learning software for teachers is on the rise which allows greater flexibility in the classroom and beyond. No student learns the same and they shouldn’t have to. A virtual learning environment allows teachers to set tasks or training and teach remotely to compliment classroom learning for a greater chance of reaching your students. This modernization will drastically change the way you teach, for the better!
- Find Your Community
Teaching children can take a village so get rid of all the white noise in your inbox or newsfeed and keep what matters. Whether that means unsubscribing or deregistering yourself from unhelpful mailing lists, get rid of the junk. Joining groups on LinkedIn, Facebook or Edutopia, whatever your platform, find a community you can engage and bounce ideas off, they’ll inspire you (and keep you going.)
- Forge Student Understanding
Show an interest in your students this term and get to know them better. Often, you will find an element in their lives you can use to encourage or motivate them or an explanation on how they behave. It can also be a strong indicator of the type of learner they are and how classroom or virtual learning environments suit them best at different times. This will allow you to divide into groups more effectively, plan classroom tasks and generate a level of respect that breeds in a classroom environment to their peers.
- Teach Yourself
It’s time to do something for you. Find a subject, topic, crash course or podcast that re-ignites your passion for teaching and you’ll find your students respond. If you can find something that gives you extra qualifications or credentials then jump on the opportunity, what’s better than an inspired teacher to learn from?
- Get students to set goals that are in depth and SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time sensitive) to outline their aspirations this year.
- Introduce students to a virtual learning environment to gauge compatibility.
Incorporate these teaching practices for 2018 and you’ll be beating those post-holiday blues in no time. Make it your aim this year to modernize and inspire, both yourself and your learners, to make 2018 an amazing year.
The closer we get to Christmas, the less motivated students become as they start to get distracted by the holidays, their plans and switch off their brains. This makes it particularly hard for teachers to plan engaging lessons that actually teach anything because the focus just isn’t there. With that in mind we have come up with some pre-holiday classroom activities and ideas to motivate and encourage your learners’ participation until the final day of term.
Acknowledge The Holidays
Many teachers feel that if they create an area that doesn’t acknowledge the holidays then it will feel like every day work, however this isn’t the case and often has the opposite effect by creating FOMO in students. While you shouldn’t feel too much pressure to create massive lighting designs for your classroom, some decorations or mementos go a long way to acknowledging the time of year and showing that you can incorporate this into your learning.
Go Festive But Relevant
Don’t fall into the trap of making all the tasks Christmas activities for students for the sake of it. While incorporating the holiday and time of year can make content more interesting you need to ensure it is still relevant to your curriculum, for example if you’re working on script writing, set the task of writing a winning Christmas movie script so that the underlying work is still going towards the end goals once the Christmas period is over.
Keep Resources To A Minimum
Choose activities that use fewer resources that make ending the task simple and easy because pre-holiday classroom activities that require a lot of time and effort to get involved are doomed to fail. Plus, the more resources that need to be closed or put away, the longer you will be staying in the classroom rather than wrapping up and getting home in time to enjoy your holidays!
It can be hard to pre-plan for the holidays because classes and students behave differently so you may find that different activities suit some and not others. Have a selection of choices and let the students decide what they are “in the mood for” which makes a change from normal operating procedure but still keeps everyone on track.
Holiday activities for students that are popular are those that require collaboration and working in groups. At this time of year, learners want to be social so use this to your advantage by keeping morale and interest high and making content physical and practical rather than academic. If you know focus is low, choose groups that draw different learner types to use each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you can’t drum up the enthusiasm to teach students this close to the holidays (particularly on the last day of term) pre-prep instead. This could be outlining what you will be looking at or working on in the New Year so that students can keep it in the back of their mind over Christmas or setting new expectations. Getting learners to look to the future makes them see past the holiday slump to consider where they will be taking projects next which can often boost motivation and excitement, particularly if you entice them with fun activities or tasks to look forward to.
Even if you have work that needs to be done before the end of term, set your expectations, acknowledge the holidays and use some of these tips to boost engagement and push through.
Over the last few decades we have seen our world and our human experience rapidly transform thanks to technology. This unstoppable shift to ‘digital’ comes with some threats, from hacking to data security. Whilst increasing technology in the classroom comes with many benefits, from online teaching software to virtual learning environments for teachers, just like any change, it also brings some risks.
There is little we can do to completely stop the downsides, as they simply come inherently with many of the benefits, However, we can work to better understand them as teachers, and hence minimise their negative effects.
Here are just a few ways that teachers can better understand and adapt to the importance of technology in education:
- Keeping up with new tech and new skills:
Rapid technological change increases the need for consistent professional development, as new skills need to be learnt and new jobs need to be filled. However, the inertia of many institutions (especially large and traditional colleges and universities) against change keeps them from being able to keep up.
Many of the measures taken (such as ‘technology policies’, ‘teacher growth plans’, and ‘department restructuring’) are ineffective and don’t create the rate of change necessary. This means the change must really start on a classroom-to-classroom basis, with each teacher personally adjusting the way they teach. This takes a lot of effort on each teachers’ part, because they have to be educated in new skills before passing that knowledge on. This is why true top-down professional development is the way forward for many institutions.
- Finding the perfect balance:
All change creates a false dichotomy between traditionalists, who stick to tried-and-tested ways, and progressives, who pick up on new methods despite a lack of proof of their efficacy. This is never more so than with technology.
Both sides have their fair arguments, however as society progresses so too must the way we teach. So surely the best way of moving forward in education is by having a clever balance between tradition and progress. In these situations is it pertinent to ask ourselves ‘How can we use technology in the classroom in a planned and consistent way?’
- Technology costs, so how can we make it affordable?
With changing classrooms comes increasing overhead costs – both financial and intellectual.
From a financial point of view, the only way that educational institutions will be able to afford the capital investment that technology requires is through ongoing planning and preparation for it. This can either come from cutting back from other areas, although why risk being understaffed, or reaching out to external means, through part privatisation or ‘academisation’ (turning into academies), which is also something many schools and parents don’t really want.
From the intellectual point of view, educators are increasingly required to be many things: experts in teaching, technology experts, pioneering early adopters, and finally, master managers of the entire process. Surely that is too much for one teacher!
Ultimately the only thing that can help alleviate both these costs will be increased funding and support from the government.
- Function > Form
Technology is always aging and fragmenting across hardware generations (for example, iPhone 7 vs. 8 vs. X). Whilst this can be frustrating, it isn’t always a bad thing either.
If technology were the same across the board, just as notepads and pens are, then they’d become just as ubiquitous as notepads and pens are. But technology remains first a consumer industry, so its evolution isn’t going to slow down or homogenise anytime soon – at least not whilst there are crowds of people queuing to buy the latest version!
However this ever-changing landscape, whilst disorientating, should encourage a re-focus on the learner: such rapid progress and change can have the effect of de-emphasizing technology entirely, so instead of focusing on ‘what’ and ‘which’, we can focus more on ‘why’ and ‘how’.
- Change requires our best thinking
Just like all times of change, this one requires a clever approach and collective good thinking. This involves avoiding jumping to conclusions, or drawing erratic extrapolations on too little data, or expanding biases, or refusing to consider alternative solutions.
Rapid change, and in particular rapid technological change, creates constantly new circumstances – which require a smart approach to ensure that the technology is serving us and not the other way around.
Also check out our article: Is Digital Technology Changing Learning And Teaching?
With the holidays ending and students returning to school, college or university, they are likely to feel at least partially uninspired and unmotivated to learn in a classroom context again. That’s why it’s important to get students excited straight away, after a long holiday, as it will be much more difficult to do so later. This is true for any school break, whether that be half term, winter break and particular the summer holidays. There are many post-holiday classroom activities that will help your students feel inspired again and, with strategic planning and a plenty of creativity, you can ensure that holidays never upset your curriculum or students’ focus.
Here are a few tried and tested strategies to re-engage students to get you started:
- Creative filming prompts
Getting students writing again is vital; a creative and calm activity like this can get your overly energetic students back into the work. But don’t forget to make it relevant and creative – and have fun with it yourself, that’ll be infectious to the students!
If you are teaching a new cohort of pupils, this can also be a great way for you to learn what they are like, and the general dynamics in the group. For example, asking your students to really detail what they were most grateful for over the break, or to create a stylistic film montage of the images conjured up over their summer break. This can be a challenging enough task to both engage their minds and for you to get a general sense of what each student is like, and how they interact with each other.
- Start with a Clean Slate
If you are teaching the same cohort as before, then make sure any big projects were all wrapped up before the break. This is a new start for students and hence it should feel like a new start in class too, clean the slate and your students won’t feel as if they are just back to the same work as before. Also it takes time and effort revising material to continue a project from before – wasted time and effort.
- Ease into Learning
But let’s not get stuck into the notion that holidays are just a break from learning entirely, a time completely unrelated to school. Instead, let’s think of holidays as an opportunity for learners (and educators) to recharge their batteries and catch their breath. As such, it’s always tempting to go full on straight away. But students should return feeling refreshed, and therefore it’s essential that you ease them into the next phase of learning.
- Change things up?
As you are beginning new content, begin thinking outside of the box too. More of the same can damage motivation and decrease student enthusiasm, but clever new projects keep students on their toes and fend off fatigue and boredom. It’s obvious, but a great time to change is when the slate is clean.
Check out these creative teaching projects for some ideas on how to do this! Also, look to your own interests for inspiration. Consider projects with real-world applications that students will easily understand.
- Keep goals short-term
This is closely related to ‘ease into learning’; don’t go straight in with setting year-long (or even term-long) goals, that just makes going back to school/university daunting and decreases their excitement and motivation for learning. Instead set short-term goals to begin with, which will soon build into longer goals and a mutual understanding of expected year-long achievement.
- Have fun
As referenced before, make sure you enter your first lessons energised, excited and full of creative energy. This will inspire the same in your students. They’ll quickly scent if you dislike going back to school as much as some of them, so instead convince them to be excited about the new year by being excited yourself – lead by example!
If anything, during the past twenty years, teachers have tried and failed to stop pupils bringing their phones to school, but the tech tide is turning. Even early years classrooms are kitted out with laptops and tablets for toddlers. Not long ago, schools started providing pupils with laptops and tablets they could take home; now pupils can bring their own to school. So how can we maximise the benefits of Bring Your Own Device’ education?
Reduce distraction, improve focus
The risk of using laptops or tablets in class- whether they were brought in by the student or provided by the school- is how much of a distraction they can prove to be. The internet is full of wonders like YouTube, Facebook and Reddit that are time-sinks for students and professionals alike. Before you introduce BYOD in classrooms, make sure that you’re prepared for this by blocking access to certain websites or Apps that are more trouble in the classroom than they’re worth. Yes- even if it means that you can’t go on Facebook during class! We know full well that you do…
Make your classes interactive and media-driven
If your school is truly intent on making BYOD a success, one way of taking advantage of this is to move away from old fashioned lectures and tests. BYOD in schools gives you the opportunity to tailor your classes to every student by making them interactive and media driven, so that they can follow along and learn at their own pace. For younger children, media in class can help their imaginations run riot, and it keeps older children engaged through self-managed learning too. Using a VLE, Prezi or similar is a great way to achieve this and avoid a ‘one speed fits all’ approach.
Encourage pupils to do their own research
With the whole Web at their fingertips, you can set your pupils assignments in class that they can research for themselves. Not only does this teach learners to study and research on their own, which is great preparation for higher education, but it gives them the opportunity to personalise their learning. Let’s say that as a History teacher, you ask each pupil to research something interesting about the Roman Empire: maybe one thinks that gladiators were cool (and they were!), but maybe another is more interested in the frankly excessive Roman pantheon of gods. BYOD can let each pupil learn about what they want individually and then share with rest of the group.
Picture a student working on some quadratic equations in class. Now, it would be easy (and definitely very tempting) for them to simply look up the answer on the internet. Imagine that they do, and they get full marks for their assignment: well, what have they gained? Nothing. A more old-fashioned example might be using a calculator instead of figuring it out for yourself.
What teachers provide is understanding. By far the most important thing in Maths is to understand the underlying mechanism of a formula or function, and this is where a human teacher runs rings around a computer. When you don’t understand something, it’s difficult to put it into words, so teachers are often faced with questions like: ‘But why does… This… Do… That… Instead of… I don’t know!’
A teacher might understand that pupil’s struggle, but Siri definitely wouldn’t. A virtual learning environment is useless without a teacher to guide pupils through it.
Teachers play a guiding role
Everybody knows you can find almost any answer to any question on the internet. But sites like Wikipedia are a great example of how, sometimes, untruths and errors can be presented as fact. Perhaps even more importantly, the internet is so full of information that it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and understand what we need to know and what isn’t so important.
We need teachers to guide pupils to understand how to use sources, and how to tell something useful from something less relevant. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to get lost in white noise.
Teaching is more than just informing pupils of facts
In the olden-days, pupils used to learn by rote. Slowly but surely over the last thirty or forty years, we concluded that that was suboptimal approach. But in a classroom without teachers, we put ourselves at risk of falling back on an inhuman, learning-by-numbers system of learning.
Teaching is more than learning facts, and teachers are more than teachers: they’re people. Take teachers out of the classroom and we lose the human side of learning. Almost everyone has great memories of school: old friends, fun times and inspiring teachers. Who would want to take that away?
In an impoverished community of the Mojave Desert, New Mexico is Black Rock High, a continuation school for students aged 16 or older who are at risk of never graduating. Unlike more traditional US schools, Black Rock believes that by putting stronger emphasis on life skills, they can turn the lives of at-risk kids around. The Bad Kids is a documentary that follows the inspiring teachers at Black Rock High and the students they strive to help.
The film primarily follows three students: Lee Bridges, a student who struggles to support the son he shares with a fellow classmate; Jennifer Coffield, a teenage girl who has never found support from her family; and Joey McGee, a student who struggles with issues of drug abuse and home-life instability. At the heart of the school and the students’ journeys is principal Vonda Viland who dedicates her life to ensuring her students set off on the right path. The students who attend Black Rock High have often lived through childhoods filled with abuse, neglect, poverty, substance abuse and problems with the law. It’s the teachers’ incredible empathy that shines through the documentary as they approach their work with dedication and patience.
Vonda, the school’s principal, goes above and beyond her job description, calling her students who are at particular risk to not attend class to give them the extra nudge they need to get out of bed in the morning. As we watch Vonda mentor and counsel the three students at the heart of the film, we realise just how far her compassion, patience and dedication reaches. Her counselling sessions are often juxtaposed with the unjust home lives Lee, Jennifer and Joey face. In one particular scene, Vonda shares her own experiences to help Jennifer understand she needs to rise above the harmful opinions her father voices about her academic achievements. It’s through this sharing that Vonda is able to create a bond with her students and help them feel understood. The supportive and nurturing community at Black Rock High fosters an environment in which students feel comfortable confiding in teachers, peers or even the film crew.
Despite the teachers’ dedication to the students and the nurturing environment Black Rock High manages to create, not all three kids make it to graduation. The documentary is an honest look into how, no matter how dedicated an educator may be, it isn’t always possible to provide a solution for external struggles. The documentary and the inspiring teachers at Black Rock High also help provide a lesson for all educators.
Schools have many ‘invisible’ at-risk kids who choose to not speak up about their problems and The Bad Kids shows its audience how to pick up warning signs for students who may be in danger. The teachers at Black Rock High prove that amazing feats can be achieved with limited resources, and it’s this message which is most striking throughout the film. As one of the film’s directors puts it, ‘It doesn’t cost anything to listen to a student,’ and sometimes that makes all the difference.
150 years ago, a classroom was set up as so: a teacher stood at the front, normally writing on a blackboard, and lectured to a captive, passive classroom who were expected to be silent and attentive. Despite a massive technological and societal change since then, this paradigm in the classroom, in many cases, hasn’t changed nearly as quickly.
Even in 2017, there are millions of students still sitting passively being lectured to and studies show that it doesn’t work. This isn’t the only way to teach, however, and there is a growing movement in teaching practice to adopt 21st Century teaching ideas.
What are these ideas though, how can you measure how deeply they are already incorporated in your classroom, and where can you still improve?
Knowing, understanding and using technology in the classroom is essential today. Student’s lives are filled with tech, from the moment they wake up they are on their smartphones, and it’s likely the last thing they’ll see before they sleep as well. Modern students are plugged in, and to better understand how they learn, and to be able to connect with them, you need to be plugged in too.
Bring tech into your classroom, and let your students learn actively, the way that they’ve grown up with. Things like smart-boards and virtual learning environments are key parts of a modern classroom, and allow teachers and students to work in the same space, rather than being divided.
Teaching isn’t just about data any more. The influx of the internet and tech means that you are no longer just imparting knowledge to your students. They can find out anything they want, anytime, from anywhere. What you instead need to focus on is helping them engage with this vast amount of knowledge in a constructive way.
Critical Thinking is one of the most important skills a young mind can be taught to have in this day and age, as is the ability to analyse what parts of information are useful and why. Your role as a teacher in the 21st Century is to help give them the life skills they’ll need in our rapidly advancing world.
Encouraging collaboration is an increasingly important compnent of modern learning. The individualism that once dominated the theories of learning is slowly giving way to the realisation that students and teachers work better when they’re working together.
Collaborative projects will almost always be better than ones tackled alone, and showing your students that can be incredibly valuable. In a world where society is changing, but its divides are deeper than ever, every experience that they’re better off working together rather than against one other is priceless lesson.
Just as they are students of life, so are you, and acknowledging that and learning from your classes as your students learn from you, can teach you lessons you’ll never find anywhere else.
Adaptability is a hallmark of any good educator in the 21st century. The ability to stay flexible and amenable to change in a world that’s advancing faster than ever before will ensure you continue to be a positive influence in your student’s lives.
This, like anything, will require work, but when a teacher is knowledgeable and sensitive to issues that matter to their students, it can nurture a respect that otherwise might never exist.
Being forward looking, at the end of the day, is perhaps the most important part of the equation here. Not only for yourself, but for your students too. Recognise that they are a generation that faces many uphill battles once they are out into the world, including economic stagnation, high unemployment and salaries that are no longer keeping up with cost of living.
Try to set your students up to be armed with the skills and knowledge they can actually use in the world they will live in, and you’ll have given them something they’ll always be thankful for.
Hopefully these ideas have helped you, but we know that the reality of a classroom is different from the ideal one. To that end, and to better understand that reality, we have a short survey that we’ve put together to see just how technology is being used in the
All teachers know that one of the hardest things to do is getting your students re-motivated after a big break. If three day weekends weren’t hard enough – a big break like the winter holiday can often seem to take away any hope of students reengaging in their studies. Luckily, it’s not impossible to get students back on track and it can be made easier with some creativity on your part.
Having your students come in, sit at their tables, and get straight back to the grind does nothing for them and can often cause behaviour or attention problems. Our brain constantly receives large amounts information. To counteract this, it puts a filter on incoming sensory information. It then gives priority to information that is out of the ordinary, or: new.
The first thing your students want to do when they get back is talk with their friends about everything they’ve been up to. Their brains are attracted to new things right? So it’s no wonder that seeing their friends after so long and having so many new stories to tell is at the forefront of their thoughts. Use this to your advantage. Spend a period allowing students to speak about their holidays with creative restrictions. For example, let them share stories from their break but they must also talk about a kind act that they saw or performed.
In order for a learning environment to function properly, the students must not only be listening to what you say but also retaining the information given. You need their full attention. As neurologist Judy Willis states, “you can use strategies to make sure the sensory information you provide (through what you say, show, do, or have them experience through physical movement) gets through their attention filters.” Here is where the creativity on your part comes in. Things need to be different in the classroom to hit that hot button in the brain that says things are new and exciting. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started. They may seem simple but science says they work.
Physically change things around. Why not reorganise the classroom over the break so that students come back to something completely different? Perhaps have exciting new posters or pictures on the wall pertaining to the unit or activity they are about to begin. Place hints around the classroom that have to do with the new unit, but don’t address them so students are left wondering.
Verbal cues for attention. The brain is naturally drawn to things that are unknown or curious. Leaving a mid-sentence pause followed by important information is a great way to tune every brain in the room into what you’re about to say. As an added bonus, it can increase the likelihood that the brain will retain the memory of what you say or do after the pause.
Changes in movement. Take something ordinary like writing a lesson plan on the board and do something unique with it. Judy Willis suggests walking backwards to get their attention. Another suggestion is having a few students each write part of the lesson plan. Just make sure the usual routine is turned on its head for a new and exciting stimulus.
Rotate. A great way to really shake things up is to change the seating arrangement. To make things a bit more interesting, why not hand out a riddle or a joke at the door and have the answer sitting on the desk. Make them look and wonder which desk is theirs.
Lookbooks are a tool that both professional and amateur directors use to bring their films to life. They’re visual planning tools – and can contain anything from images to character sketches, location ideas to different colours and textures. For students, lookbooks can be a great way for them to contextualise their thoughts, unblock their creativity, and discover what genre and tone their prospective films belong to. Lookbooks can also be created from already existing films – this is an easy way to deconstruct movies and explore motifs.
Creating lookbooks also enables students who are working together to get on the same page. The great thing about this exercise is that the scope is up to you. This is a project that can be completed in one class. Students can be encouraged to look up photographs and paintings, and to take screengrabs from movie trailers or TV clips.
Planning projects is something that a lot of people struggle with. We prefer to jump straight into creative endeavours. A lot of the planning methods that students are used to, such as spider diagrams and beginning-middle-end structuring don’t fuel their imagination. They bring back memories of struggling to write stories in English class. The great thing about lookbooks is that you can point to big time directors who used them to create their films. Often, these lookbooks are published and are available online. When students see that this is a tool used by the pros, they will respect it and want to emulate them.
Lookbooks can be part of teaching your students how to pitch their projects. Modern pitching is less about “being good in the room” – today, pitches are far more multimedia-based, where the image is king. Teaching your class about the foundations of pitching will follow them all the way to their first professional projects. Your students will remember the first time someone guided their thoughts into structured planning, the time when they stood in front of their class a little nervous but excited, and prospered.
- Describe the concept of a lookbook and show your students an example of what one might contain. Point out how real working directors use this process to address any worries that this is just another grade-school-level planning method.
- Set your class the task of creating a lookbook from scratch or deconstructing one of their favourite films into a series of images, moods, colours, and so on. This can be done in class or for homework – as single or group work.
- Have students upload their work to a shared space and encourage feedback from everyone. Perhaps explain the concept of a criticism sandwich – positive feedback, constructive feedback, positive feedback.
- Finally, use this exercise as part of the planning, and creating, of structured short films.