Monday, April 16, 2007

Lifehacks for teachers

We teachers are rubbish at sharing ideas. We largely exist in splendid isolation in our classrooms, only mixing with our peers for 'observed lessons' which are fraught, tense occasions as they are usually associated with appraisal or OFSTED. When we do have 'sharing of good practice' INSETs, everyone either wheels out really big ideas that intimidate the hell out of everyone else, or coyly refuse to take part.

It's virtually impossible to share the tiny little tips, ideas and personal lessons we've learned over the years, ideas which help us stay the right side of the line between thriving and surviving.

On the Net, however, there is a home for everything. I have recently discovered the phenomenon of life hack blogs, which seem to be places where IT professionals hold long and detailed discussions on the methods they use to avoid wasting time.

The mother ship seems to be here but my favourite so far is 43 folders. Broadly speaking, the focus on these sites seems to be professionals working on computer-based projects who have a reasonable amount of control over their time.

In contrast, teachers have ruthlessly regimented days, but their weeks follow a highly personal ebb and flow shaped by a timetable which reboots every September. They have 'pots' of free time which can be removed at almost no notice by either a cover lesson or a serious incident which demands immediate attention. But most perversely of all, despite their profoundly structured life, they are completely at the whim of the students, who can constantly and without any warning demand attention; and unlike adult co-workers, you usually can't ask them to make an appointment to see you at a time more suitable for you.

So I am inaugurating a search for teaching life hacks. Any subject - teaching, classroom management, time management, stress management...

To start, here are some things I've picked up from reading the notes on my colleagues' desks.

1) Make small paper slips with the names of everyone in a class. Stick a paper pocket onto the bottom of your register to store them. When asking questions of a class, use the slips to select who will answer each question so the class can see you are making sure everyone gets a turn to answer.

2) When you do the register, ask each student a simple question (e.g. a spelling) after their name.

3) When you say to a class 'You have three minutes to do this brainstorm' use an egg timer. (In fact you can buy egg timers for this purpose but I don't know where from.)

4) If you are using a projected version of a handout you made in MS Word, put the answers in, colour them white and then when you go through them, highlight them with the mouse to reveal them (and then change them back to black.)

5) Instead of writing a 'L' or similar in your mark book when a student is late, write down the number of minutes they are late. It's much more helpful when confronting a student with the problem.

6) Every year most teachers get given a new mark book. And most schools have electronic data stored somewhere, with lists of all students. Yet most teachers spend time copying name lists into their mark books at the beginning of the year! If you are IT literate and want to be benevolent, it's worth investing half an hour or so, copying and pasting the list of names into a spreadsheet. Then experiment with the Row Height setting until you can match the list of names with the lines in the mark book. Then print it out and stick it in. If you can knock up a brief handout explaining the crucial settings, and disseminate it among your colleagues, I promise you'll be appreciated far and wide; people who never normally talk to you will come up to you on the corridor and thank you. Our mark books are 17 on MS Excel; worth a try as a starting point.

7) And finally, I always teach better when I listen to Broadway musicals on the way to work, rather than Radio 4.

Any more for any more?


Anonymous said...

heres a flash timer you can download for free ... not mine but hey it works ...

Rachella said...

I love the idea of the paper slips. I'm going to try that. It's also a good way to quickly remember all the student's names. -- of course that's assuming that everyone comes to class.

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