Category Archives: classroom management

Praise where it’s due

For regular readers of this blog, I’m afraid this post has nothing to do with maths. Writing helps clarify thoughts and that is my main reason for doing it. If others read it and find these clarified thoughts have some resonance, that makes me happy. If you feel moved to comment on these thoughts and add your own experiences, then that is really powerful as it hopefully moves us all forward.

This post is about school-wide systems for praise and sanctions. I am not SLT, and this year I don’t have a Pastoral leadership role. The reason I am involved in this is because I am a member of a Teaching and Learning Focus group.  For the last couple of years, my school has run these groups in the directed time after school that traditionally might have been used for one-size-fits-all twilight INSETs.  At the beginning of the year, teachers self-select which group to join, each group being led by a member of SLT. There are about 6 meetings throughout the year with the idea being that a particular issue is discussed, researched and some form of action taken.  It’s a form of Action Research. From my perspective this has worked well this year.  I see this as the leadership of the school saying, “OK, we do lots of good things here, but it’s not perfect. What can we improve? And how? Work as a team, do some research, consult with other staff and come back with a proposal.”

As a team, we are now at the proposal stage.  I think it still needs some work and more consultation with staff.  We haven’t done the “hearts and minds” bit yet.  If we don’t do a good job of convincing the entire staff body that this is a good idea, the whole thing will have been a waste of time.  My school is not the sort of organisation that issues diktats from senior management, I’m glad to say.  Organisations that do rarely achieve the change they require. People may pay lip service the new initiative for a while, but if you cannot convince professional adults (i.e. teachers!) that this is something worth doing, it simply won’t happen.

So first, let’s look at our current “Praise and Concern” system. I’m going to start with “Concern” because that is the bit we are not proposing to change, but it’s important to understand the context.  As all schools do, we have a behaviour policy.  I won’t go through the detail of it here, but it basically involves warnings, detentions and removal from the classroom to a “referral room”.  Each of these “concerns” is to be recorded on SIMS by the teacher who issues the sanction.  There is a workload implication here, but it is generally viewed as something worth doing.  Recording the data centrally is important because it enables other staff (i.e. form tutor, head of year, etc.) to get an overview of issues pertaining to an individual student occurring across different subjects.  It’s particularly useful for highlighting frequent low-level transgressions which might not result in detentions but which could be impacting learning.

At the moment, the same system is used for Praise.  These are also recorded on SIMS. There are a bunch of categories and, as with Concerns, the teacher is expected to write a sentence or two of comments.  Every few weeks, a Praise and Concern report is sent to tutors. This report lists, by student, each Praise and each Concern.  How form tutors use this information varies widely, with some displaying it all in front of the form, some displaying just the praise bit, some having individual conversations and some not sharing it directly with students but just taking note of it for themselves. The raw numbers are also shared in end of term reports that go home to parents.

We feel that the main problem with this system is the idea that Praise and Concern are seen as two sides of the same coin. They are not.  Often students look at their net score (i.e. Praises minus Concerns) and I know of students who have asked for Praises to offset a certain number of Concerns. An evident issue is that it is often the students with the poorest behaviour who end up with the most praises “Well done, you’ve got your pen out, have a praise”. That sort of thing.  And the quiet ones who do what is expected of them day in, day out get ignored.  That is borne out in the data and from focus groups with students – they know what’s going on.

It is also apparent that there is a lack of consistency about how often and how many teachers issue Praise.  Some ignore it completely and use their own systems. Others use it frequently including issuing whole-class praise, which is nearly as bad as whole-class detentions in my view.

In parallel with Praise and Concern, we also have a system of housepoints.  This culminates at the end of the year with the inter-house Sports Day (still my favourite day of the year!).  Lots of points are awarded on Sports Day but these add to points collected throughout the year by individual students.  Housepoints are more personal to students.  They write them in their planners when they are awarded and each term the form tutor “collects” them and enters them into a central system.  Our hypothesis is that because students write the reason for the Housepoint in their planner and then keep a record of them, these are more meaningful and motivating.  From focus groups with students we believe that this is true for lower years (Year 7-8) but house points are less valued by older students (Year 10 up).

In looking for something better, we have reviewed educational research on the role of praise in teaching.  We were looking at the role of extrinsic rewards impacting on intrinsic motivation (here and here), and on how to make praise “purposeful” (here).  We defined purposeful praise as praise which would motivate a love of learning and challenge our students.

This is closely linked to ideas of growth mindset.  How, when and what praise is given for can impact on a students’ mindset but it’s a highly complex picture and difficult to draw general conclusions to apply in the classroom.

However, among our group there was a fairly close consensus on the following:

  • We should praise the process and the effort observed in the moment, not the individual.
  • Extrinsic rewards (e.g. stickers, housepoints, postcards home, etc.) have a place but need to be valued by students and need to be issued for something specific, for going “above and beyond”
  • Narrative, personal feedback given to students is more likely to motivate and challenge them than extrinsic reward
  • We need to be more fair and notice and acknowledge those who are quietly engaged in the struggle of learning.
  • The current housepoint system should be relaunched but there should be no attempt to track students’ individual scores.  You are collecting them for your house!
  • Centrally collecting data on praise issued is not valuable (although collecting it on Concerns is).

I would be really interested to hear from any others on their perspectives.  How do the praise and sanctions systems sit together in your school? What do you do that works particularly effectively?  Either comment below, or get in touch by e-mail (

Eyes down for a full house!

Bingo is one of those simple ideas that works so well for certain topics so I thought I’d collate some resources.  I recently went to a parents social at my son’s school where we spent 2 hours playing “Rock ‘n’ Roll bingo” (whilst eating Fish and Chips and drinking beer). OK, so maybe Maths bingo isn’t quite as much fun as trying to spot 80s song titles, but it did inspire me to have a go as it is something I haven’t done much of lately.

It’s a format that works well for topics that students are familiar with but which need more practice.  They need to be able to get 90% plus of the questions correct first time and in about the same amount of time across the room.  Use it as a revision aid but not the first time you introduce a new topic.  It’s likely to get loud, so save it for the end of lessons, maybe those Friday afternoon lessons…

Here are some tips for how to run sessions:

  1. Bingo cards.  Some resources come with bingo cards to print out.  This is good for longer games – say 20-25 minutes, maybe as an end-of-term “treat”. However, some resources are designed to do as “quick bingo” by putting up, say 16 answers on the board and then getting students to make their own cards by choosing a random 9.  Make sure they write these in pen and that everyone has all 9 clearly written down before starting. No cheating!
  2. Keeping track and checking. Some of these resources have answers provided, but I think it is better if you do the questions as you go along, just write them down on a scrap of paper as you go and use this to check once a claimant has called out. Do make sure you check answers carefully.  It doesn’t matter if it takes a minute or two, it adds to the suspense!  As soon as kids get an inkling that you are not checking carefully they WILL cheat!
  3. Prizes.  I have a natural aversion to extrinsic motivation, but hey, a prize just makes it more fun, no matter how cheap or naff! If you are using a bigger bingo card with, say 20 answers then you can also offer line prizes, i.e. a prize to whoever gets the first line, maybe a sticker.
  4. Ham it up! OK, this is very much down to your personal style and relationship with the class but have some fun with it! Live your dream of being a gameshow host. Pretend like these prizes are the most exciting thing anyone has ever won!


Here are some Bingo resources which cover a decent range of topics.  There are various Powerpoint resources on TES too, but I like these sites because they are simple and don’t require log-ins.

1. Interactive Maths

There are lots of topics on this site and various options for displaying random-generated questions.  Many of the topics include bingo options, here is an example:

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Once you are in, there are further options to cover exactly what type of questions you want to display, and whether you want a 4×4 or 3×3 bingo grid. You then display all the answers for your students to randomly pick 9 or 16 from.  I really like the way it gives you the option to keep track of the answers as you go which makes checking at the end a whole lot easier!

2. Maths Starters

There are lots of topics on this site, handily listed in menus. Students make their own cards by choosing 9 out of 16.

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3. WMNet

There are lots of basic number topics in this collection with an emphasis on place value. Students choose 5 out of 12.

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4. Mathsbox

There are some provided for free on which are designed to have the bingo cards printed out. I’ve used the Simplifying Surds ones which worked very well. Each topic contains 30 questions, 16 per card so take about 15 minutes. Presumably if your school pays the £60 annual subscription you get a lot more topics.

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Highly effective AfL using Diagnostic Questions with Plickers

*I originally posted this on May 9th but have updated it on May 17th having had some further ideas on how to work with Plickers*

My school is doing an informal trial of Plickers at the moment. Plickers is an AfL tool in which students hold up cards to answer multiple choice questions.  There are 4 options A,B,C,D depending on the orientation of the card.  You then use your mobile phone to scan the class.  It looks something like this (image is from Plickers web-site, not my class!)

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 21.28.05.pngThe phone scans and detects the cards and the results are collected and displayed on your phone as well as stored on the website for you to review later.

When a colleague described this to me, my first thought was that this could work really well with Craig Barton’s fantastic site Diagnostic Questions, which all have 4 options for answers.

As with any technology in the classroom you have to ask yourself the question, “Why bother, is it any better than the low tech solution?” In this case, that has always been a set of ABCD cards which the students hold up as the question is displayed.

Plickers has a significant benefit over holding up ABCD cards for the simple reason that students cannot look round and see what other students are showing and just copy them. This is a real problem. Sometimes it can be addressed by doing a countdown “3,2,1 Show me!”.  But it’s a problem that Plickers nails completely.  The cards are unique to students and the letters are deliberately printed very small on the front of the cards so students can’t glean anything from looking around the room.

Screenshot_2016-04-15-06-02-52.pngAs you scan the room with your phone, you get the results appearing on your phone looking something like this.

This is the best bit. You can instantly see how many are getting it right (12 in this case) and you can see significant misconceptions (B in this case). You can chose who to question based on whether they got it right or wrong. I tend to say something like “Lots of people chose B which is not the right answer. Clara, do you have any idea where they might have gone wrong?” They know if they got it right, you know, but they don’t know about each others’ answers. What I would like added here is a random name pickers, a bit like the Classtools Random Name Picker which I have used for years.

The scanning functionality is impressive in that it can detect cards right at the back of the class, however the first time I used it I found that not all cards were scanned. I walked across the room effectively sweeping the students’ cards. This was fine and only took a 30 seconds or so, but my phone was still failing to detect some cards. Since then I have tried again and had better results.  I think the main problem is when students have their fingers close to the pattern. Sticking the cards in the back of exercise books should help here.  Even if you don’t scan every single card, it is still worth it for the quality of discussions you can have with the class as you work through the questions.

Sounds good, how do I set it up?

It’s pretty straight forward to set up classes by just copying and pasting your class list into the “Roster”. It is designed so that you can write questions directly onto the site or even on the fly.  However, that is likely to be fairly limiting as it doesn’t even support sub/super-script at the moment, so it’s going to be much more efficient to pull questions in from elsewhere.  And what better source for multiple choice than Diagnostic Questions (DQ)?  There are 2 ways to do this:

1, Import the questions into Plickers

There is no actual integration between the two services which would be nice because then you could just run quizzes that are already set up in DQ.  The next best thing is to take the question from DQ as an image and then upload that to the question in Plickers.  You can also tell Plickers the correct answer. You don’t have to do this, but it’s useful because then you get the green / red colour coding as the answers come in. It also means you can more easily analyse the data later if you need that level of assessment.

First, find the question you want in DQ, click on it to make it big, then right click to Save image as…


I saved all the questions I wanted in a folder somewhere and called them 1.jpg, 2.jpg, etc. so it was quick and made the next step easier.  Then go over to Plickers, go the class you want and click +New Question and then Add Image.  Tell it the answer (if you want) and that’s it.  You need to Add the Question to the Queue just before class.

2, Display Diagnostic Questions and have Plickers running in the background.

The alternative is to create a quiz on Diagnostic Questions and display the questions from there.  Be sure to click this symbol Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 20.49.57at the bottom so you don’t actually have to answer them on the computer as you go. Again, if you want you can tell Plickers the answers. The easiest way I’ve found to do that is to go to Insights on Diagnostic Questions and scribble down the correct answers.screen-shot-2016-04-17-at-18-51-24Then go to Plickers and create a bunch of New Questions.  Just put the question number where it says “Add question text here…” and then tick the right answer.  Do it in reverse order as it puts the newest questions at the top.

It would be nice if there was a more seamless integration between the two sites.  Both options are a bit clunky, but don’t take more than a few minutes to do.

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The only other thing you need to prep is to print the pdf of the cards themselves and cut them up.  Don’t make the mistake I make first time which was to trim them too small so the pupils couldn’t hold the cards without obscuring the pattern. Leave a border for fingers.

Then how do I use it in class?

First you need to hand out the cards to the students.  The quickest way I have found to do this is to log on to Plickers, click on Classes and show them this screen.

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The students find their own names and you have the stack of cards from 1 to 30 and you go round the class calling out the numbers handing them out.  The first time, this takes a while but it should be quicker second time if you take in the cards in the order in which they sit. An alternative which I have done is to get students to stick the cards on the back of their exercise books so they hold these up.

Then click Live View.

If you are using Option 1 then you control everything from your phone.  Which is nice because you can face the class.

If you are using Option 2, leave Plickers running in the background and launch another window for Diagnostic Questions.

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Click the little Slideshow button at the bottom before you start the quiz so you don’t have to input answers into each question on the website.

Then you are effectively controlling Plickers on your phone and Diagnostic Questions on the computer.

If you want at the end you can go back to Plickers to display results but I think one of the real benefits of a system like this is anonymity and the fact that student responses cannot be attributed to them by other students.

So this is how I have been using it so far and I’m looking forward to continuing with it this term. If you have experiences or tips for using this or other AfL tools, please do share them in the comments below.




Ways of Working

Something that has never come naturally to me in the classroom is establishing and following routines. I’m not drawn to following routines myself. Before I was a teacher my work had very few routines in it.  But I’ve seen how effective routines can be in developing good classroom management at all ages. So it’s something I know I need to work at.

Whilst there are lots of brilliant and inspiring ideas out there, a few of which I have tried, I think coming up with your own ideas in this area means they are more likely to stick and become, well, routine.  So here’s something I’m going to introduce from next term.

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WoW 1

The one person talking could be the teacher, or another student.  You should be actively listening and thinking about what they are saying and what it means.  It is simple – if someone else is talking and you then start talking over them, it’s highly disrespectful, even if it is about the work.

WoW 2

There will be something specific that I want you to discuss and I’ll tell you how long you have to discuss it. Make sure everyone gets a say and that you don’t chat about irrelevant stuff that doesn’t help your learning.


Sometimes all we need is a little nudge in the right direction.  See if you can help each other before asking the teacher. It needs to be quiet enough so that everyone else can concentrate on their own work, so use a whisper if you need to discuss something.


There will be a specific reason why I want to be sure that this is your own work, e.g. during a rest or a piece of work I want to mark to assess your understanding.