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The quick Q&A: How to ensure all your pupils work equally hard in your lessons

In the first of a new weekly series, Mark Roberts tackles the issue of students working hard for other teachers, but not for you

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In the first of a new weekly series, Mark Roberts tackles the issue of students working hard for other teachers, but not for you

What’s the problem? 

Pupils that complete loads of work for one teacher, but miniscule amounts for others. 

Sounds like a behaviour issue…

Not really. We’re not talking active disruption of lessons, rather those who coast by without expending much energy.

Maybe they’re struggling with the work?

No. You’ve explained, checked, scaffolded and differentiated to the point of insanity. 

So, what are the symptoms of genuine low productivity?

Some might avoid extended writing. Some might solve the easier maths problems, but duck out when things get trickier. Some might be procrastinators, doodlers or daydreamers.

Isn’t it just that they prefer some lessons to others?

Not necessarily. Certain teachers manage to squeeze much more out of these kids, whether or not they’re "engaged" by the subject. Somehow, they succeed in getting them to produce quadruple the amount of work in the same time. 

How do they do it, then?

Relentless high expectations.

Is that it?

Pretty much. These teachers refuse to ignore passive compliance, where pupils are allowed to put their feet up as long as they don’t disrupt the flow of the lesson. They won’t accept unfinished, unimproved or generally half-arsed efforts. They are on pupils’ backs (figuratively) the moment they sniff complacency. 

Sounds good, but what does this look like in practice? Some of us teach five-period days, you know...

OK, here’s one easy little trick that lets pupils know you’re on their case: the dot.

The dot?

That’s right. As soon as you spot a case of malingering, draw a dot in the margin next to the work the pupil has produced.

What difference does that make? 

It may be just a dot, but it is all-powerful. It says to the pupil “I know where you’re up to. There may be 33 of you, but I’m watching you closely. When I back in five minutes, it will tell me exactly what you’ve achieved.”

Oooh, an omniscient dot. I like it.

Use a more flamboyant asterisk, if you prefer. Or just write the time. The key bit is putting them on your watch list. Hopefully, you’ll get to the stage where just mentioning “the dot” provokes a frenzy of work.

What if that doesn’t work?

For most pupils, the dot and regular communication with home are enough. If that fails, insist on working in silence until the slackers adopt better work habits. The next step is to make them complete work in their own time.

Oh God, not more detentions.

I tend not to bother with them. Make them do unsatisfactory work as extra homework. If that’s not completed, use the start of the next lesson, while the other pupils do a knowledge quiz.

And if all else fails?

Isolate them during lesson time. They can complete missed work in the head of department’s classroom, outside the head of year’s office – wherever they don’t want to be. Let them earn their way back into your classroom through hard work. Then they’ll grasp that a lack of productivity won’t be tolerated.

Mark Roberts is an assistant headteacher at a secondary school in the South West of England 

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