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Passwords or pens: preparedness is a vital habit for life

I give sanctions for forgotten passwords. A C1 the first time and then a 15 minute detention for a second offence. Password resets are reasonably rare in my classroom as a result of this, and positive support for good password choices and habits – more on which later.

This tweet has 98 likes at time of writing, which means I am not alone in having trouble with passwords being “forgotten”.

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In the tweet, like the above paragraph, I have put speech marks around “forgotten” because that’s the claim they make, yet often it’s not the case. Firstly, sometimes the error lies elsewhere – a mistyped username, for example. Students forget the username convention (how many letters of each name, what numeric prefix, whether we have included the hyphen or apostrophe in their name, something as a school we are not consistent about despite my best efforts), and therefore a password reset won’t help.

I find that this strategy works well:

  1. No password resets before the register. (This requires a DO NOW that either needs no computer use, or has an alternative activity that does. I have textbooks on the desks so they can pick one up and read about todays topic while I take the register). This rule gives the pupil more thinking time, and an incentive to remember the elusive password, and often they magically remember it, during this time.
  2. No password resets until I have watched their attempt to sign in. I often spot the error, such as a mistyped username. I also discover misconceptions here: we use Microsoft 365 and students often forget that if they have had their “365 password” reset, this will have synchronised to Windows also.
  3. If this support doesn’t result in a successful login, I will reset the password at the cost of a C1 and potential detention. I write the C1 and a note in their planner, and also get the student to take ownership of their error, by saying “I have forgotten my password”. I ensure they are disavowed of any notion that this just “happened to them” and that they made a mistake and must try harder. Passwords are, like a pen, exercise book or PE kit, a vital piece of school equipment and pupils must take responsibility for remembering it.

Good password choices

I get about one or two resets a week by this time in the year (December), out of over 300 students I see weekly. I think that’s a good rate, I know in the replies to my above tweet that other teachers have it worse. Maybe my September teaching and sanctions regime is working. In September’s first lesson I teach good password “hygiene”, basically:

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  1. Choose a strong but memorable password. I insist on the adjective-noun-pad method, resulting in easy to remember but hard to guess combinations like Redgoose12 or Fluffyrat96.
  2. Write username and a password hint in your planner. A hint for Redgoose12$ might be r.g.phb$ (because BFF Phoebe lives at number 12).
  3. I give a second-lesson no-C1 grace period for forgetting passwords in Year 7 but remind them it will be a C1 next time.

I show this on the board to help with password choices, what would you choose from this list?

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Preparedness

Whether it’s a pen, PE kit or password, if it’s an important piece of equipment, the pupils should get into the habit of coming to school with it. As shown above, once I have taught the necessary skills of choosing and remembering a password, sanctions are a vital extrinsic motivator to ensure they use those skills. Today it’s a pen or a password, tomorrow it will be (as I said on Twitter here) steel-toecapped boots, a security badge or, well, a password. We’re in the business of inculcating skills for life, so let’s get on with it.

By mraharrisoncs

Head of Computing and Digital Strategy Lead,
WHGS, a United Learning school.
CAS Master Teacher.

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