In Defense of Vocational Education and Trades: The Shocking Truth!

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

I thought I was doing the right thing when I decided to go to university at age 19.

Almost everybody encouraged me.

Only one person (an old friend) told me that it was a probably a financially stupid idea.

In fact, my school’s careers’ counsellors told me that graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates. I was also given a few lessons on how to write a CV. Oh, and as a nice bonus, there was a section in the library where I could look up job profiles and career pathways.

That was where my careers’ guidance ended.

What I really needed to hear was the blunt truth: that I would amass a huge amount of debt, and at the end of it all a mediocre salary would be waiting for me. I needed to hear that a master’s degree would open many more doors for me than just a simple bachelor’s. I needed to hear that the reputation of the university I would go to would be one of the first things an employer would notice – and a top tier university, regardless of teaching quality or departmental reputation, would look amazing on my CV.

Basically, what I should have been told (multiple times), is that if I’m going to decide to rack-up student-loan debt of up to £15,000, which I’ll probably be paying-off well into my forties, then I’d better make damn sure that I go to a top-ten, world-class university, and that I get a first class or 2:1 degree.

Nobody told me that.

I also should have been told that I didn’t need to go to university, or get into debt, to earn good money (in many cases higher than that of graduates).

Training to be on-track (pun intended)

Imagine my disdain when I recently found out that the average train driver in the UK earns almost double what the average teacher does:

  • In 2020, the average UK train driver earned £57,323 per year
  • According to Prospects UK, the average UK Qualified teacher earned £35,608.50 in 2021 (I’ve taken the average for every UK region, and calculated an average of the averages).

Wow! No student loan debt and no four years of extra study, and as a train driver I’ll be earning more than the average UK teacher does. I think I would have liked to have known that back when I was in high school.

Whilst, of course, money is not the only factor to consider when choosing a career path (train drivers can work very unfavorable hours and do not enjoy as many holidays as teachers do, for example), it is still a pretty important point of information to consider.

Here are some other career paths that do not require a bachelor’s degree, but pay really good salaries (data courtesy of Ramsey Solutions – I’ve taken the US salaries and converted them to the GBP equivalent using the exchange rate at the time of writing):

  • Air Traffic Controller: $130,420/£105,693 per year
  • Elevator Installer and Repairer: $88,540/£71,753 per year
  • Nuclear Technician: $84,190/£68,228 per year
  • Web Developer: $77,200/£62,563 per year
  • Dental Hygienist: $77,090/£62,717 per year
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: $70,380/£57,036 per year
  • Aerospace Technician: $68,570/£55,570 per year
  • Police Officers and Detectives: $67,290/£54,532 per year
  • Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives: $65,420/£53,017 per year
  • Radiologic and MRI Technologists: $63,710/£51,631 per year
  • Executive Assistant: $63,110/£51,145 per year
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant: $60,950/£46,394 per year
  • Electrician: $56,900/£46,112 per year
  • Plumber: $56,330/£45,650 per year
  • Wind Turbine Technician: $56,230/£45,569 per year
  • Hearing Aid Specialist: $52,630/£42,652 per year
  • Firefighter: $52,500/£42,546 per year
  • Sheet Metal Worker: $51,370/£41,631 per year
  • Real Estate Agent: $51,220/£41,509 per year
  • Surgical Technologist: $49,710/£40,285 per year
  • Carpenter: $49,520/£40,131 per year
  • Licensed Practical Nurse: $48,820/£39,564 per year
  • Masonry Worker: $47,710/£38,664 per year
  • Sound Engineering Technician: $47,420/£38,429 per year
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installer: $46,470/£37,659 per year

At least I can glean one nugget of solace from my life-choices: I ONLY acquired £15,000 of debt to become a fully qualified teacher. The average student graduating in the UK in 2021 amassed £28,121 of personal student loan debt. In America, the number stood at $37,113.

Conclusion

Careers’ guidance counsellors – start telling high school students the TRUTH – that if they go to university they’ll probably amass a mountain of debt that they’ll be paying off for decades, whilst probably not earning that much money afterwards. Tell them that there’s ANOTHER WAY – that there are jobs that do not require such a massive monetary and time-investment, but which pay a lot!

A question I pose to today’s trainee teachers is a bleak one: Was it worth getting into around £28,121 of debt, just to one day earn an average salary of £35,608.50?

The answer to that question will depend on many factors. Just remember, however: the average Elevator Installer and Repairer is probably earning more than double what you are!

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

5 Ways to Use Past-Exam Papers With Your Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

Past-exam papers provide teachers with the opportunity to train students in time-management, exam-technique and key skills, since they provide students with exposure to the same style of questions that they will encounter in their final exams.

Think about anything at which you’ve become proficient: be that riding a bicycle, martial arts, painting, yoga or anything – it was practice (and lots of it) that made you proficient at that thing. Natural abilities will, of course, contribute to mastery, but ultimately the greatest way to achieve superiority in any endeavor is through practice.

Past-exam papers provide students with the vital practice they need to succeed in the final exams, and today I would like to go through some ways in which we can use past-papers in the classroom with our students.

Tip #1: Create end-of-unit assessments from past exam paper questions

Whenever I reach the end of a topic I use past-paper questions to test my students’ knowledge and understanding of what they have learned. These questions can either be pulled off pdfs through screen captures, or they can be built using question banks. Currently, I teach KS3 Science, Edexcel IGCSE Physics and Chemistry and IBDP Chemistry – and all of these courses have great question banks for teachers to use: namely Testbase for KS3, ExamWizard for Edexcel, and the IB Questionbank for IB subjects.

Of course, these question banks are not free, but they are worth the slice into the school budget in my opinion as they provide teachers with a very quick way to build test papers from past-paper questions. Another massive advantage of question banks over full pdf past-papers, other than speed and efficiency of test-building, is that questions are categorized by topic or syllabus statement too. Question banks will also automatically add up the question scores for you, saving you further time as you calculate how much the test should be out of.

And on that point: total marks – make sure you calculate your mark-to-time ratio too. For Edexcel IGCSE Chemistry, for example, students have to complete 110 marks in 120 minutes – i.e. about 65 seconds per mark. This means that when I am assigning a 1 hour test for this subject, it needs to contain 55 marks of questions. Any less that this and I’ll be giving the students too much time to complete the paper, which won’t be an effective ‘model’ of the real exam.

Tip #2: Use past-paper questions for in-class structured revision

Create special test papers that are built from past-papers and give them to your students to complete during normal lesson time. This, of course, works great when students are preparing for an imminent end-of-unit test or terminal examination (e.g. an end of year exam). Consider the following:

  • Students should receive quick feedback during these sessions, and should know exactly where they have lost marks (and why). Include enough questions to be completed during the lesson, along with enough time for checking through the mark scheme in a final peer or self-assessment exercise. In my case, for example, most of my lessons are 1 hour long. This allows me to create a 40 minute paper, with 20 minutes left over for marking and feedback.
  • Always provide the official mark schemes, so that students become familiar with the language and skills needed to gain top marks.
  • If possible, allow for a 5 or 10 minute discussion at the end of class to go through difficult questions, common misconceptions that are tested by the paper and even command terms like ‘evaluate’, ‘describe’ and ‘explain’.
  • During the final feedback and marking part of a revision lesson, tell your students to be VERY STRICT when checking the answers. If the answer that is written does not match the mark scheme word-for-word, then it could be wrong, and the student should come and seek your advice.

There are some nifty ways that you can make lessons like this more active, engaging and spatial for learners than they would be otherwise. Some ideas you might want to try are as follows:

  • Cut up the questions and answers (i.e. physically, with scissors). Give students one question at a time, and when they have finished they can come and collect the official answer from your desk.
  • Provide students with the official answers, one at a time, and ask them to write the question that each answer pertains to.
  • Consider using live quiz-based apps that have quizzes built from past-papers on them.
  • Play learning games with your students and use past-paper questions, key vocabulary and command terms to create the questions.

Please be advised that when students reach a certain age (i.e. mid-teens and older), their exams become very content-based and, therefore, revision lessons need to be quite intense in order to be effective. The odd ‘fun’ lesson here and there containing learning games and competitive quizzes can offer a nice break from the intensity of completing whole papers. However, ‘fun’ lessons like these tend to be less efficient at embedding high-demand content than, say, a lesson in which students complete a 40-minute assessment filled with past-paper questions.

#3: Create homework assignments from past-paper questions

This is a great way to train students in time-management. Make sure your learners know the mark-to-time ratio for your subject (e.g. 1 mark per minute), and specify how long they should spend completing the paper at home (e.g. if it’s a 35 mark homework assignment, then the students would have to time themselves for 35 minutes, if the ratio is 1 mark per minute). You may even want to share a Google Sheet with your students in which they can type their names and exactly how long, in minutes and seconds, it took them to complete the homework. The aim of this exercise would be to improve efficiency over time, with (hopefully) a downward trend being observed – the more past-paper homework the students get, the less time each one should take as the weeks go by. Another adaptation of this, is that you could ask the students to write down how much time it took them to complete the work on the paper itself (if you’re collecting it in and marking it by hand).

#4: Use ‘reverse questioning’

I mentioned this briefly earlier – provide the answers, and ask the students to write what they think the questions are.

This is really good for getting students to think deeply about the knowledge and skills they need to master for the exam, along with deep consideration of command terms and the key vocabulary requirements of their upcoming assessment. For me personally, a common command term that comes up is the word ‘explain’, and it takes time for many students to realise that they need to state why something happens when they are told to explain something. I train my students to always use the word ‘because’ when the question asks them to ‘explain’. For your subject, you may have similar challenges that only be solved by regular past-paper practice and a heavy focus on key vocabulary and command terms.

#5: Use past-paper questions and model answers to create ‘frameworks’

Give students past-exam paper questions and model answers for them use as ‘frameworks’, or skeletons, for building:

  • Flashcards: A lot of research has shown that flashcards are a brilliant revision tool. They can be created digitally (e.g. on websites like Quizlet) or physically on paper. Make sure the students write/type the question on one-side of the flashcard, and the model answer on the other side. This could even be done as a group activity, with different groups swapping flashcards and testing their knowledge as a plenary session to a lesson.
  • Consider asking your students to choose a live quiz app and create multiple choice quizzes using past-exam paper questions and model answers.
  • Mind Maps: Do some research into this, as many educators think Mind Maps are something they actually aren’t. Mind Maps are a very well-defined psychologically favorable learning tool created by the late Dr Tony Buzan (with whom I was very lucky to have a one-to-one video call with just before he passed). Mind Maps need to be created in a certain way in order to be effective, so make sure your students know the rules. Once students know the rules, they’ll then need practice in order to put past-paper questions and model answers onto their Mind Maps. These will often need to be shortened in some way, and illustrated.
  • Learning Journals: This very popular blog post of mine goes through what learning journals are, and how they can be used as a great revision tool. When used correctly, they can be VERY effective.

Conclusion

Past-exam papers really are the bread-and-butter of effective revision and exam-preparation. Use them to:

  • Create end-of-unit assessments
  • Guide in-class structured revision
  • Create homework assignments
  • Create ‘reverse questioning’ tasks
  • Create ‘frameworks

Suggested further reading

Wade, N. (2022) Are past paper questions always useful? Available at: https://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/insights/are-past-paper-questions-always-useful-neil-wade/ (Accessed: 10th April 2022)

Tan, A., & Nicholson, T. (1997). Flashcards revisited: Training poor readers to read words faster improves their comprehension of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 276–288. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.89.2.276 (Accessed: 1st May 2022)

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock: A Lesson For Teachers Everywhere

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

The 94th Academy Awards will forever be known as the night when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock: be that staged or not as the case may be. In today’s blog post, I go through some things that teachers and schools can take from this fiasco when designing curricula, preparing young people for the future and discussing this issue if and when it arises in our conversations with students.

Lesson #1: Managing your emotions is a key life-skill

What I think became very apparent from this situation was that Will Smith’s actions were completely unacceptable. He went from smiling and laughing to full-fledged violence in less than a minute, and it was completely unjustified. As teachers, our message to students has to be that violence is a never the right way to deal with people who offend us.

As a consequence of this outburst, Will’s reputation has been tarnished for life – a reality that will affect him in many and varying ways. For the majority of our students, (who, of course, will not become A-list celebrities), a moment of public rage like this can be career-destroying or business-destroying, and could even land them with a lengthy prison sentence.

Our students need to know that.

Our students really need to be made aware that we live in a heavily-surveilled society – everyone has a portable camera and microphone at-hand these days. All it takes is one emotional flare-up recorded on a smartphone to cause a person to lose everything – and most of us cannot recover easily from such a loss. In fact, most people may never fully recover from such an extreme deterioration in personal circumstances.

What’s also interesting to me is the emotional responses we see from Chris Rock and Jada Pinkett Smith in the limited footage we have:

  • Chris didn’t swear back at Will, and didn’t hit him back. He remained calm, attempted to brush it off and tried to keep the audience entertained. In this, Chris demonstrated excellent self-control and should be commended for his resolve and professionalism, in my opinion.
  • Jada seemed quiet and resolute throughout, although it was pretty obvious that she wasn’t happy with Chris’s joke (which, of course, is understandable).

Perhaps this whole Will Smith vs. Chris Rock incident would serve to be a great case study to feature in school textbooks on mindfulness and self-discipline: children could, certainly, learn a lot about the reputational consequences of not monitoring one’s emotions, and the fallout that can happen when we act by reflex-action, rather than by enlightened self-interest.

Lesson #2: Marriage often involves a power-dynamic, and comes with legal entanglements (and children should be taught about that)

Will’s almost immediate change of character from a laughing, happy audience member to an aggressive protagonist: prompted, it seems, by the look on his wife’s face when the joke didn’t quite resonate, really set alarm bells off in my mind. It seemed to me as though Will Smith was more afraid of facing the wrath and scorn of his wife when he got home (for not standing up for her), than face the consequences of an abusive physical and verbal tantrum for all and sundry to see at the Academy Awards that night.

This points to an apparent power-dynamic that’s in-play within Will and Jada’s marriage, and most analysts would agree that it is not Will who holds the role of leader in the relationship. This appears to be backed up by events that ran prior to Sunday’s debacle:

  • 1997: Will and Jada got married, with Jada apparently admitting in a 2019 People Cover Story that she didn’t really want to tie-the-knot in the first place – she stated that “I never wanted to get married. But my mother was like, ‘You have to get married’ — she’s so old-school — and Will wanted a family. So I said, ‘All right, maybe it’s something I should do.’”. Jada was pregnant with their first child, Jaden, and seemingly felt under tremendous pressure to get married at that time.
  • 2020: The famous Red Table Talk happened, in which Jada confirmed that she had had a relationship with August Alsina, claiming that she was separated from Will Smith at the time. Will Smith seemingly sits through the talk looking like a deer in headlights, which subsequently becomes a viral meme. Jada described her situation with August as an ‘entanglement’.

We’ll never know the full details of what Jada and Will are going through, nor have been through in the past – that’s personal to them. However, as public figures, they automatically act as role-models for young people and as teachers we should address some key takeaways.

Children should be taught about what marriage actually is – from both a legislative and religious standpoint. Children need to know what the legal consequences of marriage and divorce are, particularly:

  • What alimony is, and why it is paid
  • The fact that mothers overwhelmingly receive majority child custody in the case of a divorce
  • What the law says about adultery – some countries and regions are harsher than others
  • What the law says about cohabitation
  • How marriage affects immigration status
  • How assets may be divided in the case of a divorce
  • What a pre-nuptial agreement is

Many men and women feel trapped in their marriages because the consequences of divorce can be terrifying to contemplate. Does Will Smith feel trapped in his marriage – unable to leave a miserable situation because the financial and emotional fallout would be too great? We’ll never know. However, what is true is that most children leave school knowing NOTHING about family law as it pertains to marriage.

Not knowing this information is surely a massive disadvantage. How can any young adult perform a cost/benefit analysis of matrimony if he or she doesn’t know all of the facts beforehand? Around 50% of marriages end in divorce, for example. Would you jump out of an airplane if you knew that the parachute only had a 50% chance of opening?

Another aspect is the reasoning one uses to enter a marriage in the first place. Is Jada’s justification – feeling under pressure and being pregnant at the same time – a good excuse for getting married? How do we approach that with children and young adults? What are the consequences when we enter into life-contracts out of fear of upsetting our friends and family?

Lesson #3: Sometimes ‘sorry’ just isn’t enough to bail you out of trouble

Will Smith did eventually apologise for his actions in an Instagram post, stating that “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,”.

Will Smith has a net worth of around $350 million at the time of writing. He can afford to move on after a brief apology. Most of us don’t have that luxury.

Our students need to know that there are consequences for their actions. Will and Chris’s exchange was a freak incident – an altercation between two famous, rich people. For our students, an assault may not be forgiven by a simple apology. Most of our students will be destroyed financially by a criminal record – unlike Will Smith, who would have walked away just as rich, perhaps richer due to the publicity, had Chris Rock had pressed charges through the LAPD.

The bottom-line

Our consensus as teachers has to be that what Will Smith did was completely unacceptable. Violence is never the correct way to respond to people who offend us.

Recommended further reading

What Should Schools Teach?

Can Sympathy and Empathy Be Taught?

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

5 Awesome Live Quiz Apps You Can Use in The Classroom

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback). This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying podcast episode:

Children love competition – be that through sports, online gaming, traditional learning games, puzzles or even the drive to acquire more house points/plus points than their peers. Quiz-based apps, however, are unique in that they have finally allowed teachers to bring a healthy level of technology-driven rivalry into the remote, hybrid and traditional classrooms.

One big positive that we can attribute to these apps is that they have become very easy to use, and quick to set up – often requiring the students to simply type in a code on a website to begin the game. For the teacher, there’s the added benefit that games created by other teachers from around the world are often freely available to use on these platforms – saving you tons of preparation time.

What follows next is a list of the top five apps that I use on a regular basis with my students in my high school science classes. They are fun, easy to use and are great for reviewing prior knowledge.

#1: Blooket

I’ve only recently discovered Blooket but, I have to tell you: I’m already hooked!

Blooket distinguishes itself from other quiz-based apps in that there are actually ten types of game that you can play with the students (at the time of writing), all based on the much-loved multiple-choice quiz format. My personal favorites are:

  • Crypto Hack: With a dark theme and Bitcoin-centric atmosphere, Crypto Hack is one of the students’ favorites. After answering a series of questions correctly the students are then able to guess fellow students’ passwords (passwords are chosen from a pre-determined list that the game provides). A correct guess allows the player to hack the other player and steal imaginary crypto currency from them.
  • Fishing Frenzy: This one’s a bit crazy – hilariously so! Students, again, answer multiple choice questions but this time they cast a virtual fishing line into the water after answering correctly. What they pull out are usually different types of fish, but they can pull out junk and other crazy objects too. Players are ranked by the weight of fish they pull out of the water. Players can also ‘plunder’ other players’ fish and steal their poundage. It gets very competitive and you can expect to hear a lot of laughter in the classroom as this gets going!
  • Tower Defense: According to Blooket themselves, this is their most popular game. In this mode, the students answer multiple choice questions and are then presented with a map. On this map, the students must place towers in strategic positions to shoot enemies that appear on-screen. In this sense, Tower Defense is more similar to the kind of computer games that children are playing in their free time than all of the other game modes provided.

The main reason why Blooket is number one on my list is that you can replay the same multiple choice questions with the students but in different game modes. This can cause excellent knowledge recall and understanding to take place, especially after three or four attempts. This could be done in quick succession within a lesson (most of the game modes are exactly seven minutes long) or you could even play the same questions but in different game modes over a series of lessons. As with most quiz-based systems, there’s a searchable database of quizzes that other teachers have made – saving you tons of preparation time.

To summarise: I love Blooket.

#2: Quizlet Live

Hidden within Quizlet‘s excellent flash card system is a little-known activity called Quizlet Live. When the teacher selects this, the students in your classroom join the game (by entering a code on their devices) and are then placed into random teams. Once the game begins, all of the players in each team are given different questions to answer, so they MUST help each other (usually) if they want to win. The first team to pass twelve rounds of questions is the winner, and the teacher’s screen shows the real-time position of each team (1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and so on).

Quizlet Live has two features which I believe make it a very unique learning tool:

  1. Students can read through the flash cards for the game as they’re waiting for other students to join. This, I believe, gives Quizlet Live a big advantage over many other quiz-based systems as students are not sitting around doing nothing as they’re waiting.
  2. Quizlet Live provides each team member with a different question, making the game more thorough/rigorous than some other quiz-based systems. Every member of the team has to answer their question correctly before the team can move to the next round.

The only disadvantage I’ve found with Quizlet Live is that it doesn’t lend itself very well to hybrid/remote teaching, as the students have to physically be next to each other in teams in order to interact quickly. I guess it could be feasible to put students into Google Meet Breakout rooms, or even hangout groups, to do the Quizlet Lives. However, I’ve tried this and have found it to be quite problematic and difficult to execute in real time (not least because you, the teacher, has to manually put the Quizlet Live teams (chosen at random) into Hangout/Breakout Rooms, and even then interaction between team members tends to be poor.

Quizlet has an immense database of flash cards created by other educators from all over the world, so it’s highly likely that you’ll find a question set that is suitable for your topic. If not, then you can make a set yourself.

#3: Quizziz

Quizizz is a simple but very effective multiple choice question system. Students log in with a code and answer questions – that’s it really. However, there are a few bells and whistles, such as excellent graphics, good music, power-up tools available for students on winning-streaks and a real-time leaderboard display that the teacher can present to the class.

One unique feature of Quizizz, which could be seen as either a disadvantage or an advantage, is that the game only ends when every person has answered every question (the teacher can set time limits for each question of between 30s and 5 mins). I quite like this feature of Quizizz, because as soon as one student is finished I ask him or her to go and help a student who isn’t finished. This can be a great way to build a sense of community within the classroom, and reinforce any work you’ve been doing on sympathy/empathy with your students.

Quizizz has many cool integration options with Google Classroom and even MS Excel. Read this excellent overview by TeachersFirst for a more in-depth analysis of how Quizizz could be utilised in your classroom. Of course, Quizizz has a large, searchable database of ready-made games that will allow you to set up a suitable quiz in seconds.

#4: Mentimeter

This is another simple and effective system that is somewhat similar to Kahoot! (number 5 on my list) but with a higher-quality user-interface, in my opinion. One interesting feature of Mentimeter is that it supports multiple question types (not just standard MCQs) such as ranking, scales, grids and open-ended questions.

Mentimeter is well-worth a try if you’re looking for something different.

#5: Kahoot!

Kahoot! is the original behemoth in the EdTech Hall of Fame, and we cannot ignore the influence it has had on the classroom app-development landscape. Kahoot! is simple, but very effective, and took the teaching world by storm when it first came out in 2013. Almost all modern live quiz-based systems have been inspired by Kahoot‘s innovative approach to game-based learning, and that’s why I wrote about Kahoot! in my award-winning book for teachers: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. Kahoot‘s can be set as homework, or self-paced tasks too, which is handy if you want to help individual students in real-time.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to put Kahoot! at number five on my list as the system hasn’t really evolved much since 2013. Let me be clear: it’s awesome, but the other apps I’ve described today have additional features that make them somewhat more special than Kahoot! (in my humble opinion).

Conclusion

Use these game-based systems: it’s that simple! Students love them, and can gain a lot from their implementation when we plan their use carefully. They act as great starters, plenaries or even ‘chunks’ of lessons.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How to Become a Leader in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know.

Teachers are expected to demonstrate high competency in a range of skill areas. Some skills that may come to mind are personal organisation, classroom management, behaviour management and confidence in the use of educational technology. One skill that may not immediately come to mind, however, is leadership: yet this is vital, as teachers are required to be good leaders of their students (and, sometimes, other teachers). Today, I’ve invited Mitch from Destination TEFL, Bangkok, to to share his tips on how to be a good leader in the classroom.

This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Truly great teachers must also be leaders. By devoting time and energy towards developing leadership skills, along with technical teaching skills, teachers can make a profound impact on their students that transcends the information they teach.

Leadership seems to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but maybe there’s a reason for that.

Just take a look around. In government, the corporate world, and yes, in education too, our world seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership. We have a surplus of bosses, managers, and influencers, but not enough true leaders.

But together we’re going to change that.

The classroom is your domain, one place in the world where you truly can make a difference. You may not be able to fix the government, or even the overall culture at your school (toxic bosses tend not to take feedback well), but you can absolutely change your classroom and, in so doing, your students’ lives.

Here’s how to do it.

What is true leadership?

In order to become great leaders in the classroom, we need to really nail down what leadership actually is. And more importantly, what it isn’t.

Good leadership is NOT:

  • Being right all the time
  • Never making mistakes
  • Making all of the decisions
  • Always being strong, confident, and outgoing

Surprising, right? Many of the usual stereotypes we have about leadership (ones that many leaders today try a bit too hard to represent) aren’t actually what leadership is about at all.

True leadership, especially in a classroom full of students, is much more nuanced and, honestly, more accessible than many are led to believe.

In contrast to the list above, true leadership in the classroom looks a lot more like:

  • Being human, and acknowledging mistakes
  • Letting your students make decisions, and teaching them to make the right ones
  • Being the best version of yourself, not fitting into boxes
  • Focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence

Real leadership is about putting others first, and doing your best to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. As teachers, this is something that probably sounds familiar to us!

So now that we know what leadership is, how do we grow in these areas and incorporate them into our classroom?

Becoming a leader in the classroom

The first step in becoming a better leader is to know that you can!

People are conditioned to believe that you are either born with leadership qualities or not, and this is true for something like being naturally outgoing. But that’s not what great leaders are really made of.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

Emotional intelligence is something you can work on. Taking responsibility and acknowledging mistakes is something you can work on. Becoming the best version of yourself is something you can work on. 

Real leadership is accessible, and it’s accessible to you.

All becoming a leader in the classroom takes is recognizing areas you want to grow in as a leader, focusing on developing yourself in those areas, and (most importantly) finding opportunities to implement what you’re working on in the classroom.

Maybe you want to work on developing your emotional intelligence. So you take the first step and start reading articles about improving your EQ.

You listen to their advice and start doing things like labeling your emotions, practicing empathy, and opening yourself up to feedback. The more you do this, the more you notice your sensitivity to other people’s emotions increasing.

Now it’s time for the most important step: bringing it into the classroom!

What better group of people to practice empathy and emotional intelligence with than your students? You start looking for root causes of misbehavior, and the emotions that underlie them. You teach your students to become aware of their own emotions, and the emotions of their classmates. Most importantly, you provide an example of how to do this.

Congratulations, you have not only become a better teacher, but you’ve also become a true leader. You are now impacting your students not only through what you teach them, but how you teach them.

You’re no longer just teaching them about English, now you’re teaching them about life.

Final thoughts

Becoming a great leader, and a great teacher, takes time. It isn’t something that can be done in one semester: it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-improvement.

However, as people teaching abroad, we’re no strangers to this process. Living and working abroad is a journey of self-discovery, finding new and exciting pieces of yourself in different contexts and cultures, growing in ways you never thought possible.

Leadership in the classroom is another one of those ways, and it’s an area of self-improvement that will end up changing not only your own life but the lives of others.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about!

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 










Promoting Sustainability as a Teacher

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is defined by UNESCO as a pathway that allows “every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.” It’s importance has been officially recognised by the Council of the European Union, who state that “ESD is essential for the achievement of a sustainable society and is therefore desirable at all levels of formal education and training, as well as in non-formal and informal learning.” Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to teach children and young people about the importance of sustainable development.

If there are things all schools worldwide need to include in their curriculum as soon as possible, it would be sustainability. While ideas regarding the preservation of nature are touched upon in several science subjects, they fall short in hammering down the importance of sustainability in children.

Climate change threatens all of humanity, but it’s the children who will bear the brunt of it. When the current generation of adults and leaders passes, it’s the children today who will need to face potentially the worst of times. While we can still achieve a lot in terms of reversing the effects of climate change or slowing it down, it’s essential for the next generation to know how to build a sustainable future and why they must do it.

Sustainability might not be officially taught in all schools in the world today, but teachers can still promote it in a lot of ways. If you’re a teacher passionate about sustainability and want to go the extra mile to share your knowledge with your students and inspire them to fight for a healthier planet, we’ve got some pointers for you. But first, let’s define sustainability.

What is sustainability?

According to the University of Alberta’s Sustainability Council, sustainability is “the process of living within the limits of available physical, natural and social resources in ways that allow the living systems in which humans are embedded to thrive in perpetuity. This definition explains that sustainability doesn’t just deal with natural resources, but also social and economic resources, as those are also vital for the survival of future generations. Expanding on this definition, we can categorize sustainability in three ways: Environmental, Economic, and Social. Environmental sustainability is achieved when humanity consumes natural resources at a rate where they can naturally replenish. Economic sustainability is achieved when people are able to remain independent and have access to resources: financial or others. Lastly, social sustainability is achieved when people can attain all universal human rights and basic necessities.

Make your lessons eco-friendly

Teaching children sustainability means little to nothing if you don’t practice it in the classroom. Among the best ways to promote anything is leading by example. Ultimately, sustainability is spending your resources wisely, and you can show this by ensuring you don’t waste resources in your lessons. You can use recycled or eco-friendly materials in creating your teaching props, and if you can’t avoid using plastics, you can demonstrate the importance of recycling by reusing them in the next classes.

Don’t overwhelm your students

Discussing current and future environmental crises can be too much for your students to handle. They are young, and while you want them to learn young, the immensity of the problems humanity faces and the difficulty of solving them can be overwhelming. When students are feeling overloaded with negative emotions such as dread, they may disengage from the discussion, impeding learning.

“An AMAZING book!”

The key is not to focus on the problems alone. Make sure to discuss environmental success stories from time to time, to show that people are working hard to solve the problem and they are succeeding. You may discuss environmental policies, movements, campaigns, and other projects worldwide that have seen success. These stories will show students that our efforts do matter and theirs will, too. It will inspire students and give them the hope and enthusiasm necessary to face the seemingly overwhelming problems we face.

Tackle quality of life issues

Part of discussing sustainability is the idea that people need to consume less and live simpler lives, making students feel like their lifestyle is being threatened. If educators take an unyielding, self-righteous approach, the students will feel even more threatened and can end up abandoning learning about sustainability entirely. The technique is to engage the students by discussing their definition of happiness and quality of life, and whether their lifestyle correlates with overconsumption. You can discuss studies that show how the pursuit of material things doesn’t exactly correlate with happiness and satisfaction, providing a good starting point for discussing alternative lifestyles.

Discuss the Precautionary Principle

One of the most important principles discussed to understand in learning about sustainability or environmental science is the precautionary principle. The principle states that if an action risks causing harm to the public or the environment, and there is no scientific consensus that it is indeed harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. Tackling or debating the principle serves as a good starting point in discussing how people can make decisions when faced with uncertainty. In addition, it’s also an opportunity to discuss policies regarding resource use and the balance between potential environmental harm and economic or political benefit. 

Let the students analyze

Most of the time, students are only given the results of analyses instead of dealing with empirical data themselves. Students will not always be equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand empirical data, but if they are, they should be given the opportunity to do so. Being able to get a closer look at the data themselves, students are bound to learn more. The experience they will get from analyzing data will also allow them to scrutinize environmental issues with more insight.

The road to net-zero emissions is a long and strenuous journey. It will require the efforts of the entire world, the current generation, and the next. Sustainability as a topic of discussion is becoming prevalent in the education system and while it’s not globally standardized, there’s nothing stopping educators from teaching it to students. There are plenty of tricks teachers can use in promoting sustainability in their schools, but the ones above should give you a good start.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but, unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back! She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How Students Can Help Reduce Single-Use Plastic

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in our Earth’s oceans every year. Campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy and the Project Learning Tree aim to inform young people about the environment and the harm that single-use plastics can cause. However, despite these excellent projects, much, much more still needs to be done to bring this critical issue to our students’ attention. Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to educate children about the dangers of single-use plastics, along with advice on how to utilise sustainable alternatives.

Single-use plastics are a modern convenience, but how much is that convenience costing the environment? The manufacture, spread, and waste of single-use plastic are a major environmental issue that has been talked about yet remain unsolved.

People still openly burn plastic waste and use single-use plastics even when they can not use such things excessively. It has been the great efforts of dozens of organizations to phase out single-use plastics in the industry and replace them with more sustainable options.

Decarbonization always starts on an individual level. The individuals most affected by a toxic environment are the youth who have to grow up in it. But now the question is, where can the youth start on the mission to reduce plastic waste in the environment?

Why Is It So Difficult To Enact Change?

One of the most deceptively simple tasks you can do is actually the hardest. Most people don’t even realize how much plastic and paper they waste. On an individual level, think of how many water bottles you have thrown away in your life.

Whatever the number is, it is most likely too much. Now multiply that number by the population of the globe. This is why it’s so difficult to reduce plastic waste. Most people aren’t even aware of the fact that they are wasting plastic.

Although big strides are being made in reducing the use of single-use plastics in many developed countries, it’s a different story in less fortunate places. Many people fail to consider the necessity of single-use plastics in these areas because of how cheap they are to produce.

Not to mention, the lack of education on the negative effects of pollution is still a real issue. More efforts should be made by local governments to teach their citizens about the effects of excessive waste. Eco-friendly practices, especially the ones discussed in this article, should be commonplace and enforced.

How To Reduce The Impact of Single-Use Plastics

Truth be told, the efforts of the individual do very little in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s important to uphold these practices and share them with as many people as possible.

The more people learn from your example, the better your chances of making a difference. Here are some of the practices you should follow:

#1: Start Reusing More Often

While you cannot stop the production of single-use plastics on an individual basis, you are still capable of going against its intended purpose. Single-use is just a suggestion, not a feature. Things such as plastic bags, cups, bottles, utensils, and food packaging should be repurposed in some form.

The concern with single-use plastic is less about the material itself than the excessive use of it. Plastic wouldn’t be such an issue if there wasn’t so much of it all around the world. However, many supposed single-use plastics are quite handy as use for containers and makeshift tools.

Just make sure the types of plastic you are reusing don’t start leaking the chemicals used in their creation.

#2: Replace Single-Use Plastics With Sustainable Options

That being said, switching to more sustainable materials is not a bad idea. Whenever possible, look for cost-effective alternatives to the usual functions you use single-purpose plastics for:

  • Instead of having them bag your groceries, ask if you can have them put in cardboard boxes instead. Cardboard boxes are much less impactful on the environment and offer far more utility in a home.
  • Alternatively, bring your own cardboard boxes and eco-bags. Eco-bags are one of the handiest grocery things you can have.
  • Instead of buying plastic cups, just shoulder the admittedly less enticing washing of extra glasses. There are several cheap reusable cups in the market that you can look around for.
  • Store your lunch in jars or bento boxes instead of Ziploc bags.

#3: Push Organizations To Value Eco-Friendliness

For a more significant dent in the use of single-use plastics, the best thing students can do is make their voice known. Kids, teens, and young adults are huge demographics for many companies.

If enough of them start caring and demanding products that maximize recyclability and reusability, companies will have to listen. The businesses to start with should always be on a local level because the transport of plastic goods is just as intensive as using it.

Also, push for businesses to consider the impact that end-of-use products have. They should have professional recycling or disposal plants on call for their waste.

Schools are also subject to this. Encourage your school to go green by doing all of the above in their daily routines. Schools often go through a lot of single-use plastics, especially in cafeterias.

Another great way to reduce both environmental impact and printing costs is to print only what’s necessary. For example, some events hand out paper cups with custom-printed logos that won’t last the day. Instead of doing that, just encourage students to bring their own thermos or tumblers.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

The Value of Fresh Starts in Education

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

When students underperform in some aspect of their schooling (whether that be behaviour, attainment, progress or something else) a fresh start can often be a useful way to draw a line in the sand and leave the past behind. In today’s exclusive guest blog post, Tayla Reynolds shares her ideas on the how, what and why of fresh starts for teachers. Tayla is a second year Geography teacher in the UK. She writes about the realities of teaching and how to overcome the daily challenges from a practical but realist standpoint.

Tayla Reynolds

One of the most surprising things about the teaching career for me is perhaps the constant changeable dynamic of it all. For some, there is an assumption that once that initial teacher training phase is complete, you evolve as a fully fledged professional, but in reality it is a career full of reflection, mistakes and fresh starts.

I think that these may be my favourite parts of the profession (aside, of course, from the multitude of personalities and events you may face in a day, or even a single lesson). It is the constant opportunities for fresh starts. There is nothing quite like the excitement, nerves and potential of a new September, that new year feeling you really can’t explain. But in reality, that feeling comes several times a year, after each seasonal break, each half term, each Sunday night and for those harder groups, after each day.

And it is these fresh starts where teachers can evolve the most. When teaching, planning and behaviour management is becoming frustrating, unmanageable and overwhelming, then slowing down should be the priority. Which I know is a lot easier to say than do, and unimaginably hard for those with growing families and other commitments. But those should always come first, you cannot give your best, to anyone, if you’re running on fumes. And for that to happen, sometimes something has to give, and some weeks that might be marking, and for others that might be all singing and dancing lessons you want to create. Because those take time, passion and energy.

So for me, fresh starts are all about restoring, reflecting and prioritising. Immediately restore that overwhelming feeling, spend your time wisely and how you want to. There should be no guilt in putting yourself first. People are often quick to mock the amount of holiday time within the teaching profession, but the days and weeks go quick and you are expected to sustain a very high level of energy and enthusiasm, toppled with early mornings, late nights and a never ending to-do list. It is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding jobs, so take the time to fill your cup back up. Fill it until it overflows, fill a bucket or a bathtub if you need to! For me that is switching off from work: I close that to-do list and relegate that to Monday morning’s problem. I go out and meet friends if I want to, other times I shut myself away and recharge my social battery. For you that could be family time, walks outdoors or losing yourself in a game or book. Who cares, you do you!

“An AMAZING book!”

Now for reflection, what are you happy with? What are you not? I always try to think of a singular thing I want to focus on. Is it that one group (you know the one I’m talking about)? Is it that one unit you’re putting off, or maybe one new thing you’d like to try? It can be the simplest and smallest things, because it is those small habits that will be the most effective. It is always in the small things, because they are the most effective and consistent to maintain. So my advice is to simply choose one thing, big or small is up to you. Will you focus on more restorative language, or positive behaviour management with those students or perhaps introducing a new habit to your lesson routine such as retrieval or reviews?  That decision will be based on what you want to focus on the most. But just pick one, there will be plenty of opportunities to try everything else. 

And finally, for a fresh start to be as effective as possible, you need to prioritise. No one can do it all, so let’s stop pretending we can. What needs doing first? What is absolutely a necessity to complete? That’s where you start. Yes, sometimes it is easier to do the quicker stuff, but that is the reality of procrastination and quickly encourages your full bucket to spring a leak. Next, use your working time as well as possible. Use absolutely any spare time, is a group completing a test? Use that time to get one of those quick jobs done. Use those planning periods for marking, and take those quick to-dos home. For me, this has meant that I spend two nights a week doing around 45 minutes of work, rather than bringing books and exam papers home for hours of marking. This works for me, but might not for you, so think about how you want to use your time. And try to stick to it, but always be ready to accept that life may get in the way of this but it is important here to simply go with the flow.

Fresh starts are a really valuable tool in the teaching profession, and that is because they serve as opportunities for teachers and school staff to restore, reflect and prioritise. You cannot spend time and energy on developing better lessons and improving learning when your cup is empty. See every break as an opportunity for a fresh start. Bad day? Prioritise yourself, not your to-do list. Chaotic term? Focus and prioritise on what will really create the impact you want, and stick to those small, effective habits. Teaching; it’s a marathon not a sprint. So let’s treat it that way. 

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Common Challenges Teachers Face in The Era of Online Learning

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The past two years or so have been interesting for teachers to say the least! Most of us have dealt with sudden school closures, the challenges associated with remote-teaching and the complications that come along with delivering a blended learning/hybrid teaching programme of study. This week, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her thoughts and tips on the challenges teachers face when delivering lessons remotely, and how those challenges can be overcome.

Kat Sarmiento

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has become a necessity for many schools and colleges across the world. While some institutions have been able to quickly adapt to this shift, others are still grappling with how to best deliver content to students while maintaining safe social distancing guidelines. Many teachers face certain challenges given the shift from traditional classroom settings to virtual ones. What follows are some common challenges they may encounter.

#1: Students’ lack of motivation during distance learning

One of the biggest challenges is that most students do not seem motivated to study in an online environment. This can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Lack of interest due to boredom or frustration;
  • Poor internet connection quality;
  • COVID fatigue;
  • Difficulty understanding what is expected of them in terms of studying and responding to assignments;
  • Feeling like they are alone when they need help.

To encourage engagement among your students, you should consider implementing specific strategies such as providing additional support through emails or live chats, organizing class discussions via video calls, or using digital storytelling tools. You could also create a dedicated Facebook group where students can share their work and ask questions about assignments.

#2: Teachers’ inability to monitor student progress

The other major challenge faced by teachers is the inability to track individual student performance on their assignments. When working remotely, it becomes difficult to keep tabs on student progress because there is no way to physically observe them. As a result, it becomes challenging to provide feedback on assignments and ensure that students are meeting course requirements.

As an instructor, a good way to address these issues would be to set up a private discussion forum where you can communicate directly with students while keeping all communication confidential. Students can use this platform to get answers to any questions they might have regarding assignments. The teacher can then respond to each question individually and make sure that every student understands his/her assignment correctly.

#3: Lack of technology skills

While many educators find themselves comfortable teaching in a virtual environment, they often struggle to teach effectively without proper training. For example, if you don’t know how to properly use Zoom, you will likely experience difficulties with audio and visual quality. If you are unfamiliar with Google Docs, you will probably feel lost trying to collaborate with your peers. And even though you are familiar with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., you may find yourself struggling to effectively engage your students using those channels.

If you want to avoid these problems, consider taking advantage of free online courses offered by reputable organizations such as Coursera, edX, and Udemy. These platforms offer high-quality education resources at low costs. You can also take advantage of YouTube videos created by experts in various fields.

#4: Difficulty staying organized

In a typical classroom setting, teachers typically spend more time preparing for lessons than actually delivering them. However, in an online environment, you will need to devote more time to planning and preparation than ever before. To stay organized during this process, try creating a lesson plan template and assigning to keep up with your remote learning sessions. This will help you organize your thoughts and better prepare for upcoming classes. It can also be a part of your self-care ritual to ensure that you remain productive throughout the day.

#5: Inability to connect with all students

Another common problem faced by teachers who choose to teach remotely is the inability to establish meaningful relationships with students. Since you cannot see them face-to-face, you won’t be able to gauge whether they are engaged or not. As a result, you may end up spending too much time communicating with students who are simply checking off boxes on their syllabus rather than engaging in real conversations.

In addition, there are also some students who face internet or connectivity issues. This makes it nearly impossible for them to participate in class discussions online. As a result, they may miss out on important information. To prevent this from happening, consider providing an alternative method of communication so that students can still interact with one another.

#6: Difficulty in enforcing discipline

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching remotely is maintaining order in the classroom. When you are physically present in the same room, you can easily monitor what students do. But when you are working virtually, you will no longer be able to observe everything that goes on. As a result, it becomes difficult to enforce discipline and maintain order.

You can try to keep things under control by making sure that students have access to a quiet space where they can work independently. Or you could assign each student a specific task that requires them to focus on completing it. This way, you can make sure that everyone stays focused and on track. Try establishing ground rules early on so that you can clearly communicate expectations to your students.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Cognitive Challenges of Language Learners in the Digital Age

We must keep in-mind the unique challenges that new technologies create for all of our learners: especially those who are learning a new language, or who are attempting to access a mainstream curriculum via a second or additional language. Today, I’ve invited Tatyana Cheprasova (Senior Lecturer and EFL/TEFL instructor at Voronezh State University, Russia) to give her expert analysis of the situation, along with many excellent suggestions that we can all take on-board going forward.

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

With digital technologies rapidly taking over various spheres of our lives, a new pedagogical environment for acquisition, processing and transferability of knowledge and skills has been created. These digital shifts will inevitably affect the educational sector as one of the aims of any educational paradigm is to prepare learners to face the challenges of the real world which now cannot be conceived without digital imprints and influence. This article aims to explore the cognitive challenges this new educational reality places before language learners in the Digital Age. It also attempts to provide EFL teachers with insights into how their teaching procedures can be altered in order to meet the cognitive needs of ‘digital native’ learners.

In order to develop the right understanding of the factors affecting cognitive processes (such as perception, learning communications, associations, and reasoning) and the behavioural consequences for digitally native learners, it is deemed essential to explore the new educational environment within which they operate and develop.

The new pedagogical reality which integrates digital language learning (DLL), as with any educational paradigm or teaching tool, can have its own advantages and deficiencies which become visible and apparent when the context which coined a new pedagogical phenomenon is carefully scrutinised. The pedagogical settings we now operate within and which incorporate DLL need to be viewed as the natural evolutionary result of the educational development we have witnessed in the last few decades. According to Warschauer (2004:10), at the early stage, within the language learning domain of the final decades of the 20th century, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) or Structural CALL was strongly influenced by the behaviourist paradigm which shaped this type of DLL as merely stimulus-response, drill-based programmes which enhanced the learning of new vocabulary items or grammar under rigid teacher supervision. The ensuing transfer from a behaviourist to a communicative approach to language learning where meaningful interactions were given the priority also affected the whole nature of CALL design, giving rise to Communicative CALL which implied the use of computers to engage language learners in communicative activities (Warschauer, 2004:11). Finally, with the onset of integrative ICT, the technologies within the new educational paradigm have moved into the era of Integrative CALL which relies on agency and interactive communications (both of teachers and students) as an effective pedagogical tool to solve real-life tasks and problems in a community of peers on the internet (Warschauer, 2004:11).

The widespread implemetation of Integrative CALL which has soared in the field of ELT in the last two decades has been seen by many researchers as a mainly positive trend which has a lot to offer ELT practitioners in various educational contexts (Li and Lan, 2021). Thus, as argued by Grosjean (2019) and Al-Ahdal, (2020), the incorporation of AI and Big Data used in various language applications can facilitate ELT in that it provides learners with real-life language use settings as well as helping to trace down their language progress via the analysis of learners’ errors in L2 writing procedures. Additionally, the use of AI can lead to a more individualised, rather than one-size-fits-all, approach to language teaching where the pedagogical strategies and procedures are designed to meet learners’ requirements and profiles at its best (Li and Lan, 2021). Finally, mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and game-based language-learning (GBLL) have been regarded by many scholars as possessing high teaching potential in terms of EFL outcomes as they provide students with language learning opportunities at their fingertips, anytime and anywhere, stretching beyond learning a language as limited to only traditional classroom settings (Shadiev, Zhang, Wu & Huang, 2020; Li and Lan, 2021).

Notwithstanding all of the above-mentioned advantageous implications DLL can offer as the new pedagogical dimension, both ELT practitioners and researchers have started to question its overall positive effects on learners’ cognition,  psychological and speech development, and their flux of consciousness, thus approaching the issue from both cognitive and social perspectives (Warschauer, 2004; Komlósi, 2016, Voulchanova et al., 2017; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). The impacts these DLL-driven pedagogical settings can have on language learners are going to be discussed below.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the whole nature of the concept of ‘knowledge’ seems to have radically changed as the Cognitivism learning model has given way to the Constructivism Paradigm. Apparently, when learning occurs within a particular teaching model, the nature of knowledge evolves on the basis of how new data is generated and pedagogical assumptions about which strategies comprise the educational process, as the following comparison illustrates (see the table below):

As it is illustrated above, knowledge is no longer approached as a monolithic unit transmitted from a teacher to their students but rather as a dynamic heterogeneous construct characterised by boundless hypertextual structure where the reader (or a knowledge receiver) acts out as the author (or knowledge co-constructor) (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya, 2020).

This innovative type of knowledge might inevitably affect learners’ main cognitive processes. Indeed, as argued by the famous Russian neurolinguist Tatyana Chernigovskaya, the hypertextual nature of knowledge leads to the formation of an innovative learning environment, which she refers to as “shared consciousness”, where learners have to rely not on their memory capacity to recall various information quanta but rather on their ability to remember the source of the particular data storage, which, in turn, can seriously weaken working memory, especially that of young learners. Additionally, the hypertextual characteristics of the new type of knowledge  are believed to affect the development of learners’ reading skills as this process now implies the inclusion of critical literacy at the very early stages of their cognitive development. This represents a challenging task for young learners whose abilities to compare, contrast and analyse, as well as to make inferences, are not so well-formed as those of adult learners (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). These factors might lead to the formation of new and superficially scrutinised skills of digital knowledge management which will need to be specially addressed when teaching L2 reading comprehension.

More importantly, according to Zou and Xie’s (2018) research on the integration of MALL in language learning, this new format of learning, although enhancing personal learning processes, can seriously impede learners’ attention: shortening their attention spans for learning, and therefore, affecting learners’ ability to concentrate and control their attention. In the same vein, as argued by Hsu et al. (2019), adolescent excessive use of mobile devices might have adverse effects on their abilities to integrate scientific knowledge and to make inferences, thus leaving them with a rather distorted, disintegrated and mosaic-like scientific worldview.

Furthermore, as stated by Komlosi (2016:167), the onset of DLL will urge researchers to reconsider and revisit the essence of communication as the new digital teaching paradigm has introduced radical changes in social cognition and communication in the new form of digital culture, which implies that its members operate in connected networks constituted by several types of ‘cognitive identities’. This newly coined term refers both to human and non-human social actors that function smartly and are expected to operate within a highly interlocked framework of multifaceted information flow and exchange. The agents of info-communications in the digital world are related to each other not by commonly shared cultural narratives, as negotiated within the traditional cognitive cultural anthropology, but by fragmented narratives revealed through spontaneous and rather unstable shared interests in networking, information construction and exchange, thus facilitating non-linear, multidimensional communicative interaction which can seriously impede the traditional vertical, authoritative and declarative patterns of cultural knowledge transmission (Komlosi, 2016:167). This change in the social cognition and behaviour paradigm might have adverse effects on learners’ cognitive skills as the long evolutionary process of linear information processing typical for any culturally coherent human community is now challenged by parallel and connected network-based information processing: making use of fragmented, encapsulated information chunks provided by a plethora of information sources, which, in turn, forces learners and educators to seek new strategies of information management and info-communications in novel contexts (Komlosi, 2016:168).

Conclusion

At this point, an important conclusion which can be drawn is that the wide incorporation of DLL we are witnessing now needs to be approached as an irreversible process offering a new perspective on information processing and knowledge management of language learners in various contexts.  Notwithstanding its obvious advantageous effects, DLL has already signposted certain cognitive, behavioural and communicative challenges for learners. More research providing evidence of direct comparison between learning from others and learning from digital tools is required to develop a better understanding of the standard modes and channels of language transmission in in the digital age and to conceive the cognitive and behavioral consequences of learning in digital ecosystems.

References

  • Al-Ahdal, A. (2020). Using computer software as a tool of error analysis: Giving EFL teachers and learners a much-needed impetus. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change , 12(2), 418–437.
  • Chernigovskaya, Tatiana & Allakhverdov, Viktor & Korotkov, Alexander & Gershkovich, Valeria & Kireev, Maxim & Prokopenya, Veronika. (2020). Human brain and ambiguity of cognitive information: A convergent approach. Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University. Philosophy and Conflict Studies. 36. 675-686. 10.21638/spbu17.2020.406.
  • Grosjean, F. (2019). A journey in languages and cultures: The life of a bicultural bilingual. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Hsu, C.T., Clariana, R., Schloss, B., & Li, P. (2019). Neurocognitive signatures of naturalistic reading of scientific texts: a fixation-related fMRI study. Scientific Reports,9(1), 1–16.
  • Komlósi, L. (2016). 13. Digital Literacy and the Challenges in Digital Technologies for Learning. In D. Dejica, G. Hansen, P. Sandrini & I. Para (Ed.), Language in the Digital Era. Challenges and Perspectives (pp. 162-171). Warsaw, Poland: De Gruyter Open Poland. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110472059-015
  • Li, P., & Lan, Y. (2021). Digital Language Learning (DLL): Insights from Behavior, Cognition, and the Brain. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1-18. doi:10.1017/S1366728921000353
  • Shadiev, R., & Yang, M. (2020). Review of studies on technology-enhanced language learning and teaching. Sustainability, 12(2), 524.
  • Sidorova, I. (2019). Learning Via Visualization at the Present Stage of Teaching a Foreign Language. Astra Salvensis, 6 (1), 601-607.
  • Vulchanova, M., Baggio, G., Cangelosi, A., & Smith, L. (2017). Editorial: Language development in the digital age. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, Article 447. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00447
  • Warschauer, M. (2004). Technological change and the future of CALL. In Fotos, S & Brown, C (eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 15–25.
  • Zou, D., & Xie, H. (2018). Personalized word-learning based on technique feature analysis and learning analytics. Educational Technology & Society ,21 (2), 233–244.

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