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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5 Ways That Teachers Can Work Effectively With Parents to Help Their Students

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.

I’ve made the point before that parent’s are our allies, not our enemies. It’s important to foster productive relationships with the parents of our students so that our learners feel fully supported in their education. How exactly do we foster those relationships, though? This week, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento to share her thoughts on how to keep parents on our side.

Kat Sarmiento

Parents and teachers share the same goal: to ensure that students have the most excellent educational experience possible. In a study by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, one of the best approaches to creating a positive learning environment is encouraging parents’ engagement in their children’s school lives. 

Teachers who focus on involving parents see a profound change in their classrooms. Parental involvement begins at home, with the parents providing a safe and conducive environment for learning, experiences, support, and a positive outlook about the importance of education.

Parents actively involved in their child’s education provide the home support and knowledge that their children need—not just to accomplish assignments—but also to develop a lifelong love for learning.

Given that the importance of parents’ help in a child’s learning is beyond dispute, how can teachers work effectively with parents to help their students?

#1: Open reliable channels for communication

In a parent-teacher relationship, frequent two-way communication is essential so parents can stay updated on what is happening at school. At the same time, inform teachers about the important things concerning the child. 

A common mistake amongst teachers is not communicating enough or only getting in touch when there’s already a problem. It is best not to wait for situations to arise before reaching out. Teachers need to interact frequently and positively with parents to build a relationship before facing any roadblocks. Especially with today’s technology, teachers can do weekly reviews and quickly update parents on what’s going on in the classroom. 

It is critical to identify the best communication tools, develop messaging plans early in the year, and maintain consistent communication throughout the year. Maximize video conferencing apps, messaging boards, emails, social media, memos, newsletters, phone calls and find out what works best.

#2: Be collaborative

If communication is frequent, then collaboration will be easier.

A collaborative approach means that parents participate in the school’s decisions and work together to enhance the students’ learning and development.

Parents are well aware of their child’s lifestyle, developmental history, and interests. At the same time, teachers know how they can best guide and help their students perform in school.

Parents and teachers collaboratively sharing knowledge will go a long way to support a child’s growth and academic success. It includes relating what a child learns at school with what they learn at home.

The goal is to create a partnership in which teachers and parents share expertise to provide the best education for the students. Reciprocal respect, sharing of planning, and decision-making responsibilities are the essential components for true partnerships between parents and teachers.

#3: Encourage learning at home

Parents should support after-school learning by talking positively about school and teachers, creating a supportive home environment.

This form of involvement includes parents assisting their children with homework or taking them to a museum. These activities foster a school-oriented family and encourage parents to be involved in the school curriculum. 

Activities that encourage learning at home provide parents with information on what children are doing in the classroom and how to help them. Research shows that parental engagement is associated with increased productivity and academic achievement in many ways.

Participating in a child’s education shows that parents values their learning. The more help and guidance a child feels at home, the more effectively they will learn at school.

#4: Build a trusting relationship

In many respects, the first interaction between a teacher and a parent is the most crucial. During this time, a rapport is established, and trust can begin to develop.

Trust is a crucial component of any successful partnership. Teachers must maintain a trusting, private, open, and honest relationship with parents and ensure they always have the students’ best interest at heart. At the same time, parents should be confident in the competency of the teachers who are professionally involved in their children’s education.

#5: Make the curriculum transparent

Part of keeping parents informed is letting them know what their children are learning, how they are processing it, and how it will help their child succeed.

One way to do this is by conducting workshops for parents to inform them of the school curriculum and remind them that they are still their child’s most important teachers.

The bottom line is that education is a critical stage in a child’s growth and development. When parents and teachers collaborate as a team, children learn more effectively. And like any team, parents and teachers have one goal: provide the most incredible learning environment for children to promote their physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

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 Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

6 Reasons Why Education is Important

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.

We all understand the importance of developing ourselves professionally – whether that be by improving a particular set of teaching skills or by learning new ones. Sometimes, however, it’s important to go right back to the core fundamentals by considering why we do what we do in the first place. This week, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her thoughts on why education is important in the first place.

Why is education important? To many of us, we learn the value of education from what the adults say. As children, not everyone understands why do we study, go to school, spend our free time with homework and learn. As we grow older, it becomes more and more necessary to receive the right level of education.

Learning is among the best habits of successful people. It creates future leaders, builds a polite society, and moves forward the future of humanity. If you or someone you know is questioning why they need to study, show this to them. Here are 6 reasons why education is important not only to you but for everyone.

#1: Education Teaches Independence

Education is not about learning random facts that you can’t use in real life. Whether you’re slaking your thirst for knowledge or you’re doing it for something more practical, education makes you independent. Early education molds you as a crucial, functioning member of society, no matter your age.

For younger children, education is there to teach them the basic skills necessary to survive society. For adolescents, proper education arms them with tools that can help them take advantage of opportunities. Higher learning like uni and post-grad demystifies the world further.

All these teach independence – from how the mechanics of how the body works to knowing what to do in a job. Independence is a matter of learning how to succeed after failure, how to protect yourself from opportunists, and how to deal with life in general. Life can be hard but education equips you with the right ways to make the most out of it.

#2: Education Provides More Employment Opportunities

With 7 billion people on Earth and around 330 million in the United States, finding a job is not easy. If you want a job that pays above the minimum wage, you usually need to have at least higher learning, if not more. Even at entry-level, you need to compete with hundreds of applicants vying for the same position.

Learning higher education, with the right teaching techniques, can give you the edge you need. You can differentiate yourself and fulfill a job demand within society. The world can never have too many data scientists, engineers, scientists, and more.

As you go and specialize even further, you expand your job opportunities and find more specific job opportunities. Depending on what you do, not only can you improve your chances of getting hired, you also stand out even further. Educate yourself, graduate, improve your skills, and get more qualifications to get ahead of the competition.

#3: Education Helps Us Connect

In many situations, those who don’t educate themselves are the ones who don’t understand other people. Education helps breed culture, and the lack of the former can result in an apparent lack of the latter. Education helps you understand people better, especially those who are different than you.

Education teaches you more about geography, history, and social sciences, which are crucial to know how to deal with multiple walks of life. Prejudices and discrimination according to race, gender orientation, physical ability, and more come from the lack of knowledge over many things that you learn at school.

The more we understand about the world and the people who are different than use, the better we can put ourselves in their shoes. It allows us to appreciate the good things about other cultures and help curb negative stereotypes that divide us as humans. We also learn more about our surroundings.

Education helps us empathize. It gives us a better understanding of the world and become better citizens of this world. It familiarizes things we don’t know and takes away potential prejudices we have towards them.

#4: Education Alleviates Poverty

Poverty is one of the most crippling social statuses in the world. It is painful for those stuck in it, as the lack of resources means a lack of nutrition and other essential needs too. To many, education is a luxury taken for granted but for many around the world, it is their ticket out of poverty.

As we said, proper education teaches you crucial life skills in a society that needs them. At the very least, reading, writing, and arithmetic teaches children to know how to deal with people. Each additional year of education can offer better education, better-paying jobs, and more ways to feed their families.

“An AMAZING Book!”

As we educate people, we also teach the future generation to be more discerning about their would-be leaders. People learn critical thinking skills necessary to help them make better decisions. This education, paired with the will to progress, can help people find better-paying jobs that can alleviate poverty.

#5: Education Breeds Confidence

One of the keys to getting further in life is being confident in everything that you do. Knowing your skills, what you bring to the table, what you can do, and what you can further learn can help you gain the confidence to succeed. Whether you have an art degree or a business background, education makes you confident with what you know.

To succeed, you need the confidence to look your uncertainties straight in the eye. It helps you overcome your fears, self-doubt, and crippling anxiety. Confidence also gives you the drive to start projects, show off their new ideas, and think outside the box.

Education can help breed confidence. As you learn more, the better you can express your thoughts and unveil your intellect. You can say yes to opportunities you believe you deserve and no to things that you don’t. Education breeds confidence, and the more you know, the fewer people can take advantage of you.

#6: Education Brings Equity

Education is one of the ultimate equalizers of the world. If you’re looking to simply be educated, it makes all opportunities more open to you, giving you a fair chance. If you’re looking to educate, you give other people a better chance to make the most out of their talents.

A world of knowledge is a world of equity. Everyone learns at different speeds – at various rates. Every person has a different starting point. Education can help get you and everyone else to the same finish line – success.

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s for yourself, your family, or other people, education is one of the most powerful weapons you can wield. The world is yours to take and you can uplift yourself and the people around you with the right education. You don’t have to be the next billionaire to see how valuable education can be.

Are you ready to learn? Educate yourself. Knowledge is the best foundation you can use to succeed in life. Even without selfless reasons, proper education can help all of us live in a better, more polite society.

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.

7 Effective Ways to Cultivate Student Resilience in the Classroom

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. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Resilience is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. Resilience is an important life-skill for children to acquire whilst at school. Reach Out Australia, for example, states that “When students feel like the outcome won’t affect them negatively, they are more likely to try new and more challenging things in the classroom. Being able to learn from mistakes and challenges in a place where they feel supported and encouraged will build their confidence, self-belief and resilience. Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymath, to write this excellent blog post describing seven ways to cultivate student resilience in the classroom. Enjoy!

“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.”

Jaeda Dewalt

Life is a beautiful adventure that has its ups and downs. Unexpected things happen in this world and within moments your life turns upside down. Take the example of the pandemic: one day, suddenly, we got to know about a virus that had infected masses of people in China and within days the virus spread to multiple countries of the world. It caused wide-scale casualties, governments imposed lockdowns and the sad ‘new normal’ began.

Sudden events that happen in life can make you realize how important it is to be resilient. If we are resilient, we can withstand the storms that come our way and emerge victorious. During our days in quarantine, as I spent this trying time with my kids who were feeling anxious, I realized that the pandemic is a big challenge, especially for children. They are facing such difficulties at a very young age in their lives. This experience motivated me to start cultivating resilience in my kids. Every day, I make them engage in different activities that can empower their resilience. Watching them become emotionally and mentally stronger has motivated me to also work on cultivating student resilience in the classroom.

Here, I am going to share some effective strategies that have helped me turn my kids into more resilient beings. I have started using these strategies with my students too and I hope that you’ll also use them to help your students cultivate strong resilience.

#1: Make children engage in activities that challenge them physically

This is one of the best ways that have helped me cultivate resilience in my kids. Anything that challenges them physically, helps them gain confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their body. This self-confidence gives them the strength to bear difficulties in life with courage. So, you should try to make your students engage in activities that challenge them physically. You can make them play new games that require more physical as well as mental efforts and help them develop confidence in their physical and mental capabilities. As far as I am concerned, I make my students participate in different kinds of races to challenge their physical capabilities and scavenger hunts with challenging quizzes to help them develop confidence in their mental capabilities. Moreover, I also tell them to not compete with each other but strive to become a better version of themselves. Believe me, this tactic really works.

#2: Help them inculcate confident and influential body language

Do you know that your body language and your feelings are interconnected? Yes, this is true. That is why, whenever you are sad, you sit or stand with a hunched back, look down and your smile fades away. This is an example of how your emotions impact your body language. In the same way, your body language also impacts your emotions. You can use this connection between emotions and body language to help your students become more resilient. You can help them learn body language techniques to regulate their emotions. For example, power posing in a confident way can help your students face challenges with courage. To know more about power posing and the benefits of influential body language, you can watch the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. Further, you can also read different books and watch videos on Body Language to help your students inculcate confident and influential body language.

#3: Make them engage in creative pursuits

According to one study published by Colin G. Deyoung and Paul J. Silvia in the Journal of Positive Psychology, creativity encourages positive emotions that can unlock our inner resources for dealing with stress and uncertainty. This implies that we can help kids develop a strong resilience in an interesting way by making them engage in creative pursuits. If a child loves painting, you can let him express his creative self through painting for some time every day. If a child loves dancing, you can let him express his creative endeavors through dancing. By engaging in their favorite creative pursuits, your students will develop strong resilience over time. Along with this, they’ll also become happier and calmer versions of themselves which will ultimately help them become more resilient in life.

#4: Create a gratitude ritual and practice it together

‘Gratitude’, we have heard this word a lot and we have also received the advice to express gratitude from many influential people. But, we often feel that expressing gratitude cannot do us enough good as it is a very simple practice. We think that we need to look for something better and so on. But, believe me, we have been wrong whenever we have thought this way. I have seen tremendous positive changes in myself and my kids by following a gratitude ritual for the past two months regularly. We are happier, more optimistic, and therefore, more resilient too. Moreover, research also shows that gratitude can help us rewire our brains towards positivity. So, you should try to create a gratitude ritual and practice it with your students. A simple gratitude ritual is to write down three things that you are grateful for every day. You can try this one or create your own gratitude ritual.

#5: Help them build meaningful social connections

The American Psychological Association wrote in its resilience report, “Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.” When you have supportive relationships in your life, you feel safe and protected. You know that there are always people you can count on whenever you get faced with any problems in life. This knowingness gives you the strength to withstand the challenges that come in your life. This implies that we can help our students build strong resilience by encouraging them to cultivate meaningful social relationships with others. We can help our students build strong friendships with each other and cultivate good relationships with us as well as other people from the school staff. This way, we can teach our students to form meaningful connections with people and boost their resilience.

#6: Make them engage in healthy risk-taking

The development of self-confidence is crucial for us to cultivate strong resilience. You can help your students become self-confident by making them engage in healthy risk-taking. For example, if your students are afraid of dogs, you can bring a little puppy and encourage them to play with it. No doubt, they’ll feel a little afraid in the beginning but then, after playing safely with the puppy, their confidence level in their abilities to take risks will increase. As a result, they’ll cultivate a strong resilience over time.

#7: Teach them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations

If you have the ability to help yourself calm down even under challenging times, you naturally have strong resilience. You feel confident about yourself and know that you can handle yourself even in difficult situations. So, you can help your students develop a strong resilience by teaching them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations. Belly breathing, focusing on the sounds that are happening around us, and feeling deeply are some simple coping mechanisms that help us calm our nervous system under challenging situations. Furthermore, you can watch YouTube videos to learn about belly breathing and then you can teach this calming technique to your students.

The pandemic has taught us that we should help children develop a strong resilience right from their childhood. It is only in the presence of a strong resilience that they can face any challenges that life throws at them and emerge victoriously. Furthermore, as teachers, we can help our students cultivate a strong resilience through the different ways mentioned above. Now, I wish you all the best, and may your efforts to help your students develop a strong resilience bear fruits.

An ardent writer, Jessica Robinson, works for ‘The Speaking Polymath’. She uses this platform to weave her magical words into powerful strands of content and share with her readers.

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Using props in the ESL classroom to keep your students engaged

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Sometimes, the simplest of materials can offer the greatest opportunities for creative exploration. This week, I’ve invited Rose-Anne Turner of Destination TEFL to share her expert tips on how to use everyday items as stimulating props within your lessons.

In our last blog post, we discussed using technology in the classroom to engage your students. Oftentimes, this just isn’t possible, and we need to look at other low cost and easy to source props for the classroom that not only get the students involved, but create a fun learning environment for the teacher and students.

Here we have a few suggestions that you can easily pick up in a $1 store (20 baht shop for those of you in Thailand!) and how to use them successfully in the classroom.

Balls: The options are endless here! Those cheap plastic ball-pit balls can be used for so many different games. They can also be used as a way to pair or group students for groupwork (put the coloured balls in a black plastic bag, the students pull out a ball and join the group with the same colour balls). You can also use a ball to throw at a ‘dart board’ drawn on the whiteboard to allocate points to questions answered correctly. The games for using balls in the classroom are endless! Just make sure to use lightweight ones so you don’t end up with broken windows…

Plastic fly swotters: This is one of our all-time favourite props at Destination TEFL. A great go-to game for a consolidation activity is ‘slam’. The teacher splits the class into two teams and calls up two students at a time to the board, one from each team. Flashcards with images from the words learnt in the lesson are stuck to the board (lower level students, just 2 words to choose from, higher level, you can put up more options). When the teacher calls out the word, the two students have to ‘slam’ the correct flashcard. The one who slams the correct card first is the winner and gets a point for their team. For more advanced students, this could be changed into a grammar exercise: put parts of speech words to the board such as noun, proposition etc. Call out a word and the student who slams the correct part of speech is the winner. We have had equal success with slam across all age levels, from kindergarten to adult lessons. Warning: you’ll need a pacemaker activity to calm down the class afterwards as the noise and excitement level can become quite high!

Funny hats and glasses or puppets: Sometimes students are shy to speak. If they take on another ‘persona’ in the form of a puppet or dress up, then it can encourage them to participate in a fun way with a speaking activity, as they are not being themselves but the character of the puppet or prop.

Stickers or ink stamps: children respond well to the positive reinforcement of receiving a ‘reward’ for correct work or even just participation. They love being able to show their parents a sticker of praise in their workbook or even on their hand. TIP: stickers can get expensive for a teacher, but a rubber stamp with an inkpad is a cheap way of rewarding students.

“An AWESOME book!”

Dice: These can be used in so many ways. Here are a few examples: Use it for dividing students into groups – you land on a 4 and you divide the class into groups of 4. Or students roll the dice and line up in order of the number they rolled. When answering questions, students roll the dice to determine which question to answer. Think of 6 topics, students roll the dice to determine which topic they will speak on for quick oral practice.

Scrabble tiles: Again, the opportunities to use this simple prop are endless. Use them to line up students (in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order) after the students pick a tile from a bag. Use them to group students according to letters selected, or in groups according to vowel and consonant. Select a category (perhaps topics you have recently covered in class) and students take turn to draw letters and name a word from the category which starts with that letter (you can remove any letters that won’t work for a topic). Let teams draw 10 letters each, and they should come up with as many English words with those letters in a specific time.

Beanbag or soft toy: Use this to throw to the students to determine who will be next in answering a question or participating in the task. Rather than the teacher always being the one to throw the toy, give them a chance to throw it to the next student after answering the question or drilling the word. This keeps them on their toes as they don’t know who will be called on next, as you are not going by order of seating.

Ball of string: a length of string or rope can be used in so many ways. Use it to line up students as a timeline to teach tenses (they can peg words to the string in order of tense). Use it as a ‘washing line’ activity. Students pick the words of a sentence out of a bag and need to peg it to the line in the correct word order. Have two washing lines and two teams so that there’s a winning team based on time and accuracy. 

Remember that for all games, there MUST be a purpose. The purpose for the teacher is for the students to learn and practice the language by playing the consolidation activity or production game. The purpose for the student is to complete the task or win the game. A game or activity that has no outcome or result (usually in the form of a winner) will not be as engaging for your students. Do keep games and outcomes age appropriate. For example, at kindergarten level, we don’t want to focus on winning quite as much, with participation being the main goal at that level.

What props do you use in your ESL classroom?

Guest blog written for Richard James Rogers by Rose-Anne Turner – Destination TEFL

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How to Develop a Passion for Reading in our Students

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video/podcast:

The ability to read is possibly the most important skill that students should master whilst at school. It is so important, in fact, that a simple Google search of the phrase “The importance of reading for students” brings up hundreds of millions of hits (around 717 million at the time of writing this article, to be exact).

Do your students love to read?

There are numerous benefits of reading: for adults and children alike. I could choose to spend the rest of this article describing those benefits, but I fear that I would be preaching to the converted. As teachers, we already know that reading is important. I hope you will permit me, however, to at least include my favourite quote about reading from one of my favourite actors:

For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.

Will Smith

So, we know that our students must learn to read. However, what’s equally important is that our students learn to love reading. And this is what I want to explore with you today: How do we get our students, or our children, to enjoy reading? How do we prevent reading from becoming a laborious, dull part of their schooling and instead turn it into to a relaxing and, dare I say it, exciting past-time?

Tip #1: Turn reading into a collaborative task (with a creative output)

Reading is all-to-often seen as a solitary activity, which is most unfortunate. Set up times, or clubs, where students can read to each other and perhaps generate some kind of creative output – perhaps building a model of what they’ve read (Design Technology), calculating and mapping the frequency of different words (Mathematics) or even creating the costumes the characters might be wearing (Textiles). When reading becomes an active process, students realize that there’s actually a lot of ‘juice’ one can squeeze from a book, or even a short segment of text.

Perhaps you could couple collaborative reading with a technological task too – such as creating a Minecraft landscape of the setting for the story, or even setting up a Google Site online journal of learning.

My award-winning book for teachers is a popular choice for teacher book clubs.

The possibilities for collaboration in reading, coupled with creative outputs, really are limited only by one’s imagination. In fact, you may wish to ‘crowdsource’ ideas from the children themselves, perhaps by using a worksheet/prompt like the one below:

Could this be a tool to help your students read collaboratively?

If you like the above tool, then you can download it as a pdf here.

#2: Host reading and reading-related competitions and events

Some ideas to consider are:

  • Celebrate World Book Day by allowing students to come into school dressed as their favourite book characters. Perhaps offer special prizes for the best costumes, or even run a fashion show on the day. Award plus points/merits/whatever your school’s ‘reward tokens’ are for students who bring in their favourite books on the day.
  • Invite a local author to come into school to talk about their work. As an author myself, I know for a fact that the author will love the opportunity to gain some exposure, and if you ask politely you may even get some free, signed books for school out of it.
  • Run book clubs or events by genre – specialization can generate more interest in reading. Have a day for self-help books, one for non-fiction, one for animals – anything that the students are interested in.
  • Take the students to a reading-related place, such as a local library or actual location from a book. Students will often be unaware that these places exist in the first place, and their discovery may set in-motion some profound changes that result in a love of reading. My primary school took me to my local library as child, for example, and that place became my study-hangout in my teens. I just loved being surrounded by all of those books. It’s a feeling that’s very unique.

#3: Read with your students, and to your students, with passion

Get involved in all of the activities listed above. Join the collaboration groups, for example, even if only for 10 minutes at a time. Read topical news articles, extracts from books, quotes of the day or any materials that provide positive messages for students. Have a sign outside your door that tells students what you are reading at that time.

Bottom line – get stuck in yourself! Never underestimate the subliminal messages that students pick up on when they see us model positive behaviors.

Further reading (no pun intended):

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4 Important Tips for Using Videos in Lessons

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

This blog post comes with an accompanying podcast episode. Listen here:

Videos are a staple of the modern practitioner’s arsenal. They’re often easy to source, well-made and free.

Video hosting platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have allowed us, as teachers, to turn our classrooms into makeshift cinemas (and our virtual classrooms into large resource banks). This is a revolution of sorts – one that has been spurred on by many factors, not least the declining cost of smart boards, sound systems and data projectors as the years have gone by.

As a teacher myself I have made use of videos in my practice extensively over the past sixteen years: even earning the invisible badge of honour that comes with wheeling in a TV on a trolley with accompanying DVD player back in 2008.

Videos can offer great instructional material for students – but only when they are sourced and executed carefully by the teacher. Whilst this may seem like a simple and straightforward process, further analysis reveals that there is much to consider.

In today’s blog post I will draw upon my experience of using videos extensively over my entire career. My aim is to provide you with strategies and points to consider, so that you don’t make some big mistakes along the way (like I have!).

So, without further ado, let’s hit the ‘Play’ button and get right into these top tips for using videos as teacher.

Tip #1: ALWAYS watch the video yourself before you show it to your students

This can be a challenge when time is limited, but it is a crucial first step that we should always take. Watching the video beforehand allows us to check the following:

  • Is the content at the right level?
  • Is it age-appropriate? Are there scenarios within the video that could be culturally insensitive?
  • Does the video contain any swearing?
  • Is the volume of the video loud-enough?
  • Will I show the auto-generated captions/subtitles within the video? Are these subtitles an accurate reflection of the spoken words within the video? Do the captions contain any swear words by mistake (or on-purpose)?
  • Are there any points-of-interest that I can capitalise on? Are there any real-life examples or applications that I can think of that link directly to the video’s content?

One key mistake I’ve made a number of times as a teacher is sourcing a video quickly, only to find that much of the material was either too advanced or too basic for my students. Be particularly careful with captions/subtitles – a old colleague of mine got into some hot water for showing a video to students that contained clean spoken language, but subtitles containing swear words.

Surely it must be every teacher’s worst nightmare to show a video to students that wasn’t checked beforehand, only to hear or see crassness, immorality or inappropriate scenarios on the video when played in on a big screen in front of the students. The fear of embarrassment alone should be enough for us to remember the cardinal rule of using videos in teaching: ALWAYS watch the videos before we share them with our students.

Tip #2: Keep Videos Between 5 and 15 minutes long (as a general Rule of Thumb)

I’ve made the mistake on a number of occasions of finding a reputable, clean, amazing video, only to then play it to the class for 40 minutes or longer (e.g. in the case of lengthy documentaries). When the videos we choose are too long (or the segments we choose to play are too long) then many students will become disengaged and irritable. This is understandable – in today’s digitized social landscape students are more distracted than ever before in human history.

For me personally, I attempt to keep my videos to 15 minutes maximum. For this to happen, I have to choose videos (or video segments) very carefully. Sometimes I’ll source videos that get straight to the point (e.g. a laboratory demonstration of an experiment) and that take less than 5 minutes to play through.

In short – be aware of how much time the students spend watching the video. Is that time being efficiently used, or does the video explore topics that the students don’t need to know?

Tip #3: Watch the students as you’re watching the video

I once was blasted by my mentor during my teacher-training year. Why? – I had committed the atrocious crime of showing a video to my students, and then casually sitting down to watch the video with them.

Of course, any experienced teacher will immediately be able to identify the inadequacies of this strategy – when you don’t watch the students as the video is playing, then small pockets of chatter, disruptiveness and distraction can manifest.

My mentor put it bluntly: “When you show a video to your students you must watch the students. Don’t watch the video!”. I had been reprimanded (well, probably just advised, but it felt like a reprimand).

That was sixteen years ago. Today, I would have to say that I disagree with my old mentor, at least to some degree.

Check out my award-winning book on Amazon, Barnes &Noble and at all good retailers.

I believe that as a video is playing it is most effective for a teacher to watch the students AND watch the video. Consider the following:

  • Walk over to students who are chatting during a video, or who are being disruptive, and stand next to them. Normally this will bring them back on-task, but if it doesn’t, then a quiet one-to-one word should do the trick. “I really need you to focus on this video, Lucy”, for example.
  • Stand to the side or behind the class so that every student is within your field of vision.
  • If disruption becomes too pervasive, then don’t be afraid to stop the video and talk to the class. For example: “I’m so sorry to those students who were listening quietly to the video. It is unfortunate that some students are not paying attention”. Then play the video again ONLY when every student is focused.

However, why should we watch the video as we are watching the students? Well, there are many answers to that question, but the core principle is that you may wish to use key material within the video for discussion or tasks later. You may even want to pause the video at key points to discuss a real-life example or application, or even to re-phrase something the video has just described. Don’t be afraid of pausing videos at key moments like this, by the way – students learn a lot when prior concepts are linked to content that has been very recently covered.

Tip #4: Make sure the video has a purpose, and is utilized afterwards

We must not get into the habit of showing videos to students for the sole purpose of filling time, however. We must attempt to extract all of the juice that we can out of a video. Consider asking your students to do the following:

  • Make a list of key bullet points as the video is playing (which could be used as source material later in a group activity for example).
  • Complete a worksheet based on the video.
  • Use information from the video to complete exam-style questions or past-paper questions.
  • Follow the instructions within the video, step-by-step (e.g. if it’s a ‘How to’ video’). This could apply to tasks as diverse as coding, model-making, conducting scientific experiments, cooking, etc.
  • Collaborate with others to create a presentation, infographic, mind-map, news report or debating panel based on the concepts and information covered.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Sometimes we might want to show students videos as stimuli material, or to build passion for and interest in a subject. Recently, for example, I was teaching a physics lesson about forces and motion. The lesson covered pretty rudimentary calculations involving speed, distance, time and acceleration. However, I was presented with a most unusual gift – NASA had just landed a new rover on Mars. This was a golden opportunity to excite my students – so I played some footage from the Mars landing and initiated a short discussion about the physics involved.

Conclusion

I feel that we’ve become so used to the accessibility of high-quality videos that we’ve become somewhat complacent. We must always ensure that video content is sourced, planned and executed well. We do this by:

  • Watching the videos before we show them to our students
  • Being mindful of video duration
  • Keeping our eyes on our students, as we’re watching the video with them
  • Making sure that there’s some kind of activity or task included in the lesson that links to the video in some way (where possible)

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Excessive Screen Time is Harming Children’s Mental Health

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Parents and teachers have long been concerned about the mental health effects of excessive screen time on the children we care for, and teach. Oftentimes, we compare the lived experiences of modern day teens and young adults with what we went through at that age. Legitimate worries are attributed to questions surrounding disproportionate tech use – questions such as:

  • Are students today less fit and healthy than they were before the World Wide Web became mainstream?
  • What are the negative mental health effects of social media on adolescents?
  • Is there a causal link between tech use and mental health issues in teens?
  • Has technology usage increased the prevalence of mental health issues in teens?

The short answer to the last question is that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that tech use has increased mental health issues in teens – that, at least, is the conclusion of a recent Oxford University study. Unfortunately, however, the directness of this conclusion was lost on the BBC who made the unforgivable blunder of misrepresenting the study completely. Their headline shockingly reads ‘Teens, tech and mental health: Oxford study finds no link’

To most professionals in education this BBC headline, and indeed the conclusions of the actual study itself, seem premature, inaccurate and potentially misleading given evidence that has arisen from other studies that aimed to investigate causal links between screen time and mental health issues in children, teens and young adults.

So, what was special about the Oxford study? Were the researchers even able to come to such a broad, valid conclusion in the first place? I will answer these questions via a series of bullet-points:

  • The sample size was large, with 430,561 teenagers and high school children being involved in the study
  • Only UK and US students were studied
  • Participants were aged 10 – 15 years old
  • The data was collected by MTF (since 1991), UndSoc (since 2009) and YRBS (since 1991). Only 40,000 out of the 430,561 students were from the UK.
  • Only 139,264 of of the participants were asked about their social media usage (because, of course, much of the data was collected before 2009, which is when social media became accessible via mobile devices).

So, basically, what have the Oxford team done? That’s right – they’ve taken legacy data, overwhelmingly biased towards the American demographic, and analyzed the results using some statistical tests. Apparently, this is enough for the esteemed academics at Oxford to come to the conclusion that “There Is No Evidence That Associations Between Adolescents’ Digital Technology Engagement and Mental Health Problems Have Increased”. The BBC takes this adulteration further by boldly stating that “There remains ‘little association’ between technology use and mental-health problems, a study of more than 430,000 10 to 15-year-olds suggests.

A teacher’s perspective

I’m personally quite angry by the misleading messages that these inaccurate conclusions have transmitted to the masses. Anyone reading the BBC article, in particular, would think that there’s no need to be concerned about excessive screen time and social media usage in teens. The real story, however, is quite different:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in CanadaAmerica and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

However, these aforementioned studies focus on the physical effects of screen time on children: nearsightedness, obesity and sleep-deprivation. The Oxford ‘study’ focused on mental health issues, so what point am I am trying to make?

Do causal links exist between nearsightedness, obesity, sleep-deprivation and mental health in children and teens?

  • A number of studies have reported significant associations between obesity and poor psychological wellbeing in children but findings have been inconsistent. A 2007 study of 3,898 children from England concluded that “being overweight, rather than obese, had no impact on overall reported mental health.” However,17% of children with obesity were above the suggested screening threshold for emotional problems.
  • Perhaps the most obvious link occurs between sleep-deprivation and mental health, and numerous studies conclude that a causal relationship does exist. A 2013 study concluded, for example, that “early sleep deprivation in childhood may result in long-term behaviour issues” and even that “sleep problems impact core symptoms of common neurodevelopmental disorders”.

Studies such as these seem to have been ignored by the Oxford team. Maybe, however, I’m making tentative links between mental health and physical problems, and then linking those tentatively to screen-time and social media usage?

Hold your horses, because there’s more.

A report published by the Telegraph includes a headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

I could go on to explore more sources to support the argument that social media usage, and screen-time, negatively affect the mental health of teens and children. I fear that this blog post would become a behemoth of statistics if I were to do that, however, so I’ll leave you with a few links to peruse yourself:

  • Ofcom 2017 ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report‘. Amongst the key findings were the shocking revelation that 77% of 12-15 year olds play computer games for around 12 hours per week, and 99% go online for around 21 hours per week. The 2020 report suggests that screen-time has increased, with children using devices for a much wider-variety of purposes than in 2017.
  • A November 2020 study by the University of British Columbia found that “Longer screen time (more than two hours a day) was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.”

Overall conclusions

I think it was highly negligent of the University of Oxford to ignore the links that clearly exist between screen time and….

  • Nearsightedness
  • Obesity
  • Sleep-deprivation
  • Lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism [UBC]
  • Higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms [UBC]

As an influential university, Oxford should really have done it’s due diligence before releasing the paper. The message that has been interpreted: that no causal link exists between tech use and poor mental health, is just plain wrong. The BBC, also, should be held to account for their blatant dilution of the study’s findings: from “There’s not enough evidence to suggest that mental health issues have increased as a result of tech” (the Oxford conclusion) to “No link exists between teens, tech and mental health”.

If anything, today’s blog post has been an interesting expose’ of big institutions, and their overwhelming negligence despite their good public standing.

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3 Things That Make a School Outstanding

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The bell rang at 12.30pm to the typical sigh of relief from students who’d been sat in lessons all morning. Bustling through the corridors towards the school canteen, library, school field or some other designated ‘turf’ were the majority of my classmates at St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. I, on the other hand, had an appointment with my favorite teacher.

It felt like an easy journey to the German classroom. I was excited because I would be practicing my German oral phrases and responses with my teacher, who had been giving up a good portion of her lunchtimes for the past few weeks to help me become more confident and competent. She was always patient, and always willing to help.

Then, there was that time when my Biology teacher talked me through an end-of-unit test I had completed, so that I could know exactly where I had lost marks. I still remember the conversation word-for-word, almost thirty years later. I finally grasped some important concepts that day.

At the core of my good fortune to attend an outstanding school as a teenager was one most important thing: outstanding teachers. All of my teachers really cared for my wellbeing, and they often went above-and-beyond to provide me with extra tuition, or even to have one-on-one conversations with me to put me on-track, or to reprimand me when I had slipped up. Great teachers, I found, were more important than great facilities.

There are other factors that make a school outstanding, however. Even the best efforts of a team of outstanding teachers can be thwarted by the subterfuge of negligence, bad policies or even school culture. In this blog post, I will explore all of the key factors that work together to make a school outstanding.

#1: The school’s vision and mission are the starting points

A well-crafted mission statement that infuses everything the school does as a community can have a massive and profound impact on students’ lives.

At Saint Richard Gwyn, for example, our slogan was “Learning Together In Christ“. This phrase was spoken at every assembly, written in many school publications (such as the school’s weekly newsletter) and was reinforced by teachers during some of our lessons. I don’t think I and my peers fully realized the power of this collective action by the school back then, but that statement was actually having a dramatic effect on the way we saw the world, and ourselves. Whether you are religious or not, you can appreciate that this statement sent home a bigger message than just those four words:

  • At our school we learn together. Our focus is serious, and we help each other.
  • We have faith in Christ at our school. We are expected to follow the moral principles outlined in the gospels.

America’s Center for School Change has the following to say about a school’s Vision and Mission:

Developing the school’s vision and mission are two of the most important steps toward creating a successful program. Done well, they give clarity and direction for a school. A muddy vision or mission can help lead to continuing conflicts, and a school that has difficulty identifying priorities.

Center for School Change

I like that last part about “identifying priorities”. What does your school’s vision and mission and say about your institution’s priorities, and how well-embedded are those priorities?

Over the years, many educational scholars have stressed the importance of the school’s vision and mission, and how well those ideas are communicated and transformed into expectations. A classic amongst these scholars is William Rutherford of the University of Texas who, as far back as 1985, stated that effective school leaders need to:

  • have clear, informed visions of what they want their schools to become; visions that focus on students and their needs
  • translate these visions into goals for their schools and expectations for their teachers, students and administrators

So it would seem that simply having a vision and mission for a school is not enough to make a school truly outstanding. That vision and mission must focus on students and their needs, be translated into workable goals and be formulated as expectations for teachers, students and all staff members.

#2: Outstanding teachers make an outstanding school

A school’s best resource, by far, is the body of staff that comprise that school. Get that right and a school will usually be able to cope with the ebb and flow of daily circumstance in an effective manner. However, still to this day, schools are focusing far too much on teachers’ qualifications rather than experience, references and reputations, in my opinion.

This is the point where I’m going to have to speak bluntly and directly: an advanced degree does not make someone an amazing teacher; nor does a degree or qualification from a top university. Those credentials, actually, are meaningless in the context of determining one’s ability to manage behaviour, plan lessons thoroughly, teach with clarity and teach at an appropriate pace. Those qualifications may, however, allow a school to better market itself to parents and potential clients/customers (particularly in the private sector), but those qualifications never, in my honest opinion, determine a person’s ability to teach properly.

Teaching is a vocation: plain and simple. It’s a profession that one has to be built for, and one has to be passionate about in order to succeed. Experience has taught me that qualifications alone are not enough to determine a teacher’s suitability to teach. I, for example, have worked with a number of Oxford, Cambridge and PhD graduates over the years who were awful teachers who couldn’t communicate effectively with students and, in a significant number of cases, couldn’t teach at an acceptable pace or keep students engaged for long periods of time. On the other hand, I’ve also worked many such high-level graduates who were excellent teachers and helpful team-players.

Have you experienced the same in your time as a teacher?

My message for schools is simple: Focus on what the students and colleagues think of the teacher you’re hiring. Place more emphasis on teacher-portfolios and references – evidence of actual teaching ability – rather than the quality of a candidate’s qualifications.

#3: Effective systems make a school outstanding

Systems are like the glue that holds everything together. When a school has a clear vision and mission that’s backed-up by outstanding teachers and effective systems, everything then falls into place and runs smoothly (most of the time).

The most essential systems that schools need to have in-place can be remembered by what I hope is a useful acronym: C.A.R.S.Communication, Action, Rewards and Sanctions.

  • Communication systems need to be easy to use, and suitable for purpose. Schools that use the same system to communicate with parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders tend to experience better overall harmony than those that do not. Many schools, for example, choose to use e-mail for these purposes as it is a professional system that everyone can access. However, some schools (e.g. those in China) prefer to use a more real-time system for staff (e.g. chat apps like QQ and WeChat) and more traditional systems, like e-mail, for communicating with parents. Systems like this can cause undue stress to teachers, however, as it can be easy to miss messages posted within a chat stream. Teachers can also feel under constant pressure to respond, even outside of official working hours.
  • Action systems need to be workable. Teachers need to do things every day in a timely manner. Printing and photocopying, for example, should never be problematic (massive headaches are caused when printers don’t work, or when teachers are restricted to quotas, for example). Reports need to written via systems that are shared, and easy to navigate and access. Mock exams and internal exams need to be delivered via systems that make it easy for everyone to get their papers printed and organized in a timely manner. Timetabling needs to be seamless. Student locker systems need to be accessible and workable. The role of the form tutor/homeroom teacher within the school, and the systems needed to fulfill that role, need to be easy-to-use (a house system can often help with this). Registration systems need to be workable. Assessment systems and instructional software need to be carefully chosen and subscriptions need to be renewed on-time. File-sharing systems need to be in-place so that teachers can share useful resources with one-another.

Which action systems do you use in your school, and how could they be made to be more workable and accessible?

  • Rewards and sanctions systems – with emphasis placed more on rewards than sanctions. The consensus on the approach that should be taken is pretty clear in educational circles, and has been for some time. The UK’s Department for Education and Skills summarizes the key components of such systems best in my opinion:

Rewards, or positive consequences, are likely to encourage pupils to repeat the associated behaviour. Systems that emphasise praise for positive behaviour or regular attendance are more effective in motivating pupils to make appropriate choices. These appropriate choices contribute to a positive ethos in the school, thereby creating an environment for effective teaching and learning. . . . [S]anctions might be used only as a last resort, because using every opportunity to reinforce positive behaviour will have a greater and longer lasting effect than the constant use of sanctions for negative behaviour.

UK Department for Education and Skills, “Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour.” pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

In fact, it’s been known for some time that rewards work better than sanctions for promoting positive behaviour. The most notable foundational statement on this matter, for example, was made in the concluding text of The Elton Report (1989):

Schools which put too much faith in punishments to deter bad behaviour are likely to be disappointed

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

Conclusion

Outstanding schools always have the following elements in place:

  • A clear vision and mission that’s student-centered and easily translates into goals and expectations for students, teachers and all stakeholders
  • Outstanding teachers, with a proven track record of excellence in teaching (not necessarily academic excellence)
  • Effective communication, action, rewards and sanctions systems

Bibliography and references (in order of appearance)

W.L. Rutherford. School principals as effective leaders. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 67 number1, 1985, pp. 31-34

UK Department for Education and Skills. Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour. pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

10 Ways in Which The Pandemic is Modernising Education

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Students and teachers the world over faced unprecedented challenges as the pandemic raged through its first and second waves. Staff and children were sent home (and back to school) on multiple occasions in many cases, and teaching methodologies had to undergo a massive revamp out of the sheer necessity to adapt to the immediate situation schools were (and, in some cases, still are) faced with. This ‘jolt’ of circumstance has changed education forever.

In today’s blog post I will explore the main ways in which I believe teaching and learning have changed, and what the implications are for students and teachers today. Readers should bear in-mind that this is an opinion piece, albeit based on my experience in the field as a high-school science teacher (at an international school) and my own research.

#1: Students have realized that traditional university education offers little return-on-investment

Coronavirus had a double-whammy effect on universities and colleges:

  • Students were sent home and had to learn online, raising questions about the effectiveness of instruction delivered at traditional lecture halls crammed with hundreds of students.
  • Overseas students stopped applying for courses in the UK and the United States in large numbers, and sought local alternatives.

These issues have been further compounded by the fact that a university degree no longer prepares a person for a lifelong career.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), for example, surveyed about 400 employers and 613 college students about how prepared those students were to enter the professional world in 2015. Some key findings were:

  • 65 percent of the students surveyed felt their writing skills were strong enough for the professional world, but only 27 percent of employers felt the same way.
  • 55 percent of students felt they were well prepared to work with people in which they had little in-common, but only 18 percent of employers agreed.

You can download the AACU’s research paper as a pdf for free here.

The merits of a university-level education have been questioned for decades, and now that the pandemic has forced so-many to ‘learn from home’ we are experiencing a new realization that education needs to be modern and delivered in real-time. As a result, online courses are booming, and students are now quickly realizing that there are affordable, higher-quality alternatives to a traditional university degree.

#2: Practical skills training has gained in popularity

There are many skills that students can’t fully acquire via remote-learning:

  • Dangerous/specialized science experiments (e.g. dissections and chemical reactions)
  • Woodwork, metalwork, carpentry, plumbing and other vocational skills
  • Mechanical and electronic engineering and robotics
  • Specialized cookery

As a result, many schools focused heavily on practical-skills training when students returned to school after the first-wave subsided (in large part due to fear of losing this opportunity in the event of a second-wave, which many schools did actually experience later on). In my opinion, this has caused a renewed interest in the practical skills enrichment activities that are often non-compulsory, yet very useful, components of school courses. I believe that we will see schools incorporating more hands-on tasks and activities in the years to come as a product of this realization.

#3: High-quality online courses are booming

Remote-learning is all-the-rage right now, and the numbers are staggering:

  • According to a recent survey by China Youth Daily, more than 87 percent of Chinese parents have signed their children up for online tutoring sessions to enrich their education
  • Financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, rising to $12.58 billion worldwide in 2020 – up from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights

Students are becoming increasingly aware that short-certificate courses from high-quality providers like EdX and Udemy are not-only affordable, but will provide the very latest industry-leading, accredited information. This poses a big challenge for traditional schools that are somewhat stuck-in-the-past following syllabuses and curricula that are at least several years old. In my opinion, schools will need to adopt fluid schemes of work and modernize fast, so that students can learn relevant, current, topical information in a traditional classroom setting.

#4: EdTech used for remote-teaching is now being used in traditional classrooms

Video-conferencing skyrocketed during the pandemic:

  • Zoom’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5 million.
  • During the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, Google Meets was adding around 3 million users per day.

Schools are now using video-conferencing within the school buildings themselves for assemblies, staff-meetings, whole-school quizzes and even screen-share tasks (a newly realized application for many teachers).

Video-conferencing’s adoption will make teachers more accountable, in my opinion, as illness may not be accepted as a reason to miss meetings which can be accessed remotely from home (even if only audio is activated). Schools will also adopt new ways to allow students to showcase work in real-time, as the screen-share features offered by video-conferencing systems facilitate this process quickly and easily (especially as student-work becomes more and more digitized).

#5: Schools are appreciating the need for kids to catch-up

Gaps in knowledge and misconceptions acquired during the remote-learning phase are surfacing quickly as students return to classrooms. This is generating a renewed interest in traditional pedagogical techniques such as accelerated learning and differentiation. Another positive is that many teachers are realizing further the importance of pace, and how students often have to have information presented in a number of ways, multiple times, before it is truly embedded. These discoveries will challenge schools to adopt the very-best instructional techniques and offer catch-up camps and classes for students who fall behind, long after the pandemic is over. This may provide school teachers with extra sources of income, as well as offering students the enrichment they need to succeed.

The problems presented by students needing to catch-up are not easy to solve, however. The British government’s recent programme to help pupils who missed school to catch up may not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, according to a recent report by the National Audit Office. The issues here seem to relate to tutoring not being provided in the first place to disadvantaged children, as opposed to any flaws in the methodologies being used [BBC News]. Schools will therefore need to ensure that attendance for catch-up courses is being monitored, along with the methodologies being executed.

#6: Terminal examinations have lost some of their credibility

Many exam-boards have cancelled examinations for the 2020/2021 academic year, as was the case last year. Grades have been assigned on the basis of teacher-predictions and coursework, and I believe that this has caused many students to question the validity of terminal examinations as an effective assessment tool. This shift in thought has also rippled into the online-learning market, which is gaining in popularity due to the very fact that terminal examinations are often absent from key course assessment components. Qualifications and certificates that are awarded on the basis of a student’s portfolio of achievements (such as course assignments) are gaining respect and kudos, and I foresee this trend continuing well-into the future.

#7: Students and teachers have become more tech-savvy

Classwork, homework, coursework and exams are being assigned, completed and assessed by evermore creative means. Students have had to learn to how to use specific learning apps out of necessity, and teachers have benefitted from automated assessment systems such as Google Forms, Educake, MyMaths, Lexia Learning and others. If the pandemic has had only one positive effect on education, then it is this: computer literacy has improved across the board.

This emergence of teaching and learning software and disruptive EdTech systems is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. It threatens to destroy the very fabric of conventional teaching. It is not inconceivable, for example, to foresee human teachers being fully replaced with software, droids and surveillance systems within a decade from now (easily). The main takeaway for teachers, in my opinion, is this: skill-up in EdTech, coding and computer science fast – we may be out of a job if we don’t.

This gradual erosion of a teacher’s role from ‘sage on a stage’ to ‘guide on the side’, and perhaps even one day to ‘chieftaincy to see with infrequency’, is something I’ve written about before. I’ve also made a video about this very subject matter which I’ve embedded below.

#8: More support is being made available for staff and student mental-health and wellbeing

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on staff and student mental health. Reuters, for example, surveyed school districts across America in February 2021 to assess the mental health impacts of school shutdowns. These districts serve more than 2.2 million students. Of the 74 districts that responded, 74% reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students. More than 50% reported rises in mental health referrals and counseling. [Yahoo News].

One positive of this is that school leaders are recognizing that staff and student well-being matters, and that can only be a good thing. Schools would do well to recruit counselors to assist with student referrals. and staff workload should be monitored closely. Happy teachers make happy students, and downtime gives teachers time to plan better lessons.

#9: The dangers of excessive screen-time and gaming addiction have been highlighted

I’ve written about the dangers of screen-time before, and we must not forget that an EdTech revolution brings with it some nasty realities, highlighted by one expansive report:

  • On-screen behavior is often compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

The supervision of students whilst using EdTech is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as we move forward as educators. How many times, for example, have you walked around the classroom during some student-centered online activity to find students abruptly switching/closing some gaming/chat screens? I know I have, on much more than one occasion.

The solution may be a technological one – allow students to connect only through LAN or school WIFI and filter/monitor usage. Another solution may be surveillance systems inside classrooms, or perhaps even mandating that screens be always visible to the teacher (e.g. by having students sit in rows with their screens facing the teacher’s desk). There are obvious pros and cons to each of these proposals, and the decisions made will depend strongly on school culture and individual course/student aims.

#10: The pandemic pointed anew to blatant inequalities of income

Students in low-income areas have had to contend with less access to school counselors, technology and the training needed to access said technology. Some school districts in various countries around the world have responded by shipping laptops to schools and individual students.

As teaching continues to digitize, the needs of low-income students will continue to grow. Schools will need to address these issues, and that may put financial strain on districts and education authorities. Eventually, we may even see technology investment being pitted against the salaries of human teachers, and this will make our need to compete more immediate. As teachers, we are no longer fighting for jobs with each other – we’re contending with educational technology that threatens to completely replace us.

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