Cut the thinking pie


Here is a fantastic read about thinking skills and what modern brain science has to say about Bloom’s taxonomy. It’s an article by Dr Spencer Kagan used as a supplement to Macmillan’s Life Skills series. Dr Kagan questions some of the premises of Bloom’s pyramid and suggests other ways to ‘cut the thinking skills pie’ , in particular the information processing model. How it can be used? For teacher training sessions mostly – I can’t see even my amazing proficiency students digging through this amount of information. Very rich indeed.

P.S. If you’d like to read a bit more about Bloom’s taxonomy, its benefits and drawbacks, you can have a look at my series of posts beginning here.

The safe learning zone


Have you heard it said that in most jobs people reach their peak performance after the first two years? At least this example is used by Eduardo Briceno in his  local TED talk to make a point about learning, professional development and ways to avoid stagnation – and it kind of rings true to me. The idea is that we often spend too much in the performance zone and not enough in the learning zone (because of the high-stakes professional environment mostly).  And then Eduardo suggests several methods to compensate for this, to create a safe ‘island’ for learning in our lives: from doing more deliberate practice to getting a mentor, observing our own performance and learning from it – as well as creating these opportunities for others when we can. Very inspiring!

P.S. Compare this to an article about the zero-learning zone which talks about motivation for learning from a different angle.

Cold and learning


I was dealing with a minor cold last week, and I got reminded how much a small thing like that can affect our cognitive functions! Apparently, researchers knew it all along. They found out that the cold virus changes our brain chemistry for a while, and our reaction slows down, our learning ability goes down and we can’t even retrieve information the way we normally do. Well, I couldn’t even make myself write a paragraph of text!

So, what do you do if a student comes in for assessment and they are a bit under the weather? Perhaps it would be a good idea to let them re-write the test, or give them a slightly higher grade? Or just let them brave it?

Visuals for learning


I knew it, I knew all along – visuals are important for language learning! 🙂 I don’t know who decided that drab blocks of text are serious and thus effective, but I know that Halloween pumpkin paper was there for a reason. Seriously, do check out this guest post at Learning Scientists (the website that is slowly but surely becoming my favourite reading material). Anyway, Chris Drew writes about educational research related to images in learning and why the debate is actually happening. There are a lot of interesting quotes and even an infographic, in the true spirit of useful visuals, and the conclusion is: if you create materials, “go for nuanced, subtle design aesthetics that don’t drown out the focus of the lesson”. 

By the way, warm tones are also good – don’t you love this blog’s colour scheme? 😉

The Protege Effect


Just a quick post today not to break the streak 🙂 Here’s another interesting link explaining why learning by teaching is such a good idea. There is a suggestion to introduce a kind of cascade system where older students teach younger, and those teach even younger; another option would be to have a ‘teachable agent’, or an AI system that has to be taught by students and through this help them achieve better results in their own learning. A few useful terms as well: the Protege Effect (the positive effect of teaching on your own learning) and the Yiddish term nachas, which apparently means taking pride in someone else’s success – really cool, I have that often!

What you think you’ve learned


Here is a very interesting article highlighting perhaps the biggest issue with customer feedback: it may not always be reliable. The author quotes research which showed that university students who engaged in active learning did not see the learning as effective, even though their learning results were better. They expressed a preference for a more structured and controlled approach and couldn’t see their progress. What solutions are there? The researchers tried asking the more proficient learners, and the results were more reliable (so perhaps getting feedback from ‘champions’ and ‘early adopters’ makes even more sense!); they also recommend professors lecture about active learning and explain to the students that this method may seem less useful, but in fact works much better.

It does ring certain bells, doesn’t it?

Learning in streaks


Do you believe in streaks? For me, it’s not just gamification. It’s incredibly useful for developing a good habit, fighting procrastination and generally adding a bit of structure to everyday chaos. I’ve just read an article about this on Duolingo (disclaimer: the article may be biased, we cannot be sure of their sources, and I don’t like Duolingo much anyway – so read at your peril :)) In short, maintaining a streak is very good for motivation, especially if we plan how to counter the demotivation of breaking a streak. It is motivating alright – look at me writing my daily post at 23:43!

P.S. I recently linked to Sandy Millin’s excellent article about building a language-learning habit. Has anyone else seen any good advice on streaks in ELT?