To choose or not to choose

Here is an interesting post by Jon Gustafson about the benefits and downsides of giving students choice. You can find cited general research of choice in the post (and the conclusion is that choice is not always good); there is also a section on educational research which says that limited choice actually creates more engagement. By contrast, giving children a lot of choice increases their motivation at the start, but then they spend less time and effort on what they have chosen. The author also speaks about disadvantages of giving too much choice (for example, it’s hard to give detailed feedback if every student was reading a different book; students do not necessarily make the best decisions) and gives advice on how to minimize them.

P.S. If you are not worried about too much choice and are thinking of how to increase student agency, check out these older posts: Student agency for final projects and Choose your news. You’ve been warned 🙂

The Peter effect

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Here’s another biblically named effect in education that we also need to be aware of: the Peter effect. It was coined by Anthony and Mary Applegate in 2004 and you can read their article revisiting the original research here. The researchers write: ‘The label itself is drawn from a New Testament story of a beggar who approaches St. Peter and asks him for money. Peter responds that he “cannot give what he does not have” (Acts 3:5).” They surveyed pre-service teachers and found out that many of them were not enthusiastic about reading and concluded that they would not be able to instill the love of reading in their learners. Now, wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could research the teachers’ attitudes to online teaching and how it affects our learners?

The Matthew effect online

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I’ve been thinking about the Matthew effect in education for some time: it seems that it’s applicable to many contexts. I really like how Russel T.Warne expresses it in relation to online learning: when the COVID-19 crisis struck and all the population started studying online, the more capable students benefitted a lot, whereas the ones who had struggled for any reasons before, struggled even more – and so the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has widened. He writes,  “Online learning made my students the same as they were before, only more so.” What’s your impression, have you noticed any growing differences between your learners?

I’ve looked around a bit more and found this 2014 article by Amany Saleh and Heath Sanders ‘The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The Matthew Effect in Online Education’. While they mostly write about asynchronous learning, does the fact that we use Zoom really help enough to mitigate Matthew? In other words, are all the learners progressing enough and getting what they need?

Team-building activities for the virtual classroom

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Here is a very useful article by Caitlin Krause at Edutopia about ways to build connections between learners when you’re teaching online. She writes from 10 years’ of experience, and the advice she gives is practical and clearly well thought out. First and foremost, we have to think about our well-being as teachers (that should be a given). Then, it helps to start every synchronous session with a connection exercise and an icebreaker (there are good examples linked to in the article). To be honest, I see a few issues with this part: learners are sometimes late (yes, even when they don’t have to commute! :)), so the connection activity will probably be interrupted; also, not every teacher and learner likes this ‘touchy-feely’ mindfulness style, so we need to be careful about how this is done.

Another interesting piece of advice, however, is very close to my heart: Caitlin suggests using team roles for asynchronous learning (one student could take on the role of the ‘lexicon builder’, another a ‘curator’ etc.), which lets the learners use their own strengths and contribute to everyone’s learning. There’s more, about encouraging questions and practising the art of listening (e.g. ‘mirroring’ activities in breakout rooms), so do check out the original post.

How effective can online learning be?

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Here’s a fresh must-read from my favourite Learning Scientists: a post where Megan Sumeracki lists six strategies for effective learning and explains how they can be realised in the virtual classroom. They can be used by teachers in lessons and by learners for self-study, and have been proved efficient by many researchers. Here’s the list, with a few suggestions from me of what it could look like in ELT, both online and offline:

1) Spacing (spread out study sessions over a week, cover one topic in several lessons)

2) Interleaving (integrating several skills in one lesson; projects that require the use of many concepts and areas of knowledge; review questions in online discussions)

3) Retrieval practice (a lot of low-stakes online quizzes, mindmapping)

4) Concrete examples (all kinds of personalisation – works exactly the same as face-to-face)

5) Elaboration (asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions – these could be, for example, our guided discovery activities)

6) Dual coding (use visuals, not just speech)

Megan also says that these strategies are difficult and are supposed to be difficult; the results may not be as easy to see, but they work long-term. There’s a lot more there, so do check out the original post!

Dungeons and dragons in the classroom

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Have you read the latest issue of Humanising Language Teaching? There’s a fantastic article by Monika Bigaj-Kisala about using (real) role-playing games in ELT: with character creation, game mechanics, dungeon masters and all that. If you were wondering how to embark on an epic journey with your class, this may be the ticket 🙂 I am tempted too because Monika makes it sound really simple: have the learners create characters, engage with each other in casual, problem-solving or conflict conversations, and roll the dice. The benefits are many, both affective and cognitive, and can make RPGs a worthy alternative to projects. On top of all that, Monika’s story of how she started using role plays with an unruly class of six-graders is even more inspiring than sword and sorcery: it’s about a teacher who tried different tacks and never stopped until she reached the kids.

P.S. If this topic is close to your heart, here’s a reference to a post about using the Hero’s Journey for gamification.

Remote teaching without the Internet

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If you’re a teacher, I bet you’ve sometimes wondered how we would be working now if the Internet hadn’t happened! Here is a very interesting article I read on Larry Cuban’s blog (it’s by Michael Hines, a Stanford professor).  It’s an account about teaching school subjects over the radio, with tasks sometimes published in newspapers – a real educational experiment which happened in Chicago in 1937 because of an epidemic. Michael describes how the ‘school-by-radio’ was set up, its advantages and disadvantages, the attitudes to it at the time – and concludes that even though it was the best schools could do at the time, as soon as the epidemic was over, education returned to the face-to-face mode again.

So, is it time to start thinking what’s next?

From business to school

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Here is an interesting post by Larry Ferlazzo listing a few things teachers can borrow from the world of business. With the same caveat that Larry makes (“most business practices have no place in schools“), I find those moments of transfer extremely valuable. Also, the ideas can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the context, which makes for a useful framework. So, here are a few thoughts from me based on Larry’s list.

  1. How do we highlight a gap? (goal-setting, test-teach-test, upgrading feedback)
  2. How do we pose questions? (‘broken record’ questions, critical thinking activities)
  3. How do we ask for less?  learner autonomy – just 5 minutes of English a day)

How would you interpret this list?

Zoom fatigue is real

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Here’s an post to share with colleagues and students: a suggestion why teleconferences feel more draining than regular meetings (and face-to-face lessons). There are several reasons the author puts forward: trying to pick up on people’s body language in the absence of information, still learning to use the new medium, multi-tasking, bad physical posture, paying too much attention to one’s own image on the screen – these are pretty obvious. But the author goes further, into theories of perception, and writes about eye contact, body positioning in space and makes other interesting observations.

How about you, do Zoom lessons exhaust you or not so much? If yes, what can we do to mitigate this?

Neurolinguistics or neuro-something

person-brain

Have you seen this polemical post by Russ Mayne from Evidence Based EFL? He writes about neurolinguistics in language teaching and warns against using it lightly: in fact, the whole line of argument expresses his doubts about the new ‘neuro’ fad. While neurolinguistics, he writes, can offer useful scientific insights, overly zealous or superficial attempts to connect it to education could be really misleading. He even remembers the NLP times – hilarious!

An interesting read, and something to share with colleagues if you feel they are veering too far ‘to the dark side of the force’. That said, I know a few people who use ideas from neurolinguistics quite successfully in their teaching and teacher training – and yet doubt we must.