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.

The ABC book of progress


Making an ABC book together – what a great idea for a final project of the term or year! You can find a lot of examples and suggestions in this article at Education World. What I particularly like about ABC books is a great sense of completion they can give. After all, there are only so many letters in the alphabet. As for topics, I suppose vocabulary is the obvious choice for ELT contexts: for example, weather or free time activities could work well? And of course all of this can be digitised (or done digitally) and proudly demonstrated to parents 🙂

Student agency for final projects


Here is a really nice post by Catlin Tucker about giving students an opportunity to choose their own final project. She provides a picture of the choice board, as well as several Google doc templates that can be copied and adapted for different types of classes and classrooms. I’m all for student agency and I think Catlin has very good arguments there: “when they are challenged to make key decisions about what they do and how they do it, they must actively engage in the learning process”. I would only add that it’s important to scaffold their choice a little so that they consider the ‘why’ as well – why is a physical model or a TED-style talk, for example, the best way for them to show progress in this particular situation?

And now I’m thinking: when I suggested making an audio show instead of a live presentation and my students said ‘nooo‘, why did I simply accept it and not ask them why they still prefer the live thing? Well, there’s always a next time…

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?

Exit highs and lows


Here’s a very good description of several end-of-lesson reflection activities from Catlin Tucker: ‘highs and lows’ (when the learners share which tasks they feel the most positive and the most confused or frustrated about), exit tickets and other useful strategies, including sketching and tech solutions. The descriptions are very practical and can be taken into the classroom straight away – and there is a bit of theory behind it, too.

P.S. I’ll definitely add it to my collection of exit strategies! Looking forward to doing another training session on this.

Challenge or automaticity?


Here is a very useful article about the types of practice and its uses. According to Daniel T. Willingham, there are situations when just practising to the level of perfection is not enough. In fact, if you only practise for a short while, even excellent knowledge will be forgotten very quickly. For long-term results what you need is overlearning (learning what is already known) and sustained practice. Now I’m thinking: what about stretching the learners, Demand High and all that? It seems that if we keep increasing the challenge all the time, overlearning cannot happen and so the knowledge has no opportunity to sink in deeper, and the skills do not become automatic…

What do you think, is there any middle ground between achieving automaticity and giving a proper learning challenge?

Thoughts about ultralearning


Scott Young writes about this method of learning that is ‘aggressive’ and self-directed (there is a new book coming out, and his posts are advertising it – not that it reduces the value of the ideas in any way). His research shows that difficulty, direct practice and opportunity for retrieval are what can make learning more effective.

Ok, then if this is applied to more or less traditional ELT, what have we got? The communicative approach gives at least some direct practice e.g. in role-playing games and simulations – check. Opportunities for retrieval practice are there provided the teacher does review activities, mini-tests and so on. So — not always. And desirable difficulty is a big pain point, isn’t it?