Effective classroom management part 1: be the boss!

Socrates quote - Effective classroom management part 1: be the boss!Some of you may have noticed that I am sharing part of a quote attributed to Socrates from 400 BC. I have seen it used as a starting point for many a classroom management seminar, with the speaker aiming to show that teachers have been dealing with naughty students for millennia. However, the contents of training workshops on classroom management can of course vary wildly: it’s such a broad area. In many ways ‘How to be a good classroom manager’ is the same as ‘How to be a good teacher.’ With this in mind, I’ll be splitting this post into a series of three blog posts, each looking at a different ingredient in the recipe for good classroom management.

Continue reading

Teaching skills for working with teens

Teaching skills for working with teens - Image by Mansour BethoneyTeaching English to teenagers can be frustrating and fulfilling in equal measure. They can be full of energy and ideas that add a real buzz to the class, but they can also be sullen, self-conscious, reluctant to work together and difficult to engage. However, if you approach lessons with teenagers with the right ideas, materials and tricks of the trade, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be a great success.

Here’s our list of indispensable teaching skills for working with teens:

***Do group project work***

Group projects come in all shapes and sizes and work well with teenagers. They increase motivation, promote learner autonomy, have clear, achievable objectives, involve all four language skills, and can be managed in a way that lets everyone in the group take on a role that’s best suited to them. They also make a welcome break from routine and can be run over several classes, with a section of each lesson allocated to them. You’ll find plenty of examples of project work here and here. Continue reading

10 great sites with free games for practising English

Free games for practising EnglishEveryone loves to play, and any teacher knows that games and quizzes are a great way to engage the language learner. For the student who wants to improve their English at home online – or even on the move with their smartphone – there are lots of great sites with free games for practising English. We’ve picked out ten to get you going. Enjoy!

Free games for practising English:

Continue reading

Tweeting, yapping, frothing… and teaching (English onomatopoeia)

kapowFor the last ten years or so, delicate birds in English-speaking countries the world over have been complaining about social networking – or to be more precise, about one site in particular. It’s not Facebook that has upset them, or LinkedIn, nor is it Instagram or Tumblr. It’s Twitter that has ruffled their feathers. The reason is simple; they can no longer do one of the things that delicate birds in English-speaking countries most like to do, at least not without everyone expecting them to keep it short and simple and add a couple of hashtags to the message. They can no longer twitter or tweet.

‘Why they had to go with our particular sound is beyond me,’ tweeted Warner Bros. veteran Tweety Bird, in an exclusive interview for Pearson ELT Learning Journeys. ‘Why couldn’t they have called it Oinker or Mooster? The pigs and the cows wouldn’t have minded. They could’ve done with the publicity.’ Meanwhile, groups of birds from other countries have expressed their relief that the site chose to go with English onomatopoeia rather than sound-words from their own languages. ‘Chu-u chu-u!’ chirped a Japanese spokes-bird, visibly relieved, while a Spanish owl in Madrid hooted in to say, ‘It’s bad enough that the pedestrian lights here go pío pío. Frankly, I’m relieved you’re not all pío-ing.’ Continue reading

11 ideas about the teacher profile

Sometimes I feel like a treasure hunter when I travel. There are amazing educational jewels hidden in schools, and I love to find them.

It goes something like this:  You visit a school and start to talk to a teacher or a headteacher.  Nothing out of the ordinary so far.  A normal school in a normal town.  But suddenly you hear them say something that catches your attention, like the glimmer of a shiny jewel.  Just follow it, ask the appropiate questions and…there it is!

A while ago I found one of these gems in a school called Betania-Patmos located in Barcelona. They had been asked by the regional governtment what kind of profile a teacher needs in this global era, but they didn’t rush to write down hasty conclusions as teachers.  They did something smarter.  They turned this into a task for their last year high school pupils.  This is what they told them:

 

“Imagine you work in human resources and you have to hire a teacher.  What profile would you be looking for?”

 

And those teenagers (you know, the ones everyone describes as being “lost”) worked in teams for a week, and then presented 11 ideas that demonstrate they might not be the ones who are lost after all, but the ones looking for someone who isn’t.

 

11 ideas about the Teacher profile required  for a global era.

Recruiters: Last year High school students.

 

This first set of requirements had complete consensus amongst the group.

 

1.-   Teachers commited to helping their pupils, who care for them, are close to them, and instill confidence through  respect and generosity.

2.-  Teachers with a deep, broad and up-to-date knowledge of their subject area.

3.-  Teachers that can express themselves clearly and make themselves understood using structured methods.. Good communicators balanced and mentally organized

4.-  Teachers that exude emotion about what they are explaining, and are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject and respectful of other disciplines.

 

Requirements with a very high level of consensus

 

5.-  Teachers who have mastered different types of learning – from paper to the latest generation of technologies (drawing, writing, sound, image, and mixed media), following the idea of introduction not substitution.

6.-  Teachers  who have mastered different languages, with English being considered absolutely necessary.

7.-  Teachers that teach critical thinking and promote alternative ways of doing things.

8.-  Teachers with patience, modesty, energy and coherence.

9.-  Teachers that promote participation, interactivity and practice.

10-   Fun teachers, with a sense of humour that can make teaching and learning a pleasure.

 

Requirements sine qua non:

 

11.- Teachers that are punctual and don’t miss classes.

 

The first time that I read this I was struck by two things:

–   When a teenager says that he is looking for someone stable and mentally organized…it makes you think about what he has seen

–   Technology appears in a discreet second place. First people, then gadgets.

 

So, as you can see here, our youth are just looking for a stable reference in a confusing world.  They are looking for educators that can teach their mind and their soul, someone who can maintain the essence of the educational experience even when all the elements keep changing.  Because essencially our young generation is alone and we are letting them grow up alone with no tribe to guide them.

As usual Mafalda said it first and better: “Educating is harder than teaching. To teach you need to know, to educate you need to be” .

 

 

Teens, teen brains and exam prep

Ian Wood Madrid

Ian Wood’s visit to Spain last week was not only a wonderful opportunity for him to get the message out  about changes to the Cambridge exams.  At our Madrid and Seville events he also did us the added favor of looking at teenagers, teenage brains and exams with this thought-provoking talk:

 

Click on image to download

mission impossible

 

The teen brain is a topic which I’ve written about before, and so it was great to be able to follow up his talk with one of my own, Helping students help themselves with assessment.  It focused on implementing technology via the SAMR model to foster a Blended learning approach in exam preparation courses by giving students more autonomy and protagonism.

At the center of both of our talks was an emphasis on the teen learner as a doer actively constructing their own learning in a social context which is relevant to them.  Voice, choice, grouping, creativity and personalization were words that really jumped out at me on slides 18 and 19 of Ian’s presentation, for example.  And when he spoke about using media teens relate to, like texting for practicing writing skills, it really resonated with me as it is also similar to something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I know I speak for both of us when I say we sincerely enjoyed giving these talks and getting a chance to meet and speak to many of the teachers who came out to see us.  Thank you for all the energy and good vibes!

Social context, not just tech with teens

A few days ago,  I looked at why it’s important for us not only to teach our teenage students good English, but to do this while stressing higher order 21st Century skills at the same time.  Because adolescents’ brains are undergoing enormous changes in the pre-frontal cortex they are particularly receptive to work done on these social skills which are so vital to their future success as confident individuals who can work well with others.

Today I want to talk about how this impacts on the way we use technology with our learners.  And what I would like to suggest is that the most productive lessons on the use of technology for our teens (and maybe for us as teachers as well) actually have very little to do with technology per se, and a whole lot more with our awareness of  the social context in which we use it.

A particularly interesting model for the evaluation of technology use which was developed by Ruben R. Puentedura in 2011 called the SAMR model might be instructive here.  If you’re interested you can hear him speaking about it in this video, but let’s just quickly deconstruct the acronym to get an idea of what it’s all about.

Puentedura divides uses of technology into those which merely enhance the way you carry out learning tasks and those which truly transform those tasks and the learning process leading to improved outcomes.

Enhancement is represented by the letters S (Substitution) and A (Augmentation) of the acronym.  An example of substituting a technological tool for an existing one might be using a word processor instead of pencil and paper, or sending your teacher your work via e-mail instead of handing it in.  It’s kind of nice, but it brings little new to the table.  Augmentation goes a step further and the student might start to use some of the improved functionality of the word processor to format the document differently, add media or use a spell-checker, for example.  If you notice, what the students are adding to the task in both of these cases are mostly technical elements.

But ultimately I think students can do many of these things on their own.  What really interests me are the M and the R – the ways we can transform learning with technology.  Puentedura identifies these as Modification, where you can significantly re-design a task using technology, and Redefinition, where students are going beyond what was before possible, being empowered to employ the technology to carry out tasks which have never before been undertaken.  Obviously this level of outcome is precisely what we should want our students to aspire to as it impacts not only on their individual development, but ultimately on how innovative our society as a whole can become.

Putting aside what a truly transformative task might look like for a moment ,there does seem to be a great deal of agreement about the kinds of skills that are required to make them work.  In contrast to the almost purely technical skills required to carry out substitutional uses of technology, Transformation, as I read it, can only take place if higher order, 21st Century skills are thrown into the mix.

For Modification and Redefinition to occur we need to have prosumeristically-minded students who are able to collaborate with others, organizing information by applying critical-thinking , sharing it in an appropriate way which will impact positively on continued debate and stimulating future contributions by others.  In short we are asking for nothing less than to have them lend a hand in building up this vast shared construct we call human knowledge.

And this is where the teacher comes in.  When you think about it there is nothing particularly 21st Century about 21st Century Skills.  Were Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity unheard of before 2001?  Of course not, but they have once again been put center-stage by a society which has seen an explosion of internet-based tools which demand a new understanding of these skills in a new context.  And the role of the teacher is to help our students transfer existing analog skills to a new digital and increasingly hyper-linked landscape.  But the trick is to see them more as social than technical aptitudes.

Take a Google doc.  It’s a fantastic tool for pushing our students in this direction – a shared document which lends itself to collaboration, shared insight, group editing and, hopefully, sharing or publishing – the ultimate in empowerment.  But when you open up a document it is still nothing more than a blank page.

Students are likely have the technical know-how to deal with all its bells and whistles, but how many really know how to work productively on a project with their colleagues?  How many have the social skills to undertake a project with that level of organization?  How many are prepared to give or receive criticism or correction from a classmate, turning their mistakes or someone else’s insight into a personal or collective gain?  And how many are aware of the power and risks implicit in pressing the publish button in today’s day and age?

Once again, this is where the teacher comes in.  When teaching with technology we are often under the impression that we need to master the tool.  But what is really true is that we need to help our students master the context in which they will use the tool.

And as teachers we already have these skills, honed over years of experience in getting students to analyze print texts, think of their effect on the target reader, the register and context they are written in.  It is only a question of transferring them to a new and highly public arena where titles pop-up in Google searches, footnotes have morphed into hyperlinks and even URLs can provide context.

In many ways things really haven’t changed all that much.  In forming literate members of society we have always started out with the basics with younger students, gradually increasing not only the linguistic difficulty at which we expect our students to read and express themselves, but also building their awareness of the social complexity into which our cultural artifacts are woven.  Known as “Digital Literacy” this is a logical extension of where our society is going and it obviously impacts very directly on how we need to see our role with our students  (if you need any more proof of this – or practical examples of how to approach teaching it I suggest you check out Digital Literacies by Dudeney, Hockly and Pegrum).

Our teens are moving quickly towards a future where much of their lives will be online.  We know that one of the things which can help them the most at this age is raising their awareness of social behavior, helping them to work together effectively  and empowering them to make their own critiques of the world around them.  If you open up a shared doc with them (or use any other tech tool for that matter) maybe you shouldn’t sweat the tech stuff so much.

Stick first and foremost to what you already know as a teacher – how to foment an understanding of communication in a broader social context.  And see it as an opportunity for a project that’s going to help them ask bigger questions about their future than which tab to click on to get the chat box to come up.  They’ll figure that part out for themselves.  It’s how they use that chat box with their classmates which is going to make the difference.

Teen brains, language and social skills

Anyone who has taught teens or is the parent of a teen will relate perfectly to this TED Talk by cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on the adolescent brain.  Apparently, throughout the years our teens’ brains develop they become increasingly more adult-like in their ability to process intellectual information to the point where in later adolescence their brains basically function exactly the same as an adult’s in this regard.  But (surprise, surprise) the pre-frontal cortex, which regulates how we make plans, decisions and relate to each other socially is still undergoing massive changes and anything but fully-formed.

Explain a few things?  Ever wonder why you can have those really cool conversations with teens on art, music, politics, society – just about any topic under the sun – and then realize that these are the same teens who can’t remember to bring their homework to class (not AGAIN!), go through incredible mood-swings (remember how much fun those were?) and can come out with some pretty inappropriate (though admittedly often very amusing) comments at times?

Chalk it all up to the adolescent brain.  And now there’s scientific PROOF for it.  Sounds like a good reason to give up on teens as far as social skills are considered and wait until those brains develop a bit more, right?

Well think again.  According to Blackmore, precisely BECAUSE the pre-frontal cortex is developing so rapidly at this time in our lives it represents a particularly crucial moment for us as teachers to focus on these important cognitive and social skills.  And that makes perfect sense.  The teen brain is pruning itself – eliminating loads of synaptic connections between neurons and strengthening others.  What’s left at the end of this process of cerebral configuration will be their playbook for social interaction, group collaboration, organizing and planning in their adult life.

Now that’s one heck of a responsibility for us.  As language teachers I’m sure you can think of just how integral these skills (often called 21st Century Skills) are in communication.  And it’s important to remind ourselves of this from time to time.  Because teaching a language, or teaching anything for that matter, is not solely, or even primarily, about teaching a subject or about teaching content.  It’s about forming an individual and giving them the tools to fulfill their potential.

This Friday I’ll look at how this affects the way we teach the use of technology to teens.

Leading while being led

In my travels and dealings with teachers around Spain and Portugal one of the hot topics right now, especially in relation to teaching teens, is 21st Century Skills.  And many teachers are asking how we “old dogs” are supposed to be teaching all these “new tricks”?  But could we be getting the question the wrong way around?

Do our digital teens really need new-fangled tricks, or just some old-fashioned wisdom to unlock, organize and make sense of a new information rich world?  As with any generational shift, the new challenges the old, but time-honoured traditions can also temper and put into perspective the most radical technological developments.

This fantastic video by Pearson author Kath Stannett really hits the nail on the head.  21st Century Skills are really timeless core human values of applying logic, sharing, and being open and creative in a new digital landscape.  Our students crave our experience to make sense of a quick moving and chaotic world.  And they have more than a few things to teach us as well!  It is all about “leading while being led.”