6 Opening and Closing Routines for New Teachers

originally published in https://www.edutopia.org/blog/6-opening-and-closing-routines-new-teachers-rebecca-alber?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow


Share One Word

Ask students to share one word about how they are feeling that day. It can be in general, about a new project, or about something that is happening in their lives or in the world. This is whole-child stuff that tends to the emotional aspect of the student, bringing balance to the academic and intellectual focuses that typically drive the school day. It also builds emotional intelligence. When I was first doing this opening routine, students would say things like good, okay, tired, and bad, and then as they became more comfortable with each other and gained a larger vocabulary of emotion words, they began to share such words as pensive, anxious, serene, and frustrated. For low-stakes in the beginning, have students share with a neighbor or in a triad, then build to a whip around the room where everyone shares her or his word aloud.

Quote of the Day

Students love to share their opinions. (Who doesn’t?) As an opening routine, I used Quote of the Day the first few years I taught high school, and it proved a great success. I would find a quote from a singer, actor, politician, or a famous dead person and have it displayed on the board when students walked in. They would enter the room, sit down, and begin writing a response. Under the quote, I would include the same question prompts: What does it mean? How can you relate to it, or make a connection to the world?

The Reading Minute

This one comes from English language arts teacher guru Kelly Gallagher. Find a passage online or in a book — an excerpt of a poem, essay, article, or story — and read it aloud. The passage might be humorous, interesting, angering, or beautiful, exhibiting great writing. After reading aloud, students open their notebooks and write a single-sentence summary to remember what they just read, or they can write a thesis statement. After a month of modeling different types of passages — and sharing aloud sentences — student then sign up to bring in a passage to read aloud for the Reading Minute. At the end of each semester, you can have students look back at their collection of single sentences and reflect on what was their favorite Reading Minute passage and why (They learned something important, it made them laugh, etc.). Check out this video of Gallagher discussing the Reading Minute.

Closing Routines

Cleaning up and discussing homework is an important routine for the end of the day, but it’s also important to give your students a chance to further process their learning, and even to set a goal. Closing routines allow your students to check their understanding, and they also give your students an opportunity to reflect. It’s a great way to wrap up your lessons. Closing routines also honor your time together that day, as well as give your students an opportunity to use their voice. The following are three examples of “exit slips” that can be completed on a small piece of scratch paper or a sticky note at the close of class.

Rate the Learning or Lesson

This exit slip can be accomplished in a matter of mere minutes. Ask students — on a one to 10 scale — to rate how well they understood the learning that day. If they rate their understanding low, ask them to write down what they may need (more time, more explanation, a graphic organizer to help with writing the essay, etc.). Students can also rate the lesson or teaching on a one to 10 scale; ask them to write a sentence or two giving feedback on the materials or activity that day.

Collect the slips, and after your students leave, make piles of similar ratings. If you have a lot of eight, nine, and 10 ratings, the lesson went well. If you have lower numbers, then it might be time to probe for further information from the whole class the next day, and then review or even reteach.

Closing Statement or Question

Ask students to first turn and talk in pairs or in a triad. What did you learn? What surprised you? What is unclear? What do you want to know more about? Then ask them to come up with a closing statement or question about the content and write it down. Collect the slip, and use these for talking points the next day, answering questions and commenting on statements they wrote.

Grab a Goal

Ask your students to think about a goal they would like to set. It can have to do with the unit of study, or it can be a personal goal outside of the classroom. Use sentence starters to prompt the writing for this one. Tomorrow, in class I will be ready to ______. Tonight, I will ____. By the end of the semester, I will ____. Have them share with a neighbor or in small groups, and ask for a few volunteers to share with the whole class. Collect the slips and sticky notes. This is a wonderful way to get to know your students. (You can do one, too!)

Writing their names on exit slips was optional for me. You decide — perhaps sometimes yes, and other times no. Students will be more honest if it’s anonymous. Yet with goal setting, there’s more accountability if you have names, and you can check in with individuals and offer specific supports and encouragement.

Collaborating With Colleagues

Advice I like to give to new teachers: Go out and collect opening and closing routines from fellow teachers. The internet is not always the best place to seek curricular materials — your colleagues are! Talk with colleagues during meetings and then stop by their rooms to take a look at their resources and student products.

A mistake new teachers often make is thinking they have to create everything from scratch. I explain that there are those who have been at this a long time and have honed strategies, collected data and student samples, and then adjusted that activity or project to make it even better — and they are there, right next door, ready to share their expertise and resources with you.

What opening and closing routines would you like to offer up? Please share in the comments section below.


Different Voices From Mexico

Joep van der Werff, Kristan Taylor, Luis Domínguez, Leigh Ann Thelmadatter, and Miguel Cabrera present their various perspectives on working in the field of English language teaching in Mexico. See Connie R. Johnson’s Out of the Box article, “EFL and the Deaf: Teachers Making a Difference,” Essential Teacher, June 2009.

Joep van der Werff

One of the Compleat Links articles associated with the September 2008 issue of Essential Teacher was Julie Mijangos-Guzzardo’s account of her experience as a teacher in Mexico(“Teaching English in Mexico: What’s Going On?”). Although I am sure that her impressions are valid on a personal level, I was left wondering whether this teacher’s opinions reflected the majority of English language teaching (ELT) professionals in Mexico. I decided to ask some colleagues for their opinions and quickly found that there are many long-term teachers in the country with vastly different impressions from those expressed by Mijangos-Guzzardo. In this article, several of us share our various perspectives about teaching English in Mexico.

Kristan Taylor

It would be easy to criticize the state of English education in Mexico. Certainly, horror stories abound. In working with university students studying to be English language teachers, I have noticed that they love to reminisce about the public school teachers they had in the past who expected them to learn the language via osmosis. When such stories come up, the class turns into a temporary group therapy session. The students laugh and marvel at the fact that they managed to learn English, not because of these teachers but in spite of them. Yet these conversations always turn into a comparison of the past and current direction that ELT is taking in Mexico.

An undeniable feather in the cap of Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), Mexico’s education ministry, is that English language courses exist at lower levels in Mexican public schools. I recently visited a rural secondary school with no running water—but it had an English course. Sure, the teacher didn’t really speak the language; she had barely even been out of her village. But the students had English class, and when I visited they were eager to practice. The impressive point here is that Mexico is exposing students to a second language at a young age, even in rural areas.

My personal experience with English language teacher training programs at the university level in Mexico reveals a formidable standard that, whether or not it existed in the past, will most certainly change the face of ELT in the country in the years to come. I am talking about a professional standard and demand for change that is being facilitated by a rigorous undergraduate curriculum for future English teachers. These preservice teachers take classes in areas of linguistic relevance, such as second language acquisition and language teaching pedagogy, which will undoubtedly strengthen the integrity of the field of ELT.

Luis Domínguez

Over the years, I have witnessed the professionalization of ELT in Mexico through the growing number of participants in the myriad specialized conventions offered by institutions and organizations such as MEXTESOL, the National Association of University English Professors, Best of British ELT (organized by the British Council), the National Union of Language Schools, and the Center of Foreign Language Teaching of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Professional development is now a relevant matter for most institutions. And although not all teachers have access to professional development events, most still seek opportunities to improve their teaching practice. As a teacher trainer, one of the most rewarding experiences I have had is working with a team of teachers from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec who commuted from surrounding towns to Lagunas, Oaxaca, to participate in a teacher training course. The majority of these teachers had earned their undergraduate degrees in fields related to ELT. In describing why they sought professional development opportunities, their primary objective was the benefits that these events could provide to their students.

It has been almost 6 years since SEP set the ball rolling for a paradigm shift in education in Mexico. The change was initiated with a 2-year research project involving nationwide preschool programs in hopes of redefining the standards for instruction with a constructivist-oriented curriculum. This project was known as the Programa de Educación Preescolar (SEP, 2004). As a follow-up, the Reforma a la Educación Secundaria and more recent Reforma Integral a la Educación Basica represent a formidable effort to hold language teaching in Mexico to the highest standards.

This model of reform is facilitated by integrating elements drawn from cognitive, constructivist, and humanistic theories into the English language classroom. In addition, levels have been benchmarked to measure teachers as well as learners according to the Common European Framework (SEP, 2006). This effort has been enriched with the incorporation of competencies at all educational levels in order to prepare students not only for academic studies, but for life in general. Because of these and other improvements, I can only foresee development and growth for the ELT profession in Mexico.

Leigh Ann Thelmadatter

I taught at a private school that boasts being one of the best in Mexico. Although it is known nationally as a school for the rich, this was not quite the case here in Toluca. Most of the students came from families that had just reached the socioeconomic level needed to be able to send their children to this school, rather than from families who have had money for generations. In addition, a large percentage of students received scholarships. Because of these two factors, my students did not have a sense of entitlement and many seemed genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to study at an institution with some degree of prestige.

One semester, I experimented with Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) for a project in my advanced English class. Students had to integrate themselves into the online Wikipedia community in order to learn how to write acceptable contributions to the site. Given the experimental nature of the class, many unanticipated problems cropped up along the way. However, the students took most of them in stride and were even open to negotiating solutions with me and the Wikipedia community. This type of project supports my assumption that young learners in Mexico are much more open to innovative classroom activities than their teachers are, and this bodes well for the future of education in Mexico. It may be easy to criticize the system, but that same system is full of students who really want to learn and to make their lives better.

Joep van der Werff

I have had many gratifying experiences as an ELT professional in Mexico, including teaching English to blind people (van der Werff & Arredondo, 2004). Over the years, I have been involved in teacher training at a rural school in the state of Morelos, which I believe to be a good example of a different approach to rural education. This school, called El Peñón, relies heavily on donations for its survival. It has been recognized at the state and national level, most notably for its telesecundaria, which uses government-issued TV programs to support teaching. Three years ago, we revamped the English curriculum for the high school at El Peñón. In May 2009, our first students will finish the sixth semester of English and we will assess their progress with Test of English for International Communication Bridge exams. Preliminary testing has already shown satisfactory results.

Miguel Cabrera

I have worked in public and private high schools, and unfortunately the issues referred to by Mijangos-Guzzardo are not different from those I have seen myself and heard of from my colleagues. There are exceptions, of course, but in general the assessment of the situation is not particularly comforting.

Public schools usually lack adequate teaching materials, and teachers have to come up with all kinds of creative strategies to overcome this deficiency. Public school teachers also have to deal with union corruption and government authorities, who in many cases push teachers to play the same game that the system establishes. Whereas in private institutions, the critical issue is the lack of support from administrators. In the two private high schools where I have taught, we were instructed to pass students no matter how low their level of proficiency was or how restless and rude they were to teachers or peers.

In Mijangos-Guzzardo’s account, the only thing that struck me as out of the ordinary was the seemingly exaggerated statement that an error as grave as “Hello, ice to miet you” appeared on a national exam. It is important to be cautious and to defend ourselves and our programs when someone has a distorted view of us. Unfortunately, aside from the possible issue with that test item, Mijangos-Guzzardo was not misrepresenting the facts.

We don’t deny that ELT in Mexico needs to become more effective in government as well as private schools. Yet with the accounts and impressions we have provided in this article, we hope to have shown that teaching in Mexico can be and often is rewarding, inspiring, and valuable.

Several of us are foreigners, and obviously we don’t teach abroad to find the mirror image of the educational system in our home countries. Rather, we leave home to broaden our worldview and grow as professional educators. This means accepting the cracks and flaws in whatever system we work in while at the same time taking part in a movement toward positive change for future practitioners and learners.


Secretaría de Educación Pública. (2004). Programa de educación preescolar 2004. Mexico City, Mexico: Comisión Nacional de Libros de Texto Gratuitos.

Secretaría de Educación Pública. (2006) Educación básica: Secundaria Inglés, programas de estudio 2006. Mexico City, Mexico: Comisión Nacional de Libros de Texto Gratuitos.

van der Werff, J., & Arredondo, D. R. (2004). Teaching EFL to blind students in Mexico. Essential Teacher, 1(5), 46–48.

Joep van der Werff (joepvdw@yahoo.com) is a materials writer and coordinator at Interlingua, a leading English language institute in Mexico.

Kristan Taylor (kristanitza@yahoo.com) is an instructor and coordinator of English language programs in Mexico for the University of North Texas, in the United States.

Luis Domínguez (ldominguez@grupomacmillan.com) is the editorial development coordinator at Macmillan Publishers and a teacher trainer at Instituto Mexicano, in Mexico City, Mexico.

Leigh Ann Thelmadatter (osamadre@hotmail.com) is the language laboratory coordinator at ITESM-Campus Ciudad de Mexico, in Mexico.

Miguel Cabrera (mickabs@yahoo.com.mx) is the secretary of MexTESOL and a teacher at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, in Mexico City, Mexico.

Online tutoring: disruption, risks and opportunities

by Tim Gifford (Originally published by ELTJAM)

Digital migration

In the pre-digital world, language learners weren’t exactly spoilt for choice. Find a private tutor in the small ads? Enrol at a local language school? Get hold of some self-instruction audio cassettes?

Online technologies have blown language learning opportunities right open. With asynchronous online courses, videos, podcasts, MOOCs and blogs, there’s no end to the amount of content available. But content isn’t everything. And, while effective language bots may not be far off, most learners still opt for some form of human tuition. Here, too, there are digital options.

In the current culture of immediacy, we want what we want, and we want it now. So, the thought of contacting a language school, completing a level test and waiting to be assigned to a class is almost unthinkable. Not only is this process unacceptably slow, but the prospective learner is unlikely to have any say over the time and location of the lesson, let alone decide on the teacher.

The accessibility, individuality and flexibility of online tutoring is pulling more and more language learners away from face-to-face modes of learning.

But what does this shift away from the classroom mean for teachers, learners and the ELT industry?

The rise of online tutoring models

Online tutoring is an educational format that looks set to grow, well into the next decade.

In part, this rise has been driven by improved internet speeds, increased international connectivity and the developments in telecommunication software.

Here’s a geographical breakdown of the current online tutoring market from Technavio.

online tutoring market

Key demand areas include tuition for STEM subjects, higher education entrance exams and, as we’ll see in more detail, languages.

Online language tutoring can be accessed via a range of services. The providers of these services can be categorised by their size, as well as by the underlying business model they follow.  We’ve identified five core categories – from the individual freelancer, through to some of the education industry’s biggest players.

1. Private 1-to-1 tuition

Attracted by the convenience and flexibility of working from home, the chance to develop a personal brand and increase earnings, many teachers are choosing to go it alone.

What do you need to get started? Jaime Miller, director of online school English Success Academy, recommends using a platform that’s user friendly, like Wiz IQ or Zoom.

As for online promotion, with easy-to-use website builders like Squarespace and Wix, it’s never been easier. The potential reach is enormous but, in this truly global market, creating an online presence as an individual is far from straightforward.

Success with this model lies in finding a niche and striking a balance between the time spent marketing yourself and the successful recruitment of students.

Read more about how to grow your online teaching business.

2. P2P learning platforms

Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning platforms were quick to capitalise on this problem of self-marketing. They serve to bridge the gap between learner and teacher. Examples include Skooli and, more specifically to languages, italki and Verbling.

These started out as little more than directories of qualified, verified, independent teachers. However, as they’ve grown, they’ve begun adding new features (e.g. virtual classrooms, scheduling tools, payment options) that facilitate the whole tutoring process.

Such features not only bring added value, but they also help discourage users from taking lessons ‘off-platform’, reverting to the previous model. After all, these companies take a commission of around 10-15% for each lesson taught.

3. Specialist online agencies

This next model consists of agencies that contract teachers and market their services. There’s an abundance of online work on TEFL job boards. In fact, there are now websites, such as Oetjobs.com, that exclusively post online positions.

Key players in this category include the Chinese-based companies VIPKids and  iTutorGroup. The former employs over 40,000 teachers to meet the needs of more than 300,000 students. Whereas the latter claims to be the largest English-language learning institution in the world.

Demand for teachers by these companies is high, but remuneration remains relatively meagre. Even so, with the promise of regular work and a fixed wage, this is a trade-off some teachers are willing to accept, especially those who are inexperienced and/or benefit from a low cost of living.

4. Established ELT providers

The big players in ELT have also been quick to embrace online tutoring.

In 2014, Pearson launched Pearson English Interactive (PEI), a 4-level online course. Similarly, EF have EF English Live, which superseded EF Englishtown.

The main problem with online tutoring for these providers relates to scalability: one of the main benefits of online tutoring for students is that it offers one-to-one attention. Unfortunately, that dynamic simply doesn’t allow for growth on a large scale.

The approach by companies like Pearson and EF has therefore been to provide blended e-learning programmes. They include some form of online tutoring, though the majority of the course content is completed independently by the learner, who then receives a mix of automated and human feedback.

The result is a product that can compete with the flexibility of online tutoring, while keeping human-hours to a minimum.

Following this approach, we’re also likely to see a development in the application of voice user interfaces (VUI) and chatbots, to assist learners with language practice, correction and feedback.

Potential winners and losers

Every technological disruption creates opportunities for some and spells the end for others. So who are the potential winners and who’s likely to lose out?

Most importantly, online tutoring puts the learner back in the driving seat. Tomorrow, they can wake up and choose from any number of languages, take their pick from thousands of teachers and start learning. This is especially good news for professionals in need of flexibility or individuals living in remote areas.

The next set of winners are the tech savvy teachers. Even with basic web skills and marketing know-how, teachers now have an opportunity to tap into an enormous market and work remotely.

Then P2P platforms, such as Verbling, have already established themselves in the industry and look well-positioned to increase their market share.

The fact that learners can now find teachers all over the world, at all budgets, is likely to hit bricks and mortar language schools hardest.

In particular, small to medium-sized language schools, which have previously benefited from being one of the only local providers of language courses, may find that their captive market is no longer captive. However, with change comes opportunity. Schools should be looking for innovative ways to meet the ever-changing needs of their learners. From simply offering online classes via Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom, to developing their own blended learning or other on-demand solutions, there’s plenty of scope to take action.

Finally, the global access to tutoring may increase the competitive pressure on non-native teachers. Broadly speaking, the tide does seem to be turning in terms of discriminatory job ads, however some companies still uphold ‘native-only’ policies. Verbling, for example, only accepts applications from native teachers. Unless such policies are challenged, a significant proportion of professional language teachers may be excluded from the exciting new opportunities online tutoring can bring.

Do you teach online? Does your school offer Skype lessons? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Let us know in the comments.

I’m a teacher


One of the best decisions in my life has been, without a doubt, becoming a teacher. I have been blessed for over 27 years by amazing people who have shared life with me.

Life itself has been my greatest teacher.

I have been lucky enough to learn from the best around me. Every time I walk into a room, a magical connection and exchange of experiences takes place, and most of the times I walk out the room having learnt something rather than “teaching it”.

There’s been lots of wonderful stories and people. It is their their trust and eagerness to learn that have kept me aware of the fragility of life.

About teaching, I’ve learnt and seen a good deal of great stuff from outstanding mentors, some are still around and some have finished their journey here, but they must be helping others find themselves elsewhere, I’m sure.

About life, I’ve been lucky to have been trusted by so many people, I could write an endless list and still miss someone out. It is the light all these souls have shed that have helped me discover the true pleasure of being a teacher.

I’ve been blessed by meeting a life-changing teacher, who has shown me how wrong I could be and how much there’s still to go. She is now 3.5 years, but her wisdom is infinite.

I am lucky person, I have listened to others and be heard back. I’ve given and taken. I’m a teacher…



Why Publishers Should Author Content for their Adaptive Learning Solutions

There is a misconception that creating content for adaptive learning systems is incredibly complex.

Because of this, it’s often assumed that either the adaptive technology partner creates content for publishers, or it takes their existing content, performs some magic and returns it ‘adaptified’.

But we believe publishers can and should retain control of the content authoring process. Here are three reasons why.


1. You already have everything you need

While there are new skills to learn and new metadata considerations, publishers are often surprised to learn they already have the content they need and that their team’s existing skills are a great fit for the job.

At Adaptemy, we have developed a series of authoring tools that have simplicity at their core and a quick and proven process for training content teams in the principles and practicalities of this kind of authoring.

Our work with major publishers like Folens, AulaPlaneta, Klett Raabe, and others has shown that with these tools and approach in-house teams can effectively and efficiently create and own their content.

2. Huge volumes of content are not required

A key concern for many publishers is the sheer volume of content needed to deliver an adaptive learning solution.

But the truth is, even using existing or a relatively small volume of content, it is possible to create a really effective adaptive learning experience.

This is because of the algorithms and approaches, such as content sequencing, motivational feedback and individualised learning paths, within the engine.

In our experience, a project to create a digital workbook for students aged 12-16 takes a team of four to five authors three to four months to complete.

This will deliver ~2000 question templates (including questions, answers and worked solutions) across 200 concepts. A little goes a long way.

3. When you own and maintain a single source of content you’re in control

Increasingly, content teams are being asked to deliver content in multiple formats, such as teacher manuals, printed textbooks, digital textbooks and ePub, for multiple boards, regions or states. Economy demands that this content is as reusable as possible.

When content is not separated from the format of delivery, painful and costly conversions from format to format are a necessity. That means publishers must create new versions of each title, which need to be continually maintained. Indeed, entire industries have sprung up to take on these conversions for publishers.

One of the key principles of structured xml content is to maintain a single source of content and transform it into whatever format your market needs, now and in the future. Adaptive learning engines use this same xml content structure; by starting to create format-agnostic content today you will be ready for tomorrow.

With Adaptemy, you will always own your content and it will also be ready for conversion. We focus on interoperable and portable standardised xml formats like SCORM and DITA. Our authoring tool generates QTI 2.1 xml. Whether you want to repurpose the content for a print book or present it in a non-adaptive digital solution the power is yours.

A popular first step for publishers wishing to explore adaptive learning solutions is to create an assessment for learning workbook. By recreating something familiar to teams and customers you’re able to leverage existing content while exploring the power of adaptive learning.

The Limitations of E-learning Tools: The Possibilities of Adaptive Learning

-Taken from Adaptemy.com

The eBook has been a ubiquitous feature of the edTech landscape since the days of Flash. So, in a month where the CEO of Hachette called the humble eBook a “stupid product”, we’re taking time to review some of the missteps taken with eLearning Tools.[i]

It’s a headline-grabbing quote to be sure but reading deeper: Nourry is lamenting that the eBook is a derivative technology. A digital simulation of an existing solution that falls short of genuine innovation. Lacking the internal resources at Hachette to innovate in the digital space – he’s taking his cue from gaming.

With falling revenues across the board, the long foretold digital revolution is claiming its first victims. Innovation in the digital space is important whether you’re the established leader keeping the barbarians from the gates or whether you’re the barbarian sharpening the axe.


While there’s growing evidence that the “first digital divide” has been reduced across Europe – it hasn’t been closed completely.[ii] Anyone who has visited a school without its own groundskeeper will recognize that technical infrastructure remains a key blocker. eLearning solutions that cannot function on the lower rungs of the infrastructural ladder will stall quickly: the latest tech gimmick gathering dust in the corner of the classroom.

Trust and Risk

Reducing the digital divide is the result of a concerted and explicit series of national and European programs of investment over many years. Investment in training has been poor by comparison. When a teacher stands in front of a classroom of students they are taking a risk: Will their lesson go to plan? If not, can they improvise? Can they manage the classroom and avoid teaching to the middle?

In this context – who in their right mind would take the risk of adding in the possibility of technical problems? It’s hardly surprising that ‘Reliability’ and ‘Simplicity’ feature so heavily in focus groups with our teachers. You need a partner that can guarantee the stability of service at scale. You also need to develop products that have simplicity in the interface. Yes, even if that means fighting with your product owners to have fewer features.

Role Play

There’s considerable appetite for more training but the role of the teacher in the Digital Classroom is still underdeveloped in teacher training programs. Although we could reasonably expect this to improve in the future – teachers can feel vulnerable, exposed or even intimidated by new technology rendering them obsolete.

You need to be crystal clear about the role of the teacher in the delivery of learning using your technology. If you cannot understand and communicate the teacher’s (and for that matter the students’ / parents’ / schools’ administrators) role in your eLearning solution – how can they?

Genuine Innovation

eBooks, of course, are not inherently good or bad, stupid or smart: Nourry could just as well be talking about any other derivative technology (Interactive Whiteboards spring to mind for me). It’s the unfulfilled potential that this opening horizon offers that resonates with me and the team here at Adaptemy.

The bad news is that succeeding in the above is only the price of admission. If you are still struggling with these problems, there are a growing number of companies that can build you an app that might help.

But, if you believe that eLearning partnerships can create Smart products that solve the more interesting problems like:

– Personalizing the Digital Experience.

– Measurably Improving Engagement, Motivation and Retention.

– Empowering teachers with actionable information.

– Making teaching the best job in the world again.

[i] https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/02/france-arnaud-nourry-describes-ebooks-as-stupid/

[ii] http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC109311/jrc109311_digedupol_2017-12_final.pdf#page=13

10 Signs of a 21st Century Classroom

Originally published by:https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/10-signs-21st-century-classroom?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

One of my early challenges in coordinating my school’s STEM efforts has been determining exactly what is meant by a STEM school.  There are probably as many answers to this question as there are educators, but I have decided to focus on what goes on inside the classroom.  Not just in a science or math class, but in all classrooms.  There are some activities that have traditionally been done well by the STEM disciplines that can be cross applied to all subjects.

I have narrowed these down to a list of 10 signs of a 21st Century classroom.  I have been slowly introducing these concepts to the faculty at my school through informal discussions and incremental training during in-service days.

A few notes:

  •  I am sure that there are many similar lists in existence.  This one is originally based on a reference I found in the article “Considerations for Teaching Integrated STEM Education”.
  • I have opted to drop the word “STEM” from this list because these ideas, while often associated with science and math fields, are applicable to and indeed seen in all disciplines.
  • Each of the following could fill an article or a book by itself, but I have provided just a few explanatory lines for clarification.

And, in no particular order:

Technology Integration

Rather self-explanatory and covered very well in other sections of this site.  It involves more than just use of technology, but students using technology to achieve goals in a different way than was possible before.

Collaborative Environment

Many students prefer to work alone.  However, this is an option not often granted in careers.  In addition, collaboration fosters the development of new ideas and exposes students to opposing viewpoints.

Opportunities for Creative Expression

This is where many schools will add an ‘A’ to form STEAM.  Creative expression not only yields surprising outbursts of understanding, but also builds student confidence.

Inquiry Based Approach

Much could be shared here about the difference between guided inquiry vs. open inquiry.  The core idea of students approaching a new topic in the context of answering a question is a cornerstone of the current teaching models.

Justification for Answers

The largest problem that I encounter in my students reasoning is an almost complete lack of it.  Fostering an expectation of well-developed thoughts encourages students to approach a problem from a number of angles and discover what they truly believe.

Writing for Reflection

Journal writing is often considered a dying art.  This is a shame because as self-reflection goes, so does strong metacognitive reinforcement of learning.  If students use a blog for reflection, they may even be surprised to learn that others are interested in their thoughts.

Use of a Problem Solving Methodology

Problem solving goes well beyond engineering classrooms.  Having a go-to method of approaching new difficulties can aid students through writing a short story or solving an economics challenge.

Hands-on Learning

Long a staple of science courses, labs provide a wonderful opportunity to provide students with another anchor for learning.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Any opportunity to connect to the outside world is a chance to enhance student achievement.

Teacher as Facilitator

Modern realization of best practice in education no longer supports the idea of the teacher as an authoritarian figure standing in the front of the room scrawling on a chalkboard.  As educators, our role can be reshaped so that we work beside students providing support and encouragement for their personal journey.

Transparent Assessment

Students perform better and form stronger connections with material if they are able to understand what demonstration of knowledge will be expected of them.  Portfolios, rubrics, and formative assessments can help meet this goal.

I’d be interested in hearing the ideas of others who have introduced an integrated STEM approach at their schools.

Classroom Management in the EdTech Classroom

By Matthew Lynch

Classroom management is a skill that educators struggle with daily. Management strategies have to be adapted to fit different classroom sizes, age group, and behavioral patterns. Technology brings with it excitement, but in the classroom, it is another aspect that educators have to police. Younger students naturally require more observation, but regardless, classroom management is an important aspect of any successful class. So, below are some ideas on how to use technology in the classroom but still be in control of the happenings behind the screens.

Historically, the classroom has changed very little in its layout. Teachers speak at the front and students are aligned in desks towards the back. Technology aims to bring students to the forefront of education and so a traditional classroom set out is not conducive to this new type of learning nor does it aid in classroom management. Educators need to now have an eye on their students and their screens. In higher grades, this can be accomplished by walking around and teaching from the back of the class, but with younger children, it proves more of a challenge.

Station rotation is a classroom management tool that is explored  Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools by Michael Horn and Heather Staker. This classroom management technique is encouraged in K- 12 classes and has shown to have positive results in regards to classroom management and overall effectiveness of technology use. By having a number of stations with different tasks, educators can keep an eye on smaller groups using technology and can walk around and do micro-teaching. Students are given the freedom to work on a task but not without the control that comes with the job at each station. This method also changes the classroom set out and allows for student-centered learning.

Keeping students on task is hard for any educator. Devices bring with accessibility to the internet and other apps. As much as the classroom management is necessary, the upkeep of the technology is equally as important. This means ensuring that security functions are up to date, search options are child safe and that no additional apps are downloaded to act as distractions. Clearlock and AppBlock are free apps that allow educators to manage what apps a student can access and for how long. Apps such as they aid in curbing

 In 2014 only 16 % of students were provided with a personable tablet by their schools and the statistics on other devices is not much better. What this suggests, regarding classroom management, is that sharing of devices is a reality. Educators need to be ready to ensure that every student has a chance to engage with edtech if they are to reap the rewards. The station rotation method works well here as does group work.  By encouraging students to work together, educators foster relationships and make the use of a technology a social and an educational tool.

Another tried and tested classroom management technique is the policing the types of technology that are allowed in a particular class or lesson. “No Phone Zones” and rules around when technology is appropriate, ensure that educators have control on what can be out on desks and what can’t. Students need to understand that technology is not a free pass and that there are rules that exist around their use. This

So, new technology comes with new classroom management obstacles. Classrooms need to adapt to include technology, and if this is to be done effectively, then the traditional classroom will not do. Station rotation, group work and ensuring that the technology is secure is a good place to start. Students need to know what is expected of them and how technology is an aspect of the classroom and not a replacement of one.

3 Technologies Bolstering STEM Learning

By Matthew Lynch

According to the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) Coalition, there are 26 million STEM jobs in the U.S., comprising 20 percent of all jobs. By 2020, there will be 9.2 million STEM jobs in the U.S. Despite the need for these workers, only 45 percent and 30 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and science courses, respectively.

As the American K-12 system continues to look for ways to increase student interest and aptitude in STEM learning, technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role. Children who come to classrooms today have an inherent aptitude for technology and educators should encourage that skill set with resources that integrate STEM learning. Just a few of the ways to do that include making use of:

Virtual laboratories

Scientific experiments are no longer just reserved for physical labs. Through interactive technology, students can now do experiments remotely through use of virtual laboratories. The virtual labs at New Mexico State University, for example, give high school and college students access to food-based experiments. Students can test for corn mold, milk bacterial contamination and prevent C. Bot growth in salsa from a remote website. There is certainly something to be said of in-person experimentation, but student access is usually limited based on actual class times and resources. A virtual lab means that a student can do an experiment multiple times, and learn from mistakes in real-time and make adjustments. It also means that experiments are not limited to a determined class time and can be done on a student’s schedule. So students with an appetite for experimentation have greater access to it, and the others are not easily discouraged by “one shot” experiments.

In-class mobile devices

A student with a tablet or smartphone in hand has a portal to hundreds of apps that support STEM learning. There are a lot of things that students can do on basic tablets and phones, but there are also products like the einstein Tablet+ from Fourier Education that have a specific focus on STEM initiatives. Instead of going out and searching for STEM-centric lessons, the einstein Tablet+ comes preloaded with experiments and modules that cover physics, biology, human physiology, chemistry, and environmental science. This STEM-specific tablet can be connected to classroom projectors and monitors so that all the students can participate at once, or can be used as an individual tablet for customized learning in grades K-12. Teachers can search mobile apps for highly-reviewed ones, some of which are completely free, to use on the screens in their classrooms.

Television programming

While statistics show that too much television watching among children leads to higher obesity rates, behavior problems and less interest in things like reading, kids ages 8 to 18 are still watching television programs on various screens for 4.5 hours every day. It isn’t all bad news though. The value of children’s programming is increasing though. Programming is no longer created for the purpose of entertainment alone. On PBS alone, STEM-learning programs like Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, Cyberchase, Nature and Nova run the gamut of childhood ages and interests. In some cases, teachers are even able to incorporate some of these learning programs in classrooms and build entire lesson plans around the content.
Math, science and engineering are all intrinsically linked with technology. This gives educators an advantage with the current generation of K-12 students who arrive in Kindergarten classrooms with a technological edge. As learning technology improves, STEM education will continue to be the beneficiary if educators use it resourcefully.

What do you think can be done to improve student interest in STEM pursuits?

25 Ways that EdTech Benefits Teachers and Students

By Matthew Lynch

EdTech is everywhere in today’s classrooms, with more teachers using technology than ever before. But what are the real benefits of using tech in the classroom? Let’s take a look at some of the ways EdTech benefits both teachers and students.

  1. Increased student engagement

When students get to use technology, they’re automatically more engaged. Kids love technology, and incorporating it into lessons gets students excited about learning. Adding technology to existing lesson plans can boost student engagement without requiring teachers to do a lot of extra work.

  1. More collaboration

Technology makes it easier for students to collaborate with one another. Students can work on projects together, communicate effortlessly at home or in the classroom, and share their work online.

  1. Improve digital literacy

Digital literacy is a fundamental skill for students in the 21st century. Knowing how to use technology and the internet will be required in almost every job that students might have in the future. By incorporating EdTech into the classroom, teachers can help students improve their digital literacy.

  1. Automate grading

In the past, teachers have spent hours after school and on weekends grading papers. There are tons of EdTech tools that can cut down on this time, automating grading and making measuring student progress simple.

  1. Get student data

EdTech can also make measuring student progress through data much easier. Many programs can automatically give teachers data on students, quickly and easily showing what skills students have mastered and what they need to work on.

  1. Stay in touch 24/7

With technology and the internet, students and teachers can stay in touch all the time. There are a variety of apps that allow students to communicate with teachers (without teachers giving out their personal email or phone number). Students can get homework help and teachers can send important reminders.

  1. Keep up with classroom management

There are lots of EdTech tools designed to help teachers with classroom management. Teachers can keep track of student behaviors and keep parents informed using technology.

  1. Flip the classroom

The flipped classroom, where students learn through reading or lecture videos at home then do projects or discuss what they learned in the classroom, is only possible through EdTech. This innovative new way of teaching and learning is taking the world of education by storm.

  1. Have more fun

EdTech can make learning more fun. There are tons of educational games and apps that get students excited and turn learning into a game instead of a chore.

  1. Get creative

With EdTech tools, students can do more creative work. Students can create online presentations and digital art to showcase what they’ve learned.

  1. Go paperless

Going paperless is a popular way for schools to save money (and reduce their carbon footprint). By putting more materials online and utilizing technology, teachers can cut back on the number of copies they make and save paper.

  1. Publish and present student work

Instead of creating a presentation that no one outside the classroom will see, students can use the internet to publish their work for the entire world to see.

  1. Do more research

Learning how to do research is an important skill that teachers have always taught. EdTech just makes it easier. Students can complete research projects without spending hours in the library and can even continue their research at home.

  1. Learn to code

Computer programming is an increasingly in-demand skill. There are a variety of tools for teaching students how to code, even in elementary school.

  1. Teachers save time

Before the rise of EdTech, teachers spent long hours creating lesson plans and grading papers. With technology and the internet, teachers can find lesson plans and free materials online. Plus, apps and programs designed to grade student work can save even more time.

  1. Raise test scores

EdTech can help improve student achievement and raise test scores. Tools that help with test prep and measure students’ progress can help teachers bring up scores.

  1. Bring the classroom home

With EdTech, learning doesn’t have to stop when students go home. Students can continue their learning at home using the internet.

  1. Find free materials

Teachers don’t have to pay for workbooks anymore. There are tons of free materials online that can help busy teachers throw together lesson plans in minutes.

  1. Turn review into a game

There are tons of apps available that turn review activities or test prep into fun games for students. This can make otherwise boring review fun and exciting.

  1. Personalize learning for every student

EdTech helps teachers differentiate learning. Students can each work on something different on their individual devices, with each student focusing on their own areas of weakness.

  1. Include ELLs

Technology can help English Language Learners feel included in the classroom. The internet makes translating materials easier than ever, allowing beginning English learners to participate in activities that would otherwise be too difficult.

  1. Stop buying expensive textbooks

Thanks to the internet, schools no longer have to spend money each year on new textbooks. Information is readily available online, and it’s more up-to-date than with old print books.

  1. Provide remediation

There are lots of resources available to help remediate students using EdTech. Students who are below grade-level can use EdTech tools to get caught up.

  1. Provide acceleration

EdTech isn’t just for remediation—it can also be used for acceleration. Students who are bored with the material the rest of the class is working on can complete additional projects and accelerate their learning using EdTech.

  1. Bring your classroom into the 21st century

It just makes sense to incorporate more EdTech into the classroom. Teachers are responsible for preparing students for a 21st century world, and exposing them to technology is a part of that.

What other benefits does EdTech have for students and teachers? Tell us how you’ve seen EdTech benefit classrooms.

Why marking students’ books should be the least of a language teacher’s priorities

1. Introduction

Never, as in this day and age, secondary schools in the UK have made such a big fuss about the importance of marking student books and never has giving feedback been so tiresome and time-consuming for teachers. Based on the intuitively compelling notion – supported by recent research claims by the likes of Hattie – that a more cognitively demanding student involvement in the feedback-handling process significantly enhances learning, Modern Language teachers are now asked in many cases to place marking at the top of their priorities and engage in elaborate corrective approaches.

The trending remedial methodology prescribing a conversation-for-learning approach to marking, whereby the feedback unfolds in the form of a dialogue between corrector and correctee, book-marking has become a very taxing process for both parties but especially for teachers. Chilling horror stories of teachers forced to three to four-hour book-marking marathons per day using 3 different ink-colours or stamps (a different one for each stage in the feedback dialogue) to the detriment of their family life, keep resurfacing on online teacher forums and Facebook pages. SLT’s frequent book checks obviously adding to teacher stress.

This article was written in response to dozens of messages I have been getting from UK-based colleagues distressed by this state of affairs and asking invariably the same question: is the time and effort I put in book marking justified? In the below I intend to answer this question by drawing on thirty years of error-correction research, my personal experience as a learner of 14 languages and teacher of five and, more importantly, neuroscience and common sense. I will also suggest alternative remedial approaches to MFL learner errors which are as or even more effective than the trending methodologies.

2. What L2 error-correction research says

  1. Surveys of students and parents’ opinion have consistently indicated that they want books to be marked (Ferris,1999);
  1. Students often find teacher corrections confusing and unhelpful, hence do not learn much from them (Hedgcock and Lefkowitz, 1998);
  1. Students do not possess effective feedback-handling strategies and have a very superficial attitude to teacher corrections. They simply look at the mark or comments on their work, make a mental note of them but invest very little – if any – cognitive effort in processing teacher corrections (Cohen, 1987; Cohen and Cavalcanti, 1990; Conti, 2004). My PhD study (Conti,2001) found that students writing an essay per week and regularly and timely receiving detailed corrective feedback on the latter are clueless as to what the most common errors in their written work are and can only recall about 10% of the errors corrected by the instructor in their latest piece.
  1. Many errors appear to be impervious to error correction (Truscott, 1996). Despite repeated corrections, the vast majority of errors, especially the ones which refer to more complex grammatical points or less salient features (e.g. article, prepositions, word endings) keep re-occurring.
  1. Intensive grammar and editing instruction targeting specific errors has also shown to be largely ineffective (Polio et al, 1998).
  2. Once errors are automatized (or ‘fossilised’ as psycholinguists say) nothing can be done to completely eradicate them (Mukkatesh, 1988). Hence preventing students from automatizing mistakes seems to be more effective than treating them.
  1. An excessive concern with error treatment may affect students’ motivation negatively (James, 1998).
  1. An excessive concern with error treatment can also lead to error avoidance which stifles creativity with the language by inhibiting risk-taking (Krashen, 2000).
  1. Both direct and indirect correction do not impact students’ accuracy more effectively than no correction at all. Indirect correction has negatively impacted students’ motivation in some studies (Semke, 1984, Robb et al, 1986, Kepner, 1991).
  1. In studies in which the writing of students whose essays received only feedback on content was compared to the writing of students whose work was corrected, the former condition had a better impact on certain aspects of their writing proficiency (the no-correction group producing more higher order propositions than the correction group). These studies concluded that error correction may actually damage the development of written proficiency.
  1. Extensive strategy training in self-monitoring and feedback-handling strategies occurring over a long period seems to enhance essay-writing accuracy in the areas of grammar, vocabulary and spelling in university contexts . My study (Conti, 2001), which pioneered a feedback technique aimed at enhancing student involvement in the corrective process (a more elaborate version of what today is referred to as D.I.R.T. = Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) obtained impressive gains in writing accuracy and even proficiency; however, it required a huge diagnostic effort, many hours of learner training and high levels of expertise on the part of the instructor (I spent countless hours of research and piloting before implementing the program).
  1. Students who are more motivated and have higher levels of self-regulation are more likely to benefit from correction (Conti, 2001; 2004)
  1. For errors to be reduced or eradicated, students need to engage in a conscious and sustained long-term effort (Conti, 2004)
  1. Errors are more likely to be eradicated when they refer to structures our students process frequently both receptively and productively (Loewen, 1998).
  1. Some errors are caused by lack of knowledge. Others by processing inefficiency or cognitive overload (i.e. the brain cannot juggle all the demands of the writing process successfully because they are simply too many and some errors slip through). The latter mistakes are usually self-correctable by the students.
  1. It is useless to correct errors which refer to structures the learners are not developmentally ready to acquire as they do not have the cognitive maturity to internalize them.

3. Should we stop correcting then?

The obvious answer is ‘No’ as students and parents do demand we correct. Moreover, as a language learner I have personally benefitted greatly from correction, so I do know it can work. The above research findings and what we know about how the human brain acquire languages cannot be ignored, though, and should inform our pedagogy.

What the 16 points above tell us is that to simply highlight a few errors and ask students to self-correct or do some research on the erroneously applied grammar rule is not going to enhance accuracy or language acquisition. This is because the acquisition of a grammar item is a complex process that takes months or even years of practice; it does not happen as a sudden revelation resulting from a correction. If the mistakes are made in speaking they will require extensive speaking practice; if they are made in writing, extensive writing practice. Simply telling a student you made mistake ‘X’ and asking them to self-correct it, do research on it, have a conversation with their teacher about it, or even all of the above,  will not be enough; it will only be the beginning phase of a very long process.

Thus, if I correct a student at the beginning of term 1 on item ‘X’ I will have to consistently keep that item in their focal awareness for the months to come, whilst providing spaced practice in the usage of that item week in week out until the end of Term 3. This is because learning a language is about acquiring automaticity in the execution of a specific set of skills which are acquired through masses of extensive (not intensive) practice. Note that I said ‘in the months to come’, not in a one-off remedial lesson

Other subjects, such as the Humanities or the Sciences, are less about automaticity and more about intellectual retention of knowledge and facts, hence they require a different type of corrective intervention. So, whereas in such subjects one can write in a book ‘it is fact X not Y’ and all the students will have to do is memorize that fact, in languages this will not be enough. The acquisition of a given grammar rule will require masses of spaced practice across a wide range of contexts coupled with positive or negative feedback on each and every application of that rule.

In tennis or football coaching, one cannot hope to improve a player’s dribbling skills by telling them what they are doing wrong, asking them to think about what they can do to improve and hope that just because they have understood the suggestions they are (a) going to take them on, (b) implement them and (c) act them out often and skilfully enough to automatize them. The player will first need to WANT to heed the advice and then practise it over and over again, even when the coach is not there to support him, and, only when it has worked many times over, he may finally internalize it. This example encapsulates all the challenges that effective error correction poses to teacher and learner alike, i.e.:

(1) the student must understand the correction;

(2) must want to learn from it (intentionality – the most important factor in the success of error correction);

(3) must practise it consistently over a long period of time at spaced intervals;

(4) must receive feedback that tells him/her that s/he is performing it correctly every time.

Can an overworked teacher even remotely hope to be able to successfully take each individual student in the classes s/he teaches through all of the above four stages with every single problematic item they target? Not really, that is why error correction, whether through D.I.R.T. or any other form of error correction is bound to have little impact on students’ proficiency.

And often it is not even an issue of time or resources; the greatest obstacle to the success of error correction relates to the issue of intentionality (the desire to act on one’s problems). The fact that a student engages in a dialog about error and responds effectively to the teacher’s corrective prompts does not mean that s/he will have the desire to eradicate the target mistake(s) which is essential for him/her to succeed. Cognitive engagement without intentionality rarely yields proficiency gains in language acquisition, because without intentionality the learner is unlikely to autonomously seek the opportunities for practice that lead to acquisition.

Not to mention another issue pertaining to the affective impact of an overemphasis on error correction: it skews learning towards remediation, towards ‘fixing’ rather than ‘creating’, towards form rather than content. Obsession with correction usually engenders fear of making mistakes, not a healthy catalyst of language learning.

4. Conclusions and implications for teaching and learning

What are the conclusions to be drawn and most importantly, what is the way forward?

The most important conclusion to be drawn, a huge U-turn from the recommendations I gave in the final chapter of my PhD study 12 years ago, is that book-marking should be kept to the minimum. What is much more important and more impactful in terms of teaching and learning is how the problem areas the teacher identifies in their students’ output inform our future short-, medium- and long-term planning. Thus, on finding that in doing homework ‘X’ or essay ‘Y’ most students made a given set of mistakes, it will be much more effective to focus on those mistakes in whole class activities through extensive practice over the weeks to come (at spaced intervals), rather than writing the same comments and corrections in every student’s book.

Secondly, students of similar linguistic background typically make by and large the same mistakes at various levels of proficiency. Instead of focusing on those mistakes in the remedial phase of teaching (correction) why not concentrating our efforts on pre-empting those errors by teaching the areas they refer to more effectively in the first place. In planning a lesson, for instance, I always try to predict the errors my students are likely to make and devise tactics and support materials to pre-empt or reduce their occurrence. Let us not forget that many of our students’ mistakes are caused by L1 transfer as well as by misleading explanations and/or examples, the materials we use and the translations we provide (e.g. J’ai 16 ans means literally ‘I have 16 years’ but by translating as ‘I am 16’ we lead the students to assume that ‘J’ai’ means ‘I am’). By the same token, scaffolding learning more carefully so as to gradually build up mastery rather than immediately throwing the students in the deep end can prevent many errors; for instance, as I always maintain in my blogs, teachers often go way too quickly from the presentation of a grammar point straight to production, missing out the all-important receptive phase (e.g. reading) which models target structure use in context. Last, but not least, let us ensure that we cover those problematic areas more thoroughly and extensively in our curriculum planning (more recycling and less coverage!).

Thirdly, instead of marking student output a few hours or days after the error has occurred, by focusing on the product, why not marking it as things happen as much as possible, focusing on the process? This approach, known as ‘live marking’ means going around the classroom as students grapple with a new language structure monitoring their output as they read, speak or write and intervene as soon as a serious mistake takes place by asking questions which promote self-correction such as ‘are you sure about this?’ and maybe probe into the causes of that error if it does not disrupt the task-at-hand.

Fourthly, the motivation to take an active and more responsible role in the feedback process can be fostered through L.I.F.T. (learner initiated feedback technique) whereby the students ask the teachers for feedback themselves. E.g., in writing an essay, a student unsure about the use of a grammar structure may ask in the margin of the essay ‘ should I use the perfect tense or the perfect tense continuous here?’.  By so doing, it is the student who is initiating the feedback process. The teacher is merely responding. The fact that the student chooses item ‘X’ himself, as the focus of the teacher’s intervention, may enhance the students’ depth of engagement in the learning of that item.

Personalised editing checklists to be used by the students in the editing phase of their writing prior to handing in their work, may also help enhance learner responsibility and the accuracy of the final product; if applied consistently over a long period of time they might even end up improving their self-monitoring skills – not necessarily written proficiency though.The students make a list of a few mistakes that keep cropping up in their work which they elect to eliminate from their writing. The list may grow as the year progresses, of course. They will then use that list to go through each new assignment when they review their drafts, one item at the time. Useful with exam classes in my experience. Better for the list to include only 5 to 6 items at a time, although more keen and able students may include more. I tend to use editing checklists in synergy with L.I.F.T. (students apply checklist and ask questions in the margin when they have doubts).

There are other strategies that can be implemented to tackle errors that are more effective than the trending dialogic and/or D.I.R.T.-based corrective approaches as they are usually applied in many foreign language classrooms. But I reserve to deal with such tactics in my next blogpost, for reasons of space.

In conclusion, by all means, if you are a teacher on a very light timetable and teach small classes, as I was when I carried out my PhD experiment, do carry on with D.I.R.T. and/or conversing with students in writing in their books using three or different pen colours. It might pay dividends at least with some of your more motivated students.  However, if you are a snowed-under practitioner in a busy state school, you may want to heed my advice and spend more time planning and working out ways to teach more effectively, as that is more likely to advance your students’ learning.

The problem is that school-wide policies are rarely drafted by language experts or educators who understand how language acquisition occurs so you may have to carry on as you are told… For many non-language specialists MFL learning is about memorising grammar rules and vocabulary lists – a purely intellectual endeavour. As current accounts of L2 learning posits, though, language acquisition is not about accruing intellectual knowledge and errors are more often than not the result of ineffective performance linked to working-memory executive function than lack of understanding or knowledge gaps. And performance deficits can only be addressed through practice, not reflection.

As Mark Solomon and Keith Netcher, the facilitators of a very useful workshop on feedback I attended last Friday at my school said, one should only provide feedback if it is likely to have an impact. If not, it is simply a worthless box-ticking endeavour.

Do get hold of the book I co-authored with Steve Smith ‘The Language Teacher Toolkit‘ to find out more about our ideas on error correction and smart book-marking


In the age of robots, our schools are teaching children to be redundant | George Monbiot

George Monbiot

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

Governments claim to want to reduce the number of children being excluded from school. So why are their curriculums and tests so narrow that they alienate any child whose mind does not work in a particular way?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

There is, as Graham Brown-Martin explains in his book Learning {Re}imagined, a common reason for these perversities. Our schools were designed to produce the workforce required by 19th-century factories. The desired product was workers who would sit silently at their benches all day, behaving identically, to produce identical products, submitting to punishment if they failed to achieve the requisite standards. Collaboration and critical thinking were just what the factory owners wished to discourage.

As far as relevance and utility are concerned, we might as well train children to operate a spinning jenny. Our schools teach skills that are not only redundant but counter-productive. Our children suffer this life-defying, dehumanising system for nothing.

The less relevant the system becomes, the harder the rules must be enforced, and the greater the stress they inflict. One school’s current advertisement in the Times Educational Supplement asks: “Do you like order and discipline? Do you believe in children being obedient every time? … If you do, then the role of detention director could be for you.” Yes, many schools have discipline problems. But is it surprising when children, bursting with energy and excitement, are confined to the spot like battery chickens?

Teachers are now leaving the profession in droves, their training wasted and their careers destroyed by overwork and a spirit-crushing regime of standardisation, testing and top-down control. The less autonomy they are granted, the more they are blamed for the failures of the system. A major recruitment crisis beckons, especially in crucial subjects such as physics and design and technology. This is what governments call efficiency.

Any attempt to change the system, to equip children for the likely demands of the 21st century, rather than those of the 19th, is demonised by governments and newspapers as “social engineering”. Well, of course it is. All teaching is social engineering. At present we are stuck with the social engineering of an industrial workforce in a post-industrial era. Under Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and a nostalgic government in Britain, it’s likely only to become worse.

Schoolchildren taking their GCSE exams.
Photograph: Alamy

When they are allowed to apply their natural creativity and curiosity, children love learning. They learn to walk, to talk, to eat and to play spontaneously, by watching and experimenting. Then they get to school, and we suppress this instinct by sitting them down, force-feeding them with inert facts and testing the life out of them.

There is no single system for teaching children well, but the best ones have this in common: they open up rich worlds that children can explore in their own ways, developing their interests with help rather than indoctrination. For example, the Essa academy in Bolton gives every pupil an iPad, on which they create projects, share material with their teachers and each other, and can contact their teachers with questions about their homework. By reducing their routine tasks, this system enables teachers to give the children individual help.

Other schools have gone in the opposite direction, taking children outdoors and using the natural world to engage their interests and develop their mental and physical capacities (the Forest School movement promotes this method). But it’s not a matter of high-tech or low-tech; the point is that the world a child enters is rich and diverse enough to ignite their curiosity, and allow them to discover a way of learning that best reflects their character and skills.

There are plenty of teaching programmes designed to work with children, not against them. For example, the Mantle of the Expert encourages them to form teams of inquiry, solving an imaginary task – such as running a container port, excavating a tomb or rescuing people from a disaster – that cuts across traditional subject boundaries. A similar approach, called Quest to Learn, is based on the way children teach themselves to play games. To solve the complex tasks they’re given, they need to acquire plenty of information and skills. They do it with the excitement and tenacity of gamers.

The Reggio Emilia approach, developed in Italy, allows children to develop their own curriculum, based on what interests them most, opening up the subjects they encounter along the way with the help of their teachers. Ashoka Changemaker schools treat empathy as “a foundational skill on a par with reading and math”, and use it to develop the kind of open, fluid collaboration that, they believe, will be the 21st century’s key skill.

The first multi-racial school in South Africa, Woodmead, developed a fully democratic method of teaching, whose rules and discipline were overseen by a student council. Its integrated studies programme, like the new system in Finland, junked traditional subjects in favour of the students’ explorations of themes, such as gold, or relationships, or the ocean. Among its alumni are some of South Africa’s foremost thinkers, politicians and businesspeople.

In countries such as Britain and the United States, such programmes succeed despite the system, not because of it. Had these governments set out to ensure that children find learning difficult and painful, they could not have done a better job. Yes, let’s have some social engineering. Let’s engineer our children out of the factory and into the real world.

A fully linked version of this column will be published at monbiot.com

Delete the “Thank you!” slide – how to end your presentation

Brian McCarthy

The most important sections of your presentation are the beginning and ending. The beginning is when you will grab the attention of the audience and hopefully persuade them you are worth listening to for the next 20 minutes, and the ending will be where you summarise your main points and key message in such a way that it will be easier for them to remember and take home.

In this post I would like to talk about the five best practices for ending your talk confidently and with impact.

1. Repeat something from the opening.

When you begin your closing section (your summary or conclusions), it’s a good idea to repeat or link to an idea from the opening of your talk.  One great way to do this is to begin your talk with the first half of a relevant personal story and end your talk with the second half. Or, if you talk about a problem in a specific context at the beginning, refer back to that context at the beginning of your closing. Or, if you open with an impactful picture, show that image again at the end. Doing this will signal to the audience that you are coming to the end of your talk. It completes the circle – you end up back where you started. This is the classic structure of a story that recounts a journey – the hero usually ends up back he started at the end of the movie. Doing this will give a sense of harmony and completeness to your talk.

2. Show how each of your main points support your overall argument.

At the beginning of your talk, it’s important to map out the main ideas you will talk about. An audience that doesn’t know the stages of the journey you are about to take them on will be less at ease than one that knows what lies ahead. At the end of your talk take them back over what you’ve spoken about but don’t just list the different ideas you developed, show how they are related and how they support your main argument.

3. Don’t show a Thank-You slide.

I see so many presenters that show a slide that says “Thank you!” at the end of their talk. Some even include smiley faces or happy photos to make the slide more visual. Others finish with a slide that says “Questions?”. Neither of these slides is a good idea and neither helps the audience in any way (every slide you show should help the audience understand what you are saying). “Thank you” should come from your mouth with a smile and with eye contact, putting it on a slide cheapens the sentiment and looks naff. When my wife gives me a birthday present I don’t make her a powerpoint to say thank you! The last slide you show, the one that should stay up until every last audience member has left the room, is your summary slide. A summary slide shows all the main points you have made, along with your main argument and your call to action. It should also show your name and contact details. This slide is the only slide you use that can contain a lot of text, you’ll probably need to use bullet points to separate the text (this is the only slide you use that should have bullet-points!). Having all this information visible during the questions and answer (Q&A) session will help the audience think of questions to ask you. It will be interesting reading for them while you are answering questions they’re not interested in. And many people will take photos of this slide with their phone to take home as a summary of your talk and to have your contact details.

4. I know you’re tired, but finish with energy and enthusiasm.

It’s only natural that you’ll feel tired when you get to the end of your talk. The adrenaline that was racing through your body at the beginning has now worn off, your voice is tired and you’d love to sit down and have a beer. But you’re only half way there. Now comes the Q&A session, probably the most important element of a presentation, as it is this part that differentiates your talk from a video of you talking (you can’t ask questions to a video). Its crucial that the audience feels that you are enthusiastic and open for questions. What happens if no one has any questions? First of all, some people surely do want to ask you something, but no one wants to be the first to ask a question. You might need to break the ice and get the ball rolling. A good way to do this is for you yourself to ask a question to the audience. Make it an open, non-threatening question. Ask the most confident looking person in the room for their opinion, or get them to discuss the question with the person sitting beside them (this gives them a chance to rehearse their answer before speaking in front of everyone and also gives people a chance to network).

5. Your presentation doesn’t end with questions and answers.

When the Q&A session is over, stand up, get their attention and close the presentation. This isn’t always possible to do (e.g. At academic conferences where Q&A sometimes happens after every three presentations) but if you can, do it. In your closing give your main argument again, your call to action and deal with any doubts or criticisms that out in the Q&A. So, a closing is more or less a condensed version of your conclusions and an improvised summary of the Q&A. It’s important that the audience goes home with an image of you confidently presenting your main argument, and not with a memory of a Q&A that may or may not have gone well or may have been dominated by someone other than you.

Children’s screen time doesn’t have to be scream time


by: Joanne Orlando

Parents have been struggling to contain their child’s technology use to the recommended screen limit of two-hours-a-day. With schoolwork, homework, communication, social media and fun, that limit doesn’t acknowledge our new reality.

But at last authorities have listened and the guidelines for children’s screen use have caught up to the digital age. The guidelines used by the federal Department of Health are based on those developed by the American Academy of Pediatricians. The academy’s new guidelines acknowledge the dramatic change in our device use and the need for children to use technology throughout their day. Even the long held recommendation that children less than 2-years-old should get no screen time at all has been dropped.

The important message from the new guidelines is to shift our thinking away from “screen time” to “screen quality”.

Some new time measures are provided for younger children: one hour a day for children 18-months to 5-years. For children aged six- to18-years, the academy has passed the baton to parents to decide. Parents are asked to take a more nuanced approach and keep check of what their child does on a tablet, computer, TV or other digital device rather than counting minutes.

This is a sound approach as 30 minutes of playing a game that centres on stealing cars and dealing with drug lords (one of the most successful online games in the world) is quite different to spending 30 minutes creating music on a device.

The previous guidelines were developed in the 1990s in response to research on children’s viewing of violent and sexual content.  But the new guidelines are based on recent research that shows that use of today’s interactive devices can have valuable learning benefits. Technology can enhance the development of children’s language and literacy, stimulate creativity and allow children to work with ideas in deep and meaningful ways. The research does not suggest 24/7 usage, but that select quality technology experiences can have benefit.

While loosening the guidelines is a great move for families, it may bring a new kind of stress. Parents often feel uneasy about guiding their child’s technology use. This is fed by the constant berating of messages that tell us that technology is bad for children. It’s a strong message that has led to parental uncertainty about what is best for children and how to guide their tech use.

The guidelines ask parents to take the lead and encourage educational content. However the term “educational” can be quite hard to pin down if you’re not an educator. There are more than 80,000 apps labelled as educational in the iTunes store but not each of them is a quality learning experience. Unfortunately many “educational” apps are not designed by an educator, nor even someone who knows anything about education. A maths app for a 4-year-old that focuses on completing addition sums may have an educational theme but the learning experience the child actually engages can be poor.

The best way to assess if a site or app is educational is to consider what is beneficial for your child to learn and check if the app works towards that. Educational does not necessarily mean a school lesson. Activities that are creative, that stimulate imagination and that allow meaningful connection with others are great. Think developing a music playlist, video-chatting with mum while she is away, using an online recipe to cook, taking photos of the family and creating an online album, using a video to learn how to draw.

Encourage children to apply what they have learnt on their device to an off-screen scenario. Follow-up what your child has learnt online by looking at real-world examples. The more ways a child can apply their knowledge, the better the educational experience.

Doing things together on a device is a great way to understand your child as a technology user and what makes quality educational experiences for them. This can be as simple as playing a game together. Many parents separate their child’s technology use from family activities and this exacerbates their unease in parenting around technology.

Not only will playing or creating together online help with decisions about screen quality, but it is also a great way to bond with and connect with your kids.