Four Japanese words, Minimalism, and Innovation: What about ELT?

Komorebi (木漏れ日)

Imagine getting out ot bed, putting on a hoodie – because it’s a little chilly – and walking out the door. You can hear all types of birds chirping, insects singing their melodic tunes, the wind gently blowing the bushes. You’re in a hilly area surrounded by plants and the early morning dew is dropping from the leaves right in front of you. You look up and you see the sunlight through the trees forming different shapes on the grass. This actually has a name in Japanese. It’s komorebi. It’s so important to the Japanese culture that they thought it deserved its own word.

Did you like the scenery I described? Well, I write this blog post from one of my favorite retreats: my mom’s house in São Roque, my hometown. A little piece of heaven on earth protected by huge pine trees to the east, a wall to the west where a small creek runs, and what remained of Mata Atlântica to the south (check out pictures below)

This is my first visit since the pandemic started. We’re all fully vaccinated now and I finally felt safe enough to come. I took two weeks off work and decided to spend a week here. I’ve also decided to reconnect with my roots. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go back to basics and simply enjoy the birds singing, the early morning chill, the trees, the wild animals that abound here, and my family. I’m also off Instagram and Facebook now to see how it feels.

I’ve come to realize that, like most people I know, I’m addicted to social media. It’s not really a fair fight, though. They’re designed to get our attention by showing us exactly what gets our attention. But that’s not even the biggest problem. What may be even more worrisome is that I feel like nothing is ever good enough since we’re either always behind on things we must do or always looking for the latest/next thing. Sometimes it feels like we can’t even rest because we’re constantly reminded that we should be working. We’ve really bought the idea that we need to keep producing and innovating to feel accomplished and, quite frankly, that’s exhausting.

Now if you’re wondering the purpose of this post, I suppose it’s only a reflection on how this feeling of always trying to be productive and innovative may do harm, especially when it drives you away from the essence of teaching, increasing your workload and heightening the sensation of “it’s not enough”, and when it makes you believe that there are revolutionary or magical shortcuts out there waiting to be found.

From VUCA to BANI

A few years ago many professionals who dealt with innovation and futurism started to talk about VUCA. Our world was suddenly:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

In such a world, it feels natural that we need to keep up as things change quite fast and some – if not all – of the work we do might become obsolete quite quickly. Think of whole industries that virtually disappeared because something else took their place: streaming services taking over blockbuster; flash drives and the cloud over CD-Roms. In such a world, if you want to survive, you have to stay relevant and that means to continually invest in your professional development.

Then 2020 happened. Covid-19 struck the world and Jamais Cascio came up with another acronym:

  • Brittle
  • Anxious
  • Nonlinear
  • Incomprehensible

We moved from VUCA to BANI and the latter emphasizes how things might be even more chaotic. In a BANI world, the possibility of world catastrophe seems more tangible and that causes anxiety. In such a world, rigidity and tradition should be avoided. The pot of gold of innovation has never been more important. But wait! Remember that it won’t last. Things can change dramatically overnight.

How does this scenario affect English classes?

A fast-paced world needs quick and effective solutions but that doesn’t mean that any quick fix will do. That message, sadly, seems to fall on deaf ears. To me, and many well-known and respected colleagues in the field would agree, it feels like more and more people are looking for English solutions that promise the earth. As a matter of fact, working closely with the marketing department of my company has given me lots of insight into what people want to “consume”. Things need to be “instagrammable”. Tips, drops, word of the day, the difference between make and do, how to pronounce this or that, 5 ways to organize your study routine, etc.

The idea this new world, whether you prefer VUCA or BANI, is selling is that things can be easily learned nowadays. It sells you the idea that things can – and worse, need to – be effortless otherwise they might be old-fashioned, ineffective, inadequate, not good enough.

Think of how the commercial department of many companies sells their solutions. They probably don’t have some of the solutions yet because they need to be created by the design team – but that doesn’t stop them from promising to deliver. And since the client is always right, they’ll very likely fit the solution to the demands of the client, even if that means it won’t be good enough.

How does this affect English classes? There is an enormous pressure on schools, and private teachers to offer solutions that are “instagrammable”. Become fluent in 18 months, We use a brand new method, Learn faster through NLP, Get access to an exclusive platform, Have lessons with native speakers, Receive daily tips on your phone, etc. Even more traditional schools, and teachers might feel compelled to put on a show to seduce new “clients”.

I used to believe that things like neuroscience could revolutionize how we learn – just check out my first posts on this blog to see for yourself. But as I mentioned in one of my latest posts:

Based on the body of work from Mind, Brain, and Education, I can honestly say that I do not consider it as revolutionary as I used to think. People sometimes fall for buzzwords and “revolutionary” claims (especially when they have the terms brain-based, brain-friendly or neuro attached to them). A word of advice: be careful. Using neurojargon and promising “you’ll be able to learn anything with five easy-to-follow steps” is probably a hoax. It generally disregards years of research conducted by several peers from around the world by claiming that someone made an incredible discovery and found a secret formula to maximize learning like never before!

Me

However, one thing we know about learning for sure and it’s that it requires effort and commitment. Depending on how fluent you want to become, how much available time you have, your background, your purpose, and if you already know a second language or not, it will certainly take a while, not just a few weeks or months. What can ELT tell us?

KonMari – Decluttering ELT: Is that good enough?

I remember watching Marie Kondo on Netflix. It was certainly something that caught my attention. Her philosophy had to do with keeping stuff that gave us joy and getting rid of things that didn’t – not before thanking them for their service in our lives. The method is known as KonMari. Her show led me to other shows, articles, and books on a trendy new word to me: minimalism. This word refers to focusing on the things you need and that are useful rather than the things that basically clutter your house and life. It’s really the idea of keeping it simple and going back to basics.

Even though KonMari’s website says it’s not about minimalism, despite Netflix’ algorithm leading me to a bunch of things on minimalism, I think we can all agree that it is about decluttering. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to moderate a very interesting session for Gallery Teachers delivered by Steve Hirschhorn, who not only proposed that we’re cluttering ELT with stuff from other areas, but also that we should go back to basics and use Second Language Acquisition as a guide.

Among some of the things Steve mentioned that don’t seem to do ELT any good are:

Despite disagreeing with Steve on a few things (such as the role of Critical Thinking, Flipped Classroom, Mindfulness, and Brain-friendly learning – even though I don’t like this name anymore), overall, I found myself nodding along as he presented his case. He did mention that most of the evidence was either showing that these “fads” don’t add anything or was inconclusive. I won’t get into the details of why he might be right about some of his claims and why I’m quite confident he’s wrong about others (I can do this some other time).

What I want to share here is his final message, which certainly struck a chord with me. He said we needed to go back to basics and master the essence first before going after the next “pot of gold”. And most importantly, he said that we should remain skeptical when the next trend pops up (but that doesn’t mean we can’t give it a shot and see how it goes)

After 40 years, my conclusion is that I’m a slow learner

Steve Hirschhorn

This quote made me reflect on the role of the teacher in the classroom and how it has changed. Steve was a slow learner – so was I when I learned English as it took me several years – and it seems to me that because of VUCA and BANI, people feel that they don’t have time to go through the whole process and simply transfer lots of responsibility to the teacher to make them learn as quickly as possible. And, as I mentioned before, because of how things are advertised and how chaotic their lives are, they:

  1. Believe there are quick fixes and will find professionals to offer them that;
  2. Can’t commit to anything that actually takes longer;
  3. Can’t find the right fit as they are not interested in taking a proficiency exam, they just want to be functional at work;

There’s definitely a gap that needs addressing and serious and competent professionals need to find a way to reach these people. What I disagree about Steve’s thought-provoking session is other areas may have little to offer ELT or SLA. I believe some, like the Science of Learning, can lead to interesting reflections. Learning might not speed up as promised by charlatans, but it may certainly expand to other people who might have felt like they could not do it well.

Something I wholeheartedly agree with Steve is that what matters really is the essence. Anyone trying to learn something new needs exposure, practice, and feedback. Over a long period of time and in an incremental way. Give me a stick and I’ll use the sand on the beach as my black board. I also agree that students’ role as active agents of their learning is vital. You can pay whoever you want to teach you English, but if you don’t hold your part of the deal, it won’t work well. We need to make sure we remind students of that.

The corporate spirit of measuring

Another issue many of us deal with nowadays is performance measurement. For those in the corporate world, it is no surprise that there are questionnaires everywhere about nearly everything anyone can think of. Service, politeness, mood, quickness, product quality, packaging, tone of voice, eye contact. In a world of Uber, Amazon, and food delivery apps, getting 5 stars might be the difference between selling or not. It creeps me out to think we’re headed to what Black Mirror’s Nosedive episode depicts so intelligently.

In this world that also relies in word of mouth, having a positive reputation and “pleasing the customer” is certainly l’ordre du jour. The issue here is:

  • Can everything be measured?
  • Can everything be measured as fast as possible and show effective change?
  • Can the customer wait to see the change?
  • Can the customer understand when change happened and what it means?

KonMari, Karoshi (過労死), and Kintsugi (金継ぎ)

If you got this far, I promise it’s coming to a wrap soon. This is perhaps the most important part. Besides Komorebi (sunlight through trees), Japanese offers us other interesting words that begin with K.

The first, which has already been mentioned, is actually the method (trademark) used by Marie Kondo to bring joy into people’s lives by helping them to declutter. And as beautiful or magical as it may have seemed to me at first, like a philosophy we should live by, now I wonder how it turned into an extremely profitable business that has its own shop of household products you can buy – feel the irony? – and a certification course to make you a consultant. Wasn’t ” less is more” the most important point of it? Maybe it had to fit the market.

My question here is: must we always succumb to VUCA and BANI demands and market everything we do in a way that meets the customer’s needs? Must everyone make their work instagrammable to survive? Should we work overtime to learn digital marketing skills and be online all the time on social media to post tips, drops, stories, Tik Toks? Where is this leading us?

Karoshi is what happens to people who work to death. That’s right. It’s a real problem and it affects hundreds of thousands of Japanese people (and people elsewhere even though they might not have a word for it) annually who literally work themselves to their grave because of social demands and long work hours, all of which lead to exhaustion.

You should think that the culture that gave us such a beatiful word like Komorebi would at least take the time to appreciate nature. What we see in Japanese TV news and newspapers is actually quite the opposite. People dozing off in subway stations, many sleeping on their own shoulder up on their feet. As innovative as the Japanese are in many areas, they couldn’t figure out a way out of this loop.

What then? Can we break this vicious cycle, this never-ending loop of working too much, getting too exhausted, and looking for quick fixes? Perhaps another Japanese word might offer us an insight.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. It sends out a beautiful message. Just because it’s broken, it doesn’t mean it’s useless. Actually, by restoring these flawed pots and embracing imperfections with such a noble material as gold, these items become more expensive and are viewed as more beautiful than the original. When you look at them, you can see exactly where the pot cracked. But you can also be sure that that area is stronger than ever now.

What am I trying to say after all?

I’m not sure I got lost along the way in this text. Maybe it makes little sense to you. Maybe it’s crystal clear. My time at my mom’s house allowed me to reflect on such things and I suppose I have more questions than answers. I would like to end this by sharing these questions with you and then telling you what I feel about this whole discussion:

  1. Do you have time to connect with yourself and with nature with the current job you have?
  2. Do you feel overwhelmed with the things you “should learn” in order to sell your services?
  3. Do you sometimes have excellent ideas/projects that you know would work but can’t really do them because results wouldn’t show for a while?
  4. Are you always looking for tips, courses, lives, lectures, webinars because you feel you can’t stop?
  5. Do you have to keep producing content and be active on social media to feel you’re connected?
  6. Are you searching for techniques, strategies, and routines to accelerate your students’ learning even though you know it takes longer than what they’d like?
  7. Do you feel like you’re not doing enough or that you’re always behind schedule?
  8. Would you like to disagree with your client (student) or boss but fear you’ll get some sort of retaliation?
  9. Are you always trying everything you can to make sure all students are learning at all times?
  10. Are you happy? Are you OK? Are you healthy?

I guess my message here is the following: we need balance. We need to find balance between our time in nature and our time on social media. Social media are addictive and that’s bad for us. We must unplug now and then, step back and take a deep breath.

We also need to balance how much we give in when it’s about the work we do. Sadly, and I wish this weren’t true, we live in a society that emphasizes something that “looks good” over something that actually “is good”. But we don’t have to compromise and sell our soul to the devil of quick fixes and magic formulas so that we can get more people to hire us. I think it’s quite the opposite. We need to be good at what we do – and qualified – and be vocal about scams and incompetent professionals. People need educating on these matters.

As for innovating, again, balance is key. Keeping up with the latest tech and trends can take too much time. Time we’re not necessarily getting paid for and that will take our leisure away from us. Learn the basics, stick to things that work and make you feel safer, focus on the content, not the appearance.

I enjoyed being away from social media for a while. I can’t say I truly relaxed as I kept thinking of the many projects I have to accomplish and how on earth I’d be able to. But I also read a book I wanted for a long time, I spent hours simply walking around and watching the birds, I had wonderful conversations with my family.

This connection with the land and the folk reignited my desire to be more rather than to appear more. At least that’s what I hope. I wish we can all witness more Komorebi in our days, and embrace our flaws and repair them with gold as in Kintsugi, always remembering how these imperfections tell our stories and how we learned from them. I also think we need to focus on the essence and get rid of the clutter. We may even be inspired by KonMari and start giving away things that don’t make a difference in our lives. Let’s admit we need some time off now and again, as to avoid Karoshi, and, above all else, we must find balance. I will certainly go back to social media. Nevertheless, I’ll try to reduce how much time I spend scrolling and will focus on time spent admiring the sunlight, the animals, the land, and the folk.

Maybe what we can do is what Steve is told us: to slow down

Care to share what you would like to do?

Making Thinking and Learning Visible: An Empirical Approach to Teaching

Many teachers in Brazil are going back to class this week and a major concern they share with school managers, policymakers, parents, and students themselves can probably be captured in the following question:

How much have students learned in the pandemic?

Perhaps an even more accurate question would be how much have they NOT learned? No matter which one you prefer, before you can answer them, you must at least assume two things:

  1. There are certain outcomes students must achieve in their learning experience;
  2. These outcomes can be measured/ascertained based on certain criteria;

Regardless of what you, dear teacher, might feel, you need to be able to check whether students were successful in getting from the place of “I don’t know this” to “I know this”. You need evidence and that usually means grades (at least in our educational system). There’s a problem, though. Can these numbers (grades) really tell us if our learners were able to accomplish the learning outcomes of their course? Can numerical grades truly measure learning? If not, how can students show their learning to us? In other words:

How can students make their learning visible?

If we think about it for a couple of minutes, we might come to the conclusion that, again, we need to find clues that can help us see what our learners are doing/producing. We might even consider that process quite similar to the scientific method. We start with a question – Are students in fact learning? – then we move on to a hypothesis – I believe this particular student is learning because of their grades – then we devise an experiment – But I suppose the test grades aren’t enough so I’ll ask them to work on a project – then we collect data, analyze, and come to a few conclusions (based on logical thinking, the specialized literature, which should be checked by peers)

All of that might feel quite daunting and you may be very uncomfortable with the idea of being like a scientist. You might even think that this is irrelevant and that you can rely on test grades to assess your students’ learning. What if I told you that much of what we have “learned” is forgotten by the end of the day, the week, or the month? What if you applied the exact same test on your students a few days after? Do you think they’d get the same test results? If things are quite easily forgotten, does it mean they have actually learned them?

Let’s do our own experiment. Go back to your time as a student. Perhaps even a language student. Try to remember a test you took and that you got a very good grade on. Reflecting on that experience now, can you tell me with confidence that you can still remember the concepts your “learned” then? If you took the same test today, would you be able to ace it? I remember getting very good grades in high school. I even got selected to represent my school with some other colleagues in a physics Olympiad because of my grades. The thing is: I’ve forgotten most of it and I’m pretty sure I’d fail pretty much any physics exam today.

Assessment of performance, Assessments of Learning, Assessment for Learning

Naturally, you might say (and I wouldn’t argue) that I haven’t practiced my physics problem-solving skills for decades and that’s why I can’t retrieve most of it. You may even tell me that it’s different with language learning, particularly when you keep using the language long after your classes have finished. You’d probably be right, after all:

Practice doesn’t make perfect but it makes more permanent

I’m not here to dispute that. What I want to raise your awareness to is the fact that in many cases we’re not really assessing learning. Rather we’re assessing performance. Learning and performance are two separate things. You may have learned something well and it will last for many years (yes, it’s possible to unlearn things) but you might fail a performance test. The opposite is also true. How many times have we gotten lucky and done well on a test simply by guessing the answers (this can happen a lot when we use multiple-choice tests)?

The Bjorks (2011), Robert and Elizabeth, a couple who happens to share the same passion and expertise for cognitive psychology, tell us that performance has to do with what can be observed and measured at the time of taking a test. Learning is what sticks with us. It changes our knowledge in a more permanent way and it can’t always be captured by standard testing.

If regular high-stakes tests (summative assessment) normally assess performance, what can we use instead? If standardized testing won’t do, how about using more personalized types of exam?

Think about two test models:

  1. Question with gap and multiple choices – previously chosen by the teacher
  2. Open question: what have you learned in our classes? – personalized, no prompts, no exclusion criteria

Sure, correcting test 1 would require a lot less work. But what if instead of applying many multiple choice tests, we could apply fewer and use more open-ended tests with our students? I suppose this would guarantee that their answers were “better evidence” of their learning, wouldn’t you agree? We can call this type, although still summative, assessment of learning. It does look at students’ work in retrospect, like assessment of performance, but it allows them to create their own script to some extent.

Another great way to think about assessment is by keeping track of students’ learning curve and shift the focus to the process instead of the product. That is concept of formative assessment. It doesn’t really require a single event on which a numerical grade will be given to students and that will determine how much they “know” or “don’t know”. Formative assessment is interested in how learners make progress toward the expected learning outcome (and possibly beyond) and that is the foundation of assessment for learning (AFL). In that sense, we can look at five important characteristics as discussed by Cambridge Assessment International Education:

1. Questioning enables a student, with the help of their teacher, to find out what level they are at.

2. The teacher provides feedback to each student about how to improve their learning.

3. Students understand what successful work looks like for each task they are doing.

4. Students become more independent in their learning, taking part in peer assessment and self-assessment.

5. Summative assessments (e.g. the student’s exam or portfolio submission) are also used formatively to help them improve.

The Cambridge Assessment International Education report goes on and mentions that:

AFL helps in making understanding and knowledge, as John Hattie describes it, ‘more visible’. AFL helps learners understand what excellence looks like and how they can develop their own work to reach that level.

Despite controversies about Hattie’s statistical methods when looking at more than 1000 meta-analyses, how he focused on academic achievement and left out other important variables, and how he chose the studies (click here for a summarized critique of his work) we can say that his work has certainly stirred things up in the last decade by claiming that certain things make learning more visible. What are they and how can we use them?

Making Thinking and Learning Visible

Before we discuss some insights and practical ideas based on the work of John Hattie, let me share a recent experience with you. I was invited by Gallery Teachers to deliver another masterclass (you can find the first one here) and the topic they suggested was making thinking visible. I embraced it and thought of connecting it to making learning visible. I must say I was quite happy with the result (which you can find here) especially because I had a wonderful panelist who, the amazing Neil Harris, who not only helped me think of quite relevant questions but also delivered a brilliant masterclass on assessment of, for, and as learning (which you can find here). If you’re happy with only the Q&A, you can find them below

Now let’s get down to business, shall we? If we assume that learning requires memory and attention and that deep learning takes place upon reflection, we can suggest that thinking precedes learning in many classroom contexts (sure there are types of learning that differ but let’s focus on this one). So we need to understand how to “see” our students thinking to make sure they’re on the right track toward their learning outcomes.

Project Zero by Harvard offers us incredible insights on how we can see our students thinking through a series of questions grouped under what they call thinking routines. If you visit their website, you’re bound to find lots of different routines and resources to help you make your students thinking more visible. I’ll focus on only three here and give you some practical examples:

  1. SEE-THINK-WONDER
  2. CLAIM-SUPPORT-QUESTION
  3. I used to think… Now I think

The first routine can be used to introduce a new topic. Learners might look at a prompt (an image, a video, a short paragraph, a word, a diagram) and start brainstorming things like:

I think it’s a… I believe we can used it for… I think it has to do with… I suppose it’s connected to…

Then they started reflecting on the things they cannot immediately see but would like to know:

I wonder if it can… I wonder where it can be used… I wonder how it can be used in a sentence…

The second routine may help you revise or practice a topic with your students. Think about a lesson in which you’d like to ask them about the past perfect tense. You might ask them to claim something about it like The past perfect tense is used for a situation that happened in the past. You can then ask them to support that claim by providing an example. They might say something like I had studied for our test. Then you could question their example by pointing out that you can’t really understande the difference between that and I studied for our test. You’d be encouraging them to think deeper and refine their answer. They might (and probably should) be the ones who question their own claims from time to time. That state of inquiry could lead them to self-directed study based on their curiosity and willingness to learn more about a particular subject.

Routine 3 is about contrasting what you thought you knew with what you believe you know now. That’s a great routine for you to reflect on how deep your learning is. You might want to use it with your students to revise materials, to encourage them to use new chunks, to help them think of errors they made in the past and use the correct forms, and to get them to self-assess.

How does all of that connect with Making Learning Visible? If we look at John Hattie’s list of things that impact learning based on the effect sizes of over 1000 meta-anlyses (remember the claims of lack of scientific rigor over his analysis), we’ll see teacher efficacy, student expectations, response to intervention, student efficacy, teacher clarity, and feedback (to mention only a few).

To give you more to reflect on now that you’re preparing for your school’s next term, we can focus on feeback (also supported by the works of Yeager and Dweck (2020) and student efficacy (discussed in the vast literature left by the late Albert Bandura (1984). A few simple strategies to make sure you help your students learn more based on everything discussed above are:

  1. Work with portfolios and e-portfolios. That way you’ll be able to follow your students work throughout the semester (you can use Jamboard, Padlet, Flipgrid or Canva);
  2. In remote classes, make sure your students have a “virtual space” to work in so that you can see them doing the things you asked (it can also be Jamboard or Padlet – Google Slides work too);
  3. Help them set their own deadlines and reflect on their work frequently. This allows you to guide them and give lots of feedback;
  4. Feedback is the key really. Be specific. Tell them what was just right, what could’ve been better, what was not good, and how they can make it better;
  5. Give students the opportunity to choose the layout/format of their work. As you’ll see below, not everything needs to be written;
  6. Spend some time working on study skills, goal setting, project management, metacognition and any tool that might help them develop their self-efficacy;
  7. Use low-stakes tests (pop quizzes on Kahoot for instance) to help them remember and reflect on the things they’re learning;
  8. Include peer assessment as much as you can. A fresh look from their colleagues can provide excellent insights;

Here’s my take on it: having worked with students from different levels, I believe AFL does make learning more visible. I can give a few examples from my own groups. I’m a guest lecturer of Language and Cognition at PUC-PR and my students don’t have any tests. They do have to share an e-portfolio and work on a final project for my subject. Their mission is to design a product based on the discussions we had in class (referencing the authors and texts we worked with.

One of my groups decided to create a podcast on managing emotions!

Another group made an amazing infographic about emotional intelligence

One of my students built her dream school based on the principles we discussed on The Sims! How incredible is that?

Conclusion

Learning is a complex phenomenon that cannot be easily measured, especially when we use conventional methods that basically turn everything students produce into numbers. However, we must be able to synthetize what students can do now when compared to when they started their course. I truly believe we can shift things if we start thinking about assessment for learning. That means we’ll pay a lot more attention to each of our learners’ individual paths rather than a snapshot of their learning experience captured on a test. If we do not obsess with a single format or a one-size-fits-all approach, we might get impressive work from our students (perhaps a podcast, an infographic, or a 3D model of a whole school!)

We can certainly benefit from from Project Zero’s Thinking Routines and Hattie’s Making Learning Visible (not without criticism). They offer some insightful and practical ideas of what makes learning happen and how we can “see” it happening before our eyes.

Remember that we need to be more empirical and that means looking for the evidence that our students are actually learning something. If we manage to do that, I believe that assessment can become a more functional aspect of learning as it will not simply get students ready to perform well that day, when they take the test, and get over it. Learning is not about getting your test results with barely any feedback on them, a few times during the semester and be done with it. It needs to be the foundation of learning in an ever-adjusting process of trying things out, getting feedback, trying again, keeping a record, and making slow but consistent improvements over time. Then it might stick with us for the rest of our lives.

References

Bandura, A. (1984). Recycling misconceptions of perceived self-efficacy. Cognitive therapy and research8(3), 231-255.

Bjork, Elizabeth & Bjork, Robert. (2011). Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Psychology and the Real World: Essays Illustrating Fundamental Contributions to Society. 56-64.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2020). What can be learned from growth mindset controversies?. American Psychologist75(9), 1269.

Learning Cosmos: A Conceptual Framework to Understand your Learner’s Universe

I feel incredibly accomplished. Yesterday, as I was checking my email, I noticed I had a package waiting for me. It had been delivered by Livraria Disal and I knew exactly what it was. As a matter of fact, I had been anxiously expecting that email and that package. The package had 5 printed samples of the latest issue of New Routes Magazine. I was so excited that I couldn’t even wait to get back to my apartment to open it. That moment was the realization of an achievement I’m very proud of and eager to share. After many months, as a result of years of exploring neuroscience and psychology, I was honored to introduce people to my Learning Cosmos Conceptual Framework which made the cover of New Routes #74. You have no idea how proud I am of sharing this with you.

Isn’t the cover beautiful?

Allow me to tell you why I believe you should learn about this framework and what inspired me to create it.

From the Big Bang to the Solar System

It started in my childhood, when I noticed I tried to make connections. My mind was always wandering, looking for something to explore, like those probes sent to other planets or astronauts on a space voyage. I was the weird kid, the geek. I was into sci-fi, video games, dinossaurs (who wasn’t?), and, particularly, the universe. It made me wonder. I suppose I wanted to understand how it worked and how it affected us.

Science became one of my major interests in life. I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was a teenager because I loved watching ER and seeing how those doctors understood the human body. I was wrong about the profession but right about something else, something I like till today: the process of inquiry; the scientific method. But it was more than that. I asked questions that science couldn’t answer as well. I knew some things were simply impossible to test (at least now). Then another interest grew in me and the Greeks had already chosen a very suitable name for it: love of wisdom aka philosophy. I love asking questions. ‘What if we did it like this?’ or ‘What would happen if we changed that?’

Not knowing exactly what I wanted to pursue in life, I ended up studying International Relations. I learned about how sovereign states interacted in the global arena and how issues related to economy, politics, law, human rights, and military power influenced their decisions. It certainly taught me a lot and gave me a different perspective about life and people in general. At the same time, I knew I didn’t want to specialize in that field. I started a master’s course in Political Science but came to terms with the idea that I wanted to work in education, which confirmed something I had been doing for over 10 years at the time and I was reluctant to admit.

After that realization, my interest in Neuroscience grew stronger. I knew I needed to understand how the brain works and get the proper credentials to talk about it to other professionals in education. I joined the BRAZ-TESOL Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) SIG, which inspired me to get qualification in the area and led me to my master’s course in Psychology of Education at the University of Bristol. My MSc in Bristol opened my eyes to an amazing and often hidden world of how our brain and our mind function. I always thought I could help teachers understand that universe of learning principles somehow and that feeling even influenced the topic of my dissertation, which looked at effective classroom strategies based on MBE. All of this brought me to my Learning Cosmos framework.

What is the Learning Cosmos?

I truly believe that the Learning Cosmos Conceptual Framework is possibly the most important work I’ll ever do in my life and I intend to keep developing it. It’s an illustration that condenses many learning principles based on cognitive psychology and neuroscience into levels of influence from the cognitive to the environmental (going through emotional, attitudes & beliefs, motivational, and learning design). It contains concentric spheres, which were inspired by Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1992) Ecological Systems Theory, and it uses a powerful analogy to help teachers understand it: the universe.

Think about it for a second. If we consider the multitude of principles, theories and frameworks that address learning, we can compare it to the expanding universe. Different spheres, each one influencing the others. The objective of this article is to design a Learning Cosmos diagram based on what learning entails. My hope is that this Learning Cosmos can help students, teachers, schools, families, and policymakers admire and reflect on the amazing universe surrounding our learners

André Hedlund, Learning Cosmos

It took me some time to come up with the name Learning Cosmos. I knew from the beginning that I needed something special for the cover of New Routes and that I wanted to include as much about learning as I possibly could. I suppose that was the natural next step after my text for New Routes #72, Teaching Mind and Brain: Contributions of the Science of Learning

My text in New Routes #72

When I look at the creation process, how many sketches I made, and the end result, I feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. It was really the culmination of all those years and experiences. These things are never really created overnight. I make a point of sharing this because I want you to be inspired and, who knows, even feel motivated to get some of your old projects done. Even when I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, I struggled. Look at how the whole thing evolved:

It took me several emails with different suggestions to make it just right. I had to think of the common thread connecting all those theories and how I’d call them. I even had to draw the whole thing on a wall with chalk to understand how I could make it all fit.

I have to admit, though, that I couldn’t be happier with the result of my interaction with Jack Scholes, New Routes Editor, the whole team who helped me at Disal, and Carol Di Mauro and her team at BrandBox, for capturing the essence of this concept and making my vision a reality. Can you imagine how I felt when I first got this in my email? I literally had tears in my eyes. I was looking at a vision I had inside my head. It was real now and it was out for everyone to see.

Where did I get the inspiration?

My main source of inspiration

It was one of those days that you’re just looking for something interesting to read. I had many new books on my shelf but the one that really stood out was my copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (illustrated and expanded as you can see). I had already read it but the cover was so compelling that I couldn’t resist. I may have been influence by something else, which probably gave me the final push. It was National Geographic’s remake of Cosmos, the amazing show about the universe and science presented by Carl Sagan a few decades ago. The new host, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has most certainly confirmed and intensified my love for science and the mysteries of the universe.

These two brilliant scientists, Hawking and Sagan, taught me things so fascinating that I think I wanted to honor them somehow. Not only did they broaden my horizons to the wonders of science, but they also did it in such an elegant way using a powerful learning tool that deserves our attention. I’m talking about analogies. When Hawking explains in his book the concept of an expanding universe using a black balloon with white dots on the surface and how these dots move apart as blow air into the balloon or when Sagan uses a map to show us how Erastothenes was able to calculate our planet’s circumference thousands of years ago by measuring the shadow cast by different objects and the distance between two locations on an episode of Cosmos, I mean, WOW! That’s simply mindblowing to me.

Look at the incredible design

So I chose to use an analogy that made sense. I suppose I joined my passion for the universe and how intriguing it can be as we’re always finding out new things as we explore further and further. Here are a few examples of how I used this analogy:

Earth has the perfect conditions to be teeming with life. Its interaction with the sun and other planets in the solar system as well as its location have made our planet special and allowed it to support life in all its beauty and forms. This is exactly how we should think of our learners’ experience. We need to provide them with the best possible conditions so that the design of our lessons allows them to flourish. Let’s call this sphere Learning Design

André Hedlund, Learning Cosmos

The interstellar level is about other stars and planets in our galaxy. Our Milky Way contains anywhere between 100 and 400 billion stars and it would take anyone trying to cross its diameter 100 thousand years at the speed of light. If we could take a picture of it, it would look like a spiral rotating around a massive black hole, a giant vortex that sucks everything that gets too close (including light). The interaction of all these elements form our context and resources, just like what we see when we think of our schools, their infrastructure, and mindset/policy

André Hedlund, Learning Cosmos

The premise here is that just like the universe, we can choose to focus on different levels of analysis when we look at learning. We can look at how our planet offers conditions to support life and focus on that but we mustn’t forget that these conditions are the result of a very intricate relationship that involves our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, and many of the objects contained within our universe. It depends on gravity, matter, dark matter, radiation, light, space and time. Similarly, we can focus on our student’s attention and memory, learn how they work and what we can do to help them, but we cannot forget that our students are whole. Their emotions are intrinsically connected to their cognition and those two are affected by their levels of motivation, what they believe about learning and their capabilities, and even their school’s approach to teaching. They are indeed but a small, however precious, part of this amazing universe.

What can you use the Learning Cosmos for?

I suppose the simplest answer is: to learn about learning according to the scientific literature on the topic. I’m not saying I was able to cover every possible principle and theory but I do think I got the major ones that I believe educators should know about. It’s also an invitation. An invitation to explore those principles and dig deeper. I’d love to think that one of the concepts in the Learning Cosmos could trigger a domino effect and send you on a quest to discover new things about learning, very much like Alice in Wonderland or Cooper, Brand, Doyle, and Romilly in Interstellar by Christopher Nola.

Let’s say you would like to know more about cognition. You’ll realize that I only covered attention, engagement, feedback, and consolidation (Howard-Jones et al. 2018, Dehaene, 2020). I know, however, that cognition relates to reasoning, judging, use of language, perception, and the like. You could start reading something about these concepts that I left out and, who knows, even apply what you learn about them to change something you do in the classroom. Or perhaps you’d like to start from the emotional level and realize that I mentioned emotion regulation (Gross & Thompson, 2007) but I left out self-regulation. Those two constructs are intimately connected and they are also related to emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1995), which I included. What I’m trying to say is that the framework encourages you to look further as well as find connections to things you might already know.

You can watch my interview for Dr. Brenda Owobu-Reosti about the Learning Cosmos

I believe the Learning Cosmos can be a great tool if used wisely as stated below:

Think of the Learning Cosmos as a useful guide that could work as a reflective tool for you to assess why learning might not be taking place. Its purpose is to allow you to ask whether the problem is on, let’s say, the emotional sphere or the cognitive one (or likely both). It may encourage you to consider all these authors and theories the next time you want to work on your professional development or when you plan and deliver your next lesson.

André Hedlund, Learning Cosmos

Be it as it may, the Learning Cosmos is my attempt to make the scientific literature about learning more accessible as I bring all of those fundamental elements about learning together in one illustration. I need to emphasize that the real work was done by all those scientists and authors who published their papers and books. My task was only to connect it all for you to use it as a guide.

My intention is to help teachers, parents, students, educators in general, and even policymakers to understand how beautiful and complex learning is. I want them to look at learning with awe and wonder. I want them to learn as much as they can about learning from multiple perspectives so that they talk about it and provide more effective solutions that will help our students achieve more positive learning outcomes. Let’s look beyond attention and memory, let’s embrace other spheres of influence and make an impact on education.

If you want to know more about the Learning Cosmos Framework, check out the link below and stay tuned. I’ll explore each sphere in the coming blog posts to give you practical ideas on how to work with those principles. Next, we’ll talk about the cognitive sphere.

I’d like to dedicate this to my parents, particularly my dad who ignited this love for science in me and who sadly passed away in 2019. I wish you were here, dad. Also my mom who’s always encouraged me to explore and be whatever I wanted to be. To my wife Cris for inspiring me and helping me aim for the stars. To all my friends and acquaintances who learned something from me or taught me something, especially Mirela Ramacciotti for introducing me to MBE.

I truly hope you liked it and that I was able to share (at least a little bit) how passionate I am about this and how much I want to contribute. Do share with friends and let me know your thoughts

References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Dehaene, S. (2020). How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine… for Now. Penguin.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. Bantam Books, Inc.

Gross, J.J. & Thompson, Ross. (2007). Emotion Regulation: Conceptual Foundations. Handbook of Emotion Regulation. 3-27. 

Howard-Jones, P., Ioannou, K., Bailey, R., Prior, J., Yau, S. H., & Jay, T. (2018). Applying the science of learning in the classroom. Profession, 18, 19.

Hawking, S. (1996). The Illustrated A brief history of time.

Affect and Project-Based Learning: Transformative Tools in Education

CONNECTIONS

It is no secret to us, ESL/EFL teachers, that our object of work is an instrument that connects the world. We teach the lingua franca to our students in the hope they will use it with a foreigner, when they travel abroad, or to move up the career ladder. Nevertheless, how much have we reflected upon the power we vest our students with when we enable them to use this tool? How much do we wonder about how our connections can have a positive effect (and affect) not only in our learning, but also in the community we belong to, and in our place in the world as global citizens?

In 1929, Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian writer, theorized that every person on Earth is connected to every other person by a chain of no more than six links. He called it Six Degrees of Separation. That means that you, dear reader, as well as I,  are connected to presidents, dictators, and celebrities through the good old “friend of a friend” notion. Let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that my cousin is friends with a congressman. He, in turn, befriended the CEO of a large company in Brazil, who happens to know the ambassador of the USA.  The Ambassador has worked closely with former-president Barack Obama (THE OXFORD MATH CENTER, 2017)

It is safe to assume that I am connected to the Queen of England through Obama. I am also connected to the inspiring Malala Yousafzai, to the wealthy Bill Gates, and to the murderous Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. And so are you. Through different connections, but you are too. It took us no more than six connections to arrive at Assad. This is how small the world has gotten.

AFFECT

Interesting theory, however, what does that have to do with affect, Project-based Learning, and ELT? Let’s start with affect, shall we? Jane Arnold (2009) tells us that affect has to do with feelings, emotions, and attitudes that cause some impact on students’ behavior, and how they learn. The brilliant French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1996, p. 64) said in an interview that a class is both emotion and intelligence. Bloom (1956), in his famous taxonomy, places a great deal of importance not only in the cognitive domain, but also in the psychomotor, and in the affective domains of learning. The advocate for a reformulation of the world’s educational system, Sir Ken Robinson says students need not be anesthetized, quite the contrary, they need an aesthetic experience, to be awakened, in order to learn (RSA, 2008). Learning only happens effectively if it happens affectively, through emotion. Now, I ask you this: do we care more about fictitious people on the pages of English books or real people out there in the world? Are we more prone to getting emotionally involved with people who do not exist or people who do? What about our students?

Allow me to offer a recent example of emotional connection in my classroom. The same way we look at Syria with fear, and prejudice, we judge most Middle-Eastern countries, especially Iran, and Iraq. We are bombarded with terrible news every day by the media, hence our negative feelings. In 2017, however, an Iraqi woman asked to join my Facebook group to practice English. At first, unfortunately, I treated her with suspicion and avoided adding her because of all these horrible things we see on TV. But then I told myself: you know what? I will talk to her. I found out that she went to the University of Education in her city to study English and become a teacher. I added her, and we have been talking ever since. Her name is Afrah, she loves fish, and pizza. She has two beautiful nieces, Zahraa and Mariam, who dressed like Santa Claus for Christmas last year, and her father is the kindest man she knows, who likes everybody, and is helping oppressed families who are persecuted and killed by the Islamic State in Mosul. Bottom line: She is a person, a human being, just like any other.

I invited her to talk via Facebook to my students. I used my own account and wrote my students’ questions to her and she was kind enough to send voice messages. It was really hard to understand some sentences but I could hear the thrill in her voice because, maybe, for the first time, someone decided not to shut her off and send her away. My students created an emotional connection with her, and even wrote her letters, postcards and sent voice messages through my WhatsApp. I could tell that my students were curious about her life, and that they were really surprised to know she lives a life that is not that distant from our own.

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

That short story brings me to the PBL part. George Lucas, the genius filmmaker who happens to have an educational foundation, claims that: “With project-based learning, students learn by designing and constructing actual solutions to real life problems.” (PBLworks, 2021). Katherine Bilsborough (2013) accurately states that: “Projects bring real life into the classroom; instead of learning about how plants grow (and all the language that goes with it), you actually grow the plant and see for yourself. It brings facts to life.” The completely unpretentious virtual encounter with my new Iraqi friend brought the classroom to life and ignited in my students the desire to know more about other peoples, and cultures in our world.  So, I registered them on iEARN.org, an online platform with 100 active projects, 140 countries, and 2 million youth participating every day.

Three of my groups were involved we uploaded photos and videos. One group was involved with the One Day in the Life project (https://iearn.org/cc/space-2/group-6), through which students exchange information among several nations about their daily routine. Our first step was to share about school. My second group was so touched by Afrah’s story that they got inspired by a USA project called Debunk Stereotypes, and decided to help people get in touch with the Arabic and Islamic cultures (http://us.iearn.org/node/261). My third group loved the Don’t Waste – Create project, and they worked on calling people’s attention to pollution and recycling  (https://iearn.org/cc/space-2/group-196 ).

From the left to the right: Don’t Waste – Create, Debunk Stereotypes, and One Day in the Life
Source: iEARN

ELT OR ELF?

What do all those projects have in common? People. Real people, real places, real lives. People who want to connect with the world. And do you know what binds them besides the desire to meet new people and change the planet? The English language. The ultimate communication tool that makes global collaboration possible. When we shift the attention to English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), we can better visualize a hidden mission that we often neglect as teachers and educators. It is the mission of allowing people from different cultures to exchange stories, dreams, projects, and create mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.

I feel like we can do much more. I feel that we can do more than simply judge people because of the country they were born in or where they live. I feel we have the tools to connect our students with them and make them claim their place in the world as global citizens, fighting for the common good, side by side with our students. And you know what? Talking to them – to these people from the far reaches of the planet – is the first step.

In a world that resorts to war, suffering, and killing to solve problems, as well as stigmatizes people, cultures, and nations, the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s quote has never been so current:

The pen is mightier than the sword

Or, in Malala’s own words:

Let us remember: One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world (…)

Malala Yousafzai Signs With UTA - Variety
Source: Variety Magazine

In our case, it is the keyboard.

I am glad I did not ignore my newest friend from Iraq, who taught me some Arabic, touched the lives of my student and decided to continue her studies because I encouraged her. I certainly hope you can connect your students with more people like her. With English, our keyboards, our hearts, and our minds, little by little, we are changing the world and reducing Karinthy’s Six Degrees of Separation to only Two Degrees of Separation: You, platforms such as iEARN, and the rest of the planet. I’m sure you’ll realize that we’re not that different after all.

My final tips for you are:

  • Join a PBL platform and connect your students with international students
  • Have a guest speaker from a different country in your classes
  • Offer to connect with other teachers’ groups
  • Use your community and its demands to think of projects that can cause great impact
  • Try to leave your own prejudice aside and connect with cultures you don’t fully understand

REFERENCES

Arnold, J. (2009). Affect in L2 learning and teaching. Estudios de lingüística inglesa aplicada, 9, 145-151.

PBLWorks. (2021). Available at https://www.pblworks.org/. Access on

Bilsborough, K. (2013). TBL and PBL: Two Learner-Centred Approaches. Available at https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-approaches. Acess on April 11, 2017.

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Deleuze, G. (1996). O Abecedário de Gilles Deleuze. Available at http://escolanomade.org/wp-content/downloads/deleuze-o-abecedario.pdf. Access on April 11, 2017.

RSA. 2008. RSAnimate: Changing Education Paradigms. Available at http://www.learninginstitute.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/rsa-lecture-ken-robinson-transcript.pdf. Access on April 11, 2017.

The Oxford Math Center. Six Degrees of Separation. 2017, Available at http://www.oxfordmathcenter.com/drupal7/node/655. Access on April 11, 2017.

21 Lessons for 2021: A Brief History of our Mistakes

I once heard someone say that it is during times of pain and suffering that we learn the best lessons. I tend to disagree a little because I’d rather believe that:

A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise one learns from the mistakes of other

Unknown

I said I disagree a little because I can’t really agree completely with the statement above. First because it’s outdated. It should read “A smart person…”. Secondly because many times we need to make the mistakes ourselves so that we can actually learn. At other times, we might not learn at all from our mistakes and those of others and we can be doomed to repeat them. We could also claim that moments of joy, success or bliss are the ones that teach us the best lessons.

The big question is: How can we learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others? The first step might be related to recognizing the mistake. This can be hard if we have no one to point that out or a basic reference, a yardstick. But for both our mistakes and those of others, once we’re passed the recognition stage, we can start the one that maybe matters the most: reflection. Reflection requires us to question our own biases and try to understand why we do the things we do and what we can change to do better the next time.

A powerful way to learn from the mistakes of others and reflect on how to do things differently is to pick up a History book. If you’re more of a documentary kind of person, there are many options as well. I love documentaries, but I can’t get enough of books. As a matter of fact, one of the most interesting books I read last year was 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. In it, Harari discusses some of the broad themes (or big issues) that have made humanity what it is, some of the dilemmas we face, and what we can expect in the future. He talks about community, fake news, Artificial Intelligence, politics, war, education, religion, science, you name it. A quite illustrative quote of his book goes like:

Humans have bodies. During the last century technology has been distancing us from our bodies, We have been losing our ability to pay attention to what we smell and taste. Instead we are absorbed in our smartphones and computers. We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than in what is happening down the street. It is easier than ever to talk to my cousin in Switzerland, but it is harder to talk to my husband over breakfast, because he constantly looks at his smartphone instead of at me.

Yuval Noah Harari

Harari does have a point and this excerpt seems to suggest something we’ve been sort of aware of for some time but we also seem to deny this reality, feel powerless about it or at least be OK with it. When I say “we”, I’m referring to education and all of its stakeholders. At the same time, the apparent paradox never ceases to amuse me. If we’re becoming ever more tech-savvy, why was it such an enormous challenge for educators to adapt to the new pandemic reality and integrate digital tools into the learning process? What is missing in this puzzle?

So, is there anything we can do to learn from the mistakes that we’ve been making in the last decades? Can we learn anything from the mistakes we made in 2020 while trying to make sure our kids and teens had access to (quality) education? What about English teaching and Bilingual programs? What are some of the valuable lessons we can take from not just our recent mistakes but also from the mistakes of others who seem to be a ahead of the curve when compared to us?

The pupose of this blog post, the very first of 2021, is by no means to provide you with the ultimate list of immutable lessons that will prevent us from ever making mistakes again. Errors and mistakes are important since they often come to us as learning opportunities. My goal here is to point out 21 reflections shared by me and some of the people I follow, colleagues, and peers I admire. I won’t elaborate too much on each lesson, though. I hope you add your own layers to them and share them with your peers so that we can keep learning because I’ll promise you one thing: we won’t stop getting things wrong.

  1. Teachers cannot be replaced by technology (at least not yet and not entirely). The human factor – including physical presence – should be a fundamental part of the teaching-learning process, particularly for young learners
  2. Teachers are the most valuable asset any school has. That also means that promoting a culture of professional development is always an important pillar and one of the best investments managers can make
  3. Using technology for the sake of technology probably works more as a distraction or simply to provide fun than something that might promote effective learning outcomes. If you can’t teach it, don’t tech it
  4. We still need to better integrate digital technologies into schools, though. There’s a visible gap that needs addressing. Either the school does not have the required structure or the teachers do not use (or do not know how to use) the tech they have as they could. It may as well be both
  5. We need to look at schools as resource centers that are not too open (free) nor too closed (restricting) or monotonous. They need spaces for creative thinking, hands-on activities, trial and error, and rooms where they can use computers, coding, robotics and other things. Preferably integrated spaces with flexible seating arrangements
  6. Student-centered approaches allow schools to focus on providing the resources for students’ needs instead of obsessing with content-driven curricula. Content is not such a rare commodity anymore
  7. The teachings of Loris Malaguzzi, Emmi Pikler, Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, and Paulo Freie are more relevant than ever. Autonomy, guided and self-discovery, play, curiosity, social interaction, artistic expression, empathy, differentiation and personalization, as well as love of nature need to be at the heart of the learning process
  8. Flipped Classroom and Project-Based Learning need to gain more space and help schools look at subjects in a more interdisciplinary (or even transdisciplinary) way
  9. Blended Learning and more customizable learning environments/experiences are on the rise for good now. That means schools and teachers will have to create and curate content for students to have options when they’re studying asynchronously
  10. There’s no reason to believe that new drastic transitions won’t happen anymore. Schools should expect sudden changes and need to be better prepared for situations like COVID-19 in the future. Managers, teachers, and families have to devise contigency plans. A successful contigency plan has to be more based on the HOW rather than the WHAT. Protocols, processes, and methodologies need to be set in motion quickly so that the school ecosystem can adapt as painlessly as possible
  11. The interactions between education stakeholders have a powerful impact on students’ mental states and, thus, on their learning capabilities. Families, teachers, managers, and students need to understand each other’s roles and realize that their attitudes and behaviors towards learning matter
  12. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is as important as (or maybe even more than) learning content and skills. Without emotional regulation (self and co), and behavior management students cannot learn effectively
  13. Educators’ mental health need to be addressed as well. Schools need to provide teachers with the opportunities to talk about their mental health and with qualified professionals who can help
  14. Educators, students, families, and even policymakers should have a basic understanding of cognitive sciences so that they can make educational decisions based on how the brain and the mind learn. The Science of Learning and Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) should be part of pre and in-service training
  15. Scientific and critical thinking must be at the foundation of teaching. Fake news, science deniers, authoritarian governments are on the rise because education has been failing entire generations that are easily grouped together on social media through algorithms and live in their own bubbles where their cognitive biases are reinforced
  16. English language teaching has been changing and we should expect to see a rise on bilingual education. Therefore, ideas such English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and Content and Language Integrated Learnig (CLIL) should gain more momentum and ideologies such as native-speakerism should lose strength
  17. As bilingual schools/programs grow, private language centers will have to adapt to survive. It might take a few years, but these private schools will lose more and more Young Learners and Teens in 2021
  18. Private language centers should/can rethink how they teach (and attract) adult students as more and more professionals will look for solutions that prepare them for situational/conversational English with very little focus on exams
  19. With many classes going remote due to the pandemic, private teachers, and smaller schools might be able to reach more students than ever (not considering the negative effects of the economy)
  20. Big publishers should start rethinking the layout and content of ELT books so that they can adapt to the blended/remote learning scenario. Many schools may need fewer physical books and want to have the digitized version instead with short videos of every lesson
  21. We will continue to make the same mistakes and maybe very little will change

I’m sorry if the last lesson isn’t that positive. When I look at people’s attitudes in 2020 regarding the pandemic, wearing masks, conspiracy theories about the vaccine, lockdowns and other situations brought to us because of COVID-19, I don’t see a lot of change. To be honest I see many of the same behaviors people had a century ago when the Spanish Flu hit the world and killed millions. The problem is that with all the amazing progress we have achieved in the last 100 years, we should expect people to act differently. We should expect people to pick up a History book and be more “intelligent”.

The big question then is: how intelligent are we as a species?

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change

Stephen Hawking

The man who said that, Stephen Hawking, was certainly intelligent. Having lived a functional life for many years with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), against all the odds of survival, and having contributed so much to science should suffice as evidence of his overwhelming intelligence. His book A Brief History of Time is one of my favorites because I’m fascinated by how the universe and nature work and because he had the phenomeal ability of writing about complex things in such an easy way (mostly through concrete examples of our daily lives).

In Hawkings’ book, he takes us on a journey from Ancient Greek to modern times and how our understanding of the cosmos has changed. He describes how before Copernicus, and Galileo the paradigm was that the earth was the center of the universe. Hawking points out how Sir Isaac Newton proposed his Law of Universal Gravitation in the 17th century and how we still use his formulas till this day. However, it was only in the 19th century that another brilliant scientist proposed something that would add to (and “correct”) Newton’s theories which would allow us to create incredible new technologies such as the GPS. This man was Albert Einstein and his proposition (referred to as General Relativity) changed Physics.

Newton knew, however, that all he was able to accomplish would not have been so if he hadn’t learned from the mistakes and the successes of others before him. He said:

If I have been able to see farther than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants

Sir Isaac Newton

We now know that Earth is not even in the center of our own galaxy, let alone the entire universe. We also know that our planet is basically a sphere with slightly flattened poles (not everyone seems to believe that, though). We also know that the fabric of space-time is warped by gravity and that there’s no absolute time. Time is relative. Building upon the knowledge left by others is how we move forward, how we make progress, how we adapt to change. We study, we learn, we compare, we think, we reflect, and we act. If we haven’t been able to adapt to change, we might not be that intelligent after all.

Our biggest challenge could be that the lack of change, real and profound change, in education. A change that has yet to take place. We might need a complete paradigm shift, not unlike the scientific method and how it works, to learn and implement important lessons from our mistakes and the mistakes of those who lived in different times.

I wonder if 100 years from now someone will write a list of reflections that resembles this one. I hope not. I hope humans in 2121 discuss other paradigms, like what physicists are doing now with Quantum Mechanics and particle accelerators, not whether the Earth is flat or not or if vaccines work. I hope the future educators look at this blog post as a historical account of less modern times and reflect on how they got where they are. I hope they get the same feeling I got when reading about these giants who came before us and did amazing things because they learned from people who had come before them.

I hope Einstein meant that we could be more intelligent collectively. I hope he meant that we would not run out of things to discover when he said:

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe

Albert Einstein

Maybe he meant something else. Maybe I’m wrong about what he meant. I can tell you one thing, though. He was wrong about the universe being infinite. It took him many years to learn that lesson.

May we learn from mistakes and change our mindsets

That’s my hope for 2021. Happy New Year!

What would you change/add to my list? Let me know



Teacher’s Month Gift: CPD through video

We’re still celebrating our profession worldwide and I thought I should give you folks a present. I thought really hard what this present could be and I came up with the following idea:

A compilation of some of my videos (workshops, lectures, and interviews) so that you can work on your CPD and perhaps even get inspired.

I talk about the science of Mind, Brain, and education and its basic principles
Engaging the Learner: A Mind, Brain, and Education Perspective. I go over some definitions of engagement, motivation, how the brain’s reward system works and things we can do to engage our students
I talk about how learning styles is actually a neuromyth and the consequences this might have to teachers and learners
I go over some ideas about integrating PBL concepts into your English Lessons
I talk about general principles of brain structure and functioning and some strategies based on the Science of Learning to help us learn-teach more effectively
I cover some of the contributions of psychology to learning (such as behaviorism, humanins, cognitivism, constructivism) and what they mean to teachers and their practice
I go over the science of Mind, Brain, and Education and Project-Based Learning is aligned with it

The Following ones are in Portuguese

I talk about the different levels of analysis of learning and the role of metacognition in education
I discuss educational trends and challenges
I talk about the role of neuroscience in education, some myths and facts
We discuss the idea of methodological ecclecticism, lifelong learning, edtech, and brain sciences as vital parts of CPD
We talk about the difficult moment of teaching remotely and the role of every stakeholder in the school ecosystem

A Letter to the Teachers of the World

Dear teachers,

I’m writing this letter on World Teacher’s Day to congratulate you. Have you taken a moment to realize how far you’ve come this year? It’s not been easy, I know, but you should be proud of yourself for accomplishing everything you have in this time of suffering and hardship.

I’m honored to be one of you.

Teachers all around have had to reinvent themselves to cope with the demands of a changing world. And, to make matters worse, it was completely unannounced. Like a plot twist that we see in the movies, which will cause the viewers to gasp, take a deep breath and then go speechless. We were not prepared at all to transition to remote teaching. As a matter of fact, the monumental undertaking it represented has affected us, our loved ones, and society in ways we don’t fully understand.

It’s only natural.

After all, teachers have a pivotal role in society. More so than ever when families are working like never before and kids need to be taken care of and a place to stay while their parents/caregivers are out. Think of how amazingly difficult our task as teachers is. Nurturing a positive teaching/learning experience to billions of students worldwide – who are unique – so that they can grow up to be functional adults who fit in the job market is a huge challenge that we face on a daily basis.

But we haven’t stopped.

We never did stop. We kept going, learning new skills and strategies, burning the midnight oil to plan our lessons and find materials for the following day, crying, suffering and thinking of giving up many times. But it didn’t stop us. Nevertheless, millions have lost their jobs because of school closures and we wondered when that was going to reach us. We’ve worked through pain, loss, suffering, criticism, and exhaustion just to make sure our students were receiving some kind of education.

However, we’re not superheroes.

Superheroes are idealized humans who embody core values we strive to have. They are not real. We are real. We are human beings who bleed. We get scared sometimes. We don’t possess superhuman strength or magical powers. We need to work to pay our bills, care for our families and buy food. We hurt when people attack us. We are far from perfect. We long for and need empathy, compassion, love, and respect. We want our work to be valued.

And our work is vital.

In this time of social media, fake news propagation, and the empowerment of bigots, idiots, and authoritarians, our only hope lies in education. We must go beyond our subjects and come together as a whole community (parents, students, school managers, policymakers) to educate the next generations so that they can think critically about what they see and hear, so that they can empathize with those who are different from them, so that they can pursue their goals in life as ethical citizens.

I know this might be a lot to ask.

We already have to work against the odds, without support, under pressure, physical and psychological stress. We don’t always get the recognition we deserve and we’ve never worked so hard in our entire lives. I know it’s a lot to ask.

But who else can do it if not us?

We are changemakers. We can help that little kid in the corner blossom. We can make that little girl who never speaks feel special and dream about becoming whatever she wants to become. We can welcome that little boy who has trouble fitting in and make him realize that he is part of our group. We can make our students reflect and understand that value of education.

We need to prepare ourselves.

As teachers we must never stop learning. We need to understand our job, our subject, our students, and everything else directly and indirectly related to the school ecosystem. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’d like you to own your craft and step up against unfounded interferences in your work. I want you to be as equipped as possible to deal with whatever situation presents itself, no matter what. I want you to be a valued professional who is treated with respect.

We have a long way to go.

I know. And not all of it is up to us. We live in a structure that replicates certain things that impact new generations of teachers. That’s precisely why our job is much more related to long-term goals than anything else. We need to plant the seed, nurture the environment and make sure we take care of these little plants as they grow big and strong.

Let’s listen to educators/teachers who came before us.

I will end this letter with a message from our teacher friends. Amazing educators who struggled with their own challenges in their time and left us a rich legacy we need to preserve. I truly hope that their message helps you stand tall and realize that even though you’re not a superhero, your job is needed more than ever and at least one kid in one class looks up to you. That kid will accomplish amazing things because of you.

Never forget that.

Sincerely yours,

André Hedlund

John Dewey on Education Being Life Itself | John dewey quotes, John dewey,  Education quotes
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COVID-19, Remote Teaching, and the School Ecosystem: A Delicate Relationship

Translated and Adapted from ConnectEd Blog

The coronavirus pandemic, with all the suffering and fear caused in the population, has been keeping kids and teens away from their schools and forcing the entire school ecosystem to rethink long-held educational practices on a never-before-seen scale. How is this affecting education and stakeholders’ relationship with one another?

According to psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, we can look at human development as a series of relationships that take place in and are affected by not only the immediate surroundings, but also outer circles, which represent incrementally more distant environments or contexts that form an ecological system.

JOURNAL #8: Urie Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory - Psych 2015
Ecological Systems Theory by Urie Bronfenbrenner

What happens in all those concentric circles can impact what happens on the individual level. We could say that on the microsystem level, schools and homes have been directly affected by mass media reports of COVID-19, which belong to the exosystem level and by shared cultural values and beliefs of how we should deal with the pandemic (on the macrosystem level).

For our analysis, let’s focus on the microsystem, mesosystem and exosystem levels. They respectively refer to the level of the student’s immediate surroundings (school and family), the level where these surroundings communicate, and the level where the student is not inserted, such as family workplace.

First let’s think about the context of each stakeholder directly affected by the lack of face-to-face classes:

Children and adolescents: This group has been forced into confinement right in the middle of motor, socioemotional, and cognitive development. Many are frustrated with the demands, suffering with anxiety and confused about what is really happening. Some of them need to deal with loss and grief due to the death toll of this crisis.

Parents: Many parents have forcibly transitioned to remote working and need to cope with the demands of their jobs while juggling with the needs of their family. Suddenly, parents are required to to be present more than ever to support their children during online classes and when carrying out their activities.

Teachers: To keep the course up and running and, especially, the contact with the children, teachers have been working harder than ever and around the clock to incorporate new skills (such as recording videos and teaching remotely) and to create high quality lessons and materials that help keep the children engaged and allow them to work as independently as possible

School managers: From putting together entire CPD programs on online teaching overnight and purchasing digital tools/services to solving financial problems due to the high dropout rates, managers have been struggling to keep their doors open and their staff

Bear in mind that I am not even considering so many others who have lost their jobs, do not have good quality internet access and do not even have more than one or two digital devices at home. For these, the reality is a million times harsher.

This incredibly tense scenario can become the perfect storm in many educational settings. It is perfectly natural and expected that everyone feels under enormous pressure. The problem is when this pressure is neglected or poorly managed and the fundamental role of education is undermined. What is missing in this ecosystem sustained by a delicate balance of stakeholders’ needs and expectations?

Everyone needs to have patience and empathy


UNESCO has set up a COVID-19 Global Monitoring page that has been collecting data on a daily basis about school closure since mid-February. From the third week of March until today, hundreds of millions of the world’s students have been away from their schools. From April to the beginning of June, 1 billion or more children and teenagers were out of their schools. In April, specifically, 1.5 billion students, which corresponds to 90% of enrollments in the world, were affected by school closure. This means that the entire ecosystem had to mobilize resources and create procedures overnight to meet a huge demand that did not exist before.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that a very large number of teachers had to learn to use online tools to make content available asynchronously (which normally means prerecording things), in addition to time to connect with their students synchronously. This is quite the challenge and requires huge amounts of energy and hard work from everyone. Many do not feel comfortable in front of the camera and / or with the constant surveillance of families that often criticize some practices without any pedagogical or linguistic grounds. Remember that criticism has to be specific and constructive to help improve things. It is extremely exhausting to prepare for your work knowing that, regardless of how much effort you put into trying to achieve the best results, many will complain about aspects that are beyond your control.

The truth is that the pressure on schools with unattainable demands creates a harmful environment, which affects the mental health of everyone involved. Teachers are exhausted, families do not have time to help their children and often demand different solutions for the school (some want more activities, others want less study, some want bilingual classes given almost exclusively in the student’s first language (L1), others want greater exposure to English ). At the same time, managers try to offer what is possible and children and adolescents suffer from mental confusion, excessive demands and lack of social contact and affection.

We must adjust expectations


It is worth remembering that what we are experiencing is best described as remote emergency teaching than anything else. Although many of us have been teaching online for more than 5 months, there was no structure for this demand and no one had been properly trained. A substantial change and transition to this type of teaching demands time and investment. Therefore, much of what schools and teachers are doing is what is currently feasible and possible withing our human capabilities. That means we need to reflect on what is achievable, desirable and what isn’t.

Since I work as a bilingual program mentor, here are some practical examples of questions and demands stakeholders might have based on my experience:

  1. The school should keep the same workload as the face-to-face classes because parents continue to pay the same.

In fact, we need to understand that remote teaching is not the same and, therefore, cannot replicate much of what happens inside the classroom. A face-to-face class has moments of classroom management, sharing and interaction with colleagues, games and movement. All of this takes time. Dynamic activities engage children and are difficult and sometimes impossible to reproduce remotely. In addition, very long videos and / or recorded classes are exhausting and ineffective for children and adolescents. Neuroscience shows that the brains of children and adolescents have difficulty in controlling their impulses, their focus and their emotions. On the other hand, maintance of the schools’ facilities is very costly and schools are saving money in that regard. Nevertheless, as I mentioned before, most schools are struggling with financial problems because of excessive dropout levels particulaly concerning Very Young Learners

2. Families find teachers’ teaching skills below the required levels

This topic is extremely sensitive and demands great caution. Many parents, with the best intentions, end up judging the quality of teachers negatively due to several factors. They confuse pronunciation with accent, use specific and punctual factors they do not know much about to criticize teaching skills and generalize to the whole class. Does this mean that teachers are exempt from failure? Of course not. Just like any professional in any field, there are aspects of English teaching professionals, chiefly in a bilingual program, that require practice and improvement. There are teachers who have a lot to learn and others who have learned a lot about a certain subject or competency. However, it is necessary to discuss in community, involving all stakeholders, what is possible to do now. Would a sudden change (such as replacing a teacher) be the best solution in a time of difficulties like this? Is what families demand really supported by pedagogical and scientific theories and practices that concern English Language Learning and bilingualism? We need to understand that professional development (teaching skills and linguistics) is a process and that we have to encourage the professional and not disqualify them, especially at this time.

3. The technical quality of the lessons is low

Children born in the 2000s belong to Generation Z and those born from 2010 to Generation Alpha. Unlike adults born in the 70s and 80s (and until the early 90s), digital technology is part of everyday life and works as body extensions of kids and teens in these new generations. Devices such as cell phones, tablets and things such as internet access, videos and video games create one of the foundations of children’s reality in kindergarten and elementary school. In this context, it is natural for children to judge videos created by teachers as low quality materials. Dissatisfaction often comes from themselves or may reflect the projections of their parents. Remember that many teachers do not have cutting-edge video recording equipment. Many don’t know how to work with image editing and audio capturing. Most teachers do not even have a proper microphone, tripod or support for the camera, an adequate space for recording, with silence and good lighting, among many other things.

Everyone needs to understand and facilitate the process


How long does a 10-minute video produced by a teacher need to get to the platform on which the child can access? Between recording and re-recording, interrupting because of noise and resuming filming, editing, rendering the video, uploading to the drive, sending it to the coordinator or mentor for feedback, getting back with comments, having to redo some parts and repeat all process to finally share the link on the platform, add the description and purpose of the video, the average time spent for a video of this size can be 6 to 15 times more than the video itself. That means countless hours of work at the end of the day.

This issue is a practical example of how often people are unaware of the different steps required in the process when they simply focus on the final product. Let’s understand other frequently asked questions about the processes of an English Language class or a bilingual program:

  1. Teachers need to speak L1 so that parents understand and can help their children

The central purpose of a bilingual program is to offer greater exposure to the additional language (English, in our case) so that students are immersed in that language. This means a higher workload compared to regular English classes and that the main means of communication during classes is English. When parents demand that teachers use more L1 than English, they end up interfering negatively with the most fundamental pillar of the program. It is essential to understand that students should not be helped at every step of the learning process. Many parents are frustrated when their children say they don’t understand anything and think their intervention will help. The cost of this “aid” can be quality reduction and loss of purpose of a bilingual program. Ultimately, even though there are difficulties along the way, children acquire the additional language naturally and incrementally.

2. Children are not learning anything or making progress

How many guided hours does it take to learn a language? There is an  estimate to be used as reference. - Teachers Madrid
Retrieved from Teachers Madrid

Both the process of acquiring and learning a language takes time. Years according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Younger children in Early Years Education need to review the content countless times to consolidate knowledge in the brain. Lesson that may seem extremely repetitive and playful have a clear pedagogical purpose based on academic studies and references in education. For those who wish to understand a little more of the theoretical-scientific basis, I recommend doing research about the concepts proposed by Jean Piaget, Loris Malaguzzi, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner. An example of a common misconception is the perception that the child cannot produce the words orally, hence, the child is not learning. Lack of oral production does not mean the child wasn’t able to understand the words uttered by the teacher or the grammatical structures utilized. Demonstrating comprehension, intention and action during the lesson is evidence that shows teachers that children are on the right track.

3. All classes should be synchronous (live classes)

Synchronous classes have their purpose and should have their space. It is the moment in which teachers are able to establish a greater emotional bond with children, ensure more interaction and respond more effectively to the demands and stimuli provided by students in real time. However, synchronous classes do not allow several equally important features to take place. Synchronous classes depend a lot on the quality of the connection, which usually means lower video and audio resolution, they require greater proximity to the teacher’s screen, which can make difficult for the teacher to create playful scenarios and to use body language effectively. Synchronous lessons also promote a great sense of sameness. With asynchronous classes, teachers can edit videos, add effects, shoot in different places in the house and use objects more easily, they can better fit their entire body on the screen (instead of just the shoulders, neck and head, as in synchronous class) and can use lots of body language to convey meaning. The recorded lessons give more flexibility to everyone involved. If students, for whatever reason, are unable to attend at a certain time, it is possible to attend classes at another time. It is also possible to pause and review as many times as necessary, which creates an important feature of differentiation and individualization. Ideally, both synchronous and asynchronous lessons should be combined.

How can the stakeholders of this delicate ecosystem work together?

After the issues raised above, after all, what is the role of the family, students, managers, and teachers? I believe it is about learning and conciliation. The understanding that every stakeholder’s involvement is essential for the success of the school ecosystem needs to be focus. Family can and should demand certain things from schools and teachers, but those demands should be grounded and take into consideration the role they play in the learning process of their children. What does that mean?

Families, do not criticize everything that schools are offering without knowing exactly how the processes work. Talk in a friendly and constructive way to managers and, especially, teachers to reach a consensus. Make your demands to help and remember everyone’s moment and monumental effort.
Do not interfere too much with your children’s class. Remember that they need to build knowledge and create more autonomy. Do not give them answers during the lessons! The important thing is not to get it right always, but to learn.

Managers and teachers, understand the role of synchronous (live) and also asynchronous (recorded) classes. Both moments are important. Learn more about active methodologies, playfulness, bilingualism, CLIL, emotional intelligence, mindfulness and design thinking. These concepts can give you broader view of what modern teaching encompasses.

Students, be helpful and patient. We understand how much you’re suffering and we want this to be over soon. Remember that just because you do not like a lesson or you feel that it is not “fun” enough for you, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to study and respect your teachers. Not everything is fun in life and you need to learn how to deal with frustration and responsibility.

The moment is challenging and causing a lot of suffering, no doubt. However, despite all possible damage to education (and they will exist), perhaps we should focus on the how and why of education rather than the what. Instead of demanding the replication of outdated educational models, based on a particular perception of what teaching English as a whole should be, stakeholders can take advantage of this open wound to study more what successful educational systems do, which pedagogical perspectives they propose, what approach, methodology and techniques they favor.

Everyone needs to understand the reason for the longer exposure to the additional language, the role teaching in the additional language instead of abou it and the place of routines and playfulness in the learning process of children and so on. If our focus is always on content and how much of it was lost in this period, we will lose the opportunity to rethink the form and rationale of education. We will lose the opportunity to rethink the place of ethics, emotional intelligence, learning to learn, developing competencies that are necessary for the job market and, above all, promoting a healthy relationship between body and mind.

Remember the following: content changes with an impressive speed and is increasingly available on different media and platforms. What is in short supply is not the content, but rather what to do with this content to transform it into knowledge, which generates skills, which, over time, will create competencies. The most noble product of education is the possibility of transforming the individual and their ability to adapt to challenges that don’t even exist yet. Education in my country is flawed and has produced very low results in national and international rankings. With the fracture exposed in our educational system, now is the time for unity and conciliation between parents, managers, students and teachers. We need to rethink our relationship, understand the complexities and defend our most precious asset if we are to survive the pandemic with as little damage as possible and, in fact, begin to transform education.

My final message is that, as Urie Bronfenbrenner suggests, the links and impact caused by each of the circles in the ecologic systems theory can have lasting effects on the individual level of human development. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and claim that everything will be OK. I see teachers suffering to cope with the new demands, managers pushing for schools to reopen out of desperation, children suffering psychological and physical abuse at home and families trying to make ends meeting without a job. But as stakeholders of this ecosystem, we must come together and do our best to minimize the negative consequences that might only arise many years in the future. Our kids and teens need to be spared of traumas that can scar them for life. Let’s all take reflect on our roles, rethink our attitudes and hope for the best.

Download the PDF of my session about this topic for SBS

6 Things the Coronavirus lockdown made me realize

In times of public calamity, quarantine, and a good dose of fear, we start wondering about things. The sudden need to reformulate the way we work and live in society, even if only for some time, might have terrifying outcomes, but also an enormous potential for reflection and change. At least that’s how I feel now with this coronavirus world crisis. That’s exactly why I’ve decided to write for my blog. I want to share some of the realizations I made – or that simply came to mind more often in the last 6 days.

I work in education. My current job is to help implement bilingual programs at Brazilian private regular schools. That requires me to be physically present, talk to school managers, coordinators, and teachers, to have contact with students, and parents, and to observe lessons. Most of these things cannot be done now. We’re all on lockdown in my city since last Monday. Schools have closed their doors to students and – although not completely – to their staff. That made me realize that:

1- Schools are not prepared for such scenarios. Most of the schools have either never considered the situation we’re going through or simply haven’t taken the time to develop a contingency plan.

2- There’s a lot of distrust in schools’ work relations. School managers either make a point of keeping their staff’s regular hours at the school, physically, or feel forced to do so in an attempt to guarantee that their employees will actually work.

3- Schools and parents feel lost without a content-oriented and time-bound model of education based on a potentially outdated dynamic of industrialization. The lack of sufficient “extra activities” and the need to frenetically create things for kids to do/study demonstrate that the wheel needs to keep turning no matter what.

4- Schools serve many purposes and one of them is to operate as a sort of “storehouse” or “depository” for children while parents are out working. When parents are met with the sudden demand of having to “forcefully” spend time with their kids, they don’t know exactly how to cope with it.

Let’s take a closer look at these 4 realizations before I move on to the last two.

First of all, I’m not going pretend that this situation solely pertains to the educational realm. This is an integral part of the system we live in. For things to keep working, they must keep working. It’s like a giant train on autopilot. If it loses control, stopping it is not really an option unless you’re ready to incur some damage and face its consequences. The thing is: it has to be stopped or the damage might be much greater. Having said that, I send my love and appreciation to all those professionals who cannot work remotely and have to keep the system running. You rock!

Secondly, we should rethink the way schools function. This is not something new. One of the most common photos I come across in lectures about innovation in schools is that before-and-after sort of advert comparing how cars and phones have changed in the last 100 years and how classrooms have remained basically the same. Every time I think about this I remember Pink Floyd’s revolutionary album The Wall and the scene in the video clip where faceless kids wearing school uniforms march into a meat grinder without hesitation to become raw material for sausages.

Even though this analogy might be a little misplaced, the message behind it is that a lot of the teaching done nowadays is still quite centered around teachers, who basically care about covering the content of a predetermined curriculum to make sure students are able to pass a test and receive an award or diploma. These teachers still basically stay in front of the students and use boards (digital or not) to teach this content to students, who have probably not even had a say in the whole process. Most of the homework assigned to these kids involves only reading and writing. To make matters worse, it is very likely that much of the content learned in the classroom will not be applied in students’ everyday life in the present or the future.

In third place, I must say it deeply concerns me that schools have not allowed their staff to start working remotely so that they can stay home safe. What is the point? Is it about a false sense of control over how much their employees work? I understand many of these decisions are not up to the managers, but keeping their staff physically present at the school building is quite irresponsible at this time and that brings me to my 5th realization:

5- Working remotely can mean more work and, above all, more challenging and relevant work.

Teachers can prepare extra activities, record videoclasses, work on their professional development, and attend webinars and meetings from the safety of their homes. We should definitely use this opportunity to reflect on how we conduct our professional lives and work relations. It takes a lot of reflection and stepping out of our comfort zones, which brings me to my final realization. I’ll try to connect it to realizations 3 and 4.

6- Cognitive biases seem exacerbated. In times of fear, some hysteria, fake news and post truth, many of us rely on personal opinion and viral videos/texts/images created by nonexperts and propagated on social media. Many of the elderly in my city refuse to stay on lockdown and some of them say things like: “I’ve survived a war, this is nothing” or “I heard vinegar is better than alcohol to wash our hands”.

This last realization means that schools are failing at something quite essential. The opinion of real experts and the conclusions of scientific papers are being undermined by a sense of “I know better”. Why are schools producing learners who can’t believe scientific evidence but rush to share a video of some guy from somewhere who claims he has unveiled a conspiracy to kill half of the world’s population? Or that a drug used to treat another condition might cure coronavirus causing the depletion of this drug in drugstores affecting those who really need it?

It’s the “I’ve always done it that way” feeling that all of us have. Schools have always been heavily content-oriented and parents have been increasingly relying on them to leave their kids and go to work. It is hard to adapt to this new reality, no doubt, but we must reflect on the sense of “I know better” and ask ourselves what we can do to make change.

Many countries and specific cities/states/regions in the world have already started integrating active learning methods that take into account the students’ realities and local communities. Project-based learning (PBL) has become quite popular and seems to be working quite effectively. At the same time, different educational systems have realized that time spent with the family and family-school integration are essential for high-quality learning. Experts also tell us that play and free time are fundamental when it comes to how kids learn.

All of this begs many questions: What if this lockdown lasts months? Should governments anticipate school breaks? Should kids have a lot of extra activities to complete at home? What about their parents’ job? How to work with all your kids around? Should schools adapt face-to-face curricula to be delivered on online platforms? What happens to those who don’t have access to the internet (yes, they exist)?

There are so many questions. I don’t have the answers, I’m afraid. I’ll keep working with my peers to offer schools the resources they need to deal with this crisis. But maybe there’s something great about this whole situation. It forces us to rethink things. It makes us realize that a runaway train calls for a very thoroughly designed contingency plan.

That’s why I’d like to invite you to join me tomorrow on Instagram at 3pm (Brazilian time) – 6pm GMT to help me answer some of these questions. After all, we’re all on lockdown together, right?

Follow @edcrocks on Insta and join me tomorrow.

Inovació, si us plau!

I attended for the very first time the amazing InnovateELT conference in Barcelona. I was honored to speak for 30 minutes about the Mind, Brain, and Education science to a full house in room 10 at Oxford TEFL, the incredibly charming venue with a lovely garden, wonderful people, great talks, and craft beer (yes, this part is important).

The name of the conference is quite catchy, I admit. InnovateELT caught my attention since the first time I heard about it. Innovation is something we never stop chasing, isn’t it? It seems to me that innovation is still and may always be l’ordre du jour. Digging a little bit about the meaning of this word, innovation, made me think about why we want to go after it. A quick look in most dictionaries will tell us that innovation is about new ways, methods of doing things or new ideas, products. It’s all about the word NEW.

New ways of doing things or thinking about things were definitely present at the InnovateELT conference. I myself proposed to integrate the news of cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive psychology with the tradition of pedagogy to teach our students in more “brain-friendly” ways. Many of the presenters discussed new ways to do things we’ve been doing for a long time. The whole conference was about new ways to teach, metacognitive teaching, native-speakerism, storytelling, videomaking, etc.

Then it struck me.

INOVACIÓ!

I noticed that I could read most of the signs written in Catalan everywhere in the lovely city of Barcelona. I remember thinking how weird it was to understand that language that I had almost no contact with except for Netflix series Merlí. Merlí was a rebellious philosophy teacher who provoked his students to think harder about things. He was a nonconformist. The series was shot in Barcelona and they used the Escola Mare de Déu de Montesserat as one of the shooting locations.

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I instantly fell in love with the series because it made me realize that what is new is still quite old. You see, Merlí is the embodiment of Socrates, a man who challenged paradigms, who proposed different things, who urged for innovation, one might say. Socrates’ methods, as described in my blog post, asked students to get to the bottom of things, to question their own assertions. Isn’t that the foundation of innovation?

The funniest thing is that, the way I see it, the innovation we want might not be a new idea at all. Sure, it might be a new way of doing something but it might as well keep its core, its original source so vividly that it’s hardly anything that new. That explains why I understood the signs in the subway:

Atenció – Attention – Attention – Atenção

Tren – Train – Train – Trem

Plataforma – Plateforme – Platform – Plataforma

They are new ways of writing Latin or Greek.

INOVACIÓ – INNOVATION – INNOVATION – INOVAÇÃO

Inovació. Not that hard to understand when you know a little French, lots of English, and even more Portuguese. It’s really the same thing being written slightly differently. In every conference I attend or present at, the same ideas are repeated again and again but slightly differently. It made me come to a realization. Do you want to know what the biggest innovation in the classroom is? To me, it is still what Socrates taught us more than two thousand years ago: it’s us, the teachers. But not just that. It’s our relationship with our students and what we can make of it.

If you had 10 thousand dollars to invest in your school, what would you do? Buy iPads, computers, interactive whiteboards, a 3D printer? Those are all great things, but what really makes the difference according to the Education Endowment Foundation and John Hattie’s comprehensive research put together in his Visible Learning book is the teacher. And great teachers respond to students’ needs. Maybe, a wiser decision would be to put most of that money into teacher training, into CPD.

The next time you think about making a positive impact on your school or classroom, why don’t you try this:

  1. invest in your teacher;
  2. attend conferences and learn new ideas;
  3. embrace the old critical pedagogy;
  4. use technology as an ally, not as the main player;
  5. welcome mistakes and promote creativity;

Innovating is a process. It requires a lot of looking back rather than looking forward. I think Scott Thornbury’s talk about Innovation and his question if it would be the death of us explained well what I feel about the future. No matter what technology we create, be it simultaneous translating earpods, robot teachers, holograms, virtual reality, many of the things that are already here, innovation, no matter how it is spelled, is rooted in human creativity.

As long as we have inventive people making decisions and being allowed to make mistakes, we’ll be able to innovate and make progress. Bet on the human resources and conquer the world. That’s what I say, anyway.

Speaking of CPD, why don’t you give one of my online courses a try? Click on the button below for me to send you more information about them. I promise you won’t regret.