The Elephant in the Room: Teachers’ Mental Health in the Pandemic

Hello, folks

I wanted to share with you the recording of my talk at the MELTA 2020 International Biannual Conference. I discussed some of the issues related to Mental Health and how important it is for us to listen to the cues our body sends us.

I’d like to thank my friend Claire Venables, for sharing important references on burnout, and Sarah Mercer, for posting the link to Educational Leadership’s issue about Mental Health for Educators. I also want to say how much I appreciate all the help I got from so many teachers who shared their struggles with me so that I could put this talk together.

Special thanks to MELTA, in particular Veronika Bandurina for inviting me via Ron Morrain, who kindly recommended my name, and my awesome hostess, Yulia Svetikova.

The references I used are below

References

Barrett, L. F. (2017). How emotions are made: The secret life of the brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Drisko, James. (2004) Common Factors in Psychotherapy Outcome: Meta-Analytic Findings and Their Implications for Practice and Research. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services: 2004, Vol. 85, No. 1, pp. 81-90.

Gross, J.J., & Levenson, R.W. (1997) Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1), 95-103.

Hakanen, J. J., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and Work Engagement among Teachers. Journal of School Psychology, 43, 495-513.

Lieberman, M. D., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2009). Pains and pleasures of social life. Science.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology52(1), 397-422.

Webster, D. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (1998). Cognitive and social consequences of the need for cognitive closure. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (pp. 133-173). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

ASCD (2020)

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec20/vol78/num04/How_Cognitive_Distortions_Undermine_Well-Being.aspx

A Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education (Justin Reich)

Excellent read!

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Justin Reich is a Professor at MIT and director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab. He is the author of the Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education (Harvard University Press, 2020).This article appeared in Teaching Times, August 20, 2020.

Over the last ten years, education technology evangelists have made remarkable claims about how new technologies will transform educational systems. In 2009, Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School predicted that half of all secondary school courses in the US would be online by 2019, and that they’d cost 1/3 of a traditional course and provide better outcomes. Sal Khan of Khan Academy proposed in a TED talk that he could use short videos to reinvent education.

Sebastian Thrun of Udacity said that in 50 years we’d have only 10 institutions of higher education in the world after massive open online courses colonized…

View original post 1,433 more words

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.

Neuromyths and potential classroom implications: Part 3 – Drill to Kill, Multitasking, Forget your Emotions

This is the third part of the 4-post series on how neuroscience can be used in the classroom. If you missed the first blog post, read it here. You can access the second blog post here

1. Drill to Kill

Origin

Uses promptos facit

Dates back to the 1500s

Ever heard that saying? In its original form, from the Latin, it used to mean literally Use makes Mastery. Our most modern version of it is:

Practice makes perfect

It is hard to say how long this notion has been around in human civilization, but we could argue that, throughout History, some values such as dedication, mastery, discipline have been part of different societies. Think about the Spartan soldiers at the pinnacle of their human form through intense practice from an early age. Or the Ancient Roman sculptors who dedicated their lives to perfecting the skill of carving marble. Picture the Japanese samurai who could behead a person and stop the blade a few centimeters before it touched the skin of their necks (gruesome example, I know).

It does seem like practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? The more you train, repeat or drill, the better you get at something. But can you achieve perfection? If so, how much should you practice and for how long?

Why is it a myth?

Perfection is such an ideal, utopian notion, that I’d like to think we can never achieve it. Professional athletes have their good and bad days. They can break a record on Monday and come in last the next week. And someone will most certainly always break their record in the future.

But I’m concerned with one specific type of practice we have our students do in class. It’s called drilling. According to the TeachingEnglish website sponsored by the British Council:

At its simplest, drilling means listening to a model, provided by the teacher, or a tape or another student, and repeating what is heard. This is a repetition drill, a technique that is still used by many teachers when introducing new language items to their students. The teacher says (models) the word or phrase and the students repeat it

TeachingEnglish by the British Council

I have worked at schools where drilling was the foundation of their method (audiolingual). And I must confess it seemed to work well, particularly for lower levels. I’d say it worked well not because of how many times we drilled an item (a sentence, a grammar structure, an expression) in one lesson, but how many times we went back to it in the following lessons.

My point here is that drilling as much as you can may not be the best way to help your students if it is not based on two psychologically tested and recommended practices: Interleaved Practice and Spaced Repetition (Dunlosky et al. 2013)

Since the late 1800s, with Herman Ebbinghaus’ memory experiments, we have known that drilling to kill is actually OVERKILL. The best way to do it is by drilling just enough and going back to it (reviewing) some time after, then a little more time after and so on. This is called spaced repetition (Kornell & Bjork, 2008; Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2014)

Birnbaum et al. (2013) have also shown that drilling the same thing over and over might not be as effective as drilling one thing and then another and then going back to the first thing. It’s called interleaved practice.

Think about going to the gym to work out a group of muscles. How effective would it be for you to work out your biceps only, using the same type of exercise for as much as and as long as possible? The same principle applies. It’s better to vary the type of exercise and interleave it with exercises for a different group of muscles. And don’t forget you need to go back to the gym or work out that specific group again over time. The difference with how we learn in the classroom more effectively is how much space you add between sessions.

What does that all mean in the classroom?

Let’s imagine that we’re teaching a vocabulary lesson about fruits and vegetables (herbs included). Our students have already learned some items and now we’re moving on to a more complex list (such as zucchini/courgette, thyme, basil, eggplant/aubergine, squash, etc). To interleave, a good idea would be having an activity to go back to the list they had already learned (lettuce, tomato, potato, etc) and then an activity using the novel items. Then repeat. If you want to space this out, you can set a timetable to review these words throughout the next 30 days. It could be once at the beginning of the next class as a quiz, then two lessons from that last revision as a game (e.g. Who am I? for fruits and veggies), then in the fifth lesson (from the input) and finally in the last lesson of this 30-day period. You can read more about this technique here.

2. Multitasking

Simply said, it’s the ability to do more than one thing at a time. It’s often referred to as an admirable trait to have in this crazy information-craving and overload era. But can we actually do it?

Origin

It dates back to the mid 60s with the publication of IBM’ new product S/360. It referred to its incredible processing capabilities that allowed this mainframe computer to do things no other computer had been able to do before.

Psychologists in the 60s adopted the term to refer to human behavior when attempting to do two tasks at once, such as counting and trying to listen to someone talking at the same time. It was, however, in the 90s when the term became a trend and was actually recommended by many people. Workers, housewives, students were suddenly faced with this demand. Driving and listening to the news on the radio, cooking breakfast while quizzing the kids on what they had studied, doing the Geography homework while attending a History lecture or watching TV. It was all about saving time and getting more done as efficiently as possible.

Why is it a myth?

Our brain’s ability to focus and take in information is much more limited than we’d like to admit. Miller (1956) and Sweller (1988) had already discussed that we can suffer from cognitive overload when exposed to too many things at the same time. Several studies have shown that doing two things at once will worsen our performance because the brain needs to shift our attention back and forth to complete the two tasks (see the meta-analysis by Wolpert, 2009). It’s actually better to complete one task first and then do the other.

What does that all mean in the classroom?

Well, I suppose the biggest potential problem in the classroom has to do with technology, mainly social media. I realize that this might be quite difficult to control depending on your educational setting, but if students are posting on social media while you’re teaching, or texting someone during an activity, their brains are struggling to keep focused and the research suggests that their performance will be negatively affected. If you choose to ban their phones from the classroom, that might have both positive and negative impacts. They might be outraged and hate you for it (and even rebel), but might actually be able to focus better. One possible solution is to use the idea of brain breaks. You can allow them to have some short breaks to check their social media or do anything else unrelated to what they’re leaning so that their minds can relax a little. Read about it here.

Bottom line: try as much as you can to make sure your student’s focus is on one thing, which is the the one thing you want them to learn.

3. Forget your emotions

In order to make a rational decision we must put our emotions aside. I’ve heard this at least a couple of times in life. I wonder, is it possible?

Origin

Again, it’s hard to determine when and where this originated. But it’s safe (sort of) to assume that for millenia, chiefly throughout passage rituals, societies have been telling their members to wipe their tears and hide their fears to be able to accomplish something. Be it becoming an adult or getting married to someone who was arranged by the parents or even allowing elders to decide whether the kids a woman had just had should be kept, sent away or killed (thrown over a cliff). It was all part of a hierarchy of things, often established by beliefs (religion, myths, etc).

Je pense, donc je suis

René Descarte, 1637

Nonetheless, it was in the 17th century that the father of rationalism, French philosopher René Descartes, said the famous quote: I think, therefore I am. He seemed to make it official that humans have the faculty to be rational beings over anything, that our bodily sensations can be separated from our minds, that our emotions can be suppressed by our cognition.

Today it is quite common to say that our decisions need to be stripped away from our emotions so that we can decide better, rationally. Is that really the case?

Why is it a myth?

António Damásio (2006) explains it well in his book entitled Descartes’ Error. Referring to at least a century’s worth of scientific research, he says that we cannot separate emotion from cognition. As a matter of fact, he talks about a patient called Elliot who had suffered damage to important structures in the brain in charge of emotional responses (making him a person unable to experience them to a certain extent). Elliot should be an effective decision-making machine according to this common-sense belief. In fact, he was terrible at making decisions and many times simply couldn’t decide. He would take an hour to choose between going to restaurant A or B, trying balance the good and bad aspects of each before reaching his decision, which, quite often, would never come.

Damásio and Immordino-Yang conclude their paper We Feel, therefore we Learn as follows:

When we educators fail to appreciate the importance of students ’ emotions, we fail to appreciate a critical force in students ’ learning. One could argue, in fact, that we fail to appreciate the very reason that students learn at all

Immordino-Yang & Damásio (2007)

What does that all mean in the classroom?

Despite the controversy of ideas such as multiple intelligences and emotional intelligence, we can use some of their concepts in the classroom. We can teach our students how to better self-regulate and deal with their emotions. We can discuss these things and make them feel more comfortable about sharing how they are feeling. We can also get help for them if necessary (like counseling for example). What we cannot and should not do is simply assume that a struggling student can turn off their emotions and be present in the lesson. If they’re feeling anxious, intimidated, hungry, scared, sad, depressed, or even too excited with something that will only happen at the end of the lesson, they are probably not attending to the lecture or lesson as they should be.

Read my post with the analogy of Captain Marvel right here.

Ok, we’re done for today, folks. Hope you liked this one too and remember: I discuss this in a lot more detail in my MASTERCLASS and online course. If you want to invest in professional development, click here and go for the Neuroscience and Learning Online course or simply get access to my MASTERCLASS.

Let me know what you think of this article too!

Have a great week!

REFERENCES

DRILL TO KILL

Birnbaum, M. S., Kornell, N., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2013). Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: The roles of discrimination and retrieval. Memory & cognition41(3), 392-402.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013).  Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques:  Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.

Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2008). Learning concepts and categories: Is spacing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science, 19, 585–592.

MULTITASKING

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review63 (2): 81–97

Sweller, J. (1988), Cognitive Load During Problem Solving: Effects on Learning. Cognitive Science, 12: 257–285

Wolpert, S. (2009). Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis. UCLA Newsroom27.

FORGET ABOUT EMOTIONS

Damasio, A. R. (2006). Descartes’ error. Random House.

Immordino‐Yang, M. H., & Damasio, A. (2007). We feel, therefore we learn: The relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education. Mind, brain, and education1(1), 3-10.

How teachers can inspire and be inspired by teaching

My name is André Hedlund and I’m a teacher. But I’m not just a teacher. I’m an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in the country that currently holds the 63rd position in science skills, 59th in reading, and 66th in mathematics according to OECD’s PISA survey. These numbers would alone be bad, considering that there are almost 200 sovereign nations in the world, however, they’re even more disastrous when we realize that only 70 nations were assessed. I live in Brazil and I am certainly not proud of my country’s current educational status. Now, if you are reading this, after you finish, take a few moments to check where your country stands and answer yourself the following question: “Am I proud of my country’s position?” If you’re not, I hope my text will help you find the strength to pursue your mission of changing that scenario. If you are, I hope my text will make you realize how much you can contribute to the world’s teaching community and help peers become transformation agents.

Let’s start with my story. I became an EFL teacher by accident in 2005. I was 19 years old and I was looking for a job. I saw an ad in the newspaper and went to an interview. I didn’t have any background in teaching, but, nevertheless I got the job. I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and I did one year and a half of a Political Science master’s course before I realized that was not what I wanted. I’ve had bad moments in my career, thought of giving up a couple of times, and in 2015 I embraced the fact that my mission was to be a teacher and teacher trainer. I knew I had some talent and I came to terms with the idea that I love my profession and that being a teacher is my life’s goal. I am now a Chevening Scholar at the end of my MSc Psychology of Education in Bristol (read about it here)

But being a teacher is a challenge. The biggest and most necessary of challenges. We teach, educate and connect our students to knowledge. Knowledge that they might not run across if it weren’t for us. And it is with this knowledge, no matter in which area, that we transform the world. Remember this and find the necessary motivation to continue transforming lives, which, in turn, transform the world. If you’re on the bottom of that OECD list, it means that, just like me, you’re not treated by the society and the government as you should. You’re not respected like teachers in Japan or Finland. That’s another reason to stay strong and keep fighting against adversity. You’re even more necessary.

Allow me to paraphrase an amazing author who, with a brilliant idea, love, and dedication, has transformed the world. In an epic speech, she said that she had failed in her personal, financial and love life on a scale that perhaps no one would experience. But her failures changed her focus to the only job that really mattered in her life: writing. And, after several rejections and prejudice, she became the author the world knows. Her name? J.K. Rowling.

I have “failed” – or at least haven’t completed things – on many levels of my life. However, my failures have also shown me the only possible path for me: education. I don’t intend to become a multi-millionaire as Harry Potter’s author, but I do intend to transform the world as much as or even more than she did. After all, J.K. Rowling was somebody’s student. And many somebodies were, are and will be my students. And I honestly hope that any sparkle from the knowledge I have shared, share and will share with them will be enough to make them as transformative as J.K. Rowling or, simply, transformative in their own way. Mine was, is and will always be teaching. As Malala Yousafzai  so brilliantly put:

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”

Malala

Become an agent of transformation in your community. How can you accomplish that? Well, I started reading about teaching and education. I traveled to different countries to interview experts and to do professional development. I started presenting at conferences and symposia. I met references in my area and became a member of Facebook groups. I started following inspiring educators and people who promote education such as Sir Ken Robinson, Ken Wilson, Jim Scrivener, Scott Thornbury, JK Rowling, among others, on social media and blogs. I designed professional development courses and masterclasses (check them out here), started a group on Facebook, a blog, and an Instagram account. I started a journal about my teaching and enrolled in online courses about teaching, ELT, education, and neuroscience.

And I’ve just got started. My next steps will be finishing my MSc, implementing a brain-research-based educational program in Brazil, starting a global initiative for education, and getting a PhD. I also want to become a TED Fellow.

My point is this: we’re living in an integrated world with nearly unlimited learning/teaching resources and we must take advantage of them. Implement the 21stCentury skills (or needed skills, as I prefer to call them) we want our students to use so much: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Add Choice to the list.

If everyone sees education as a global mission and realizes their part in promoting it, we can create a movement that will knock down obstacles and inspire people to take action. And I truly believe we, English teachers of the world, are the ones with the necessary tools to make it happen. We don’t simply teach English, we teach an instrument of empowerment. A tool that enables our students to claim their global citizenship and communicate with different cultures. We teach people how to talk to other people and exchange experiences. Let’s do what we are teaching. Let us talk to teachers from different realities and learn from successful stories.

Regardless of being at the top of OECD’s list or the bottom, remember one thing: you could be the teacher who inspired Malala to fight for her right to education. Or maybe the teacher who motivated JK Rowling in her English literature classes. Or even, who knows, the teacher who made Sir Ken Robinson want to become an educator. Be inspired by your teaching. Be an inspiration to your students and be an inspiration to other teachers.

To help you get started, here’s my list:

  • 1) Embrace your mission. Realize that you play a vital role in education, no matter which area you work with. Teaching goes far beyond what happens inside our classrooms. Decide to be an agent of change.
  • 2) Teach, reflect, and research. Keep a journal and share with your colleagues and peers around the world, talk to them about best practices. Check out the latest literature on your area. Watch TED Talks, read blogs, attend webinars and conferences. Write and publish articles.
  • 3) Start a blog or a Facebook group/page. If you’ve been told by your colleagues that you have a gift, share it with the teaching community. Help identify teaching talents and convince them to start sharing as well.
  • 4) Educate everyone around you about education. Insist on the idea that it is through education that we become great and change the world.
  • 5) Get inspired. Watch the videos below:

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Geoffrey Canada: Our failing schools. Enough is enough!

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

Linda Cliatt-Wayman: How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard

Joe Ruhl: Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future 

The Finland Phenomenon: The Best Education System

Hopefully, with your help, I can take my country from the bottom of that list. And so can you, or at least help other people accomplish that. After all:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. 

Nelson Mandela

MASTERCLASS RECORDING

Receive the link to watch this amazing MASTERCLASS with important tips on classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning. We'll talk about some of the best classroom strategies based on the Science of Learning suggested by 5 authors, a lot of research, and years of teaching experience. This is part of the dissertation I am writing at the University of Bristol. Things you will learn about (hopefully): -attention, memory; -emotions, mindsets, motivation; -methods, assessment;

$20.00

Neuromyths and potential classroom implications: Part 2 – Learning Styles, Fixed Intelligence, Forget about Arts

This is the second part of the 4-post series on how neuroscience can be used in the classroom. If you missed the first blog post, read it here.

Let’s get down to business, shall we? What are some of the most commonly spread neuromyths in educational settings? Here’s my list with 3 of them:

1. Learning Styles

By now, you must have heard that the whole learning styles thing is a neuromyth. If you haven’t or even if you don’t agree, no need to change the way you teach. Well, not necessarily. Let’s look at how it started and what it actually means for us, teachers, and our students.

Origin

It was in the 70s that the idea gained popularity and, in the following decades, many authors either supported it or created their own models. The two most famous were perhaps Walter Burke Barbe with his Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic (VAK) model in 1979, reinforced by Neil Fleming, and David Kolb’s with his Accommodator-Converger-Diverger-Assimilator (look at what happened in The Divergent Series, labeling people like that!)

Even Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: Multiple Intelligence Theory in 1983 has contributed to the myth. He has, however, explained on many occasions that

[…] by the middle 1990s, I had noticed a number of  misinterpretations of the theory—for example, the confusion of intelligences with learning styles […]

Howard Gardner (2003, p. 8)

Why is it a myth?

Many studies (look at this metanalysis by Paschler et al. 2010) have demonstrated that we do not learn best if we learn through our preferred learning style (they tested mostly VAK). In fact, there are subjects or activities that rely heavily upon just one of those modalities and would be quite hard or impossible to learn for certain types of learners, which doesn’t happen. How to teach physical geography without using maps, for example? Also, we know that our working memory capacity is quite limited and that memory retention benefits from multiple representations of the information we’re learning. That means that taking a lot of aural (auditory) input at once without anything visual to relate it to is likely to cause cognitive overload and be quickly forgotten.

What does that all mean in the classroom?

It means that it’s better to listen to and look at something than to do just one of the other. It’s the concept of dual coding (Paivio, 1991). It also means that teaching as if everyone had all three VAK learning styles is actually a good thing because you’re varying your input. But, assigning homework or teaching a one-to-one lesson, for example, based on a specific learning style and neglecting the others will most likely be bad for the students.

2. Fixed Intelligence

Ever heard?

I have no talent for this

I wasn’t cut ou to be that

I don’t have that gene

These are common sentences people who are struggling use to justify why they can’t seem to learn something. But is that really the case?

Origin

Most likely the IQ test fever originated after the publication of Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon’s book in 1905. It became possible to “quantify” kids’ intelligence or mental age using a score that varied from 90 (normal intelligence) to over 140 (genius). Many schools, parents, and institutions adopted the IQ test and started labeling kids and giving prognoses.

Why is it a myth?

The intelligence of an individual in not a fixed quantity

The scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of the intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.

Alfred Binet

That’s right. Binet himself said it was not possible to quantify people’s intelligence. Psychology now knows that there are individual differences (not actually multiple intelligences as discussed in Gardner 1983 and reviewed by Gardner in 2003) and neuroscience brings the notion of neuroplasticity, which, simply put, means that the brain can always learn and change itself through experience.

Perhaps the most popular author discussing this nowadays is Carol Dweck (2006) with the concept of Growth Mindset. She says that students who have a more Growth Mindset, that is, the belief that they can improve with effort and that their intelligence is not fixed, will likely achieve more than those who have a more Fixed Mindset, which refers to those who believe their intelligence is limited.

PS: we all have a little bit of both (Growth and Fixed) and it depends on what we are doing. A more Growth Mindset can be developed.

What does that all mean in the classroom?

If students’ intelligence can be improved, we must be careful about labels. A “weak” student does hold the potential to become the “strongest” in class. It all depends on having the right ingredients. An emotional connection with the teacher and the class, constructive feedback and adjusted practice, the clear notion that his/her intelligence is not static, the knowledge that our brains are plastic and constantly changing, some idea of metacognitive strategies (learning how to learn) and support are some of the ways we can make sure we develop our students’ intelligence. Also, a focus on the learning process over the product, and praising effort and dedication are great ways to develop a more Growth Mindset.

3. Forget about Arts: STEM over STEAM

In some countries, mine included, it feels like arts have become secondary in the curriculum. Why is that?

Origin

There’s a widespread notion that academic subjects are the best chance a kid will have at finding a job in the future. The rapid increase of Sciences, Technology, Engineerings, and Maths (STEM) and its potential to generate wealth for a country seem to have shifted schools’ focus. The whole thing probably goes back to a rather discriminatory view that musicians, painters, and dancers were bohemian people who produced nothing of added value. Even worse, artists have been persecuted in authoritarian regimes for the danger they offered their respective governments because of their “free-thinking minds” or potential connection with riots and a revolution. Two examples are the Nazis burning books that opposed their ideology or the Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China forbidding western musical instruments.

Let’s go even deeper. During the medieval Dark Ages, artists who opposed the views of the Catholic church or the king were also considered dangerous, even heretics, and were often imprisoned or executed.

Why is it a myth?

Arts are known to promote critical thinking and creativity, which may more easily lead to innovation (Boy, 2013; Madden et al., 2013). Focusing exclusively on STEM may lack the interdisciplinarity that is at the foundation of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), described in Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956). There are studies showing that long-term artistic experiences make our brains more plastic, that is, with the ability to constantly change structurally and learn, for a longer time (Münte et al., 2002, Schlegel et al., 2015). And, perhaps the most compelling evidence, several studies have found that integrating arts in the curriculum improve academic performance as they improve attention, memory, executive functions, and self-regulation (Gullatt, 2007; Diamond, 2012; Respress & Lufti, 2006)

What does that all mean in the classroom?

As the image at the beginning of this post indicates, art is essential for humans.

The “EARTH” without “ART” is just “EH”

Unknown

I’d go further and say that education without art is also boring. That is precisely why we must integrate arts in the curriculum. It’s not stealing time from your students, time they could be using to practice more. It’s giving them the tools to be higher achievers, innovators, creative and free thinkers.

Use projects that involve photography or painting. Have students act in a play or sing and dance in a musical. Listen to music and analyze the lyrics, get them to compose their own and play their own instruments. Have a book fair or a reading club. Get your students to write their own tales or poems. Teach them how to build models or sculpt. Join the Maker Movement and create makerspaces in your school.

In short, put the “A” back in STEM.

That’s it for today’s neuromyths. If you’re eager to know more, follow me on Instagram (@edcrocks) and sign up for my asynchronous online courses here. You get 15% off in July!

Next week I’ll write about Drilling, Multitasking, and Emotions in Neuromyths part 3. Don’t miss it!

online

 

REFERENCES

Learning Styles

Barbe, Walter Burke; Swassing, Raymond H.; Milone, Michael N. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: concepts practices. Columbus, Ohio: Zaner-Bloser.

Coffield, Frank; Moseley, David; Hall, Elaine; Ecclestone, Kathryn (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: a systematic and critical review (PDF). London: Learning and Skills Research

Gardner, H. (2003). Multiple intelligences after twenty years. American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois21.

Kolb, David (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie45(3), 255.

Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D. & Bjork, R. (2010). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105–119.

Fixed Intelligence

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY, US: Random House

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2003). Multiple intelligences after twenty years. American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois21.

Kaufman, Alan S. (2009). IQ Testing 101. New York: Springer Publishing

Forget the Arts

Bloom, B.S. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook: The Cognitive Domain. David McKay, New York.

Boy, Guy A. (2013). From STEM to STEAM: Toward a Human-Centred Education, Creativity & Learning Thinking. In Proceedings of the 31st European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics, 3:1–3:7. ECCE ’13. New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Diamond, A. (2012). Activities and programs that improve children’s executive functions. Current directions in psychological science21(5), 335-341.

Gullatt, D. E. (2007, September). Research links the arts with student academic gains. In The Educational Forum (Vol. 71, No. 3, pp. 211-220). Taylor & Francis Group

Madden, M. E., Baxter, M., Beauchamp, H., Bouchard, K., Habermas, D., Huff, M., … & Plague, G. (2013). Rethinking STEM education: An interdisciplinary STEAM curriculum.
Procedia Computer Science, 20, 541-546

Münte, T. F., Altenmüller, E., & Jäncke, L. (2002). The musician’s brain as a model of
neuroplasticity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3(6), 473-478.

Respress, T., & Lutfi, G. (2006). Whole brain learning: The fine arts with students at risk. Reclaiming children and youth15(1), 24.

Schlegel, A., Alexander, P., Fogelson, S. V., Li, X., Lu, Z., Kohler, P. J., … & Meng, M. (2015).
The artist emerges: Visual art learning alters neural structure and function. NeuroImage,
105, 440-451.

 

Neuromyths and potential classroom implications: Part 1 – Not a recipe for success, merely a framework for reflection

It seems that the word of the day in education conferences is the overly repeated term NEUROMYTH. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. As a matter of fact, I’m benefitting from all this fuzz since this is one of my favorite topics, something I’ve studied for a couple of years, and quite possibly the main reason why my speaking proposals have been accepted in four international conferences this year (Spain, Montenegro, Romania, and Hungary)

The first conference was InnovateELT in Barcelona (read my account of it here). It was superb and my session was so appealing, apparently, that I had a full house. I remember joking about it with some of the participants who complimented me on the session. I said:

The topic is interesting in its own right. It could’ve been anyone else presenting

Me

1
My session on Mind, Brain, and Education at InnovateELT Barcelona 2019

I do believe that. Anything with the terms NEURO, BRAIN, SCIENCE, MYTH, is quite catchy and calls a lot of attention. We’ve actually discussed that in my Cognitive Neuroscience and Classroom Practice unit at the University of Bristol where I study MSc Psychology of Education. My professor Paul Howard-Jones, a big reference in the area, even said:

Neuroscience is sexy

Paul Howard-Jones

Indeed it is and the idea of offering quick fixes or way-too-simple solutions is also very sexy and potentially misguided, even dangerous. But that’s what many authors and scholars in the field of neuroscience or psychology have been proposing.

Father, I have sinned. I confess

Me

I myself have believed in these quick fixes for some time and wrote about them on this blog at the beginning of my ignorance. I suppose I could go back and edit some of the posts to seem a little less deterministic or fatalistic, but I like the fact that this will become a record of my educational journey and my reflections as I grow older. I’ll just leave things as they are and write about what I know that I don’t know now. You can still check out the tips of my early posts and find a lot of useful stuff here.

So, I suppose this introduction is only to say that cognitive neuroscience and psychology are still making important discoveries. That’s what makes this journey so exciting. There will always be something to explore, discover and reflect on. Nevertheless, I can say that many of the things the field has already discovered can help us reflect on how learning occurs more or less effectively. I believe in that so much that my dissertation is digging a little deeper on this topic.

Which things have scientists discovered that we can use? How does knowing those things apply in the classroom? Do they offer straightforward strategies that can guarantee a more successful learning experience?

Possibly. And this is the first step: to reflect on how useful the contributions of neuroscience and psychology might be and how they link with educational practices. That’s why I believe in the power of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE). You see, according to Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, when MBE puts together cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and education (pedagogy) and looks at their contributions as being equals, on the same level, it creates a new and relevant field that can draw from these realms and potentially narrow the gap between scientific theory and educational practice. The element of transdisciplinarity adds a challenge but also more accountability.

Tokuhama-Espinosa also says that far too many neuromyths are still quite present in educational settings and perhaps that’s the mission of MBE, to debunk them. Simply said, neuromyths are false statements about the brain and how it works. However, knowing some (or even many) of the neuromyths per se doesn’t immediately translate into knowledge that can be applied in the classroom to make lessons more conducive to learning. Take the following for instance:

We only use 10% of our brains

My answer to this claim on InnovateELT Blog goes like this:

“No, Samuel Norman, we do not use just 10 or 15% of our brain capacities. In fact, we use most of our brain most of the time, even when we are sleeping. A simple task such as drinking coffee will require many areas of your brain to activate synchronously.”

Me

Knowing this may sound great, but how does it translate into something useful for the teachers to apply and/or reflect on? Maybe knowing this will stop teachers from buying the idea that we might use certain techniques to boost brain capacity or something like that. But, to be quite honest, it would probably not affect teachers’ everyday decisions in the classroom.

That’s why I invite you to reflect with me on the possible benefits of using this science and will write two more blog posts with 10 neuromyths and their implications in the classroom. I will describe them, discuss their origins and tell you what they might mean for the teacher and the student in the classroom.

This is my mission on this planet. That’s why I’ve been sending out proposals to speak about this, I’ve been writing blog posts about this, I’ve been pursuing the proper qualifications on this topic and why I’ve created my new online course. I want to share what I’ve learned and give you something to reflect on.

It is essential to remember that what I’m proposing is not a recipe for successful teaching, though. There are so many variables to consider that we can’t say “Do this and everyone will learn”. The authors who have written about this say that we need to be careful with such bold claims. Rather, if we look at it as just a framework that may help us think about how we teach and how our students learn, I think the potential is huge.

If you got this far, you might want to consider signing up for my asynchronous Neuroscience and Learning Course. I try my best to show you some of the principles of learning through the perspective of MBE and help you reflect on what this knowledge might mean in the classroom.

I’d love to have you as one of my students and add you to the legion of teachers around the world fighting against potentially harmful neuromyths.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series. I’ll discuss learning styles, fixed intelligence, and arts.

#edcrocks

online

 

References

Dekker, S., Lee, N., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 429-429. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Howard-Jones, P. (2018). Evolution of the Learning Brain: Or how you got to be so smart. Taylor & Francis Group

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2014). Making classrooms better: 50 practical applications of mind, brain, and education science. First Edition. New York: W.W Norton & Company.

Native-speakerism, Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant, and food

A resounding YES.

That’s how the article entitled “Do native English speakers make better teachers?” in the South China Morning Post starts. It goes on:

Native English speakers are naturals in the language… Students [in Hong Kong] who hear less-than-accurate English pronunciation in the class end up speaking the same way outside the classroom. Unlearning wrong pronunciation requires a huge effort.

South China Morning Post

This topic has certainly been an issue for anyone teaching ESL or EFL. Particularly if you, like me, are a non-native English Teacher (non-NEST). The last time that I can recall now that this was an issue happened in 2016. I was attending a conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. After the first day of plenaries and wonderful sessions, an American man, whom I met some months earlier in the USA, was talking about a program he offered non-NESTs in the midwest. He told me how important it was and then slipped:

You know, André, your English is perfect but you still have an accent

The American guy

Standing next to me was another American whom I had just met and she was around my age, much younger than that guy. She said nothing. I guess I was looking for approval or something because what he said to me sounded like a flaw. In fact, it sounded like something so negative that I tried to justify or deny it.

Funny. On many other occasions, other Americans told me that I had no accent at all. What they meant was that I sounded like them and that Americans would probably take me for one of them in their country. For some reason, I liked to hear that.

I blame it on this ‘pervasive ideology within ELT, characterized by the belief that “native-speaker” teachers (NESTs) represent…ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology‘, as discussed by Adrian Holliday. This ideal is reinforced by basically every level of ELT. Publishers will only offer the American English or British English editions of their books. Job ads will seek NESTs, many times with no qualification, to fill teaching positions around the world. And the worst part, they get paid more for it.

Is it really such a bad thing to be non-native and to have an accent? I honestly think now that I have been brainwashed for most of my professional life. Speaking perfect English occurs regardless of accent. A good example of that is Marek Kiczkowiak (and his interviewer, the great teacher Rodrigo Correia) advocating for non-NESTs and fighting against native-speakerism in this interview for Talking EFL. As a matter of fact, Marek’s video generated this incredibly fitting first comment:

marek

You got that right, Ola Maria. I had the pleasure of meeting Marek in person at the InnovateELT conference and both his short plenary and session were fantastic. Most of what we, non-NESTs, wanted someone to tell us when we were starting our careers was covered by him. He talked about myths, salary differences, ways to tackle native-speakerism, and how to do it in class by teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).

marek1
Selfie with Marek Kiczkowiak

I left the conference reflecting on the whole thing and couldn’t stop thinking about a couple of situations that happened to me. About two years ago I was part of a board of coordinators assessing new teachers for a teaching position at the school I worked. There were five of us, all non-NESTs, observing prospects giving a demo lesson. This American guy comes in, let’s call him John, and starts teaching. We ask him:

Us: Which level is the lesson for?

John says: Basic.

He carries on not knowing what to focus on, speaking quite fast and using difficult words, teaching from vocabulary that didn’t make sense to verb to be, making basic grammar errors, and, quite frankly, delivering one of the most uninteresting classes I had ever seen.

The other situation was Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa’s lecture. She says that one of the potential disadvantages of learning a language as an adult is that you might not have a native-like accent. She doesn’t see it as a problem, though. She is speaking from the perspective of what people generally believe. She says that since our tongue is a muscle and that we stop hearing certain sounds if we’re not exposed to them in early childhood, we might settle for pronouncing the words the best we can as long as the receiver understands our message, after all, the goal is communicating. In theory, we could force ourselves to learn a native-like accent just like we can learn how to run a marathon if we really want to.

That brings me to Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant. My wife and I went to the one in Victoria, London some weeks ago, after returning from Barcelona. We have always liked Jamie’s shows and recipes. It’s more like comfort food rather than ultrasophisticated gourmet pricey food. Jamie is not Italian and many times neither are his chefs. Nevertheless, they can make quite authentic pasta and, perhaps, add a little twist here and there. I remember having had a spaghetti alla bolognese in Bologna and this time I ordered a Tagliatelle alla Bolognese in Jamie’s restaurant and, to be honest, Jamie’s was better. My wife’s spring carbonara was even better.  Only one dish topped these three in Italy. It was a pappardelle al ragù in Siena, quite likely the best Italian dish ever made on this planet.

Maybe. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I can find Italian restaurants all around the world with local staff (non-Italian), making amazing dishes. Now, how absurd would it be to demand that all Italian restaurants were opened by or hired only Italian people? How absurd is it to assume that every Italian can make better pasta than anyone else in the world? This is exactly how absurd it is to think that only NESTs can teach English well or better.

Back in Guadalajara, I remember tasting the local tacos on the street and thinking:

Wow, they’re great. But I think I can make these ones better.

I love cooking and love Mexican food. Don’t get me wrong, many tacos were way better than the ones I can make. But not all of them.

I may use some different ingredients here and there, may not have the same type of avocado, but I am confident I could welcome real Mexicans to a feast and they’d love my take on their food. The funniest thing is that if Italians chose to stick to their native ingredients, their trademark dish would not even exist. According to historical records, tomatoes are native to America, carrots originated in Persia (current Iran), and pasta was most likely brought to Europe from Eastern Asia. Had these cultures not met, so long for spaghetti alla bolognese.

If I could go back in time to that moment when the American guy said that I had an accent, do you know what I’d have said?

So do you. So does everyone. And that’s totally fine

I suppose the message I want you to leave with is that being a native speaker does not matter more than being a trained teacher. And that having an accent should not make you less appreciated. I honestly think that some native speakers have a far more difficult accent to understand than mine or Marek’s or Rodrigo’s.

So, whenever someone says that native speakers make better teachers, ask them this

“Native to which country? To which state? To which city or region? A native Californian or Londoner? Dubliner? Nigerian? Australian? Canadian? Indian? Texan?”

Think about all the advantages non-NESTs have:

  • They’re at least bilingual and can draw comparisons between their mother tongue and English
  • They have actually felt in their bones what is like to be a language learner
  • They might not be as trapped in their own linguistic bubble as NESTs
  • They may have studied the language they’re teaching more comprehensively and systematically

May both NESTs and non-NESTS coexist and be judged by their teaching competence rather than by their nationality or accent. May we reach a point where these terms are emptied of meaning and stop being used to categorize people according to something that really doesn’t matter. May we simply address teachers of the world as ESTs.

If you want more info on the topic, check Marek’s page on the button below and follow @mattielloconsultoria and @edcrocks on Instagram (we’ll post a debate on this topic there tonight in the upcoming edition of Chá Pedagógico)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make penne alla bolognese for lunch.

#edcrocks #chápedagógico

Brené Brown, vulnerability and courage: why we should step out of our comfort zone and be seen

Image result for brene brown
Brené Brown on being vulnerable at TEDx Houston

The first time I heard about Brené Brown was probably around 2 years ago back in Brazil. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big TED Talks fan and have literally watched over 100 of them. They do deliver a powerful message in just a few minutes. Brené’s talk wasn’t any different. In fact, it was so inspiring that millions of people watched and loved it. Nevertheless, the bad and the ugly also came to the surface. Before I share why and what, let’s take a look at the message of her presentation and what it provoked in me.

Brené Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston Texas but, above all, she’s a storyteller. Her stories were about courage and connection. As a social work researcher, she wanted to investigate how wholehearted people were made. To make things clearer, her intention was to find what made people connect, love, be happy with their lives and be courageous, live to the fullest. After years working with and interviewing people, collecting data, she came to a rather controversial conclusion. People who had a better sense of belonging and who felt more fulfilled about their lives were also the ones willing to be seen for who they are. They embraced their vulnerability. They embraced their imperfection.

Vulnerability is at the heart of courage

Paraphrasing Brené Brown

She certainly didn’t like her findings. As many of us would agree, feeling vulnerable is not comfortable at all. In fact, we do almost anything to avoid feeling like that. Most of us believe that vulnerability makes us weak. But for Brené, after years struggling with her findings, vulnerability is what makes us strong, what makes us truly connect and understand. Without vulnerability, there would be no empathy. But vulnerability brings shame and, be honest, how many of us want to feel shame?

Someone once said that the magic happens outside our comfort zones and I’d like to share something I’ve never shared with anyone. Many people would look at me and think I’m a very confident guy. They could not be further from the truth. I am incredibly insecure. It may not show that much when I’m delivering a lecture, teaching, or writing. Or even when I’m having a conversation about the topics that I love. But I am. Oh gosh, am I… I don’t feel comfortable in my skin. I don’t like the way I look, my body, many of my attitudes, how I deal with money, routine, family and, particularly, my relationship with wife sometimes. Also, I’m pretty convinced I have a mild type of ADHD, the inattentive sort. I have so much to improve about myself. But here’s the thing:

I have.

And I’m proud of where I got. Don’t get me wrong. My concern is that I rarely open up about these things because, like Brené before, I don’t want to feel vulnerable.

In vulnerability lies opportunity

Not sure who said that, maybe it was me 🙂

Indeed it does. Being prepared to do something challenging and new, knowing that you might feel ashamed, afraid, and possibly fail, kind of frees you, doesn’t it? It’s scary but also liberating.

Here’s another story for y’all. I felt incredibly sad yesterday after talking to my mom on the phone. She had been crying because this is the first time she celebrates (not really) her birthday without my dad who passed away in January (read his story here). I felt lonely for a moment but didn’t let myself think too much about it. I started scrolling down on Facebook to find something else to distract me. I came across an interview with Sir Ian McKellen about his role as Sir Anthony Hopkins’ character’s dresser in the acclaimed The Dresser. It was funny. I was instantly drawn to Anthony Hopkins’ recommended interviews because I truly admire him and he reminds me so much of my dad (physically, especially as Odin in Thor.  I just wanted to rewatch him talk about his story.

You bet your ass I am. Well, that’s being human

Sir Anthony Hopkins, Interview with Larry King

That was his answer to people being surprised to know that this incredible actor is still insecure. Not only is he an award-winning actor with brilliant performances but he is also a very talented painter and, even more impressively, a composer. As a matter of fact, Anthony Hopkins composed a beautiful waltz called And the Waltz Goes On some 50 years ago and only heard it played live by an Orchestra when the Dutch maestro and violinist, André Rieu, played it for him in Vienna (watch it here, it’s superb!). Watching it made me cry and think about all of this for an instant. How vulnerable we are and how stupidly hard we try not to look like we are.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad my mom didn’t try to hide what she was feeling when I called her. I’m glad that I’ve been more able to connect with people and try to be true to myself in the last months. I’m glad that I have a wonderful wife who loves me (and I love her very much!) and has supported and invested in me, in our relationship showing that despite all my insecurities, I’m worthy of love and connection too. I’m glad that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and working on a project that I’m in love with (my online courses which you can check out here). And I’m really glad that people I admire and the participants of my courses are giving me feedback and allowing me to think about the things I can change.

Being vulnerable means that you can be yourself and that will be enough. You don’t need to always be awesome, amazing, phenomenal. You can simply be yourself.

My final message here is: Step out of this feeling of security and strength and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Find your courage within your vulnerability. Cry, be honest with your feelings as much as possible, be truly seen and don’t be afraid to fail because at oftentimes, life goes on and you learn from whatever happens.

Remember the bad and the ugly I brought up at the beginning? In Brené Brown’s lovely Netflix special, she shares with us what the reactions to her TED Talk were. Some were just awful. Many people made fun of her weight and couldn’t see why she was talking about worthiness if she wasn’t worthy. Others said she was the right person to talk about imperfection and that we should only look at her to see why. Some people called her bad names, said something about her being a bad mom and wife, someone even said she was what’s wrong with the world today and that she should be killed. She said that this was exactly the situation she had feared her whole life, this criticism. But it was also what made her stumble across Theodore Roosevelt’s incredible speech, while she was avoiding reading the comments like I avoided thinking about my dad’s death

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Sir Anthony Hopkins’ interviews and lovely video in Vienna were my Ted Roosevelt’s speech. If you relate to this and want to make real change, to make life worthy, dare greatly.

I think this was an excuse to put everything out of my chest. But it was also a way for me to thank all the amazing teachers who took part in my online courses and gave me feedback to improve what I believe to be my most current way to dare greatly. You are stars! For being live with me on the weekends or watching the recordings, for doing the readings and sending me the mini-projects, for asking me questions I hadn’t thought of before. But, above all, you’re starts because even though you have good jobs and you have too much on your hands, very little time left, you took the time to leave your comfort zone, become students again and do professional development with me to learn more.

Cris, Patricia, Rebecca, Stephan, Antonina, Rodolfo, Giovanna, Rafaela, Ana Carolina, Dhesirée, Bárbara, Caio, Fernanda, Paula, Priscila, Élida

I admire you and I saw you. I hope I was seen too and I hope I succeeded in what I proposed or at least failed gracefully.

Some useful resources:

My online courses

My new Bilingualism course with Rodolfo Mattiello

My blog post about my dad

My blog post about CPD

My blog post about Tabata Amaral and Self-Efficacy

My blog post about how I got a Chevening Scholarship

Avengers Endgame, Game of Thrones, and Spoilers: how to work with expectation and reward in the class

poster

This is definitely a great year to be alive if you’re a Marvel Universe fan. After watching the exciting Captain Marvel movie on the big screen (check my blog post about it here), the Avengers saga comes to an epic end this month. More than 20 films later! Nothing has been more epic than that in the history of cinema, one may think. The same might be true of the incredible Game of Thrones journey if we change the focus to television. As promised by the director and the producers, they delivered a memorable third episode in this 8th season. An hour and a half of tension, horror, despair, low visibility, relief, and utter joy and surprise.

If you are like me, and most people I suppose, there was a problem, though. You see, everyone involved in producing these two monuments of modern cinema and TV put a lot of extra effort into not letting anyone know what was going to happen. Contracts with clauses about spilling the beans, shooting scenes without telling the actors who they were performing with, redacted scripts, the whole nine yards. Poor Tom Holland (actor who plays Spiderman) for blurting out some of the secrets of the Avengers franchise. He had a hard time giving interviews and needed someone to supervise him.

Spoilers, ladies and gents, that was my problem.

It was hard to dodge them and one or two eventually made their way onto my screen. As their name gives away, spoilers may spoil the fun (and quite honestly, they often do). But what does that have to do with what happens in the classroom? Before you read any further, just think about how you’d feel if you knew a major plot twist of any of these franchises before watching the movie or the episode? Some of you (and I do admire you, folks) may have answered:

“I wouldn’t care at all”

Well, I do care!  And I the reason is quite simple: dopamine.

According to neuroscience, one of the most important neuromodulators in our brains is dopamine. It is involved in motivation, feeling good, happy about things. If you’re a fan and you know you’re gonna watch the movie you’ve been expecting for so long, your brain is filled with dopamine. The expectations you have about the movie, all the theories of what might happen to your favorite characters and the villains, also release dopamine. When you go to the movies and watch it and see for yourself what happens, and even get completely surprised by some unexpected events, your brain releases even more dopamine (as long as the surprises are not disappointing). However, when someone spoils the action for you, those expectations you had go down the toilet and so much for that dopamine sensation.

This is very similar to what happens in the classroom (except that Avengers and Game of Thrones make our students and ourselves produce much more dopamine hahaha). When students go to class and something unexpected happens and there’s a reward at the end, their brains are releasing dopamine not once, but twice. Going to class knowing that there will be a reward kills the unexpected and gives them a dopamine rush when they get the reward. Going to class and not knowing there will be a reward, but being told in class that they’ll get one, and finally getting it will give them two dopamine spikes, when they realize they’ll get something (unexpected) and when they actually get it (reward).

What does that tell us about planning our lessons? Well, here are a couple of tips:

  1. Try to bring a surprise. It could be a fun activity, a story about your life, a special guest, a new game, a funny video, anything. To make sure it’s really a surprise, try not repeating the same things over and over;

  2. Reward your students. It doesn’t need to be something that may cost you a lot of money (or any money at all!). Our reward systems are happy with praising, recognition or a simple token. Of course, if you want, give them something pretty cool and they’ll be more than happy.

  3. Don’t always tell them that there will be a reward or, in other words, don’t spoil the class. Unexpected rewards are better because students stay more motivated.

  4. Use rewards that are highly emotional. A touching short video or song, a story about something incredible or someone amazing. These are the types of rewards we love.

At the end of Avengers Endgame, I felt incredibly emotional and it was very satisfying. It was definitely an epic ending to all those years with such phenomenal characters. As for Game of Thrones, after the last episode, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

If anyone spoils it for me, it doesn’t mean I won’t watch episode 4, but I won’t be as motivated as I am now. And I can guarantee that if my expectations are met (I have high ones), I’ll be excited, but, if something completely unexpected and incredible happens, I won’t be able to forget it for years to come.

So, I suppose my final message is:

Be nice! No spoilers, ok?

What kinds of rewards do you use in your classrooms? I’d love to know!