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.

 

PBL Taken Further: 5 Ps to Get your Students Around it on International Trips

 

20171103_153257.jpg
Closing ceremony of Goiás Without Borders with the 300 public school students who passed the selection process

Hello, folks! First of all, I’d like to apologize for not writing for some time. I’ve been quite busy and involved in many projects. But I’m back and I have great news, which will be duly announced soon.

One of the main reasons why I’ve been absent is the wonderful Goiás Without Borders program in which I took part as the organizer of the English Immersion course with Partners of the Americas Goiás. The purpose of this program is to send 125 public school students to the USA for a month to have intensive English classes and work on global competencies. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to be part of such a beautiful concept, especially considering it is the first edition and our 30-hour English prep course was a tremendous success. So here’s my huge THANK YOU to all those bright young people (the first 125 and the other 175 who are going next year) who gave me, and 21 other teachers as well as my dear colleagues Rejane and Elisa, hope to carry on fighting for our education. YOU ROCKED BIG TIME!!!

Another special THANK YOU note to a dedicated young man by the name of Guilherme. He’s the reason why I’m writing this post. Guilherme approached me on the first day of class and said: “I have an idea for a project”. I was running around the place making sure everything was OK and didn’t give him the proper attention at first. Then we finally sat and discussed his ideas. He wanted the 125 gang to record their experience in the USA so that they can share it with future candidates of the program. I thought his idea was brilliant and decided to take it one step further. Why not use that incredible energy of over 100 eager adolescents to produce authentic materials we can share with teachers and students in Brazil and the world? Think about it for a second: authentic videos, images, audio files of New Jersey and New York in the winter.

Since these young people are between 15 and 19 years old, we already have a consent from their parents to share whatever materials they produce and, considering that they’re posting it on social media under the hashtag #gopartnersgo, #goiassemfronteiras, #mrtrunktravels and #fasamgoiassemfronteiras, feel free to access whatever you want in a month or so.

Here are the 5 Ps, and many questions, for them to get started and for you, dear teacher, to share with your students who might be taking their vacation abroad.

Suggestion: If you’re a teacher or educator, you might want to take a look at the entry I wrote with Stephan Hughes on PBL first.

 

ppppp
1. PROBLEM
Project-Based Learning starts with a problem, a driving question. So, think about things you would like to know about the USA and how you can investigate them to discover what they are, how they work, why they are that way etc. Maybe you want to know how people celebrate Christmas or if American students are more dedicated than Brazilian students. Perhaps you would like to find out how universities work or the nationality of most immigrants in New York. 

2. PLATFORM
Now you need to know how you’re going to make your material available for others to see/hear/feel. Is it going to be mostly audio or video? Don’t you think writing short texts and interviews are also a good idea? Are you going to record very long videos or short ones? Can you use Facebook, Instagram or YouTube to share this material? Can you use WordPress or Blogger to create a blog? What about a podcast? 

3. PLANNING
You’ve decided to make short videos of people’s leisure time in New Jersey and post them on Facebook for example. What if someone else had a similar idea? There are 125 people involved in the project! You need to come up with rules and set goals. Also, you don’t want to have too many videos about uninteresting things. How many videos/podcasts/texts/photos will you produce every week? Remember: quality is more important than quantity. Will you edit or animate anything? Do you have all the skills you need to do a great job? Can you find someone to help you with editing tips or even to edit for you? What if you had different sections or columns (daily life, culture, arts, etc) to make things easier for you and the whole crew? Did you prepare your interview questions in advance?

4. PERFORMING
Time to go out there collecting data. Does your phone have a fully charged battery? Do you have something to write on? Have you asked people’s permission to film or record them? Are you keeping track of things you’re collecting? Where you save everything you collected?

5. PRESENTING
You’ve got the material and now you have to present it to the world. Have you revised it? Are you struggling with the writing? Can anyone help you? Is there a logo or a slogan you would like to add? Are the videos/images/texts/podcasts interconnected? 

Rather than giving you answers, I thought I’d ask you a lot of questions to see what might come up. Remember that this is a great opportunity for you to document your experience and help people who might go through the same things as you or even never have the chance to do so. Can’t wait for the results!

If we used this force, young people’s eagerness to find out about things, about people, and about the world, I’m sure we’d be not only nurturing curiosity but also helping them discover what roles they can play in our globalized world. Isn’t education supposed to do that after all? Join us with your students!