Sunday, January 20, 2013

Evo Neuroscience in Education 2013 Wk 1, task 6d

Reflections on how the functioning of the brain influences learning and education - connections and perspective.

This week has been really exciting for me, going back to my roots in Neuroscience and trying to connect all that information that I have coursing around my neurons from the perspective of education - and I think that perspective may well be a key word for everything that I have seen this week.

The first task with the brain myths surprised me - I got at least 5 wrong. The most surprising, as has been widely commented in Edmodo and in other reflections, is that we don't necessarily learn best through our particular 'learning style'. When I sat back and thought about this two things struck me. Firstly, it is so important to question and critically analyse everything that we read. Experts may be experts but they are also pushing their individual opinions or perspective. We need to keep our own perspective and reality very clearly in mind when we are learning in a new field. Secondly, when it comes to neuroscience things are very rarely black and white. A large part or learning involves the inredible plasticity that the brain displays in making connections between information. If one connection is altered, other connections are also altered at the same time, a bit like 'give and take'. I am not suggesting that something is lost, rather that in connecting new information into the web of knowledge we will change our understanding of existing information, and it is important to re-analyse this information from this new perspective.

For me, this can all be summarised by saying that everything learnt needs to be connected to something else, and that we need to analyse these connections from every possible perspective in order to utilise new information in our particular realities. 

This is not something that others can do for us! However, listening to other opinions and seeking new connections and perspectives through a forum like this is invaluable for improving our information uptake.

Other thoughts
As an aside, I think it is interesting that environmental enrichment although not proven in humans is being more or less labelled as a myth. I understand that enrichment involves any stimulus and am certainly not saying that the children of today do not recieve enough enrichment, on the contrary I think that the overstimulus that they recieve from computers and video games is having a serious consequences in our classrooms, but there is evidence that bilingual children have increased cognitive abilities with regard to attention, problem solving and assessing information. This article was posted on Edmodo (thank you to Ms Green-Studer), and I have read similar studies recently, most notablely in Scientific American (preview of article I think this points to a different type of 'environmental enrichment' enhancing cognitive abilities, and for this I am not sure if we can label this fact as a myth, rather one of those facts that falls into the grey area of 'it depends'.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My students don't interest me

Last week, Teacher X, when asked why he didn't complete an important practise test with his 11th grade class, told me that 'his students don't interest him'. I was rendered speechless, which doesn't happen often, and he sat there defiantly as if to say 'what are you going to do about it'. It got me to thinking, why is he teaching if his students don't interest him? It also got me thinking about why I can't fire him even though his students don't interest him and he displayed a distinct attitude problem to his direct boss. In the end I decided that this is what is wrong with the entire Chilean education system.

It's December so as administrators we are in the proces of assessing all our teachers and determining the make-up of our teams for next year. I though this would be an easy process - reward teachers who are doing well and are growing, and try and lose the teachers that 'aren't interested in their students'. Unfortunately this is not the way it works. I put together a list of teachers that I would like to change and then send it to the central office, where they determine if they can afford to lay the teacher off. That's right, they get made redundant with a full payout for however many years they have been there. That means my teacher who doesn't care about his students would get a US$5,000 BONUS if we had to make him redundant. He is doing a bad job, I have it documented throughout the year with all his failings, and yet I still can't get rid of him. He can't be fired, no matter how badly he is doing her job, and he knows it. 

Given that my school doesn't always have the funds for paper or ink for printing, I guess I am stuck with him for another year, whereby his payout will be even larger when I try to get rid of him next year. Just another way that the Chilean system is broken.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Onwards and Upwards...

I am in love with my new job. I feel like I am helping people who need it and appreciate it. 

I am starting a marketing campaign to spread the word about our programme and how people here in Santiago can be a part of it. I will be distributing this letter to all my foreign friends, so I thought I would share it here too (and hopefully an update of my progress with time too....!)

Dear friends...

As most of you will already know I assumed the position of English coordinator in 3 schools at the start of June. I want to tell you a little more about the project and how you might be able to help.

The schools are part of a network of 8 subvencionado schools under the ownership of Canadilla. This means they receive money from the government and a small amount in the way of fees. The schools are situated in low socio-economic areas (Puente Alto, San Joaquin and San Miguel) and the typical student does not receive a lot of support from home. Many of the students come from difficult circumstances and this is reflected in their behaviour in the classroom and general attitude towards education. The schools that I work in are all technical schools, which have education from basic to high school level with many of the students specializing in a technical area (mechanics, electronics, secretarial, gastronomy, tourism) in their secondary years. While these schools also have the traditional humanity / science secondary education too, it is very rare for the students to continue on to university.

The project is to improve the level of English and motivation of the students to learn English throughout not only the school but also the wider community. For this we need help. We are under-resourced and short on time. There are up to 45 students in a class, with tired teachers who have been fighting the same system and teaching the same thing for 30 years. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either. These kids are really interested in foreigners and every time I enter a class they are asking where I’m from and why I am there. I teach a workshop of 16 year olds. The first class they mostly just looked at me slightly amused at my antics and continued with their conversations in Spanish. Now they arrive early, attempt to speak English in class and I have to kick them out of the classroom at the end. They sing, they dance, they speak English and they know that my classroom is a safe place.

If you have ever wondered what the reality of the Chilean school system is like, or why they are marching in the streets, I invite you to come and see my schools. You can come anytime and accompany one of the English teachers or myself. If this sounds like too much commitment I ask for only one day. In October we are running an English day in each of the three schools, and we want to get a big contingent of foreigners there. Spread the word. There will be a karaoke competition, music presentations, typical food, information about scholarships and study options, but most importantly foreigners. People who can provide insight into other cultures around the world, people who can inspire. These kids don’t think they are important, and we want to show them that every kid is important, and that the way out of their present reality is education.

A little positively goes a long way and costs us only our time. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping out, and feel free to pass this message on to others that might be willing to gift us some of their time.

Kind regards,
Karen Tait
English Coordinator

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New beginnings and big challenges

I began looking for some new challenges around the end of last year. Finally I decided to take the plunge and I have changed job. I loved my position with Grant's English, and institute I would recommend to anyone looking for work in Santiago, but in terms of professional development there were not too many avenues left to me. So I have changed positions, and quite frankly I feel like I have changed worlds.

I am now working as an English Coordinator in 3 semi-private schools in some of the lowest socio-economic neighbourhoods in Santiago. There have very few resources, enormous classes (up to 45 kids) and very little support from home. All three are technical highschools which include education from kindergarten to year 12, but with the senior years having the option of focussing on a technical profession (gastonomy, automotor, electrical, secretary, early childhood education or tourism). 

I am in charge of organising the English programmes in these schools, including teacher observations, teaching and promoting workshops with students and parents, and organising English events such as 'English day' which will take place in October. The level of English is so low in these schools that in the annual national examination which takes place in year 11 in one of the schools none of the students passed. Admittedly the ministry set an exam which was out of the league of most of the schools involved (there goal is an A2 level upon completing school), but to not even have one student able to achieve an A2 was astounding to me. In saying that, I have one or two teachers who may not yet be of an A2 level.

The event that more or less summed up my week happened on Thursday. I was going to teach a workshop to an unknown number of 15-18 year olds with a completely unknown level (though I was warned they would probably be low). I walked into the classroom which was a mess and looked around for a board marker, no board marker or eraser. I asked the kids and they laughed at me. I asked the teachers and they laughed at me. I asked the academic directors and they more or less laughed at me. So I went to the director who didn't laugh, but told me he could probably have a marker for me by next week. Teachers are issued one refillable board marker for the year, that's it. One board marker, 45 students per class, 10 classes per teacher. So I guess they are issued one board marker and 450 students for the year. Welcome to the reality of education in Chile Karen.

The good news, is that barring the students going on strike for most of the year as happened last year, I can't really see the situation getting any worse. I don't think that there is much room to do any damage, the only way is up! Wish me luck.....

Friday, March 30, 2012

There has been a big absence here, I know. I need more time!
Here is a wonderful summary of some of the talks from the IATEFL conference:
And here is the link to videos of many of the presentations:
With all of this to read and watch how am I ever going to find time to update my blog!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Digital tools

Here is a link to a summary of great digital tools that you can use in the classroom wirtten by Sandy Millin as a summary of #eltchat. Check it out - lots of great ideas!
Sandy Millin #eltchat summary of web tools

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learning from our Teachers

They say that a great teacher doesn’t teach you, they lead you to discover things yourself. I believe in this completely and have had luck to have had many great teachers in my life, not just in the classroom. They have each taught me something different, and the greatest lesson is not usually the one apparent on the page in front of me.

My first two teachers of influence were my primary school teachers. Mrs Dobbs and Mr Harding taught me to love learning, and to always be inquisitive about things. They taught me to find answers for myself and never be happy with mediocre. They demanded the best, and by setting standards high you can achieve high.

My Highland dancing teacher, Mrs Hawke, taught me that kindness is inspiring. Students want to please their teacher, and even more so when that teacher is someone that they admire and love. Likewise my second piano teacher taught me that praise, patience, and kindness motivate a love and passion for of an activity, whereas my first piano teacher taught me that negativity does not.

But one of the biggest influences in my life was my first swimming coach, Roly Crichton. He taught me to fight. At times I truly hated him. He used to set me impossible goals. We would do relays, but I didn’t have anyone else on my team and had to swim the whole thing myself, and the other team got a head start. He used to pit me against boys twice my size and tell me to beat them. He used to set me long sets on impossible times, used to tell me that even though that was the fastest I had ever swum it wasn’t fast enough. He used to make me race every event in a carnival just to toughen me up. He used to yell at me, and I used to yell back. It wasn’t polite, it was passion and frustration, and those things drove me to be better. And it worked. As long as I believed it was an impossible task I wanted to conquer it. Mostly because I knew that he believed I could do it, therefore it wasn’t impossible. And this has been a theme in my life ever since. Tell me something is impossible and I will try and find a way of doing it. He used to say that they might be bigger, stronger, more experienced, have trained for more years and hours in better conditions, but you are tougher. And when it comes down to it, there are two people, in the same pool of water, and the tougher person will win. And I didn’t think this was impossible, I believed it because he believed it. This strategy didn’t work with all the swimmers, but it did with me. Thanks to him I swam in competitions around the world, met amazing people, won medals in Europe and Australia, and discovered a love of other cultures and people that is still driving my movements now.

Somehow, today I am a teacher. I need to learn this lesson again, but in a different form. I need to find ways of inspiring this level of motivation in my students. This time around the pool of water is a bit bigger – I have every type of student imaginable, and all of them will be inspired through different forms. Somehow I have to tap into all these different forms and utilize these internal motivations to produce achievement and success. And this means learning all the lessons I learned before from a different perspective. Teaching really is about learning, and although some may say this is an impossible task, that just inspires me to find a way to overcome it.