Reading teaching in schools can kill a love for books


Ryan Spencer, University of Canberra

Reading instruction in the classroom is a key concern for all teachers and there are many ways to go about it. However, is our determination to achieve excellence in reading skills in our children killing their love and enjoyment of a good book?

In my work with parents, I am frequently asked the best ways to encourage and motivate reluctant readers to be engaged with books. Parents report that their children return home from school with no inclination to pick up a book and read.

Any avid reader will gladly talk about the joy of curling up with a good book to read away the hours on a cold, rainy afternoon. Reading a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We need to share these experiences with our children and adolescents in order to assist them in developing into strong and capable readers.

How widespread is this concern about the destruction of reading enjoyment?

As I have written previously, the use of boring, mass-produced home reading texts in children’s early years at school can be seen as the beginning of this negative cycle.

As children progress through their schooling life, there are many other instances of learning reading skills that don’t help to celebrate or foster reading development. As NAPLAN tells us, getting the reading skills required simply to access these assessments isn’t always an enjoyable experience for students. Frequently, teachers feel the pressure to give their students “just enough” in terms of reading strategies to be able to access the test, which leaves little time to focus on reading for pleasure.

Kelly Gallagher, a high school teacher from the United States, outlines the term “Readicide” in his book by the same name. He says it’s:

the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

It is clear that the destruction of reading for pleasure is not contained to US schools. When introducing my first-year pre-service teachers to the amazing collection of literature by Australian author Shaun Tan, audible gasps of displeasure are frequently found.

Kids should know this about books.
demotivation.us, CC BY

The Lost Thing is a multilayered visual text recommended by the NSW Board of Studies for students in years seven through to ten. Students recount their experiences of weeks spent analysing the key themes, ideas, imagery and concepts within the pages of this text.

The Lost Thing is an excellent example that illustrates all of these concepts; however, students comment that the length of time studying and analysing different components discourages them from looking at it or anything similar again.

Recent research also indicates that many pre-service teachers are inclined to follow the traditional literacy practices that they have experienced in their own education, which can often have negative connotations for their future students.

While teaching children and adolescents key concepts for analysing and evaluating texts is important, the manner in which it is done and time that is spent on this can lead to disengagement.

As Donalyn Miller notes in her book Reading in the Wild, schools aren’t to blame when it comes to not arresting students’ lack of interest in reading, but they have an important role to play in fostering reading enjoyment.

How do we encourage our children to read for pleasure?

Children (and adolescents, and adults) need to know that it is okay to read whatever they want, when they have the opportunity to do so. Giving children the chance to read whatever they like when shopping at the bookshop is a great place to start. If you are picking up a book to take home to your child as a gift, purchase a few, so they can choose something that interests them.

When parents are avid readers and actively talk about books with their children, they are establishing a climate at home where books are valued. Discussing your favourite books and parts of books with your children can lead to the discovery of new reading material about shared interests.

When your children bring home required reading, whether it be home readers or a set text for class, make sure that this isn’t the only reading they do. Provide incentives for your child to want to return to books of their own choice, in order to foster their interest in reading.

By helping our children and adolescents recognise the need for reading practice at school and the joys of reading for pleasure at school and home, we are giving them the best possible opportunity to develop the skills that they will need to be literate, passionate readers.

The Conversation

Ryan Spencer, Clinical Teaching Specialist; Lecturer in Literacy Education, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

An education for the 21st century means teaching coding in schools


image-20150520-30551-1gphxk7

Leon Sterling, Swinburne University of Technology

Bill Shorten’s recent announcement that, if elected, a Labor Government would “ensure that computer coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia” has brought attention to an increasing world trend.

Estonia introduced coding in primary schools in 2012 and the UK followed suit last year. US-led initiatives such as Code.org and the “Hour of Code”, supported by organisations such as Google and Microsoft, advocate that every school student should have the opportunity to learn computer coding.

There is merit in school students learning coding. We live in a digital world where computer programs underlie everything from business, marketing, aviation, science and medicine, to name several disciplines. During a recent presentation at a radio station, one of our hosts said that IT would have been better background for his career in radio than journalism.

There is also a strong case to be made that Australia’s future prosperity will depend on delivering advanced services and digital technology, and that programming will be essential to this end. Computer programs and software are known to be a strong driver of productivity improvements in many fields.

Being introduced to coding gives students an appreciation of what can be built with technology. We are surrounded by devices controlled by computers. Understanding how they work, and imagining new devices and services, are enhanced by understanding coding.

Of course, not everyone taught coding will become a coder or have a career in information technology. Art is taught in schools with no expectation that the students should become artists.

Drag and drop

A computer program is effectively a means of automating processes. Programs systematically and reliably follow processes and can be used to exhaustively try all the possibilities.

The languages used to program computers have evolved in the 70 years we have been building computers. Interfaces and programming environments have become more natural and intuitive. Language features reflect the applications they’re used for.

What is needed to easily express a business process, scientific equation, or data analysis technique is not necessarily the same as what is needed to rapidly develop a video game.

However, throughout the evolution of programming languages, the fundamental principles have remained the same. Computer programming languages express three essential things:

  1. The order in which a sequence of instructions is performed
  2. A means of repeating a sequence of instructions a prescribed number of times
  3. And tests as to whether or not a sequence of instructions is performed.

While personal preference influences which computer language a programmer uses, there is a greater understanding of which languages work well for teaching introductory programming. For example, Scratch is popular for primary school students and is quick to learn. Alice has been used to help students quickly build computer animations. Python is increasingly used for scientific applications. Visual programming languages – where students can drag-and-drop icons rather than type code – allow for rapid development of simple programs.

At Swinburne University of Technology we run workshops to introduce school students to program NAO robots. Students use the Choregraphe environment to link robot actions from a library.

Students previously unused to programming can develop interesting robot projects in a couple of days. More sophisticated development of the robot requires students to use a more detail-oriented language, such as Python or C++. The simpler options lead to positive student experience.

The Nao robot can be programmed easily to perform a range of tasks.
Brett Davis/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Computational thinking

Writing and then executing a program gives immediate feedback as to whether you have correctly expressed instructions for the computer. Ultimately, the understanding of how to express concepts so that a computer can perform tasks accurately and efficiently is far more important than the details of the programming language.

Underlying all computer programs are algorithms, which specify in a more abstract way how a task is to be done. Algorithmic thinking – also called computational thinking – underlies computer science, and there has been a growing movement on algorithmic thinking in schools.

The new national curriculum reflects algorithmic processes, and materials are being developed to help teachers with the new curriculum. Victoria has recently developed a new subject for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) entitled Algorithmics.
There are even materials for teaching algorithmic thinking without computers. The Computer Science Unplugged movement, led by Tim Bell and colleagues at the University of Canterbury, has developed resources that teach students concepts through movement and fun activities.

Teaching for the this century

Teaching computer coding in schools is very different from initiatives that advocate for computers in the classroom. I was not, and am still not, supportive of compulsory laptop programs in schools.

The idea is not necessarily to expose students to the technology itself, which is almost inevitable these days with the wide penetration of mobile phones. Rather, students are exposed to the skills needed to develop computer applications.

While IT skill shortages is a contentious topic, there is no doubt that not enough of the best and brightest are studying computer science at university. A significant factor is insufficient exposure to the topic at schools. Teaching coding at schools is aimed at addressing the lack.

It might be said that whatever programming language is taught will be obsolete by the time the students enter the workforce. My experience is that, if taught properly, students can rapidly transfer the principles of one language to another.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the challenge was to understand the physical world, and harness force and energy. This understanding percolated into the school curriculum. In the 21st century, the challenge is to understand and harness data, information and knowledge. Computer programming is a necessary way of introducing students to these concepts.

The Conversation

Leon Sterling, Pro Vice Chancellor Digital Frontiers, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Learning a language? Sleep on it and you’ll get the grammar


Kathy Rastle, Royal Holloway and Jakke Tamminen, Royal Holloway

In 2006, former US president George Bush supported his embattled defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the words: “But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.” This quotation quickly entered the folklore of political humour. But to psychology researchers, it revealed something fundamental about human language.

At that time, most Americans had not encountered the word decider. While this is a common word in some parts of the world, it refers to the part of a game that determines the winner. So how did people understand what it meant? They understood it because across all of the words that people know, the suffix –er often transforms a verb into a person (as in teacher, builder, dancer). Thus, a decider must be someone who decides.

The ability to extract general principles from a small number of examples is fundamental to language and literacy. In teaching children how to read, teachers introduce sets of words like chin, church, chest, chess, chop, to convey information about how to pronounce particular letters. This general knowledge might then be applied to new words like chick. In later years of primary school, children develop general knowledge about the functions of affixes. Through exposure to relevant sets of words like uncertain, unknown, unhappy, children become able to use affixes like -un in new contexts.

What’s a dunklomb?

In new research published in the journal Cognitive Psychology, we investigated the brain processes responsible for acquiring this type of general knowledge. We trained adults on a fictitious language, in which groups of individual words were bound together by a rule that was not disclosed to participants. For example, participants learned:

• a clinglomb is a small device used by cat burglars to cling to skyscrapers

• a dunklomb is the gadget used by royalty to dunk biscuits in tea politely

• a skimlomb is a professional tool which is used to skim cream off milk

• a weighlomb is the official scale used to weigh boxers before an important match

Our interest was not whether people could learn the individual words, but whether they could uncover the rule – in this case, the function of –lomb. We tested this by examining people’s understanding of untrained words like teachlomb when they were presented in sentences.

The remarkable power of sleep

Our key finding was that participants could apply their understanding of the rule (that –lomb refers to some kind of tool) to untrained words such as teachlomb. But this was the case only if participants were tested some days after training. Participants showed no such ability immediately after training.

In later experiments, we mixed words that conformed to the rule with examples of words that violated it – for example, that a mournlomb is “the cost of organising a wake to mourn a loved one”. This word is an exception because -lomb is supposed to refer to a tool. Crucially, the introduction of exceptions abolished people’s learning of the rule being taught. However, people did learn the rule if we inserted a period of overnight sleep between training on the rule-based examples and the exceptions.

Our findings fit neatly into dual-mechanism theories of memory. These theories argue that rapid learning of individual episodes is followed by a slower process of integrating that knowledge into long-term memory. The claim is that these processes rely on different brain structures optimised for fast and slow learning. Critically, these theories suggest that sleep may be a necessary component of the second, slower process.

Research in adults and children has shown that the brain continues to process new memories during sleep, allowing them to become stronger, more resistant to interference – and better integrated with existing knowledge. Our findings advance these theories by showing that sleep may also be necessary for discovering regular patterns across individual episodes and encoding these in the brain.

Helping children understand patterns

A way through the gobbledigook.

This research has clear messages for the teaching of language and literacy. Our work suggests that if teachers want to convey some general linguistic principle, then they must structure the information in a way that promotes learning. If a teacher is trying to illustrate use of the suffix –ing, for example, then presenting a child with a spelling list including the words standing, jumping, swimming, kicking, dancing, talking, nothing would be unlikely to facilitate learning.

For one, the letters –ing do not function as a suffix in the word nothing (noth is not a verb). And although the spelling alterations present in swimming and dancing are highly systematic, these items appear to be exceptions in the list presented. Our research suggests that lists that include such exceptions may disrupt a child’s learning of the pattern.

Most generally, our work adds to a growing body of research implicating overnight sleep in aspects of language learning. It suggests that key aspects of learning arise after classroom instruction – and thus reinforces the importance of proper sleep behaviour in children.

Kathy Rastle is Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Royal Holloway and Jakke Tamminen is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Royal Holloway

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Raising a bilingual child: The top five myths


bilingual-baby

Myths about raising a child with more than one language abound. Sometimes parents are discouraged from doing so. They’re told it can lead to confusion and speech delays, or that they’ve missed the window of opportunity.

For many parents, bilingualism is a sign of intelligence, and also gives children an advantage in their studies or future career opportunities. Research has shown that being bilingual can have other cognitive advantages as well, which is making many parents jump on the bilingual bandwagon.

But it wasn’t too long ago that many educators had misgivings about raising children in a bilingual or multilingual household. As a result, many families, especially immigrants, were encouraged to only use one language at home, as to not cause confusion and speech delays for children. Many parents living and working abroad also become discouraged when their children don’t speak to them in their native language any more, and give up completely.

So what is really going on? What is the final word on raising your kids to be bilingual?

Here are the most common myths – and the real story behind raising a child to be bilingual.

1. Growing up with more than one language confuses children.

This is by far the most prevalent of all the misconceptions. Some parents think that if a child is exposed to two languages at the same time, he might become confused and not be able to differentiate between them.

“From just days after birth, all infants can tell the difference between many languages,” says Barbara Zurer Pearson, author of Raising a Bilingual Child. She says this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other – as different, for example, as French and Arabic.

“At that young age, infants generally still have trouble telling two very similar languages apart, like English from Dutch. But by about 6 months of age, they can do that too,” she says.

The confusion myth is probably the result of older research that looked at poorly designed studies and drew the conclusion that early exposure to two languages put children at a disadvantage. This research prompted educators to push immigrant parents to drop their heritage language and emphasize proficiency in English.

2. Raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays.

Some children raised bilingual do take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. The delay is temporary, however, and according to experts, it’s not a general rule.

Unfortunately, parents who raise concerns about the speech development of their bilingual child are often told to stick to one language. This happens because in the past, bilingualism was considered the culprit in problems with language development.

“Research indicates that bilingualism does not cause delays in either speech or language acquisition,” says Ellen Stubbe Kester, president of Bilinguistics, which offers bilingual speech-language services in Austin, Texas.

Even if your child has already been diagnosed with some kind of speech delay, raising him bilingual won’t make his speech any more delayed.

“Studies have found that children with language delays who are in dual language environments gain language at the same rate as those in monolingual environments,” says Kester.

3. Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages.

Mixing languages is both inevitable and harmless. But to some unfamiliar with bilingualism, it’s proof that the child can’t really tell the languages apart.

Most children who are raised bilingual do resort to mixing as they sort out both languages. In addition, one of the languages often has a stronger influence on the child than the other. Kids who have a smaller vocabulary in the minority language may draw on words from the majority language as needed.

Experts agree that mixing is temporary. Eventually, it goes away as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages and he has more exposure to each one.

In actuality, bilingual speakers of all ages mix their languages (also known as code-switching). A perfect example is the widespread use of Spanglish (mixing English and Spanish) by Latinos in the United States.

“Sometimes people do it because they don’t know a word they need in the language they’re speaking,” says Pearson. “Some people mix on purpose because they like the word or phrase in the other language better.”

Children model what they see and hear, so if your child lives in an environment in which mixing languages is the norm, expecting him not to do so is unrealistic.

4. It’s too late to raise your child bilingual.

It’s never too late – or too early – to introduce your child to a second language.

“Learning a second language is easier for children under 10, and even easier for children under 5, compared with the much greater effort it takes adults,” says Pearson.

The optimal time, according to experts, seems to be from birth to 3 years – exactly when a child is learning his first language, and his mind is still open and flexible.

The next best time for learning a second language appears to be when kids are between 4 and 7 years old, because they can still process multiple languages on parallel paths. In other words, they build a second language system alongside the first and learn to speak both languages like a native.

If your child is older than 7 and you’ve been thinking about raising him bilingual, it’s still not too late. The third best time for learning a second language is from about age 8 to puberty. After puberty, studies show, new languages are stored in a separate area of the brain, so children have to translate or go through their native language as a path to the new language.

“We hear so much about the special ‘window of opportunity’ for young children to learn two languages that it can be discouraging to the older child,” says Pearson. “It’s true that it’s easier to start earlier, but people can learn a second language even after the window has closed.”

5. Children are like sponges, and they’ll become bilingual without effort and in no time.

Although it’s easier for children to learn a new language the earlier they’re exposed to it, even then it doesn’t happen by osmosis. It’s unrealistic to expect your child to learn Spanish by watching countless episodes of Dora the Explorer on television.

Learning a language doesn’t have to be a chore. But introducing a second language to your children does require some kind of structure and, most important, consistency, whether it’s through day-to-day conversation or formal instruction. The idea is to expose them to language learning in meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life.

Get ideas and strategies for raising a bilingual child in Raising a bilingual child: Fun, music, and games.

Were you raised in a bilingual environment, or are you raising your children to be bilingual?

Have you heard these myths from teachers or friends?

Do you think being bilingual is difficult for children?

We love to read your comments below!

This was written by Bilingual freelance journalist Roxana A. Soto who is the co-founder and co-editor of SpanglishBaby, a website for parents raising bilingual and bicultural children.

How is technology changing Language Teaching?


We asked Simon Brewster, Deputy Director General at The Anglo Mexican Foundation, his views on the way that technology is changing the way we teach languages…

As far as technology is concerned, there are obvious advantages for learners in terms of access to information, greater communicability and the reality of learning outside the classroom.

Where I think we need to be careful is in not assuming that technology somehow replaces the need for good teaching. It is in the end another tool at our disposal but you can still have a bad class even with technology.

I am also not convinced that the use of online courses and whiteboards is any more effective in terms of learning than using more traditional tools. No-one has been able to provide any evidence that they are. If it is true that you can learn a language using different approaches and methodologies, I think it is also true that you can learn a language with a fairly minimal amount of material and equipment.

I would say that good teaching affects learning much more than the technology available. I went to an interesting talk which contrasted e-centric teachers with t-(as in teaching) centric teachers which made the same point.

It is also not the case that everyone has access to technology. Mexico has 80 million cell phones but relatively few people have access to the most sophisticated technology outside the more privileged groups.

In the case of formal education, our pupils cannot take cell phones into class for obvious reasons. A lot of technology they use is for socializing not study or reading: facebook, twitter, text messaging etc.

Where I do see technology having a significant impact is in areas such as intranets which connect students, teachers and parents, access to Internet for research purposes and support from websites for everything from making a poster to producing video and the fact that technology makes everything much faster.

For our students in the language teaching centres, as opposed to schools, we are focusing on getting teachers to encourage students to use existing components such as CD-Roms and course related websites at the same time as we develop a support website for students to consult as a value added element to their courses. We will do this at low cost including elements that are available at low or no cost.

I have to mention that aside from cost issues – a whiteboard comes in at around US$300 – there are big security issues with technology for schools as well as related questions of cyber bullying. We have experienced problems in both of these areas and are now very active in raising awareness in pupils about the risks of social networking online.

By Simon Brewster

The Anglo Mexican Foundation

www.tamf.org.mx

Do you share Simon’s experiences? Please let us know your thoughts…

What is Blended Learning?


Firstly, lets make it clear that currently, there is no consensus on a single agreed-upon definition for blended learning. However in ELT it often refers to ‘the combination of diverse delivery channels and teaching tools as part of course design’ (from ELT World Wiki).

Blended Learning usually involves a combination of classroom learning, online learning and/or mobile learning. The degree of integration of these components depends on the course design .

So, what are the benefits?

An article by Mobl21 states that  a blended learning course’s aim (from a pedagogical perspective), is to combine the best of classroom face-to-face learning with online learning experiences, enabling:
  • An opportunity for students to practise technology skills in navigating online course materials and possibility creating digital content for assignments.
  • An increase in student-instructor and student-student interaction through the use of course-communication tools like, discussion forums.
  • The ability to reserve face-to-face time for interactive activities, such as higher-level discussions, small group work, debates, demonstrations, or lab activities.

From a student perspective, the appeal of blended learning includes:

  • Flexibility of schedule: learn any time, anywhere.
  • Control: students have some level of control over the pacing of their learning. Difficult concepts can be reviewed as often as necessary.
  • Convenience of an online class with many of the social aspects of a face-to-face class.

Blended learning gives learners and teachers a potential environment to achieve more, through a greater reach and accessibility of educational material.

Ok, so how do I start using it?

There are many blended learning courses for ELT already available, so unless you are planning to develop your own, all you need to do is choose one! Find out how you can use blended learning with specific publishers by following these links:

Richmond Digital

Macmillan Digital

Oxford University Press Digital

You may also find these links useful:

BEBC Digital ELT Resource Glossary

British Council Blended Learning

Blended MEC

Or you can give us a call on +44 (0)333 800 1900 to find out what digital components are available for the course you’re using!