Cognitive biases screw up everyone’s thinking. They make us more afraid of flying than driving. They stop the U.S. enacting universal health care. And they convinced Tony Blair and George W. Bush that the Iraq War was a great idea, even when we knew it wasn’t. In short, cognitive biases make us less logical, less rational and less efficient decision makers. All of this applies to teachers too. Here are five cognitive biases that screw up your thinking in the classroom and why they stop you from being a better teacher.
Your PowerPoint slides are a masterpiece, your materials are back from the printer’s and the opening speech you drafted would put Martin Luther King to shame. But wait a minute, is that good training?I don’t think it is. ‘Less is more’ in art, design and architecture, and I think that less can also be more in training. Here are five principles that will set you on your way to becoming a minimalist trainer.
We’ve all been in there before. Pieces of wood strewn across the floor. Packets of seemingly identical (but vitally different) nails encircle you. At the center of this carnage you sit with furniture assembly instructions on your lap which require the Rosetta Stone to decipher.
Is this also how our students feel in your class? Listening to instructions in a foreign language can be every bit as confusing as assembling those bookshelves. Next time you give instructions for an activity, G-I-V-E instructions.
Picture a class of six-year old’s learning English. What do you see? Dancing? Coloring in? Flashcard games? Face-to-face lessons are naturally kinesthetic, meaning more blood flow to students’ brains, more engagement, and more variety. Online ESL classes can be the opposite: fidgety students struggling to overcome the compulsion to move. As online English teachers, we need more movement in our online classes. Where to start? The 5 ‘i's.
“Please email us your training."
"What do you mean? How can I email you interactions, epiphanies, questions, reactions, reflections and learning?”
"Just send your PowerPoint deck".
When did people start to think that “PowerPoint” is a synonym for “training”? Do they think the “T” in “PPT” stands for “training”? Training is so much more than a series of slides, handouts and bullet points. If your new year’s resolutions included cutting down on fats, sugars or caffeine, here are five reasons to add PowerPoint to your list of things to avoid in the new year.
When I was a first-year teacher, my lesson plans looked like this.
Games were great at entertaining my classes. Much later I realized that some games were also great for learning English. The challenge was figuring out which games.
If you want your games to be more than a break between grammar drills and book work, check your games against “GAMES” (Group, Appropriate, Motivating, English, Skills).
Maybe you hate your school. Maybe you’re working undercover for a competitor. Maybe this is your next gig after hacking the American election. Whatever the reason, you’re in good company; there are a lot of people dedicated to destroying teacher development. Little has been written about the field of destroying teacher development (or “DTD” for short), so to make your work easier, I have compiled this list of the highly effective DTD techniques. Go forth and destroy!
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln (via Penny Ur),
You can teach some of the students all of the time, or all of the students some of the time. But you can’t teach all of the students all of the time.
Why not? Because most classes are mixed level. Some students learn faster than others, some write better than others, some are quieter than others. So the question we need to ask ourselves is…
How can we teach more of our students more of the time?
We can teach more of our students more of the time by making our mixed level classes “MIXED” (by using Materials, Instructions, eXpectations, Evaluation, Discipline).
Moses Chilufiya once said, “A school without teachers is like a ship without a sail.” Great teachers can set schools and students on a course for success, but finding great teachers is easier said than done. Do your new recruits have more in common with Alfie Vickers than Socrates? Here are three simple mistakes to avoid in teacher recruitment.
Hold it! Step away from the photocopier. Do you really need those extra materials for your next class? Are those handouts going to help your students learn or just clear a couple of inches of Brazilian rain forest? Before printing anything more, check your materials (or ‘mateRRRRials’) against the four ‘R’s (real life, relevance, reaction and recyclability) and make sure you and your students get the most out of them.
Can you remember some of the things you were “forced” to do when you were a child? Forced to wear a school uniform. Forced to go to the dentist. Forced to eat vegetables. Being forced to do things sucks. And yet every week we force teachers to attend training in the hope teachers can be forced to develop. They can't.
What do you think of when you hear the name Barak Obama? Some think race. Some think drone war. Some think health care. I like to think education. Here are my three favorite Obama quotes and what they mean for teachers.
When you see a police car in the rear-view mirror, do you drive more cautiously? Do you work later when your boss is staying after hours? Researchers call this behavior “the Hawthorne Effect.” And, it affects your ESL classroom more than you think.
In 1998 the United Nations decided that it was going to eradicate drugs from planet earth by 2008. This project was doomed to failure from the start. Human beings have been getting high since prehistoric times. How could the UN ever obliterate in 10 years something which has been in used for 10,000 years? Instead of removing narcotics from society, the war on drugs created public health crises, mass incarceration and violence. Counties are now trailing alternative approaches - Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and drug use hasn’t increased there since. In many TEFL classrooms a similarly futile war is being waged. I call it the “war on L1” (L1 = students’ first language).
Yesterday, I was Cc’d in an email. My coworker, Annie, (who handles all the online payments in our department) emailed our mutual boss, Gary. The email read,
“Hi Gary, Ross is asking me to pay the website fee for 149.95USD, but the bank is asking for a verification code to complete the payment. What should I do? Thanks, Annie”
I read this and thought, ‘what a bitch....
How many of us start lessons by asking students to put their mobile phones away? Probably too many. The vast majority of our students come to class with a computer more powerful than all of NASA had in 1969. NASA used their technology to put men on the moon with a rocket. Our students use their technology to fight zombies with plants. Doesn’t that sound like a waste?
Listen. You can’t hear learning taking place, can you? You can’t hear the cogs in students’ brains turning as they try to get their heads round a new language concept, can you? You can’t hear the humming of a learner’s’ brain as they internalize a new word, can you? Well, I think you can. The best classes I’ve ever observed and taught all had this sound in abundance. You’ve heard this sound before. You know what it sounds like. What’s the sound?
At some point in the past, we decided on a “native speaker” model of English. We recruited millions of “native speakers” as teachers. We recorded and played thousands of “listening's” featuring other “native speakers”. And we forgot about all the other English accents in the world. Now, we have millions of students who can understand American English and British English. But what about the other Englishes?