Sunday, March 16, 2014

TESOL Greece Plenary - David Bradshaw "Motivation in the 21st CenturyClassroom"

The final plenary of the convention is continuing the idea of learning and motivation as it is affected by 21st century issues. 

David begins by clearing the air and stating that his talk is not going to focus on technology nor will it answer the question of motivation which he says is a complicated question to answer. 

He also begins by pointing out that he will refer to negative habits of teachers but he means no personal attacks to the members of the audience. He wants to simply suggest a few changes to make modifications to what we're doing already. 

David outlines his talk as one that will cover personalization, visualization and localization, with a focus on engagement. 

He addresses the fact that our students have an impression of learning English as happening in any context but school. He has the participants discuss what we expect our students to think of when finishing the phrase "school is...". 

Some suggestions "boring", "where I see my friends", "prison", "a means to an end" (for the straight A student). What it's not is "hey this is where I learn English". 

Obviously this is frustrating for us as teachers. Our students are not thinking of all the things we do to help them learn, it's all under the radar and, yes, boring. 

This is where personalization comes into play, even in an ideal class with all students raising hands to answer a question, the knowledge is still coming from the teacher and the students may (or may not) be disengaged from the actual course. 

His first adjustment suggested is for teachers to move away from standing at the front and doling out knowledge, but rather have then turn to each other and draw knowledge from each other - collaborative/cooperative learning. 

He defines cooperative learning as putting students in groups, and assigning tasks where they are responsible for the final product as well as the process of developing their lesson. Additionally, students in these interaction patterns also develop the soft social skills of sharing, cooperating, compromising, and so on. 

He describes the difference between a student centered and a teacher centered classroom where in the former, the teacher is best used as a resource rather than a source questions with right or wrong answers which is too often the case in the latter. Pairwork, collaboration and project work allows for safer use of language which avoids the negative conditioning of being that kid that always gets called on and has the wrong answer.

He moves on to discuss the graph describing that we learn differently depending on the way we engage the material, which allows us to go deeper by making learning relevant to our students. 

He talks about how little things like intentionally using examples that are relevant to their interests (One Direction) or using example sentences that spark their interest ("The farmer was shot by the rabbit", make it active voice). Suddenly you have their attention. 

The shock value of freezing a projector, typing in google images or YouTube and bring it back just when it's ready to show then. The small element of surprise will bring them into the context that you wanted them focusing on. 

For giving homework, small changes such as "watch this YouTube video and think of 3 adjectives before next class" or "find a song that contains (insert grammar structure here) and bring it in next week" can make all the difference when it comes to engagement and personalization. It is no longer a mindless task but an opportunity for the learners to bridge their schoolwork to their interests. Another suggested task is asking students to think of a song that means something to them, and before playing the song tell the class why it's relevant to them. 

Next, David moves onto visualization. He begins this theme with a task for the participants. In pairs we are asked to look for difference in a pair of images, but in a Ping Pong type interaction. A tells B one difference, B spots another difference to tell A, back and forth. 

We take turns pointing out gender segregation, new technology, absence of hats, absence of surgical masks, etc. The Ping Pong interaction keeps us engaged because we must respond. 

He moves on to discuss the problem with current technologies and development. 

There is a focus on the negative effects of a culture where tablets and smartphones are ever present and we no longer look at faces and people but rather stare at screens. Apparently kids and teens now have overdeveloped thumbs from these devices. This particular point is awkward for me as I frantically type with my two "overdeveloped" thumbs to write this post from my iPhone). 😳

We move onto the lack of authentic interactions with modern day uses of texting in lieu of face to face or even spoke phone interactions. 

David's answer to this is that we must face the inevitability of our learners sticking to screens and videos and takes an "of you can't best them, join them" mentality. He gives a set of resources of ready made current video lessons that are regularly updated at the following sites:

Films, current events, tv and other authentic sources are exploited on all these sites. 

However, David proposes that we go further and exploit the fact that our screenagers are also making videos as well as watching them. Developing projects for them to use these technologies. Assigning video interviews, short creative films, redubbing films, etc in class. 

Lastly David moves on to localization. He refers back to personalization where our goal is to make texts relevant to our learners. He addresses the fact that published course books need to be somewhat generic and international to appeal to a world market, but unfortunately does not help drive student engagement. 

He gives the above example of an older English course book designed for the Japanese market that does not fit the culture.

Worse still, he gives the example of linguistic imperialism in the form of the above image where the image on the left may well find itself in a classroom on the right. The impression students in this context take away is total alienation from the context and thus alienation from the language. 

Having personally spent 2 years working in exactly the context on the right (I was a Peace Corps Volunteer Teacher in Guinea and Liberia, West Africa in small rural village schools), I can attest that the cultural difference is in fact an important disengaging factor. At the same time I have to cast doubt on the likelihood that ANY course would be present in the latter context. At least any course book that isn't falling apart from mildew, mold or moth-eaten pages, having been donated "to Africa" from some western public library unloading useless out of date materials in a way that makes them look globally aware. (End of my rant, sorry)

As a final note, David connects these ideas of new technologies and social networking revolutionizing the way that we relate not just with students but also with other teachers. 

He describes the current state of teaching in the 21st century as a giant staffroom with our ideas shared on Facebook, Twitter, and many others...

He hopes to see us all contributing and invites us to connect with him at the sources below. Thank you David, I look forward to it!


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I hope it was useful.

    1. Thank you David, it was a fantastic talk, thank you so much, especially for including the take-away ideas peppered in throughout. A fantastic way to apply the ideas in your plenary. I just hope my paraphrased version didn't go astray.