Understanding the Process of Learning through the Conscious Competence Model

A guest post by Silvia Woolard

Teachers keep exploring different methods of learning. Not only because they are life-long learners, but also because the best learning methods lead to the ultimate teaching methods.

Today, we’re going to explore a model we’ve all relied on in one way or another. Still, most of us are not even aware of the theory behind that practice, and we haven’t been implementing all stages properly. I’m talking about the conscious competence model, AKA the conscious competence matrix or the conscious competence ladder.

Let’s set terminology aside and focus on what’s really important: how can this model help you become a better teacher?

It all starts with understanding.

Understanding the Conscious Competence Model of Learning

Whenever we’re into the process of learning new skills, we go through different emotions at various stages of the journey.

If, for example, you’re trying to teach your students how to write research papers, they might underestimate the challenge at first. They think it’s enough to go through a few resources and sum up their findings. When they realize what a great research paper should look like, their emotions shift. They get overwhelmed and disheartened. Most of them would love to give up at this stage. They will complain about not having enough time, not having enough experience, and not having enough skills.

If you understand the conscious competence model, you’ll be able to encourage positive emotions and help the students get out of the negative mindset.

This model, initially founded as “four stages of teaching” was established by Martin M. Broadwell back in 1969. Later on, Noel Burch from Gordon Training International developed the theory known as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill.”                   

These are the four stages of learning a skill:

1. Unconscious Incompetence

At this point, the students are unskilled, but they are not aware of that fact. Just like when you present them with a new assignment and they assume it’s easy. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they don’t have a skill.

If you let them stay in this stage, the results won’t be pretty. They will simply assume they can do it in a day, just like they do with their usual homework assignment. So they will procrastinate and they will fail to deliver.

That’s why you need to move them out of this level. You’ll do that by showcasing the true nature of the challenge and introducing them closely to the type of work they need to do.

How do you do that?

  • Ask specific questions about their skills. If it’s a writing project, for example, ask if they have written something similar before. If it’s a social service project, ask them if they are aware of its goals and challenges.
  • Set objectives! Whenever you push your students to learn new skills, you have to introduce some expectations within a timeline. How will you measure those skills? When will you do that? This shouldn’t scare them away. You should set objectives as incentives that will push them to the next stage of the conscious competence model.

2. Conscious Incompetence

By this stage, the students realize they have to make an effort in order to learn a skill. If we continue with the research paper example, they realize that it will take way more time and way more research than they initially assumed.

This stage will be demoralizing for many of your students. They will lack the motivation to proceed. That’s why you have to push them forward.

  • Rely on affirmations. “No one was born skillful. Everyone can learn! There’s plenty of time by the deadline, so you can do it if you start today. You can do it!” When you approach the process with such a positive attitude, you’ll inspire your students to get out of this stage.
  • Develop a progressive schedule. A goal such as “write a research paper” seems overwhelming. If you break it up in smaller goals, it suddenly seems more achievable. For example, they can start by going through five resources that you’ll provide them. They will take notes. Then, they will extract the most important information. Then, they will develop an outline. These smaller goals are not that overwhelming.

3. Conscious Competence

At the conscious competence stage, the learner realizes they have the skills and knowledge needed for achieving particular goals. As they continue on the journey, they keep gaining more self-confidence.

It’s not the final stage, though. You want to keep your students moving forward!

  • Keep them focused on the progress. Remind them how they started and make them aware of the point they are currently at. Progress is a never-ending process, so you should keep pushing them to get better.
  • Give them opportunities to use the newly-acquired skills. If they wrote a research paper, the implementation of their research and writing skills doesn’t end there. Inspire them to start their own blogs and work on their own research.

4. Unconscious Competence            

At this stage, the students are able to use the new skills without making serious conscious efforts. These skills become part of who they are.

This is the stage when the students need to push themselves towards growth. How can they use this skill to build a successful career? Maybe they can use it for a personal project? Maybe it will be the starting point of the higher education journey? Many people become teachers when they reach this stage. They have skills and knowledge that they are ready to pass on to others.

From Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence – The Journey to Success

When you understand the emotional conflicts that your students face in different stages of the learning process, you’ll be able to take proper actions to motivate them.

There’s a lot of theory involved in this model, but its practical implementations are immense. You’ve probably noticed these stages before, but maybe you weren’t fully aware of them. Now that you are, it’s time to bring the theory to practice.

My Bio:

Silvia Woolard is a young passionate writer at Superior Papers from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes and works in a field of popular psychology. Feel free to contact Silvia at Twitter.  

The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leave School At School: Work Less, Live More, Teach Better. It’s available in both Kindle and print forms on Amazon.

I eat in the teachers’ lounge, and almost every day someone brings in one of those Lean Cuisine frozen lunches and pops it in the microwave.  You can trace the origins of such convenience foods to the years following World War II. The military had developed MREs and other foods meant to withstand long periods of storage and allow for easy preparation on the battlefield. After the war, several commercial food companies had leftover manufacturing facilities, so some of them created new freeze-dried and canned food products for domestic use. They pumped out boxes of fish sticks, canned peaches, and even ill-fated cheeseburgers-in-a-can. Jell-o introduced new dessert flavors throughout the 1950s. Sales soared.

With so many new products to sell, advertisements swept across the amber waves and purple mountains, reminding Americans again and again how busy they were, how hectic their days had become, and how desperately they needed quick meals. “If you’re a typical modern housewife, you want to do your cooking as fast as possible,” wrote a columnist at Household magazine who was promoting instant coffee and canned onion soup. Kellogg’s even created cereal that could be served faster. Their ads claimed that busy moms loved their presweetened Corn Pops. Because who had time for the laborious task of sprinkling on a spoonful of sugar?

TV dinners. Minute rice. Instant potatoes. “Hot breads—in a jiffy!” All were peddled to harried housewives who just didn’t have enough hours in the day to cook like their mothers had. “It’s just 1-2-3, and dinner’s on the table,” exclaimed an article in Better Homes & Gardens. “That’s how speedy the fixing can be when the hub of your meal is delicious canned meat.” [1]

But the faster the cooking, the less it felt like real cooking and the greater the potential for guilt on the part of the homemaker. That was the problem with instant cake mix. Intended to save busy housewives time by simply adding water to a mix, stirring, and popping in the oven, instant cake mix seemed like a fantastic idea. But sales fizzled after a few years. It turned out that TV dinners or the kids’ cereal were one thing, but a cake — well, that was another matter. Any homemaker worth her salt wouldn’t make a generic cake from a box that couldn’t be distinguished from a cake baked by the guests she was serving it to.

When marketers dove in to uncover what went wrong with cake mix, they discovered that it was too easy. The solution was simple: Have the baker add an egg. Once the powdered egg was removed from the mix, sales recovered and instant cake mixes became a mainstay in nearly every home in America. By adding one step to the mixing process, homemakers felt they were really baking again.

The cake mix lesson has since been repeated many times over. Build-a-Bear sends you the raw materials and the directions, but it’s up to you to actually build the bear. Cooks at “patron-prepared” restaurants like Mongolian Barbecue will cook the food for you, but only after you select the ingredients. City-dwellers take “Haycations,” where they pay farmers to do their work for them. And of course, there’s IKEA, which sells furniture at a discount because buyers have to build their own bookcases, cabinets, and tables. In each of these instances, people seem to place more value on items to which they have contributed some labor.

With this in mind, three psychologists, Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, conducted a series of studies to find out whether consumers would, in fact, pay more money for products they themselves assembled. The research consisted of three different experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers found that participants were willing to pay 63% more for furniture they had built over furniture that came pre-assembled.

In the second experiment, Norton, Mochon, and Ariely asked subjects to make origami frogs or cranes. They then asked the subjects how much they were willing to pay for their own work. Following this, researchers gathered another group of volunteers who had not created any origami. These new subjects were asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by the participants. Then the researchers asked how much they were willing to pay for origami built by an expert. These people, who had no personal connection to the creations, were willing to pay more for the expert’s products, which is exactly what one would expect. The participants who had made the origami frogs and cranes were then shown a display of origami that consisted of one set they had built themselves and one set that had been built by the experts. They were asked to bid on the different origami. The builders perceived the origami they had created as being of equal quality to those created by the pros.

The results of these studies suggest that when people construct a particular product, even if they do a cruddy job of it, they will value it more than if they had not put any effort into its creation.

Participants, wrote Norton and colleagues, “saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.”

The psychologists dubbed this the IKEA effect.

Two Problems For Teachers

There are two problems the IKEA effect creates for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not nearly as good as you think it is. Your rubric is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. Same goes for everything else you’ve created. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The second lesson is that there is a cost to spending time creating stuff. If you spend an hour making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend that hour doing other things. You could have used the time on something that will make a difference for your students. You could have spent it doing an activity you enjoy. You could have even taken a nap during that hour and gone to work the next day better rested. The science is harsh but clear: If you’re a teacher who creates his own materials, you’re wasting your most precious resource making stuff that isn’t very good, in spite of the fact that you can find better resources with a few clicks of your mouse, or even more simply, by opening your teacher’s guide.

For the teacher looking to improve his effectiveness while spending less time working, the IKEA effect gives you permission to stop making stuff and steal (or purchase) from others.

——–

[1] Shapiro, Laura. Something from the oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America. Penguin Books, 2005.

Not Every Lesson is a Lexus

It’s the holiday season, which means you’ve no doubt been reminded about Lexus’s “December to Remember” sales event. The commercials have become as much of a holiday tradition as decorating trees, lighting menorahs, and racking up consumer debt.

I am sure it’s nice to own a Lexus. They seem like very fine automobiles. You can get one with steering assist, intelligent high-beam headlamps, a center-console app suite that allows you to check Facebook or local fuel prices, parking assist systems, ambient interior lighting, and genuine wood accents, among many other options.

Sounds nice.

But nobody really needs a Lexus.

I have a car. It is not a Lexus. It’s old, paid for, and gets decent gas mileage. Most importantly, it reliably gets me where I need to go. Sure, the other stuff would be nice, but if the car doesn’t run, none of those options are going to matter.

It reminds me of lesson planning. Teachers sometimes get the message that every lesson has to be a Lexus. Teacher preparation programs are guilty. So are professional books on the topic. If you search online for lesson plan templates, you’ll get things like this (obviously created by someone who either never taught or who dropped dead from exhaustion):

Lots of features. But none of them matter if kids don’t learn what they’re supposed to learn.

Not every lesson has to be a Lexus. Most of the time, a reliable old beast is just fine. Here’s an example:

For the past couple of years, I’ve taught force and motion. One of the standards is for students to be able to understand the concept of balanced and unbalanced forces.

I thought tug-of-war would be perfect. So the first year I taught it, I planned out everything. I thought of the contests students would have and tried to push them into thinking of the same ones (shoes vs. socks, boys vs. girls, left hand vs. right hand, etc.). I decided on the teams ahead of time. I booked the gym and secured the rope. I typed up a list of expectations for behavior and we went over them before going to the gym. I noted what vocabulary I wanted to use with students. I created a worksheet for students to record the results, write down observations and explanations, and note any questions they still had.  I created a rubric so I could grade them on their understanding of the concept. That lesson was a Lexus, baby!

And it went fine. But man, I spent a lot of time creating it. Which, if you’ve ever read this blog before, you know how I feel about that.

Teachers sometimes forget there are trade-offs to every decision. Sure, you can spend an hour designing and preparing for a single lesson. But is that the best use of your time? Are there ways you can cut your prep time so you have more time for other things, including your personal life? Will spending an extra 30 minutes designing a lesson actually lead to more learning? How much more? Is that much worth it?

Does every lesson need to be a Lexus?

We still do the tug-of-war lesson, but these days it takes about ten minutes of planning. The lesson is more like my actual car now. Not as impressive to outsiders but it gets the job done. After all, students just needed to understand the concept of balanced and unbalanced forces. Not exactly rocket science.

Instead of thinking of the experiments and trying to guide students to them, I just let the kids think of them to start with. This past year, they came up with one-arm vs two-arms and facing forward vs. facing backward, two ideas I wouldn’t have thought of.

Instead of creating a worksheet, they just take a notebook to the gym and write down the answers to my prompts and questions after each experiment.

Instead of a list of expectations, I basically have one: Stop on the whistle and then follow directions. If you can’t do that, I won’t pick you to participate in the rope tugging.

Instead of choosing teams ahead of time, I just pick them right there in the gym.

The fancy options aren’t important. The learning is what matters. And asking students to do more while I do less is a good way to increase learning while saving my own time and energy for other things.

Lexus’s slogan is “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” Sounds good. But it’s exhausting. Your lessons can always be better. You can always do more. There are always more features you can add. But sometimes, you just need the thing to get you where you’re going.

The Benefits of Doing Nothing

Walk into any classroom and you are likely to see the teacher doing stuff. They’re lecturing, meeting with students, conferencing, planning, assessing, entering data, designing units, or circulating throughout the room. Few teachers give themselves permission to do nothing. But they should. Doing nothing is important.

When I say doing nothing, I of course mean doing nothing outwardly.  While it may appear that we our sitting at our desks and counting the ceiling tiles, our brains are busy at work.

The reality is that teachers don’t spend enough time thinking because we’re so busy doing.

Our Best Ideas

Our best ideas often come to us when we are idle. Before I started this blog, I was an aspiring novelist. In the course of telling a story, I’d often get stuck. I couldn’t figure out what should happen next. The worst thing I could do was think more about the problem. Usually, my best ideas came when I left the work alone and did something mindless. It’s hard to come up with great ideas when we’re under pressure to do so.

The same thing happens with teaching. I have very few innovative ideas in February. But in the summer, when my mind is rested and I’m not stressed out from long days in the classroom, I regularly come up with new things to try for the upcoming school year. Teachers need to set aside time to just sit and think.

Sitting and thinking, instead of always doing, provides teachers with the mental space to be creative. I keep a notebook where I write down things to try in the classroom, and once a month I force myself to just sit and think of stuff. Ideas can come from books, blogs, colleagues, social media, or my favorite place, left field.

Reflection

Time to think allows teachers to actually reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. We’re all told how important it is to reflect on our lessons. It’s part of every teacher evaluation system I know of. But most teachers roll their eyes and think, “Yeah, right. And when am I supposed to do that?”

They ask that question because they don’t give themselves permission to do nothing. For most teachers, the thought of their principal walking in and seeing them sitting down and staring off into space is scary. We feel like we must always be working, and we fail to realize that thinking counts.

Time to think and reflect also lets teachers revisit their vision for the classroom to see if this year’s group is still on track or if things have gone off the rails and a recommitment is necessary. Every year, I write down my personal goals and the vision I have for my room. But once caught up in the day-to-day grind, I sometimes find myself just plugging along without thinking about the big things I want my room to be about. Without time to sit and think, I lose track of where I’m supposed to be leading my students.

Time to think can also save us trouble down the road. Taking a few minutes to think instead of responding emotionally to a student’s misbehavior, or a parent’s disrespectful email, or an administrator’s new idea can mean the difference between having a job and not having one.

When Helping Doesn’t Help

Students also benefit from a teacher doing nothing. Especially at the elementary level, too many of us rush in to save a student from failure or even frustration. We don’t want our students to struggle, and when we see them doing so, we want to help. That’s how we’re built.

But failure and frustration teach, often better than we do.

Stand back. Do nothing. Send the message to your students that they can do it without you.

I can always tell if I’ve helped too much when the state test rolls around. Since I’m not allowed to help at all, those students who I’ve not allowed to struggle don’t know what to do without my assistance. They don’t know how to solve problems because I haven’t allowed them to struggle with them. I’ve failed them, not only for that test, but in some ways, for life. There won’t always be someone around to help, and some problems just require that you sit there and think.

Top 5 Online Resources for Teaching Writing

A guest post by Paul Bates, a teacher in Fresno California

Throughout kindergarten to the final year of high school, students should have acquired appropriate vocabulary, punctuation, style, and grammar skills for essay writing. Learning and practicing skills through technology is an incentive to learning since students consider it a ‘fun’ activity. There are hundreds of websites available for teaching writing and hundreds more are continually being created as technology advances. Online resources have improved the art of writing by providing available information that would have otherwise been out of reach.

Below, you will find a list of some of the best online resources to use when teaching writing.

Time4writing

This website offers free writing resources as well as 8-week online writing courses. Educators use this site to impart writing skills to students. The site incorporates the use of resources such as:

  • visual aids; for example: posters, flipcharts, and slides.
  • grading conventions; for example: K-2 in primary grading.
  • writing conventions; for example: spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.

Full guidance is provided to the student. The creative inscription, paragraph, and essay writing are inclusive in the teaching package. Time4writing.com incorporates students from elementary school to students in high school. The site focuses on assisting students to put their ideas and thoughts in order before they are conveyed to a writing surface.

SolidEssay

This is an essay writing service that has been active since 2005. It offers professional and timely services to students who require writing services. The service opts to offer hired essay writers assignments that would otherwise be very time-consuming to a student. Solidessay.com has become one of the most reputable companies. This is mainly because work is assigned to experienced writers that hold a doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) and a Master’s degree in the specified fields.

Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Purdue’s writing lab was created in 1994. It provides resources such as handouts, articles, journals, grammar and mechanics, citations and formatting styles. The teaching writing category is partitioned based on education level from grades 7-12 to college. Purdue’s OWL provides useful information to teachers and students in relation to writing. This includes instructions and formats for expository essays, email writing, letter writing, poems, etc. Basic information on writing citations and extensive research processes makes it a reliable educator to students. Students who are interested in becoming proficient in basic writing skills, formatting and styles, have a wide range of resources to acquire knowledge from.

Education Northwest

The Education Northwest website provides a writing program that focuses on the 6+1 writing traits. These traits are:

Identifying the idea and content
Structural organization of the essay
The tone and voice of the message being conveyed
The choice of vocabulary
Sentence fluency and clarity
Conventions and presentations

These qualities define standard writing. Learning experiences are catered for students in colleges as well as adults (parents and teachers). Writing skills offered to students assist in critical thinking and reasoning, especially in real life experiences. The website’s core resources are the K-2 rubric and 3-12 rubric which are educator-friendly.

Quill

This is a nonprofit organization that provides writing and grammar activities for students from elementary school to high school. Educators use quill activities to jog the minds of students before and during class. The activities have been researched and approved by language instructors. With the integration of device applications that educate on vocabulary, grammar, and writing. The website is preferred by most teachers in classroom assimilation. Quill activities cover over 300 convictions on grammar giving students a substantial amount of skill and knowledge needed in writing. This website is bent on improving writing skills of students between kindergarten and grade 12. The site provides favorable circumstances by instantly grading tests and providing individualized feedbacks and instructions. This contributes to their divulging writing skills.

In this digital and modern age, students have tools and resources that assist them to become exemplary writers at their disposal. Writing is the framework of basic communication and it is important to nurture the skill at a tender age. Educators who have access to the internet and its resources, enhance the learning experience of the student while propelling the desire to express themselves through writing. Inscription skills are related to credibility. Having good writing skills is a gateway and requirement for careers such as journalism and therefore it is a skill essential to those in media-related fields.

Author bio: Paul Bates is a school teacher from Fresno, California. He loves helping his students become better and stronger writers.

Engagement Isn’t Everything

The contrarian in me bristles whenever any idea achieves such widespread acceptance that those who dare question it are subjected to reflexive condemnation. One idea that has gained such universal popularity in recent years is the power of engagement. Spend any time among educators, whether in person or in digital form, and you will surely hear the following sentiments passionately expressed:

  • Kids are bored because teachers’ lessons aren’t engaging.
  • Kids act out when they’re not engaged.
  • Kids cheat because the work isn’t engaging.
  • An engaged student will never give you any problems.
  • Kids hate school because they’re not engaged.

So at the risk of being ridiculed by the Engagement-is-Everything crowd, let me say that I’m skeptical.

We’re asking engagement to pull an awful lot of weight.

It’s the Wrong Word

First, let’s clear up some terminology. People who talk about engagement are often not talking about engagement. Engagement means that a student cares, that she gives a damn. Engagement ultimately comes from the learner, not the teacher. I don’t care a whit about needlepoint, and it won’t matter how much choice I’m given, how much technology gets incorporated, whether or not I get to work with my friends, how enthusiastic my needlepoint teacher is, or how much relevance she attempts to convince me needlepoint has to my life, I’m just not going to be engaged.

When some people talk about engagement, what they’re really talking about is involvement. Anita Archer, the Guru of Engagement, uses all kinds of involvement techniques that have been mislabeled engagement strategies. She keeps a brisk pace and requires a high rate of response from every student in the room. She expects attention and participation. She keeps kids on their toes. But none of those things ensure that students care about what she’s teaching; only that they’re involved. Anita Archer doesn’t do engagement. She does involvement.

The Student Owns the Learning

Perhaps that’s because Ms. Archer understands that true engagement cannot come from her. She can get students to actively participate in her vocabulary lessons, but she can’t make them care about learning the words. She can lead the horse to the very edge of the creek, but she can’t make it dip its head to drink.

The problem I have with engagement — at least, how it’s used today — is that it conveys the message that a student’s failure is his teacher’s fault.

  • It’s not a student’s fault for failing to do his job; it’s his teacher’s fault for failing to engage him.
  • It’s not a student’s fault for skipping class; it’s her professor’s fault for not making her lectures more engaging.
  • It’s not the salesman’s fault he didn’t sell anything; he just didn’t find the act of selling very engaging.
  • It’s not the teacher’s fault for showing videos all day; she just doesn’t feel engaged at work.

It’s bull.

There’s also this problem: What’s engaging for one student isn’t for another. I often see teachers on Twitter bragging about how hip they are because they incorporated fidget spinners or Pokemon Go or [insert current trendy item] into their lesson plans. But for every student who thinks a particular toy, game, or song is the greatest, there’s another who’s turned off by it.

For every student who thinks a particular toy, game, or song is the greatest, there’s another who’s turned off by it.

The Real Secret to Success

Here’s an unfortunate truth about life:

There are things we must all do even though they are not engaging. Those of us who do these things have more success in life than those who do not.

People who create and adhere to budgets have more money. Making and sticking to budgets requires self-control. Few would argue it’s engaging.

Buying groceries is almost always an awful experience, but if you don’t do it, you end up at McDonald’s, wasting money and getting fat.

Sitting through meetings requires self-discipline, and your boss may or may not care to make those meetings engaging. You better pay attention anyway.

Doing your taxes sucks. The government makes no attempt to make the process engaging. And if you decide to not file your taxes, you won’t be able to blame the government for failing to sufficiently inspire you. Sometimes, you just have to do things.

In fact,

Much of life — pretty much everything between all the awesome, engaging parts — is about self-discipline, the ability to stick with or do something well enough even though we dislike the task or find it boring.

Not Everything Needs to Engage

I’ve got nothing against making your lessons more fun or finding ways to involve your students more. There is no question that an involved student will usually learn more than an uninvolved one. Use whatever tricks you can. You can do a whole lot worse than Anita Archer when it comes to involvement.

Nor will I try to dissuade you from creating experiences for students that give them warm fuzzies, create indelible memories, and make you the kind of teacher students remember for the rest of their lives. Go for it. That’s what makes teaching and learning fun.

But let’s stop putting so many eggs in the engagement basket. Students who learn to do what needs to be done, regardless of how they feel about it, grow up to be adults who have the self-discipline to balance their checkbooks, do the laundry, get out of bed early enough to make it to work on time, get the oil in their car changed, shop for khaki pants (just me?), and clean everything from their teeth to their dishes to their toilets.

Instead of focusing so much on engagement — an endeavor that is, at best, a crap shoot — why not teach students what self-control looks like in different situations? Why not teach students that people with self-control lead more successful lives? Why not show them how to exercise self-control through talk-alouds and modeling? Why not even intentionally teach something that’s not engaging at all and explain to kids that successful people must sometimes will themselves to complete uninspiring tasks?

We don’t do students any favors when we send the message that they must always be entertained. And we’re sending our teachers the wrong message when we imply that every problem in their classroom comes back to their inability to engage their students.

We don’t do students any favors when we send the message that they must always be entertained.

8 Best Language Learning Apps for Teaching ESL Students

Today we have a guest post by Ethan Miller. Ethan is a private ESL tutor who has taught over a dozen classes. It’s an area I know absolutely nothing about, so I’m thankful to Ethan for providing the recommendations below. 

English is known as a universal language of communication and many non-native students in the United States are learning it today. If you are one of them, or if you teach ESL students, then this post is for you.

Ever tried learning a new language? It’s undeniably hard. If you too have sailed those waters, what I’m saying will make sense.

There was a time when teachers were burdened with the task of coming up with interactive ways to make learning English simple for their students. Today, the pressure on teachers has eased as there are many online tools that aid teachers to do their jobs more effectively.

While there are many tools that you can use, which ones are right for you? How much will they cost? Are they easy to use? Do they have good exercises?

To answer these questions, I have compiled a list of eight English language learning tools that are easy to use, interactive, and free to download on both Android and iOS.

Here we go!

Memrise

Memrise is a free language learning tool that offers courses that are user-generated, i.e., by teachers who are experts in teaching the language. The app is visually appealing and students can select whichever language they are comfortable interacting in (French, Spanish, German, etc.) and enroll for the courses that they want to learn.

Memrise provides many mnemonic methods to learn and remember new words, the best of them being the Elaborative Encoding technique. You can even submit your own methods in order to keep the content fresh and share your ideas with other learners.

You get to review each lesson multiple times after completion through a feature called spaced repetition testing. As an incentive to motivate learners, points are awarded for learning new words and completing each level.

Busuu

Busuu is primarily a free language app and users can access the lessons, vocabulary, and practice sections by creating an account. The lessons are designed for beginners, elementary, and intermediate level learners.

Busuu provides highly interactive resources as a mixture of text, audio assistance, and images to help you learn and remember the lessons. You can listen to the words and sentences again and again and switch between lessons whenever you want.

There is a practice section where learners can connect and interact with millions of other native speakers during the lessons and correct their mistakes.

After every lesson, you’ll earn Busuu berries, which are points you can use to upgrade to the paid version and unlock premium lessons. However, even the free lessons are quite comprehensive.

Cram (Free)

Cram is a free flashcards app that is being used by millions of students and teachers as an aid for learning a new language and memorizing difficult concepts and subjects. It’s very popular because of its easy-to-use interface, vast collection of flashcards, and the Leitner’s system of memorization.

Cram is useful in a multi-user classroom environment for teachers to create and share flashcard sets with their students. Teachers can add images and record their audio on each flashcard to teach proper pronunciation and improve the vocabulary of language learners.

Flashcards help students remember what they learn. Cram has a feature called the ‘Cram Mode’ where students pass through five levels of questioning for each set of flashcards.

To make learning fun, Cram also has two pre-installed games – ‘Stellar Speller’ and ‘Jewels of Wisdom’ – for every flashcard set.

Babbel

Babbel has become one of the biggest online language learning apps due to its interesting features and affordable pricing. It uses the quiz style learning method and has courses designed for both beginners and advanced users.

Babbel has a good variety of courses divided into bite-sized lessons of 10 – 15 minutes each to give you just the right quantity at a time without overloading you with excess content. The courses are developed by linguistic experts and contain interesting exercises for reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, punctuations, and vocabulary skills.

Babbel makes learning English fun and easy with its intuitive course design. Other features like the intelligent review manager and integrated speech recognition help embed the lessons in your memory and bring accuracy in your pronunciation.

Duolingo (Free)

If you want to learn English for free, Duolingo is one of the best and easiest tools to do that. It’s a tool for both the beginners starting from scratch and for someone simply looking to brush off the ring rust.

Start by browsing through the list of languages on the course page and select English to begin taking the lessons. The lessons are divided into ‘skills’ that are arranged in a tree format. You need to clear each skill to move on to the next level.

The skills start with Basics and expand into different categories like Food, Family, Numbers, Questions, Colors, Grammar, etc. It’s very important for the beginners to understand these skills to move into the advanced sections.

Each skill has different types of questions to help you understand and remember the words and sentences. There is a unique option called ‘test out’ where learners can take a single test for all the basic sections and move directly to the advanced lessons.

Another unique feature of Duolingo is the ‘Immersion section’ where you get to translate real-world articles from the web. You can speak out words into a microphone to check your pronunciation. Points are awarded after completing each level.

MosaLingua

If you are short on time and want to learn a language quickly (for business travelers), give Mosalingua a try. With this app, you can learn English anywhere – while traveling, waiting at a coffee shop, or simply when you’re taking a walk.

The lessons are short and designed keeping in mind the time constraints of language learners. The best part of Mosalingua is the 20 – 80 approach, called the Pareto principle. The app first focuses on the 20% of vocabulary that we use in almost 80% of our everyday life. This way, you understand the basics and bring fluency in your conversations.

The app has around 3000 words and, interestingly, there are 100 common words that are used regularly in half of the world’s writings and conversations. The vocabulary lessons are divided into 6 different levels with each level having small sentences and phrases comprising commonly used words.

MosaLingua has trademarked its learning method that they developed using the spaced repetition and active recall memory techniques.

Talk English (Free)

The most difficult part of learning a new language is to be able to speak comfortably in that language. The English Conversation Practice app (ECP) by TalkEnglish helps you do that by holding conversations with you in English.

ECP is a free app that helps improve vocabulary, correct pronunciation, and aid in forming grammatically correct sentences. It has 200 different conversation lessons for developing your listening and speaking skills.

The conversation topics are divided into categories of regular events like taking a vacation, eating dinner, playing football, talking about children, etc. The lessons are made up of listening exercises, recording your own voice, and speaking exercises for conversation practice.

Fun English

The Fun English app, as the name implies, is a fun way to teach English to your children using games and activities. It is currently rated as the best English learning app for kids aged 3 – 10 years. What makes it best is the fun factor. Kids have fun with their parents while learning.

Fun English is released by StudyCat and has garnered a lot of attention from parents and ESL teachers. The course is divided into 12 lessons to teach you about Colors, Animals, Numbers, Human body, Fruits, Food, clothes, etc., and over 80 learning games divided into these 12 lessons.

The free version comes with 2 lessons on Colors and Animals and 14 games. You need to upgrade to the premium version to unlock all the remaining lessons.

Besides teaching English, the app teaches other important skills like developing concentration and hand-eye coordination. It’s again a fun way to get your children engaged and comfortable with technology at an early age.

Conclusion

Technology has made learning easy and fun. These were some of the popular language learning apps to help you learn English without actually burning a hole in your pocket.

Although, if you don’t mind spending more, there are a couple of extremely popular apps, such as Rosetta Stone and Voxy, that you can try.

Have you used any other English apps that you would like to share with us? Leave us a comment. Happy learning!

——————-
Ethan Miller is a private ESL tutor and apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. Follow Ethan on Twitter and his blog.

The Best and Worst Lie Teachers Tell Themselves

I used to dread notes from substitute teachers. Upon arriving at school following an absence, I would see a note on my desk and delay reading it as long as possible. I’d make copies. I’d fine-tune lesson plans. I’d check some papers, answer some emails. Eventually, curiosity would get the best of me and I’d read the note. Invariably, I’d learn about the awful decisions made by the usual suspects. My blood pressure would rise. I would rehearse the cutting words I was itching to hurl at them. Didn’t they know how to behave? How dare they be so disrespectful! It was a horrible way to start the day.

An Epiphany

After a while, I came to realize that the way my students behaved for a sub usually had far less to do with my students and far more to do with the substitute. So instead of getting mad at my students, I would toss the note, unread, into the trash, and tell myself that whatever happened the day before was mostly a reflection on the adult at the front of the room. That led to an epiphany. If I blamed substitute teachers for how my students behaved, why should I not blame myself for what went on in my classroom on a daily basis?

It was the single most productive question I’ve asked as a teacher. It forced me to view every problem in my classroom as the result of something I had or hadn’t done. It led me to realize that every issue in my room was something I could work to resolve. Through research, collaboration, and trial and error, I could improve my craft and enjoy the fruits of my growing competency. I could influence student behavior, effort, and motivation.

  • When students didn’t learn, it was my fault.
  • When a student misbehaved, it was because of my classroom management, or my lame lesson, or my failure to build a positive relationship.
  • When students were bored, it was because I was not making things interesting enough.
  • When transitions were sloppy, it was because I hadn’t taught them clearly enough or didn’t have high enough expectations.

There’s no question that I started to improve as a teacher when I stopped looking for excuses. Instead of labeling students as lazy, disrespectful, or selfish, instead of blaming their parents, or lamenting the effects of generational poverty, the ugly side of capitalism, or other outside circumstances for what happened in my room, I looked in the mirror.

My mantra was, “I am responsible for everything that happens in my room.”

It’s the best lie I ever told myself.

The Best Lie

It’s an empowering lie. We can’t do anything about our students’ home lives. We have little control over district policies. We can’t alter the standards. But we can control what happens in our classrooms. This is the way teachers who want to get better have to think. It’s what we must believe. It forces us to evaluate our practice. It compels reflection. It leads us to seek out solutions, which means we’re observing others, seeking information from multiple sources, and trying new approaches, all in the interest of improving our craft.

What’s great about believing this lie is it forces you to do something about the only thing you can control: you.

But it’s still a lie.

The Truth

The truth is that you are not responsible for everything that happens in your room. Sometimes, a child’s poor decision has absolutely nothing to do with you.

The truth is that some kids are lazy. They were lazy last year, and they’ll be lazy this year. They’ll grow up to be lazy adults. Look around. They’re everywhere. They didn’t start becoming lazy because of a teacher.

The truth is that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t reach a kid.

The truth is that some students have very little self-control, and no matter how much you try, they still won’t have much self-control when they leave you.

The truth is that some kids know damn well what they’re supposed to do and they don’t do it for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

The truth is that no matter what you do, some students will find it boring.

The truth is that some students don’t want to accept responsibility for their learning, and so it’s easier for everyone — the student, their parents, your boss, politicians, people who don’t know jack diddly about teaching — to blame you.

The truth is that sometimes, it’s the kid’s fault. Sometimes, their failures are on them. In fact, we rob something important from a student when we accept blame for their failures, just as we would rob them by taking credit for their successes.

The truth is that your impact isn’t nearly as great as you have been led to believe.

When you believe the lie that everything that happens in your classroom is because of you, then you will improve as a teacher. You will constantly problem solve. You will try new things, read more, and connect with other teachers. You will experiment, fail, tweak, start over, fail again, and try anew. You will learn. You will grow. You will get better.

The Worst Lie

But lying has consequences. The more you put on yourself, the greater frustration you’ll feel when things don’t go well. The more accountability you accept for others’ choices, the more stress you’ll feel when those choices are poor ones. The more stress you feel, the more exhausted you’ll be. And the more exhausted you are, the more likely it is that you’ll burn out.

I know teachers who go home in tears over their students’ poor choices. They expect to make a difference, and when it seems as if their efforts are going to waste, they feel incredibly disheartened. When it seems like we’re not having an impact on our most challenging students, we feel like failures. We lose sleep. We stress over how the behavior of a few students affects our classroom cultures and how the learning of the other students is harmed. We become anxious over even the thought of anyone peering into our rooms, seeing our struggles, and judging us because we have already judged ourselves so harshly. When we put everything on our shoulders, it’s hard to stand tall. Our knees buckle. Some of us collapse.

What teachers need isn’t more accountability for things over which they have little control. I know very few teachers who don’t already feel tremendously accountable for what happens in their classrooms. Teachers need to know that they can’t solve every problem in their rooms because they can’t solve every problem in their students’ homes, in their communities, and in society. Yes, teachers should always try to improve. They should look at themselves first. But they should also admit that they’re not miracle workers. And just because parents, administrators, policymakers, reformers, and even teachers themselves believe they can do it all, doesn’t make it true.

How Teachers Can Get Paid For Extra Work

There are a number of studies that have attempted to determine how many hours teachers actually work. The Gates Foundation says 53 hours per week. The NEA claims 50. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics gave teachers a time-use survey and concluded teachers work about 40 hours each week. Teachers surveyed by AEI reported working an average of 44 hours, a little less than college-educated professionals in other fields.

Regardless of which study you believe, one thing is certain:

Teachers work a lot of hours for free.

In my last article, I argued that teachers are going to keep right on donating labor for a very simple reason: Employers like work they don’t have to pay for. If you’re willing to work for free, then don’t expect to ever be paid.

So how can teachers start getting paid for all the extra work they do?

The solution is simple. Stop working for free.

Don’t go in over the summer to set up and decorate your room. Don’t volunteer for committee work. Don’t attend after-school events. Don’t take work home to grade. Don’t meet with parents after school.

Unfortunately, that solution is also really hard. You’re probably uncomfortable just reading those ideas. That’s pretty messed up when you think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to suggest that professionals be paid for their work. But most teachers with whom I share this idea react with at least one of the following emotions:

Anger

There is a subset of teachers who believe that teaching is a “calling.” They see it as special work that ought to be governed by special rules. They’re there for the kids. They’re selfless, often working to the point of exhaustion, and they wear that dedication proudly. The idea of them or their colleagues slacking off or demanding to be paid for things teachers have always done without compensation is offensive to them.

Guilt

A lot of teachers like the idea of being paid for all their work, but they know they’d feel guilty if they simply stopped. What will those colleagues who put in so many hours before and after school think of them? Are they being shallow or greedy for expecting pay for things others are doing for free? If they’re not working lots of hours, are they letting other teachers, their principal, their students, and their parents down?

Teachers who do decide to cut back on extra, unpaid hours almost always betray the guilt they’re feeling by justifying their decision with high-minded reasons, like spending more time with their family. They hardly ever say, “No, I quit that committee and go home right after work because I’m not paid for that stuff.”

But feeling guilty about not working for free is absurd.

Why should any professional feel bad for expecting to be paid for the work they do on behalf of their employer? For that matter, even if everything you do is “for the kids,” why shouldn’t you be paid for those things? Surely, acting in the best interest of children is deserving of compensation. Things are so backward in education that the party who should feel guilty –the district for taking advantage of their dedicated employees — actually have the audacity to lay guilt trips on teachers when they don’t volunteer their labor.

Fear

Some teachers worry that their districts might retaliate. They might ding them on their evaluations. They may put pressure on them by reminding them how much their colleagues are going “above and beyond” (which is perhaps the most insulting and manipulative phrase in education today). They fear what parents might say when they make what should be a reasonable request to meet during the school day instead of after hours when they’re no longer being paid.

Altogether Now…

There’s not much I can say to those who are offended by the suggestion they be paid for their work. For everyone else, the solution to guilt and fear is a unified teaching force that takes a stand and refuses to budge.

When teachers are unified in their conviction that they will be paid for their work, the ball is then in the hands of district leadership. They will no doubt respond by pressuring the staff to return to the status quo. They’ll argue that teachers knew the deal going in, that other teachers work for free, that it’s always been like this, that “professionals” do what needs to be done, that you’re there for the kids. They’ll lay on the guilt because they like not paying you. There isn’t an employer in the world that would turn down free labor.

When that fails (and a unified front that wants to actually get paid for their work must ensure that it does), then districts may seek to punish. They may threaten teachers with poor evaluations. They might engage in a public relations battle to convince parents you’re not working hard for their kids. They might not renew the contracts of the most vocal ringleaders.

This is what most teachers fear, but my suspicion is that it’s unlikely. Look at it from the district’s point of view. If no staff member breaks ranks, then the district will be in a difficult position. Are they going to give every teacher a low rating and risk their own reputation?Are they going to fire the entire staff and risk making the national news over refusing to give in to teachers who want nothing more than to be paid for their work? Are they going to convince parents they’re right and that teachers are greedy for wanting what other professionals get as a matter of course? It’s a losing argument, and teachers should force districts to make it.

Paying People Forces Decisions

Districts will have to decide whether or not that thing for which it’s been relying on free labor is worth enough to pay for it. There’s tremendous value in that. Schools try to be everything to everybody and waste a lot of their employees’ time. Committees are created that meet often but accomplish little. After-school events put a strain on everybody in a school and sometimes result in low turnout. They often draw only those parents who are most involved anyway.

If the work, the committee, or the after-school activity is important enough, then they’ll find a way to either pay teachers or free up time to get it done during contractual hours. Alternatively, they might negotiate new contract language that requires a certain amount of donated time (for which any decent bargaining team will gain concessions in other areas). They might also pay someone else to do the work. For teachers who complain that nothing is ever taken off their plates, their willingness to work for free is one of the reasons.

So will I be putting my money where my mouth is? Nope. As I said, this only works if everyone is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. Short of that, it would be foolish for teachers to go it alone or with just a few others. You’ll succeed only in making yourself look bad. So like almost all of you, I will be heading into my classroom in the next couple of weeks to get the copies made, the lessons planned, and the classroom organized. I’ll be doing those things because I take pride in my work. I’ll do them because I’m a professional.

And I ought to be paid like one.

Teaching at a Private School Versus Teaching at a Public School

Guest post by Sharon Yu on behalf of Oak Crest Academy

Teachers looking to find a job in the education field must weigh the option of teaching at a private school or a public school. While both settings allow a teacher to work with children and fulfill their passion of teaching, the two environments offer unique advantages and disadvantages. One can decide what employment opportunity is right for him or her by learning how teaching in a public school is different than teaching in a private school.

Class Size

It is well-known that many public schools across the U.S. continue to struggle with classroom sizes. With many districts experiencing shortages of qualified teachers, those who do teach in these schools often find that their class sizes increase each year. The average public school has about 30-40 students in a single classroom.

Alternatively, private schools typically have smaller classroom sizes and a better student-to-teacher ratio. If you want to teach smaller classes and give more individualized attention to your students, you may find teaching in a private school more in line with your employment goals. Private schools control their enrollment so that the class size is smaller at a range of 15-18 students.

Salaries and Benefits

Public school teachers tend to be paid more than private school teachers. Of course, this varies with the school and the school district and additionally, private school packages may include better benefits. Even as school districts across the U.S. struggle with financial challenges, many offer higher salaries to both new and established teachers. They also offer generous benefits like pensions, paid sick and holiday leave, and college tuition reimbursement.

In contrast, private schools typically subsist on donations to the organization or church that sponsors them. They do not receive state or federal subsidies that they can in turn use to pay teacher salaries. If you teach in a private school, you may receive significantly less in pay than if you were to teach in a public school. You may also receive only basic benefits like health insurance and minimal paid sick leave.

Instructional Flexibility

Public school administrators must abide by strict federal and state laws when it comes to approving curriculum for students. The curriculum cannot include subjective lessons on religion, for example. Likewise, lessons in human sexuality must abide by stringent boundaries that avoid advocating for certain religious or secular positions on these topics. Public school teachers must follow the approved curriculum carefully or risk losing their jobs.

However, teachers in private schools often enjoy greater flexibility when it comes to teaching these and other subjects. Their lessons may advocate for religious or subjective viewpoints as long as those stances are in line with the teachings of the church or private organization that sponsors the school. These lessons can be taught even if they are not in line with popularly held secular beliefs. Also note that many private schools claim to offer better programs for children with disabilities or gifted children.

Administrative Support

Finally, if you want to teach in a setting where you can enjoy ample support from school administrators, you may choose private school teaching instead of teaching in a public school. Public school administrators often are overburdened with politics, paperwork, and other obstacles that do not allow them much time in the classroom in support of teachers.

Alternatively, private school administrators often remain in close contact with their classroom teachers and provide them with ample support throughout the school year. They do not face the same bureaucratic challenges as their public school counterparts.

Teaching in a public school is markedly different from teaching in a private school in several key ways. You can decide what type of employment to pursue and what type of educational setting best aligns with your values and professional goals by learning how these two school types present instructional opportunities to new and established teachers.