News & insights

  • Keeping It Real: Philip Warwick’s Guide To Authenticity In The Classroom Part 2

     

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    Philip Warwick

    Definitions of authenticity agree that being authentic requires a measure of realness and a tangible sense that an experience is true. Increasingly, schools are focusing on authenticity as a key driver for learner motivation and improved outcomes. In fact, entire approaches like project-based learning have been built upon it. In part 1 of his guide to authenticity, Philip Warwick explored ways learning and teaching can be made more authentic. Here in part 2, he looks at the ways in which situations, materials, and tasks can be authentic too.

    Definitions of authenticity are quite consistent. While the Longman Dictionary says it’s “the quality of being real or true,” other resources define it as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” and “not false or an imitation.” Words like “true” and “real” suggest authenticity is something we should strive for as teachers—and we intuitively know our learners respond when we set them tasks that connect to what’s really happening in their world. Authenticity has become core to approaches like project-based learning, and for good reason.

    In his book “Work Rules” Google’s former Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock credited many of the company’s innovations to giving staff the freedom to work on self-directed projects. It’s maybe no coincidence that during his time there Google were voted the best company to work for over 30 times around the world. Self-direction is a core component of authenticity—nothing feels more authentic than deciding for yourself what you want to do.

    Besides approaches like project-based learning, some schools are also offering periods of self-directed study. But in the more formal language classroom that may not be possible, or even applicable. Instead, we can consider how situations, materials, and tasks can help up the authenticity ante.

     

    Authentic situations

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    Having a communicative purpose isn’t a new concept in language teaching and learning. In fact, the communicative approach has been around since the 1970s. However, with the prominence of Pearson’s Global Scale of English, and the Common European Framework of Reference, there is a greater focus on what students can do in a language than ever before.

    Authentic situations can involve pairs or groups engaged in real-world tasks. Things like co-creating a survey or discussing which restaurant to eat in are authentic situations to place students in. But an authentic situation doesn’t necessarily need pairs or groups. Writing about a favorite food can be authentic if, for example, it’s framed as a social media post for Instagram—surveys suggest sixty-nine percent of millennial's take photos of their food before they eat and many of them are shared with a caption attached.

    Students can also be encouraged to use authentic language. That can mean focusing on high-frequency words—words students will actually hear often and need to use the most—and lexical chunks that have been identified as the most common collocations people really use. Groups of words like “you bet” or “hang on,” for example, are rarely taught but commonly deployed by English language speakers.

    Authentic situations

     

    Authentic materials

    Materials can be authentic (or inauthentic) too. Today, it’s unlikely students will ever have to write a letter. It’s also increasingly rare to send a postcard. So presenting these kinds of materials can feel inauthentic to a millennial student more used to communicating news about their holiday via messaging apps.

    Instead, students are more likely to connect to videos—like bite-sized vox pop interviews, or sharply edited travel shows. As the creation of content has been democratized, and anyone with an Internet connection and a camera can upload a video to YouTube, videos also provide more realistic examples of content students might want to replicate.

    Philip Warwick talking to the crowd

    The average length of a YouTube video is 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That seems to reflect a decline in our attention spans. In fact, recent surveys suggest there has been a dramatic shortening of our ability to pay attention. Attention spans have even been estimated at eight seconds in a recent Microsoft Corp. survey so the duration of digital content you deliver to your learners is also a factor to consider. Short “snackable” content is more likely to keep learners engaged.

    There’s also a growing belief in language schools that content can be a source of new knowledge and not just a resource that presents language in context. Approaches like CLIL have developed from that belief—that content can provide a double hit of language practice and new, useful information. So, authentic materials can also be the kinds of content that are academically or even personally enriching for students.

     

    Authentic tasks

    The idea of the need to equip students with 21st-century skills is well established. Globally, business leaders, academics, and governments are aligned that skills like communication, collaboration, creativity and thinking skills like critical thinking are essential for success socially and professionally both now and in the future.

    Authentic tasks

    Tasks that engage students in the “4Cs” will not only mirror what they do in the world, including in the workplace, but there is also strong evidence to suggest engaging in meaningful communication, creativity, collaboration, and higher-order thinking is also more motivating. Take a simple flashcard language drill for example. Students’ attention quickly drifts when they are asked to repeat language over and over—a lower-order thinking activity. Conversely, asking students to create a simple story that connects the same series of words produces far more positive results because they are asked to be creative, a higher-order thinking skill.

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    Pair work and group work have been core components of communicative classes for a long time. These activities also mirror the way people work in the real world. More and more professionals with different expertise and ideas are put together to produce results—whether digitally or physically—and so working with a partner or as part of a group is an authentic chance to prepare for life in the workplace. After all, competition makes us faster, but collaboration makes us better.

    Phil Warick presented at Pearson Day Vietnam. For more photos from the event please visit our Pearson Vietnam Facebook page. For more information on resources for your English classroom please visit us here.

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  • Keeping It Real: Philip Warwick’s Guide To Authenticity In The Classroom Part 1

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    The Longman Dictionary says authenticity is “the quality of being real or true.” But what does authenticity mean in the context of the language classroom? Here, in part 1, Philip Warwick explores authenticity from two different sides: authentic learning and authentic teaching.

    Definitions of authenticity are quite consistent. While the Longman Dictionary says it’s “the quality of being real or true,” other resources define it as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” and “not false or an imitation.” Words like “true” and “real” suggest authenticity is something we should strive for as teachers—and we intuitively know our learners respond when we set them tasks that connect to what’s really happening in their world. Authenticity has become core toapproaches like project-based learning, and for good reason.

     

    Students notice when theres a disconnect between what we ask them to do in the the classroom

    Authentic learning

    Students notice when there’s a disconnect between what we ask them to do in the classroom, and what they will have to do outside the classroom. Conversely, they respond positively to authenticity in what they’re learning—it provides an automatic impetus for engagement.

    Authentic learning, then, can involve having students engage with real-world problems. This might seem challenging at lower levels of language proficiency. However, voting for a favorite food, for example, has echoes of the real-life situation of negotiating with friends where to go for dinner, but with the language is pitched at a much lower level.

    Added to that, authentic learning can also involve authentic thinking. Instead of voting for a favorite, the class might evaluate the relative merits of each kind of food and put them in a list from their favorite to their least favorite. This higher-order thinking skill—evaluation—requires students to critically assess information, an ability which has been identified as one of the keys to success socially and professionally in the 21st century.

    Authentic Learning

    Metacognitive skills—thinking about thinking—are also processes students of all levels can engage in. Students can rank or review an activity or task, thinking about what was easy and what was hard about it. By identifying the challenging aspects of the activity or task students might approach similar activities or tasks differently in future. They might also seek support not only by asking their teacher for help; they might also ask other students to help too, and so there may also be a social and community element to this, which also feels authentic.

    Beyond the activity or task, students may be given some autonomy by directing their own learning. Using the idea of an activity around food again, they may ask to design a dream restaurant or create a recipe for an unusual dish. Nothing feels more authentic than choosing for yourself what you’d like to explore.

     

    Authentic teaching

    Students respond to teachers who are “real” too. That’s been reflected in drop-out rates in online courses. The completion rate for students enrolling in MOOCs (massive open online courses) like Coursera is said to be as low as just ten percent. The company argue that many people enrolling on the courses never intended to complete them anyway—they just wanted to dip into the content. However, many others connect the high drop-out rates with a lack of human connection. Learners need the sense of community that’s provided by a teacher and fellow students, and more and more online courses are trying to emulate the feeling of community students get in a face-to-face class.

    Authentic teaching

    But what else can teachers do to be authentic? One way is to relinquish the idea that we, as educators, can know everything about a topic whether it’s art, science, or the English language. The idea of “the sage on the stage” is outdated. A cursory Google search can reveal more knowledge about a topic than we could ever hope to amass. That means students also have easy access to the same wealth of information, and they can quickly check and verify anything their teacher tells them. Being “real” as a teacher means partnering with students on the learning journey, and accepting we don’t know everything—and we don’t need to anymore. Another simple way for teachers to keep it real is to engage emotionally with their class. That can include sharing personal information—as long as they feel comfortable doing so—and instilling a sense of genuine fun and enjoyment into teaching and learning. Positive emotions reflect...and so do negative ones.

    Once you share personal information, your students might share too building a deeper bond that can inspire them to learn more. And if students see you enjoying the time you have together, they should start to enjoy it too. One way you might do that is to share your love of words, like the word “rhythm,” for example, which is a two syllable word without any vowels in its written form; or how some words, like paper clip, do what they describe—a paper clip clips paper.

     

    Keeping it real in the classroom

    Authenticity, “the quality of being real or true,” can mean different things whether you’re a teacher or a student. Learners are always on the lookout for tasks and activities that feel real. That might mean they’re looking to be presented with real-world challenges, or they might want to be asked to think in the ways that they would need to think outside the classroom.

    Teachers can be “real” too. One of those ways is to let go of the idea that they need to know everything. That means embarking on a learning journey as a facilitator or activator—and even better if you are a facilitator or activator who’s open to sharing information about yourself, and who takes a playful approach to language and learning.

    Phil Warick presented at Pearson Day Vietnam. For more photos from the event please visit our Pearson Vietnam Facebook page. For more information on resources for your English classroom please visit us here.

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  • Making education more effective using reliable assessment methods

    Unmet Needs in Education, A Problem We Cannot Afford to Ignore

    How often is it that we, in our world, see sad cases of student failure in school or desperate but ineffective attempts of teachers in working on progress in certain students? Students repeat or fail a grade in school, teachers give excessive homework or assignments only to be forgotten or ignored, school leaders endlessly interview new candidates of educators but seeming to be never finding the right ones; these are all becoming more and more common scene in today’s education, although it does not make it less frustrating. What is happening?

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    Unmet needs in education is what is happening; and frankly, this is a problem we cannot afford to ignore. The common scene of failures in education does not help to create quality human resources for the world’s ever-growing demands. Unqualified human resources lead to poor life quality and weak community, and we do not want this to take place, let alone spread and get worse in a larger scope. We want, and we feel we have tried our best, to make sure we are shaping our children to be strong, smart, leading individuals in the future, but we keep facing the harsh reality of our day-to-day results. Students need a different kind of help and facilitation, educators need a different kind of insight and advice, school leaders need a different kind of method. These needs are simply unmet. At the same time, we know that there must be an underlying issue here, but often we just can not figure it out. Slowly, the vision of quality human resources in the future looks further and further distant. Blurry, sometimes.

     

    Assessing the Underlying Issue, Applying the Right Intervention for Each Individual Case, Identifying the Right People for the Right Place

    Identifying the right people for the right place

    In mainstream schools, up to 30% of students are estimated to be struggling with their school work and failing to achieve their full potential (Skues and Cunningham, 2011). This shows, first of all, that learning difficulties among our students are real and highly prevalent. As educators, we are often aware of the existence of a handful of visibly special students, who are in constant need of our intensive intervention; but what about so many others who just seem to always mispronounce the sound of certain letters or syllables, or misspell the same words over and over again, or cannot understand how multiplication works, or never remember the assignment instructions we have just explained? Similarly and secondly, teachers often find themselves failing and unhappy, less and less motivated for tomorrow’s workday. There is little, if any, motivational satisfaction in educating and school leaders experience either hiring people who only want to have a stable job or lack of good teachers. In all this, don’t we all agree that we need a reliable assessment instrument to find the underlying issue and apply the right intervention as well as identify the right people for the right place in education?

    Thankfully, Pearson addressed this very problem by developing and publishing standardised psychometric assessments and related interventions. In its event this year “Pearson Day 2018: What Makes A Learning Process Great?”, Anisa Zulfiqar, Business Development Manager, Asia, at Pearson Asia Pacific, presented a hands-on experience to scores of educators and school leaders using psychometric assessments. Psychometric assessments are a complete package. They measure and improve clients’ intelligence; attention, memory, and problem solving; aptitude or achievement; personality or psychopathology; feelings and emotions; values; attitudes; interests; motives and needs; language ability; and motor skills. In other words, we assess the underlying issue.

    Psychometric assessments

    For students, psychometric assessments will identify their learning challenges and difficulties, provide insights and recommendations for the right intervention by their teachers; while for school leaders, they will help recognize the right people for each position or place in the education job field. Besides these direct outputs, we can also expect more strategic and longer-term outcomes. When it becomes an ongoing process cycle of observation, monitoring, assessment, planning, implementation, and review, it is only logical to aim for lower rate of student failures in schools, improved learning performances because the learning difficulties are recognized and given the right intervention, and eventually, higher quality of human resources. Of course, one may question the reliability of these assessments, i.e. will they guarantee the right solution and targeted result achievement? However, while keeping in mind that there is no perfect predictor or guarantee to human problems, behaviors, and performance, using a range of the best and most relevant assessments do improve the odds of those reliability factors: having the right solution in hand and achieving the targeted results.

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    The Shape of Indonesia’s Future in Education

    Pearson Clinical and Talent Assessments and interventions can contribute to the shape of Indonesia’s future in education. As this country is speeding up in many areas, it certainly needs high quality human resources for current internal developments as well as facing the future external challenges internationally. With the right facilitation for each unique need of our children and by placing the right ones in the right place, Indonesia’s human resources can be unstoppable in the world arena. All these dreams are made possible starting today, with well-thought-of and innovative assessments in our education.

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