Friday, June 29, 2012

Thai Schools Urged to Boost Speaking

Thai Schools Urged to Boost Speaking.

The Thai government has embarked on an ambitious nationwide programme to teach English at least once a week in all state schools as part of the new 2012 English Speaking Year project.

The initiative is intended to ease Thailand's entry into the Asean community in 2015, when southeast Asia becomes one economic zone and a universal language is required for communication and business.

The project will focus on speaking English rather than studying its grammar, with teachers provided training through media modules and partnerships with foreign institutions, including English-language schools, according to Thailand's education ministry.

The initiative, which started in late December and is still being ironed out, is a formidable task, aiming to reach some 14 million students in 34,000 state schools across Thailand from pre-primary to university age, said Ministry of Education permanent secretary Sasithara Pichaichanarong.

"Our goal is to reach students all across Thailand – from the remote, far-reaching villages to the capital – by teaching them English through educational tools on TV, the radio and internet, and conversations with native speakers," said Sasithara. "Obviously the students are not going to be fluent immediately, but the idea is to get them speaking English better today than they did yesterday."

While the ministry aims to incentivise teachers to create an "English corner" in classrooms containing English-language newspapers, books and CDs, the programme is in no way mandatory and will rely instead on a system of rewards. Those who embrace the project may receive a scholarship to travel abroad or be given extra credit at the end of term, Sasithara said.

The programme saw a recent publicity boost when former UK prime minister Tony Blair, who visited the education ministry as part of a three-day trip to Bangkok, taught some 100 Thai students basic English and called the Speaking English Year project a "brave … and sensible decision for Thailand". Now the ministry is discussing a partnership with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation for assistance with the project in upcoming months, Sasithara said.

To date, government-run language programmes have focussed on rote learning that makes for poor improvisation when it comes to having conversations in the real world, critics argue. Recent university admission exams show that Thai students scored an average 28.43 out of 100 in English, according to the National Institute of Educational Testing Service.

Native speakers will have a role to play in the project, said Sasithara, who expects to start recruiting teachers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and US, as well as from countries where a high level of English is spoken, such as Singapore, the Philippines and India.

School director Panya Sukawanich said his Bangkok school would go ahead with Speaking English Year modules but that they may not reap the benefits the government was expecting.

"Many of our students have poor English – some Mathayom 1 [first-year secondary school] students still can't write A-Z," he recently told the Bangkok Post. "We have to teach them the fundamentals again and again."

Final-year student Rossukhon Seangma, who has been learning English for the past 10 years, explained, in Thai, why that was the case. "Thai students don't speak English in their daily life, so we are not familiar with using it," she told reporters. "When the class finishes, we switch to Thai."

If English fails, perhaps Mandarin will succeed – as the Ministry of Education has also been in discussions with China about creating a similar "Speaking Chinese Year Project", Sasithara said.

"Chinese officials were very interested in the English programme and offered to create a Chinese version – where they would send over 1,000 Chinese teachers to Thailand and provide scholarships to 1,000 Thai students to study in China," said Sasithara. "I told them, 'Yes, why not?' If we can learn both, it would be a great success."


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vietnam Students to Compete in Global Business Competition

Vietnam Students to Compete in Global Business Competition.

A four-person team from RMIT International University Vietnam, the local branch of the Australian-based RMIT University, has qualified for an international business competition hosted in July by Sri Lanka after winning the national edition last week.

The Lion Team beat three rivals from Hanoi Foreign Trade University, HCMC Foreign Trade University and Hanoi University in the final last Wednesday with their report on a management accounting case, which had been shortlisted against nearly 130 submissions by tertiary schools nationwide.

They were then required to give an oral presentation on their report to a board of judges composed of business leaders, together with its synopsis and a team introduction video.

The international competition, named Global Business Challenge 2012 by its UK-based founder Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, will take place from July 21 to 25 in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s biggest city, and will be attended by students from 22 countries and territories.

The CIMA Global Business Challenge is designed to bring out the best in the young business leaders of tomorrow, and is intended to be a great opportunity for students from around the world to showcase their talent in business management.

Another team from RMIT Vietnam also finished in fourth place at a similar contest held by one of the big four auditors, KPMG, in Hong Kong in April.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

China Raises Education Spending, But More Needs to be Done

China Raises Education Spending, But More Needs to be Done.

BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhuanet) -- The central government spending on education will account for 4% of the country's GDP this year. Local financial organizations should decide their budgets accordingly, said Premier Wen Jiabao, when delivering the government report at the opening ceremony of the annual session of the National People's Congress.

The 4% is the most familiar percentage to China's educational circle. China's education has been pursuing the "4%" for about 20 years. It was a long and rough journey. If in 1993 some parents, holding their newly-born child, read the newly-printed "Reform and Development Program for China's Education" and regarded China's promise of realizing the goal of putting 4% of the GDP into education by the middle of the 1990s or the end of the 20th century as a luscious apple, then, in 2012, the child, who has graduated from high school, has ultimately picked up this luscious "apple."

According to international standards, this "apple" shows the importance of education to a country. During the mid-1980s, China's spending on education had been lower than 3% of GDP. In the late 1980s, the State Education Commission made a suggestion to the CPC Central Committee and the State Council that the percentage should be increased to 4% by the mid-1990s or 2000. However, the percentage had been lower than 3.5% till 2011.

Higher spending on education is beneficial to almost every family in China. Why did it take the country 19 years to increase education spending to 4% of GDP?

First, as the central government has taken economic development as the country's primary task, almost all local governments are thirsty for investment, and are least willing to invest in education. Due to their obsession with GDP growth and lack of transparency and supervision, education always takes the smallest share of government spending.

Second, the transfer payment for education from the fiscal revenue has met with much resistance. Although the central government has decided to increase spending on education, the reform of the country's fiscal and taxation system has been too slow, and local governments have been unwilling to spend much on education. The central government has taken a series of measures to boost local governments' enthusiasm for education, which is a gradual process.

Third, China has achieved rapid economic growth over the past 20 years, and even 4% of its GDP is a large number, making it more difficult for the country to increase education spending.

The hardship experienced by pursuing "4%" enabled us to have an insightful vision of the great resistance and difficulties in revitalizing China's education. Besides, pursuing "4%" has increasingly become the focus of media attention, demonstrating the Chinese people's great concern and deep expectations for education.

Today, the goal of "4%" is finally realized. By pushing aside all obstacles and difficulties, this government fulfilled its promise, just as Premier Wen said, "it eventually paid this debt". It is safe to say that the realization of the "4%" goal can be called a "Chang-e flying to the moon" of China's education in terms of rough courses, long period and profound significance. This fulfillment of promise not only established the government's reputation, but also enriched China's education, thus when the state is solving problems for which Chinese people have strong feelings, such as equality in access to basic educational services, rational allocation of educational resources in rural areas, and improvement of higher education quality, will be more confident and contained. After all, 4% is not a small number given China's huge GDP.

What should be reminded is that to have this "apple" invested in education fall to the ground firmly still faces intangible resistance, so the accountability mechanism should be started if necessary. What Chinese education needs most are not just money but more ideas and courage for system reforms.

It is also clear that when we are about to eat this "apple" of "4%", others have picked a greater and sweeter "apple". The investment in education of the United States had reached 7% of GDP in 1999, and the percentage had reached 5% in India in 2003. Although we are pleased about the achievement we have made, we also have to speed up cultivating the next "apple".


Sunday, June 24, 2012

UK University to Open Campus in Thailand

UK University to Open Campus in Thailand.

A UK university is to open a campus in Bangkok - in what is claimed as the first such UK branch university to be established in Thailand.

The University of Central Lancashire has signed a deal with a Thai-based entrepreneur to open a university campus in Bangkok in 2014.

Degrees will be taught in English and validated by the UK university.

This will be the latest example of universities "globalising" with overseas branches.

It follows a path set by the University of Nottingham which set up a branch university in China.

The greatest concentration of such branch universities, from UK and US universities, has been in Asia and the Gulf states.

Newcastle University is establishing a medical school in Malaysia, where Nottingham also has a campus. University College London has a campus in Qatar.

The announcement of the University of Central Lancashire's plans will give this "new" university an international identity and an opportunity to expand.

The University of Central Lancashire's vice-chancellor, Malcolm McVicar, said its market research showed "strong demand" for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Thailand.

Thailand has been identified as a hub for South East Asia, which it expects to be a "key area for future global growth".

The UK university will invest £7.5m and will work alongside the entrepreneur Sitichai Charoenkajonkul.
'Global brand'

There are other UK universities which have partnerships with universities in Thailand, but the University of Central Lancashire is claiming to be the first from the UK to set up a full university there.

It expects to have 5,000 students in 10 years and will offer courses in areas such as business, built and natural environment, engineering, creative and performing arts and languages.

Kevin Van-Cauter, higher education adviser at the British Council, says this is part of an increasing pattern of globalisation in higher education.

Setting up overseas branches allows universities to "establish a global brand", he says.

The physical presence of a campus can also be presented as a bigger commitment to a region than the more widespread partnership arrangements, he suggests.

Such branch campuses can be used to attract students from across the wider region, he says.

Overseas universities in South East Asia might recruit students from China, Vietnam and Malaysia and further afield, such as the Middle East and North Africa, he says.

There are US universities which have set up chains of overseas campuses in several different countries.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Austria Boost Vietnam's Tertiary Education

Austria Boost Vietnam's Tertiary Education.

HCM CITY — Viet Nam and Austria would continue strengthening co-operation in tertiary education and science and technology, a forum was told in HCM City yesterday.

The Viet Nam-Austria forum on tertiary education, science and research was attended by Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan.

The forum was considered an important bridge between the two countries' higher education and science and technology sectors.

Speaking at the event, President Heinz Fischer said he was pleased with the development of bilateral ties in the science and research sector through co-operative agreements between tertiary education and research agencies, as well as the framework of the Austrian Southeast Asian University Partnership Network (ASEA-UNINET) initiated by Austrian universities.

Deputy PM Nhan affirmed that the forum represented the two countries' determination to make tertiary education, science and research a priority in bilateral co-operation.

Viet Nam considered education and science and technology vital for rapid and sustainable development, he said.

In its tertiary education strategy, Viet Nam would improve the quality of higher education by building high-quality universities, strengthening international co-operation in tertiary education and stepping up scientific research at universities, he added.

According to Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan, Viet Nam attaches importance to scientific and technological co-operation with Austria, reflected by the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on scientific and technological co-operation between the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology and the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research in late 2011.

The MoU affirms the two ministries' commitment to creating a mechanism to encourage co-operation between the Vietnamese and Austrian scientific and technological communities, especially between universities and research institutes.

At the forum, the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology and the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research officially launched a programme to support bilateral research co-operation between Viet Nam and Austria in the 2012-2025 period.

Under the programme, the two countries' scientific communities will receive financial support to boost joint research co-operation activities and train scientists in the three priority areas of network security, intelligent transport and renewable energy.

During the event, six MoAs were also inked between leading universities of Viet Nam and Austria.

On the same day, Austrian President Heinz Fischer met with Chairman of the HCM City People's Committee Le Hoang Quan, who expressed his belief that the visit would boost multifaceted co-operation between Austria and Viet Nam and between Austria and HCM City in particular.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Combat Plagiarism

Combat Plagiarism.

I write on the board: "The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain." After having students identify the quote, I ask them to paraphrase it.

Volunteers write their versions on the board, which tend to fall into two categories:

* those that keep the same syntax but substitute synonyms, and
* those that keep the original words but change the word order.

The following are extreme examples of the actual results:

* Synonyms: The precipitation on the Iberian Peninsula descends most on the flatlands.
* Syntax: In Spain, it rains on the plains most often.

I encourage students to ask themselves soul-searching questions like these:

* Are the new versions really in my own words?
* Am I still going to use quotation marks even though I haven't quoted directly?
* Why should I bother referencing, since I have changed the wording so as to make it nearly unrecognizable?
*  Did I make changes for valid reasons or merely to avoid quotation marks, as in a paper already overloaded with them?
* Have I really improved on the original or merely allowed stilted, flowery language to replace the simplicity of the song lyrics?

Most students ultimately come to see that they must give credit for ideas they did not originate. They also discover that they have distorted the meaning of the original -- in this case, an elocution lesson to change Eliza Doolittle's cockney accent into that of a highborn "lye-dy."

I stress to students that proper documentation, in addition to being "fair play" to the author, is a safeguard for themselves. If a strange thought has been quoted exactly and referenced, the strangeness will be laid properly at the doorstep of the author. If taken out of context, the thought can be checked by the reader. In the event of an error on the author's part, the careful student remains blameless.

I am convinced that paraphrasing -- making changes line by line -- inevitably leads to plagiarism. Paraphrasing has a legitimate place only in rare cases, such as translations of colloquialisms like "Chill out!" or in technical documents that must be digested for a lay audience (as in computer manuals).

My students have three options for documenting:

* direct quoting,
* summarizing (no quotes at all), or
* discussing two sources in the same paragraph (again without quoting).

All of these entries must be referenced to give the authors credit. Some students, believing that quotation marks are necessary only when they appear in the original source, are shocked at the notion of secondary quotes being plagiarism.

In my class, I teach how to plagiarize and then trust that no one will commit plagiarism knowingly. I also help students to avoid lifting whole chunks of text to patch together quotes without comment or analysis (input- output, with no processing), often a result of desperation from time pressures. We work hard on summarizing, outlining, discussing, and careful quoting so that my students have alternatives to paraphrasing or "chunking."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How China is Winning the School Race

How China is Winning the School Race.

China's education performance - at least in cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong - seems to be as spectacular as the country's breakneck economic expansion, outperforming many more advanced countries.

But what is behind this success?

Eyebrows were raised when the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's international maths, science and reading tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests - were published.

Shanghai, taking part for the first time, came top in all three subjects.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong which was performing well in the last decade of British rule, has gone from good to great. In this global ranking, it came fourth in reading, second in maths and third in science.

These two Chinese cities - there was no national ranking for China - had outstripped leading education systems around the world.

The results for Beijing, not yet released, are not quite as spectacular. "But they are still high," says Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of education statistics and indicators.

Cheng Kai-Ming, Professor of Education at Hong Kong University, and closely involved in the Hong Kong and Shanghai tests, puts the results down to "a devotion to education not shared by some other cultures".

Competitive Exams

More than 80% of Shanghai's older secondary students attend after-school tutoring. They may spend another three to four hours each day on homework under close parental supervision.

Such diligence also reflects the ferociously competitive university entrance examinations.

"Not all Chinese parents are 'tiger mothers'," insists Prof Cheng. "But certainly they are devoted to their children's education."

Certainly both these open and outward-looking cities set great store by education, willing to adopt the best educational practices from around the world to ensure success. In Hong Kong, education accounts for more than one-fifth of entire government spending every year.

"Shanghai and Hong Kong are small education systems, virtually city states, with a concentration of ideas, manpower and resources for education," says Prof Cheng.

The innovation in these cities is not shared by other parts of China - not even Beijing, he says.

Under the banner "First class city, first class education", Shanghai set about systematically re-equipping classrooms, upgrading schools and revamping the curriculum in the last decade.

It got rid of the "key schools" system which concentrated resources only on top students and elite schools. Instead staff were trained in more interactive teaching methods and computers were brought in.

Showcase Schools

The city's schools are now a showcase for the country. About 80% of Shanghai school leavers go to university compared to an overall average of 24% in China.

Meanwhile, dynamic Hong Kong was forced into educational improvements as its industries moved to cheaper mainland Chinese areas in the 1990s. Its survival as a service and management hub for China depended on upgrading knowledge and skills.

In the last decade Hong Kong has concentrated on raising the bar and closing the gap or "lifting the floor" for all students, says a report by McKinsey management consultants.

The report, How the World's Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, rated Hong Kong's education system among the best in the world.

But Hong Kong schools are undergoing another huge reform, lopping off the final year of secondary school and instead moving towards four-year university degrees from 2012 to align it with China.

Abandoning the old British model is a gamble and no-one knows how it will play out in terms of quality.

Top Teachers

However, Hong Kong believes it has laid solid, unshakeable foundations.

"In the late 1990s we moved to all-graduate [teachers]. If we want to have high achievement, subject expertise is very important for secondary schools," said Catherine KK Chan, deputy secretary for education in the Hong Kong government.

Hong Kong, like Singapore, now recruits teachers from the top 30% of the graduate cohort. By contrast, according to the OECD, the US recruits from the bottom third.

Shanghai recruits teachers more broadly. But it is already a select group.

Shanghai controls who lives and works in the city through China's notorious "houkou" or permanent residency system, allowing only the best and the brightest to become residents with access to jobs and schools.

"For over 50 years Shanghai has been accumulating talent, the cream of the cream in China. That gives it an incredible advantage," says Ruth Heyhoe, former head of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, now at the University of Toronto.

Migrant Children

The OECD's Mr Schleicher believes teacher training has played a part in Shanghai's success, with higher-performing teachers mentoring teachers from lower-performing schools, to raise standards across the board.

"What is striking about Shanghai is that there is quite a large socio-economic variability in the student population, but it does not play out in terms of its Pisa results," said Mr Schleicher.

"Some people have even suggested we did not include Shanghai's fairly large immigration population. Around 5.1% of the population are migrants from rural areas. Their children are definitely included," he said.

Last year Shanghai claimed to be the first Chinese city to provide free schooling for all migrant children. This year migrants outnumbered Shanghai-born children for the first time in state primary schools, making up 54% of the intake.

Prof Cheng agrees the Pisa results reflect a broad cross section. However the majority of migrant children are below 15 - the age at which the tests for international comparisons are taken. It is also the age of transfer to senior secondaries.

"If they were allowed to attend senior secondary schools in the city, the results would be very different," said Prof Cheng.

Even now "to some extent, where people are born largely determines their chances of educational success", said Gu Jun, a professor of sociology at Shanghai university.

Their societies are changing rapidly and for both Shanghai and Hong Kong, being top might prove to be easier than staying there.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Does Education Mean?

What Does Education Mean?

Why fear has to be eradicated before real learning can begin EXCERPT FROM THIS MATTER OF CULTURE

I wonder if we have ever asked ourselves what education means. Why do we go to school, why do we learn various subjects, why do we pass examinations and compete with each other for better grades? What does this so-called education mean and what is it all about?

This is really a very important question, not only for the students, but also for the parents, for the teachers and for everyone who loves this Earth. Why do we go through the struggle to be educated? Is it merely in order to pass some examinations and get a job? Or is it the function of education to prepare us while we are young to understand the whole process of life? Having a job and earning one's livelihood is necessary _ but is that all? Are we being educated only for that?

Surely, life is not merely a job, an occupation; life is something extraordinarily wide and profound, it is a great mystery, a vast realm in which we function as human beings.

If we merely prepare ourselves to earn a livelihood, we shall miss the whole point of life; and to understand life is much more important than merely to prepare for examinations and become very proficient in mathematics, physics, or what you will.

So, whether we are teachers or students, is it not important to ask ourselves why we are educating or being educated? And what does life mean? Is not life an extraordinary thing?

The birds, the flowers, the flourishing trees, the heavens, the stars, the rivers and the fish therein _ all this is life. Life is the poor and the rich; life is the constant battle between groups, races and nations; life is meditation; life is what we call religion, and it is also the subtle, hidden things of the mind _ the envies, the ambitions, the passions, the fears, fulfillments and anxieties. All this and much more is life.

But we generally prepare ourselves to understand only one small corner of it. We pass certain examinations, find a job, get married, have children, and then become more and more like machines. We remain fearful, anxious, frightened of life. So, is it the function of education to help us understand the whole process of life, or is it merely to prepare us for a vocation, for the best job we can get?

What is going to happen to all of us when we grow to be men and women? Have you ever asked yourselves what you are going to do when you grow up?

In all likelihood you will get married and, before you know where you are, you will be mothers and fathers; and you will then be tied to a job, or to the kitchen, in which you will gradually wither away. Is that all that your life is going to be? Have you ever asked yourselves this question? Should you not ask it? If your family is wealthy you may have a fairly good position already assured, your father may give you a comfortable job, or you may get richly married; but there also you will decay, deteriorate. Do you see?

Surely, education has no meaning unless it helps you to understand the vast expanse of life with all its subtleties, with its extraordinary beauty, its sorrows and joys. You may earn degrees, you may have a series of letters after your name and land a very good job; but then what? What is the point of it all if, in the process, your mind becomes dull, weary, stupid?

So, while you are young, must you not seek to find out what life is all about? And is it not the true function of education to cultivate in you the intelligence which will try to find the answer to all these problems?

Do you know what intelligence is? It is the capacity, surely, to think freely without fear, without a formula, so that you begin to discover for yourself what is real, what is true; but if you are frightened you will never be intelligent.

Any form of ambition, spiritual or mundane, breeds anxiety, fear; therefore ambition does not help to bring about a mind that is clear, simple, direct, and hence intelligent.

You know, it is really very important while you are young to live in an environment in which there is no fear. Most of us, as we grow older, become frightened; we are afraid of living, afraid of losing a job, afraid of tradition, afraid of what the neighbours, or what the wife or husband would say, afraid of death.

Most of us have fear in one form or another; and where there is fear there is no intelligence. And is it not possible for all of us, while we are young, to be in an environment where there is no fear but rather an atmosphere of freedom _ freedom, not just to do what we like, but to understand the whole process of living?

Life is really very beautiful, it is not this ugly thing that we have made of it; and you can appreciate its richness, its depth, its extraordinary loveliness only when you revolt against everything _ against organised religion, against tradition, against the present rotten society _ so that you as a human being find out for yourself what is true. Not to imitate but to discover _ that is education, is it not?

It is very easy to conform to what your society or your parents and teachers tell you. That is a safe and easy way of existing; but that is not living, because in it there is fear, decay, death. To live is to find out for yourself what is true, and you can do this only when there is freedom, when there is continuous revolution inwardly, within yourself.

But you are not encouraged to do this; no one tells you to question, to find out for yourself what God is, because if you were to rebel you would become a danger to all that is false. Your parents and society want you to live safely, and you also want to live safely. Living safely generally means living in imitation and therefore in fear. Surely, the function of education is to help each one of us to live freely and without fear, is it not? And to create an atmosphere in which there is no fear requires a great deal of thinking on your part as well as on the part of the teacher, the educator.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Project Learning Teaching Strategies Can Also Improve Your Everyday Classroom Experience

Project Learning Teaching Strategies Can Also Improve Your Everyday Classroom Experience.

As a teacher, my goal was to go home at the end of each day with more energy than I had at the beginning of the day. Seriously.

Now, as I travel the country coaching teachers on how to successfully use project learning, my goal remains the same. And I try to teach educators the strategies they need to achieve this goal in their own classrooms.

A teacher in one of my workshops said, "When my students and I are in the flow, then I don't feel like I have to work as hard." I heartily agree. When 90 to 100 percent of my students are excitedly engaged in their tasks and asking deep and interesting questions, I experience joy, and joy is a lot less tiring than the frustration that comes with student apathy.

Project-based classrooms with an active-learning environment make such in-the-flow moments more common. Yet these same classrooms require many teacher and student skills to work well. As teachers, we can feel overwhelmed when we try something new and experience chaos instead of flow.

The good news is that the strategies for creating and managing high-quality project-learning environments are productive in any classroom, whether project learning is a central part of the curriculum or not. Here are ten ideas that you can start practicing in your classroom today to help you create more moments of flow.

Create an Emotionally Safe Classroom

Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. Consider having a rule such as "We do not put others downs, tell others to shut up, or laugh at people." Apply it to yourself as well as your students. This is the foundation of a supportive, collaborative learning environment. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.

Create an Intellectually Safe Classroom

Begin every activity with a task that 95 percent of the class can do without your help. Get your students used to the fact that when you say, "Please begin," they should pick up a pencil and start working successfully. This gets everyone on the bus. Then make sure your students know that these initial easy tasks will always be followed by increasingly challenging ones. Create rich and complex tasks so that various students have a chance to excel and take on the role of helping others.

Cultivate Your Engagement Meter

Be acutely aware of when your students are paying strong attention or are deeply engaged in their tasks. Master teachers create an active-learning environment in which students are on task in their thinking and speaking or are collaboratively working close to 100 percent of the time. Such teachers notice and measure not only when students are on task but also the quality of their engagement.

Although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students. The more brutally honest you are with yourself, the faster you will get there.

Create Appropriate Intermediate Steps

The first question I ask educators when I coach them on project learning is how many of their students say, "We can't wait to do another project," versus "Oh, no! Not another project." Teachers tend to get the first response when they scaffold challenging tasks so that all students are successful.

For example, take the typical task of interviewing an adult outside the classroom. Some teachers assign the task on Monday and expect it to be done the following Monday, confident that by including the weekend, they are providing sufficient support. Other teachers realize that finding, cold calling, and interviewing an adult are challenging tasks for most young people, so they create intermediate steps -- such as brainstorming, searching online for phone numbers, crafting high-quality interview questions, and role-playing the interview -- that train all students for success.

Practice Journal or Blog Writing to Communicate with Students

Japanese teachers highly value the last five minutes of class as a time for summarizing, sharing, and reflecting. A nice way to change the pace of your class is to have students write regular reflections on the work they have done. Encourage and focus their writing with a prompt, such as "The Muddiest Point and the Clearest Point: What was most confusing about the work you did today, and what new thing was the most clear?" Use this approach to guide future lessons and activities. Consider writing responses to student journal entries in order to carry on a conversation with students about their work.

Create a Culture of Explanation Instead of a Culture of the Right Answer

You know you have created a rich learning event when all students are engaged in arguing about the best approach to the assignment. When you use questions and problems that allow for multiple strategies to reach a successful outcome, you give students the opportunity to make choices and then compare their approaches. This strategy challenges them to operate at a higher level of thinking than when they can share only the "correct" answer. Avidly collect problems and tasks that have multiple paths to a solution. As a math teacher, I create problems that have a lot of numbers instead of the usual two. For example, I can present this problem:

5 + 13 + 24 - 8 + 47 - 12 + 59 - 31 - 5 + 9 - 46 - 23 + 32 - 60

Then I can say, "There are at least three fundamentally different strategies for doing the following problem. Can you find them all?"

Teach Self-Awareness About Knowledge

All subjects build on prior knowledge and increase in complexity at each successive level of mastery. Effective learning requires that certain skills and processes be available for quick recall. Many students let too much of their knowledge float in a sea of confusion and develop a habit of guessing, sometimes without even knowing that they are guessing.

Credit: Courtesy of Tristan de Frondeville

To help students break this habit, paste the graphic at right next to each question on your assessments. After the students answer a question, have them place an X on the line to represent how sure they are that their answer is correct. This approach encourages them to check their answer and reflect on their confidence level. It is informative when they get it wrong but marked "for sure" or when they do the opposite and mark "confused" yet get the answer right.

Use Questioning Strategies That Make All Students Think and Answer

Pay a visit to many classrooms and you'll see a familiar scene: The teacher asks questions and, always, the same reliable hands raise up. This pattern lends itself to student inattention. Every day, include some questions you require every student to answer. Find a question you know everyone can answer simply, and have the class respond all at once.

You can ask students to put a finger up when they're ready to answer, and once they all do, ask them to whisper the answer at the count of three. They can answer yes, no, or maybe with a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways gesture. That also works for "I agree," "I disagree," or "I'm not sure."

Numerical answers under ten are easy to show with fingers, but don't limit yourself to math questions. For instance, if you're teaching time management, have students let you know what their progress is halfway through the class by putting up one or more fingers to show whether they are one-, two-, or three-quarters done with the assignment, or finished. Do these exercises at least two or three times per class.

Practice Using the Design Process to Increase the Quality of Work

Students in school get used to doing work at a consistent level of quality. Unfortunately, low-performing students get used to doing poor-quality work. To help them break the habit, use a draft-and-revision process.

Many professionals use such a design process to increase the quality of their work. Engineers build prototypes, respond to critical feedback, and refine their design before going into production. Artists make sketches of big works and revise their ideas before creating their final piece. Use the design process to drive your students to produce higher-quality work than they are used to doing when they create only a first effort. Include peer evaluation as part of the feedback they receive.

Market Your Projects

When your students ask, "Why do we need to know this?" you must be ready with the best answer possible. Great projects incorporate authentic tasks that will help students in their lives, jobs, or relationships. Engage students by developing an inventory of big ideas to help you make the connections between your assignments and important life skills, expertise, high-quality work, and craftsmanship. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills provides a good starter list.

Also, search out the powerful processes and ideas experts in your own subject use repeatedly. (In math, for instance, my list includes generalizing and parts and wholes.) Keep a journal of the big ideas you've discovered simply by teaching your subject. By continually referring to these big ideas, you will encourage students to think and act like subject-matter experts and develop skills they will use throughout their lives.


Monday, June 18, 2012

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms

ADHD Symptoms.

ADHD symptoms sometimes confuse parents, as they are often given ADHD checklists or questionnaires, which list symptoms such as:

    fails to give close attention to details
    makes careless mistakes
    doesn't listen
    doesn't follow instructions
    loses things
    talks too much
    moves around too much or is always on the go
    can't wait his turn
    interrupts others

Can these be ADHD symptoms?

Sure, but they can also be symptoms of a normal preschooler or an immature five year old, so it is important to consider the symptoms in the context of the child you are thinking about, especially his age and developmental level.

Most importantly, remember that for a child to have ADHD, the symptoms should be causing an impairment for your child. That means that the ADHD symptoms should be causing him to have some trouble learning, making and keeping friends, participating in after-school activities (including sports) or even functioning at home. For example, the ADHD symptoms might lead to a child having trouble with his siblings or might lead him to getting in trouble a lot at home.

ADHD Symptoms

It can be a little easier to understand ADHD symptoms if you think about them as being grouped into three major categories, including children who:

    have trouble paying attention (inattention) and get easily distracted
    are hyperactive or "on the go" (hyperactivity)
    are impulsive or doing things without really thinking about them (impulsivity)

Some children just have one type of ADHD symptom; for example, children with ADHD, Inattentive Type simply have trouble paying attention and get distracted, but they aren't hyperactive or impulsive. Other children can just have ADHD, Hyperactive - Impulsive Type, while some have ADHD, Combined Type if the child has all of the major ADHD symptoms.

Keep in mind that some of the other criteria for a diagnosis for ADHD include that the symptoms have been present for at least six months, they began before the child was 7 years old and they are causing an impairment in more than one setting, for example both at home and at school.

If your child only has problems at school or only in one subject, then you might look to see if he could have a learning disorder, such as dyscalculia or dysgraphia, another learning disability or dyslexia. Looking for another learning problem can also be a good idea if your child, already being treated for ADHD, simply isn't doing well in school -- since many children have both ADHD and a learning disability or dyslexia.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

How Can Teachers Create a Learner Centered Environment?

How Can Teachers Create a Learner Centered Environment?

As a classroom teacher, does the idea of a learner centered environment sound new to you?

The Alliance for Excellent Education recently released Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered By Digital Learning.

The report advocates that a culture shift to a learner centered classroom environment is needed to prepare students to meet the challenges and demands of a global economy, that:

1) Learning needs to be rigorous and based on college and career-ready expectations.

2) Learning is personalized.

3) Learning is collaborative, relevant, and applied.

4) Learning is flexible, taking place anytime, anywhere.

This insightful report confirms and expands on what many teachers know are challenges in classrooms. I was fortunate to be part of an Alliance for Excellent Education panel that discussed the transformations needed in teaching in order to create this culture shift.

Then, a few days later at the Content in Context conference, presented by the Association of Educational Publishers and Association of American Publishers School Division, I had the opportunity to join a panel of publishers as an educator representative to discuss Organizing for the Future: Making the Learner the Focus of Your Business where we talked about the importance and challenges of creating products to support a learner-centered future.

From an educator perspective, we all welcome the emerging discussions on how publishers can support teachers in creating learner-centered classrooms.

And, if it involves meaningful integration of technology, so much the better!

Here are my take-aways from both events:

1) Effective teachers have always created a learner centered environment.

How do you survive teaching a group of students with learning disabilities and others with emotional disabilities? Hint: Know them as individuals, understand their strengths, needs, and learning styles, and be able to differentiate the ways they learn grade level content.

Create this learner-centered environment, one builds a learning community and manages behaviors of the class.

Fail to do the chaos unfold!!!

In other words, effective teachers with students with diverse socio-cultural and learning needs have always been learner centered.

Perhaps, the concept of learner centered environment actually originated in the one-room school house- where the teachers had students of different ages learning different content.

On the other hand, when discussing a culture shift, more is needed to scale this philosophy....

2) We need meaningful publisher and teacher collaboration

With the wide availability of multimedia and other resources on the Internet, the focus on the textbook as the sole source for information is decreasing. Many teachers supplement the textbook with additional resources to meet the needs of students.

In the emerging era of flipped classrooms, Khan Academy, iTunes U, You Tube, and other on-demand Internet resources that empower students to learn outside of the classroom, publishers will need to collaborate more with teachers to be able to create more relevant and meaningful products to support teachers.

This collaboration is essential in meeting the needs of an ever-increasing student diversity within the context of classrooms with higher and more rigorous standards.

At the same time, publishers have also experienced challenges with providing resources for teachers due to differences in state standards and the thousands of school districts, each with their own procurement timelines and adoption cycles.

Hopefully, the adoption of the Common Core Standards will facilitate the development of closer publisher and teacher collaboration to create more meaningful and relevant resources for students.

3) Learner centered environments will require technology.

How can a paper based textbook compete with dynamic, interactive, and on-demand digital resources?

It can't.

When I taught high school English literature at an elite private high school, the (general education) students did fine with the grade level textbook. But, in my 8th grade public school (special education) classroom where the reading levels of students ranged from 3rd to 6th grade, trying to learn 8th grade content with a textbook that had a reading level ranging from 8th to 9th grade was challenging.

My students needed, what the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards describes as, multiple paths to knowledge- being able to have a variety of resources that meets the learning needs of each student in order to access the grade level content.

As I shared at the panel, what we need is a "device" that can present the grade level content, but has features that can change the reading level of the text as appropriate for the student, integrate video and other appropriate multimedia content, and interactive simulations. The content should be updated regularly and have assessment features.

Soon, there will be Apps for that.

Paper doesn't cut it. A learner centered environment requires technology.

4) New roles are needed for the teacher profession.

The Alliance for Excellent Education report highlighted new professional responsibilities and roles for teachers:

a) Teachers as Facilitator of Learning
b) User of Data and Assessments
c) Collaborator, Contributor, and Coach with Peers
d) Curriculum Adapter and Designer

The teaching profession will also need to adapt in order to sustain these transformations. Since these roles require additional skills and knowledge, the teaching profession will need to better understand how to develop and support these differentiated roles to establish a professional culture with multiple levels of expertise and skill sets.

5) Transparency in classrooms will drive the change.

Will the public demand this cultural shift in teaching and learning?

During the Alliance panel discussion, Peggy Brookins, a National Board Certified Teacher and Director of the Engineering and Management Institute of Technology of Forest High School in Florida, and Erin Frew, Principal of New Tech West High School in Ohio showed videos of student activities that exemplify the potential of a learner centered environment.

Videos of student activities and projects in learner centered classrooms need to become viral. The public should demand that their children do similar activities at their school.

Schools should feature the types of learning that goes on in classrooms. Transparency can restore a healthy balance of relevant instruction and meaningful assessment, to "turn around" the narrowing of curriculum and learning associated with the test prep era.

Then ALL teachers, publishers, and other stakeholders can make that culture wide shift to create that learner centered environment that prepares All students for the future.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dyspraxia Learning Disability



Dyspraxia is a type of learning disability in which children have problems with motor skill development, especially fine motor skills.

Specifically, children with dyspraxia have problems planning and completing tasks such as holding a cup, eating with a spoon and fork, catching a ball, or riding a bike. Unlike cerebral palsy and other causes of motor delays, with dyspraxia, the child's strength and muscle tone is normal.

As they get older, children with dyspraxia may have problems with learning to button their clothes, tie shoelaces, and may have poor handwriting. They may also have poor coordination, some speech difficulties, and problems making and keeping friends.

Children can be tested by a school's special education department if a parent or teacher suspects that a child might have dyspraxia. Because it affects a child's motor skills, some children with dyspraxia are also evaluated by a child neurologist.

Also Known As: developmental dyspraxia

A child whose fine motor skills are way behind his same-age peers may have dyspraxia and should be evaluated by his pediatrician.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Dysgraphia Learning Disability



Dysgraphia is a type of learning disability in which children have problems with writing, including handwriting and spelling.

In addition to poor handwriting, children with dysgraphia may write slowly, get tired while when writing, leave out words, and have trouble thinking and writing at the same. They may especially have trouble communicating their ideas when trying to write them down.

Children can be tested by a school's special education department if a parent or teacher suspects that a child might have dysgraphia.

Also Known As: Writing Difficulty

Common Misspellings: disgrafia, disgraphia, dysgraphie, dysgrafia

Children with dysgraphia often have poor handwriting and have trouble taking notes or with creative writing.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

School Performance Problems

School Performance Problems.

Pediatricians seem to get many more requests for help with school problems at the end of the school year, when parents usually find out if their child is going to pass to the next grade or not. This is unfortunate, since the earlier you get started looking into the cause of your child's school problems and getting him help, the more likely he is to be successful.

The beginning of the school year is often thought of as a 'fresh start.' However, if your child was struggling in school last year, and no changes have been made, then he is likely to repeat the same struggles, and perhaps the same school year, again.

Instead of waiting, try to schedule a meeting to talk with your child's teachers or counselors, either very early in the school year, or before school starts. This way, you can identify early interventions that you can take, whether it is testing for a learning disability, extra tutoring, help getting organized, or if he has ADHD, a change in medication.

There are many reasons why children struggle in school, such as lack of motivation, attentional problems (ADHD), learning disabilities, behavioral problems, stress with family or friends, being bullied, depression, etc. And many of these conditions can overlap, for example, a child with a learning disabilities might struggle in school and then develop poor self esteem and behavioral problems or depression because he is doing poorly. Or problems at school can begin with an underlying depression or behavioral problem.

Sorting out the cause of a child's school problems can be difficult. Among the resources where you should look for help include your child's school, with a meeting with his teachers, counselor and/or other school personal, and his pediatrician.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is Education a Girl Thing?

Is Education a Girl Thing?

I'm chatting with a well-known, prolific (male) education blogger, whose work I greatly admire--and whose name I'm not going to reveal. I love what he writes, because it's deep--reaching past media flip-offs and who's winning the policy wars and whether they're Gates-funded. He writes about things like how children think, deconstructing the impact of competition on learning, and organic leadership that isn't laid out in seven steps by a Famous Author. We're talking about a mutual passion: how to get more teachers, beginning with bloggers, into rich professional conversation networks. He says:

How can we get the guy who works in urban schools, the guy who made his name on using tech tools in the classroom, the guy who teaches poor kids in a remote rural school, and the guy who teaches in the high-performing 'burbs to talk together?

There's a pause. That's a lot of guys, I say. Can girls play, too?

Immediately, he's self-conscious about the language that came without thinking. We talk about how the gender makeup of the teaching force impacts the profession's willingness to stand up for itself. How this gender disproportion impacts all kinds of issues, from why teachers can't get family insurance (the presumption there's a husband whose job will provide it) to why Scott Walker stripped away teachers' rights, rather than firefighters.' We discuss iconic women (Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, Wendy Kopp) who are held up as "proof" that the national discourse on education reform is gender-diverse.

But it's not. It's a heavily male-dominated arena. Men are making the policy arguments and pronouncements, hosting the virtual communities and producing the media. Women are carrying out the policy orders, teaching kids to read using scripted programs and facing 36 students in their algebra classes. And when teachers are bold enough to mention this, they're likely to be reminded that fixing public education is far more important than their "feelings" about being slighted--a depressingly familiar argument to women of a certain age who consider themselves feminists.

This is more than unsubstantiated blah-blah. There's plenty of evidence that men are the loudest voices in the media around social issues like education. Here, here, here and here, for example. And when women are powerful, smart and respected, the negative pushback is especially vicious--on both sides of any ed-policy disagreement.

Makes me wonder: Has the "reform" movement (the one where public education is an untapped market, and testing the linchpin strategy) gotten as far as it has because those most motivated to mobilize resistance--K-12 teachers and parents--are predominantly female? If more women were writing and speaking powerfully about education policy, philosophy and practice, would public schools be perceived as America's best, albeit neglected, hope for the future--rather than an opportunity for profit and control?

My friend David Loitz recently posted a call for educators to name their favorite female education heroes and influences--a blog that's garnered 67 comments with nearly 100 nominees, from eminent figures to very personal inspirations. It's been thrilling to see new names go up every day--and wonder why those names aren't better known.

I posted a few suggestions of my own--but kept thinking there were names I was missing. There's a bookcase in my office stocked with my go-to ed-library. I have boxes and boxes of books about education, but keep the ones I use most often in writing and workshops handy. Just for fun, I counted the titles by women (or groups of mostly women). Grand total: 192 books, 34 by female authors. An appalling 18%.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Things to Consider Before Going Back to School For an Education

Things to Consider Before Going Back to School For an Education.

Career growth is one of those things that can really frustrate people and is one of the biggest reasons why people want to return to college these days. This might be due to the fact that you are not earning as much as you’d like or not getting that promotion that you’ve always wanted.

Most importantly, you might be feeling as if your job does not satisfy you and leaves you frustrated and unhappy at the end of the day.

While you might have thought that the career that you now have was great when you were much younger, you might feel it’s time to move on to a better career by going back to school.

But there are certain questions that you must ask yourself before “taking the plunge”:

#1: Am I in the right career?

Most people consider the answer to this question to be one that is very similar to that of finding a soul mate. If you love your job, then you will never leave it for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if your current bores you to death, then it’s high time you considered going back to school for a degree that suits your interest.

#2: Why does your current career not fit you?

At another level altogether, in finding out why your current job does not suit you, might give you clues as to whether you should really pursue another career or not. There are several reasons as to why you might not be satisfied with your work such as issues with the work environment, colleagues, seniors or even the company culture. In this case, the problem might not lie with what you are doing but who you are working with, and so it might be wise to change jobs instead of careers altogether.

#3: Will I be able to manage to pay for college?

Despite the fact that there are several scholarships for single mother and the like, the truth is that college can be expensive. So before you make a commitment, you have to decide whether you can afford the payments that will help you complete a course. Remember: you have a family to take care of as well so it’s a good idea to think about it.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Core Abilities Are Essential Workplace Skills

Core Abilities Are Essential Workplace Skills.

Core abilities are essential workplace skills that cut across occupational and academic titles. Identifies as such by Wisconsin Technical College System, the core abilities align with other abilities, skills, or outcomes identified in Work place Basics: The Skills Employers Want, the SCANS Report, and other other studies. They are broad, common abilities that students must possess to be prepared for the work force. They are "the broadest outcomes, skills, or purposes that are addressed throughout a course." (Neill)

Although educational institutions typically reflect the core abilities in their mission or philosophy statements, and although good teachers recognize the importance of communication, employ ability, information management, interpersonal, and problem solving skills, "core abilities are not stated at the course level and therefore not planned into the curriculum. ... As a result, these essential skills, which may be the most important educational targets, have been overshadowed by content-specific competencies and objectives." (Neill)

Core abilities are different than course competencies in that they are not course-specific. They are not taught in "lessons." Instead, they are broader skills that run through courses and lessons. They "enable learners to perform competencies."

Core abilities may be stated differently, and the number of abilities varies somewhat depending on how they are formulated in statements. Even the community colleges involved in the Wisconsin project defined the abilities differently from one college to another. The Moraine Park Technical College model may be the most popular, however. It identifies seven core abilities:

    WORKING PRODUCTIVELY -- "an individual possesses and applies effective work habits and attituides within an organizational setting." (Mielke)

    LEARNING EFFECTIVELY -- "an individual possesses necessary basic skills in reading, writing, and computing; applies skills in acquiring information; and uses learning tools and strategies." (Mielke)

    COMMUNICATING CLEARLY -- "an individual is able to apply appropriate writing, speaking, and listening skills in order to precisely convey information, ideas, and opinions." (Mielke)

    WORKING COOPERATIVELY -- "an individual is capable of working with others to complete tasks, solve problems, resolve conflicts, provide information, and offer support." (Mielke)

    ACTING RESPONSIBLY -- "an individual recognizes an obligation to self and others for his or her decisions and actions." (Mielke)

    VALUING SELF POSITIVELY -- "an individual applies the principles of physical and psychological wellness to his or her life." (Mielke)

    THINKING CRITICALLY AND CREATIVELY -- "an individual applies the principles and strategies of purposeful, active, organized thinking." (Mielke)


Monday, June 4, 2012

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.

1. Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and
involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few
faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

2. Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students
Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is
collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in
learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.

3. Good Practice Encourages Active Learning
Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers,
memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are
learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what
they learn part of themselves.

4. Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on
performance to benefit from courses. In getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge
and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

5. Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one's time well is
critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis for high performance for all.

6. Good Practice Communicates High Expectations
Expect more and you will get it. High Expectations are important for everyone - for the poorly prepared, for
those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well becomes a selffulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations of themselves and make extra efforts.

7. Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant
students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Designing Courses with a Progression of Learning Experiences

Thinking Developmentally: Designing Courses with a Progression of Learning Experiences

Thinking developmentally is one of those instructional design issues that we don’t do often enough. We understand that different learning experiences are appropriate for students at different levels. We expect a higher caliber of work from seniors than from those just starting college. But how often do we purposefully design a progression of learning experiences?

Consider a course that incorporates several different small group learning experiences. We have opted to use groups because we want students engaged, interacting and learning the content collectively. In addition, we want these group experiences to teach students something about working with others—how disagreements can be handled constructively, how work can be divided equitably, how the group can influence what individual members do. Thinking developmentally means that each of these group experiences should be different. Perhaps each one focuses on a different skill or each one requires more sophisticated use of developing skills. This means the order in which they’re experienced matters. Each experience should build on what happened in the previous one.

Or, what about a course where one of the objectives is developing critical thinking skills? We’ve discussed previously in this blog how our disciplines define critical thinking differently. Teachers who aspire to develop critical thinking abilities in their students must start with a clear understanding of what it is they want students to be able to do. Our hypothetical course, like most courses, contains a variety of assignments and activities. The question is what does each contribute to the development of critical thinking skills? Once again order is important, as is how these activities are related and build on each other. We can’t just assume they somehow all work together … well, we can, but the desired outcomes are less assured and more happenstance than if we approach skill development systematically.

Thinking developmentally also should happen across a collection of courses. For individual faculty, it’s probably easiest to start with two courses in a sequence. Whether they are taught by the same professor or two different ones, they offer the opportunity to purposefully develop knowledge and skill sets across a longer time frame. They also make it possible for students to see that courses are not islands but rather connected territories where what they learn in one relates to what they learn in the other. And where what they do in one course, they can then do with greater skill in the next.

This kind of purposeful planning can significantly enhance the development of a variety of important skills if the planning isn’t just focused on what content should be covered in what course. That’s important yes, but the question is much more complicated than who gets to teach what. It’s also the question of what content, coupled with what assignments and activities, best develops the necessary skills and knowledge base for students in a specific program.

Finally, thinking developmentally considers the maturation process, especially when the students are young adults. In the early 1990s Stommer and Erickson authored an excellent book called Teaching College Freshmen which was republished in 2006 as Teaching First-Year College Students. It’s a book I regularly recommend to those who teach these students. It provides an excellent overview of developmental issues relevant to beginning students. For years I’ve been saying that it ought to be the first book in a series. We need a book on teaching sophomores, one on juniors and finally one on seniors. Knowing something about where students are developmentally enables us to make better decisions about how we intervene and advance that process.

Developing assignments and activities that promote deep learning and significant skill development is a challenging intellectual task. But we don’t have to do everything all at once. We can start small; thinking developmentally about a set of related activities in the course, or purposefully planning how we will use two different assignments or activities to develop a particular skill. I’m guessing the results will motivate greater involvement with this important task.