Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking” – how to make your life more creative (book review)

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If I were to name my favourite things in the classroom, that would be triple C – creativity, communication and Cthulhu. Lateral thinking is something I really enjoy – thinking out of the box is fun for students, but for teachers it’s a necessity: how can you survive teaching the same stuff over and over again without being repetitive and, even worse, without getting tired of the monotony that goes with it?

For our own sake we should set our mindshift on the change, on creativity, on new ways of approaching old problems – that is how we will adjust our classes to various groups and students and ultimately make our lessons more varied and personalised and ourselves better professionals.

A short yet very inspiring book everyone should read is “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono, who created the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Naturally, for people mad about the research the fact that there is no bibliography in de Bono’s book might be somewhat disturbing, however it is an inspiration worth reading.

The book, as every good book, starts with a story – a riddle about a small black stone and about a fresh perspective on a problem. It’s a good tale and it shows you various ways you can use a new approach to tackle an old problem. Obviously, it is quite difficult to start thinking creatively, so de Bono explains the way people conceive ideas in a surprisingly understandable manner, presenting visual element to explain quite difficult theory.

For example, de Bono declares the “obvious” solutions as the “dominant” ideas – and he proposes to put them aside while tackling the problem. We cannot blind ourselves with the obvious, if we want to achieve a more creative and uncommon idea. The danger of such thinking is that we may end up stuck with the obvious because there is no certainty of finally coming up with a new, fresh idea that will prove as useful as the old one.

De Bono mentions also the importance of the doubt and of the accident – sometimes it’s one or the other that inspire us to creative thinking (like the Isaac Newton and the famous apple that fell down from the tree right to the field of physics). The thing about lateral thinking is that in a way we let our mind wander trying to find something that will help us solve the troublesome issue. However, there is nothing certain about this process and yet, sometimes a random encounter may help us see a new and wonderful idea.

Why do kids stop playing, asks de Bono and answers: because the world stops being a new and wonderful place full of discoveries and adventures. Leaving dominant ideas and practising lateral thinking may help us enjoy the process of thinking as truly creative, enjoying the new challenges our life gives us – and make everyday problems part of extraordinary life.

If you look for inspirations – you may start with this book.

Enjoy!

de Bono, Edward “Lateral Thinking”

Penguin Books Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9780241257548

 

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500 Activities for the Primary Classroom – when you look for inspirations (book review)

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We all know that teaching kids requires not only knowledge and patience, but also wild amounts of ingenuity and creativity – the younger the learner, the more creative the teacher must be! And since I’ve professionally come back to dealing with young learners and teens, the book I felt like browsing through really carefully addressed the needs of the youngest learners – especially knowing the author.

I met Carol Read when I was a rookie teacher in a primary school – she was invited by Macmillan, visited Rzeszów and clearly wanted to observe a typical English lesson. I was only happy to deliver – and I found her one of the nicest people ever; also, she was the first native speaker my students had seen and they loved her.

What is the book about?

You would probably say – it’s 500 activities for children… and you’d be almost right, because it’s far more than this – each chapter starts with really useful methodological content that will help you understand the approaches behind various activities along with “reflection time” – section where you can think over your ideas. Moreover, each activity is followed by comments and suggestions, and with years of experience Ms. Read has a lot of useful tips to share!

Who is the book for?

As the dedication states – the book is for every teacher who tries to bring out the best in every child. If you’re a fresh teacher who hasn’t ever taught a kid – it’s for you! If you’re an experienced educator who has spent more time with the adults and now wants to start again with younger learners (like your truly) – you’ll find it a great source of inspiration!

Contents

The book is divided into ten sectionslistening and speaking, reading and writing, Vocabulary and grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games, Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Content-based learning, ICT and multimedia and Learning to learn. Each activity goes with an awesome description reminding me of my favourite book ever – level (from A1.1 to B1.2), age, organisation (groupwork, pairwork etc.), aims, language focus, materials and procedures. So, apart from mere ideas you have a lot of material you can adapt to your own groups and their needs.

My favourite activities

Naturally, the first part I read was the one focussed on storytelling – and the first exercise is called “words in the story” where kids create a story about a Kraken. My cthultistic heart appreciates such an excellent beginning! I really enjoyed the exercise “story stepping stones” where children learn to identify and use key episodes in the story – a very useful skill when it comes to storytelling.

But there are more activities than this – you will find activities you may use in a classroom on a regular basis – listening grid, follow the route task or wall dictation. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love.

Recommendations

This is one of those books I can recommend for everyone – even if you don’t teach children it may still prove useful; perfect when you need to cover for a colleague… or when your own (or your friends’) kids want to have fun and expect you to come up with a creative idea – 500 Activities is a great help, as young learners develop their skills unconsciously, simply having fun.

And having fun is something not only kids like!

Read, Carol “500 Activities for the Primary Classroom: Immediate Ideas and Solutions”

Macmillan Books for Teachers 2007

ISBN 978-1-4050-9907-3

 

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 8 – making classes SuperBetter)

Role-Playing Teaching

It’s a really strange feeling, when you read a book in April and you realise you’ve just read your Book of the Year. Also, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t heard of Jane McGonigal before my Prince Consort picked her book during our monthly book hunt and said “You will love it”. He was right, naturally.

If you wonder why I would write a book review in my Role-Playing Teaching series, you need to watch a TED-talk by McGonigal herself who says things that make my little, black, rotten heart swell with happiness:

If the video hasn’t convinced you, you should read McGonigal’s bestseller “SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games”. I’m not a fan of self-help books (I read Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, tried to use it while communicating with my parents and failed miserably – I was 13 by that time and lost faith in such publications), but I cannot describe SuperBetter as a self-help book, and one of the reasons is the emphasis on cooperation and social relations helping us grow.

The book begins with a moving story of Jane’s happy life, misfortune and final success in overcoming obstacles and reaching a happy, yet full of challenges, life. Frankly, so many books written to inspire others follow the similar pattern, so being the Villain I am, I was somewhat sceptical – but what followed the personal story, was a flood of data from various research – and this was something I love (yay, research!). Have you heard of Snow World, a game used in burn centres to alleviate the pain using phenomena called spotlight theory of attention? And that’s just the beginning of the motivating story where you create your own game-like life in which you can assume a role of a superhero to overcome any obstacles.

How do games help in our development?

Playing video games releases as much dopamine as an injection of a drug. Why is it useful apart from sudden exhilaration? Simple – the research show that dopamine “shots” while we play games make us more determined to achieve goals and less frustrated in case of the failure. It was proven that players are more dedicated and resilient, moreover, games help you try out various tactics and approaches without real-life consequences which encourages you to be more daring, open and ready for opportunities. Playing games also help you learn proper prioritising your own goals.

How to wake up a gamer in oneself?

Even if you haven’t played for a good while you can recall the mentality of a gamer – think of your obstacles as challenges or quests, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or becoming an entrepreneur. From the neurological point of view, McGonigal explains, there’s no difference whether you feel “real” excitement or “make-believe” feeling, your brain is ready to go! If you read the book, you will learn how to “power up” positive experiences and build your inner game-world (for example, by giving names to the obstacles – if your goal is getting fit, your main enemy might be a Scheming Local Pizza Place, where they seem to have great deals exactly when you’re hungry and passing by… coincidence? I think not!). You will also learn how to plan your aims realistically and how to avoid procrastination (to which some of us, like yours truly, are really susceptible).

Quests!

Apart from theory, the book includes three quests: the first is for those looking for True Love (which, as all of us fans of The Princess Bride know, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops), the second is for people who want to become ninjas (or at least Mulan), and the third one is created for those who feel their days are too short and want to work on time management.

Why should you read it?

You may sensibly ask: so far so good, but what does it have to do with teaching? Well – everything! With games, you have the perfect tool to make yourself and your students motivated, ready for a challenge (because Dreadful Grammar Drill looks like a perfect name for the obstacle on our quest to Purrfect English!) and, first and foremost, to make all the educational process fun, even within the strict framework of public educational system.

I believe in games and teaching complementing each other to make education fun, so if you’re a member of a facebook group of Polish Teachers of EFL and you’re interested in this topic, you will have an opportunity to attend my workshop on RPG and TEFL as well as take part in a RPG session during Zlot this summer.

I hope to see you there!

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0143109778

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)

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The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.

Enjoy!

Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026

“Authentic Learning in the Digital Age” – can we connect technology and better education?

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Traditional model of teaching may seem quite obsolete, especially when we look at technological advancement visible in all areas of our lives, including education. Even my blog reflects changes that have been influencing the whole TEFL process, most of them provoked by technological development. Even now, one of the most common questions regarding teaching focuses on technology – shall educators introduce technology in the classroom and if yes, to what extent?

Larissa Pahomov is a part of Science Leadership Academy, and the book she wrote offers not only her insight on creating an authentic learning environment, but also bears the mark of a true practitioner and some of the answers are the ones that make this book more than a guide for other SLA teachers.

“(…) Real learning happens anywhere, anytime, with anyone we like – not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June” (Will Richardson, Why School? [2012])

Trying to grasp the ideal learning environment, the book is divided into five core values:

Inquiry: students need to be able to ask their own questions in order to engage with their education

Research: students need to learn how to collect and interpret both data and sources of information

Collaboration: working together not only helps students to learn better, it also supports them in developing interpersonal skills essential for their future professional life

Presentation: students learn how to present themselves and their work appropriately and effectively

Reflection: a necessary part of a learning process to improve with each cycle of learning

Each part is detailed by a very organised set of information: description (how the value can transform the learning process and how a digital solution can enhance it), step-by-step outline (making the shift and various examples), solutions (many possible roadblocks and workarounds given), suggestions (how to implement the value not only in one classroom, but in the whole school) and anecdotes (mainly from ex-students, giving a very valuable feedback).

My favourite part of each chapter is the one focusing on challenges and ways to overcome them – and this is probably the highlight of the whole book. It is not very often that a publication mentioning collaboration states the most common issue connected with group projects like “my group-mates are not working as hard as me or doing what I tell them to” or a typical students’ excuse which is “we don’t have time to meet outside of school” – and yet it does and offers some insightful solutions.

I find this book highly valuable for anyone attempting to introduce technology in their curriculum on a regular basis, rather than using it as some kind of fun once in a while.
The sensible and down-to-earth approach has supported me in my DoS work to help my teachers realise the importance of using technology in the classroom and to answer their doubts and insecurities. I can truthfully say this was the most inspiring CPD publication I read in 2017 and I can only hope you’ll find it at least as useful as I have.
Enjoy!
“Currently, teachers and schools often fall into an embrace/reject dichotomy when it comes to using technology in the classroom. (…) this “digital divide” often reflects a misguided focus on the what of technology, instead of why and how. (…) adjustment means shifting away from looking at technology as an end in itself and toward using technology as a medium for all kinds of learning. To make that shift, schools and teachers need to be asking the following question: How can technology transform education?” (Larissa Pahomov)

Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry
Author: Larissa Pahomov

Published: November 2014 by ASCD

ISBN: 1416619569 (ISBN13: 9781416619567)

What school leaders need to know…

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… About Digital Technologies and Social Media – it’s a book by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann written with many authorities on the topic on educational technology. Published in 2012 is an interesting read and a source of inspiration.

First of all you may sensibly ask whether a five year old paper book is not obsolete – after all, technological advance speeds up rather frighteningly. My answer is simple: of course, parts of the book are sometimes ridiculous (using RSS readers in the classroom sounds like history, doesn’t it?), but even though some ideas seem rather old-fashioned, it doesn’t mean the whole publication is a waste – quite contrary.

A series of articles touches various aspects of using digital solutions in the classroom, from blogging to online course managing systems. You can read about wikis, webinars, videos, social bookmarking or online mind mapping – but the best thing is that each article focuses not only on a digital tool, but also on its application in the classroom.

For example, the first article (Blogs by Kristin Hokanson and Christian Long) not only explains what blogs are and what is their educational rationale, but also introduces the Alice Project which turned out to be more than encouraging children to write a blog. We can read about technical steps and framing the whole process as well as after-project reflections – I found this really inspirational, because there’s nothing better than learning from someone else’s experience.

Apart from personal experience, each chapter mentions some potential uses of various tools that may still be useful – like a lot of ways you may use open source software, a full list of ideas on how to use digital videos to make your classes more interesting, etc.

Moreover, you can find tips that will make you think before you decide to implement a particular digital solution – like the three Rs, vital when it comes to including instructional video games in the class (repetition, reward and reason, useful not only in this case).

One of the things that caught my eye, however, was not connected to digital technology as a useful tool – it is a matter of responsibility, something we should teach our students along with technological solutions. We are going to read about responsible blogging, free open source software, protecting the school image etc.

To sum up, while I found some parts of the book a little bit outdated, the majority of the articles shed new light on some of the digital tools I’ve been using for a while. If you want to read a book that gives you a moment of reflection on your technological approach – that’s a great book for you.

You may also consider this book a nice gift for a fellow teacher (or a principal) who is not really up to date with technological tools in the classroom – quite often teachers feel awkward to start with a new solution, especially when they realise their students have a far greater knowledge on this topic. This book may be a good start on a journey, pointing out some basics and guiding through more problematic issues connected with using technology (responsibility, classroom management etc.).

Enjoy!

What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media

Scott McLeod (Editor), Chris Lehmann (Editor), David F. Warlick (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-118-02224-5
224 pages
November 2011, Jossey-Bass

Get Ready For Academic IELTS in 120 hours (+free syllabus)

Happy Father's Day!

Two months ago I wrote about a crash course Preparing for Academic IELTS test. Today I want to share my reflections on a new book by Macmillan Education: Ready for IELTS 2nd edition by Sam McCarter and Louis Rogers.

Why IELTS?

I have been preparing my students for Academic IELTS for a while, and I must admit I find this test the most sensible assessment, compared to other tests and exams. In order to get a decent band, you need to prove not only your linguistic proficiency but also ability to think quickly and reasonably.

You’ll probably be surprised (my students usually are) but the latter skill is really difficult to master.

Components

The whole course contains: Student’s Book, Workbook and Teacher’s Resource Pack with Resource Centre. What’s interesting about the components is that there are no CDs or DVDs attached – all audio files are downloadable, and while some may find this annoying, I applaud this sensible and eco-friendly solution.
Teacher’s Online Resource Centre includes audio tracks (for both SB and WB), speaking videos, communication activities, tests, wordlists and exam tips. Moreover, there’s Presentation Kit, Digital SB and ebook with answers.
The online environment for Ready for IELTS is just brilliant. You can create your virtual classroom to follow your students’ progress and – this feature got me – it gives you the possibility of using the book on any IWB as it’s fully operating online. Naturally, you also have access to additional worksheets, test tips etc. which makes it the best online support for a course I have seen.

Skills

While the main focus of the course is on – surprise, surprise – IELTS test techniques, the skills covered by the book aren’t related only to the test. There are many exercises on functional language that will help to develop “real” (not test-oriented) language. Each unit contains vocabulary section, reading and listening parts, grammar exercises and writing composition (traditionally, the hardest part of IELTS prep). Moreover, there are communicative activities in Teacher’s Resources in case students are tired with test-only approach.

Compared to Direct to IELTS, Ready for IELTS is definitely more slow-paced and relaxed, leaving space for a teacher to bring in some fresh air – I really appreciate this. The description on the cover claims the course helps students advance from band 5.0 to 7.0 and while I can only smile at the statement (which is actually true, although it doesn’t really concern linguistic skills) – I must admit this course offers far greater general development. So, compared to Direct to IELTS, this book is definitely version 2.0: smarter, faster and funnier.

Recommendation

Now’s the time for my confession: I’ve decided to write this review simply because I am starting my own 120-hour course preparing for Academic IELTS soon. Having read Ready for IELTS, my choice is simple: I pick this book and I hope it’ll help me in making a great – and successful – course for both my students and me.

And if you want to see how I’ve organised the whole course, you’re more than welcome to download Ready for IELTS 2nd ed syllabus which is shared under Creative Commons Licence.

Enjoy!

I want to thank Macmillan Polska for their help in creating this review.

Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Student’s Book Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-0-230-49568-5 (with answers)
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Teacher’s Book Premium Pack by Sam McCarter – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32867-0
Ready for IELTS 2nd edition Workbook by Louis Rogers – Macmillan Education, ISBN 978-1-786-32865-6 (with answers)