Motivating our students – Chiew Pang

Without The Egg, There Can Be No Chicken

– Chiew Pang

Before you can motivate your students, you yourself must first be motivated – that’s the first step. Students can tell if their teacher is in a bad mood, if they’re tired, or if they aren’t happy with the material. Strong feelings rub off; if you’re enthusiastic about your lesson, you’ll make your students enthusiastic. If you’re excited about a project, they will be too. For some tips on keeping yourself motivated, read up on iTDi’s posts on staying healthy and motivated.

This time, however, we’ll take a look at some ways we can help our students.

Know your students

This is so basic yet so neglected. If you treat your students as mere names and numbers on your register, then you might as well start looking at the classified ads for something that will suit your talents better. Show you care, show you have feelings and they will reciprocate. Try to adapt your lessons to their interests. If you’re using a coursebook, be bold enough to modify or supplement it. Why do a text on Madonna if they’re more interested in Lady Gaga? Why discuss polar bears when the pandas are more real to them? Students will have more interest if they can relate to the topic.

Be realistic

iTDi Ways to motivate your students

Set realistic expectations, appropriate to their level. Go step by step. Set achievable short-term goals and praise them when they managed to reach the goals. The higher you get, the further you’ll fall. Go gradually. If they fall, help them up. By all means, push them, but know their strengths and their weaknesses, know their limits and push them just beyond that. Guide them. Encourage them. Demonstrate how tasks can be done.

iTDi Ways to motivate your students
Images by C. Pang

Sing high praise

As mentioned above, praise them for accomplishing their tasks. Display their work on the walls. Consider setting up a class blog where their projects can be posted and discussed. Encourage parents and other classes to participate. Promote it via your PLN (Personal Learning Network) – perhaps you can succeed in getting students from different parts of the world to visit and comment on the blog.

Let’s work together!

Involve the students in creating rules and punishment. Set roles and rotate them. Put them up on the wall so that everyone knows their own responsibilities. Examples are: marking attendance, tidying the class, wiping the board, posting to the class blog, and collecting homework.

At the end of some classes, try asking them these questions:

  • What have you learnt today?
  • What did you like about today’s class?
  • What did you not like about today’s class? How would you change this?
  • What would you like to do in the next class?

These questions may have some unexpected results. Click here to see what it has done for a couple of teachers.

Do group work often. Relating to one another is important and sometimes they learn more from their peers than from the teacher.

Extend the classroom

From time to time, if possible, take the students on a field trip, or even to the schoolyard or playground, anywhere outside the confining classroom walls. They are in the classroom for many hours and it can be very mind-energising to have a class outdoors, to feel the breeze, to see the sky and to touch the earth.

Open up!

Try your best to create a positive helpful learning environment. Be accessible. Let them know that they can approach you for anything that is troubling them. I know teachers who take advantage of social networks to maintain accessibility out of classroom hours but not everyone is willing to go this distance. How much you’re willing to give is up to you but knowing that there’s a teacher who cares for them can be extremely motivating. And motivated students can be incredibly motivating for us, too.

Without the egg, there can be no chicken.

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iTDi Research Issue – Anna

Can I Have Your Attention, Please?

— Anna Pires

Anna Pires

My interest in the area of attention began a few years ago when I attended a meeting at my son’s school. His homeroom teacher told us what wonderful and motivated kids we had, but there was a little problem. Their teachers were complaining that they were struggling to get them to pay attention in class. I think I must have laughed out loud when she said this, and had to explain that we were trying to deal with the same problem at our school.

Julian Treasure, in his TED Talk , Five Ways To Listen Better says we’re losing our listening. According to him, 60% of our communication is spent listening, but we only retain 25% of what we hear. He says that, because we’ve invented new ways of recording, we can always catch up on what we missed on the internet, so the premium on accurate and careful listening has disappeared. This allows for distraction. Julian Treasure also talks about the noisy world we live in – a visual and aural cacophony –where shared soundscapes have turned into millions of tiny personal bubbles, with people taking refuge in headphones. He says we need to train ourselves to listen better and think this is especially the case with our students.

While discussing this talk with Ceri Jones, she described a little activity that she does with her own children, which I adapted to use with my students. I have them close their eyes and focus on all the sounds they hear and try to identify them. When they open their eyes they tell their partner what they heard – were they the same sounds? This, of course, involves a lot of giggling at the beginning, but once they get used to the activity you’ll find that they really make an effort to focus on the sounds. I also have them look around the room and notice what’s around them. They choose one object and focus on it – colour, shape, texture, etc. – and then describe it so partner has to guess the object.

I’ve also introduced mindfulness in my classes because mindfulness practice strengthens the ability to choose where to put attention and keep it there. I came across a wonderful little video called One Moment Meditation which teaches simple meditating techniques. Again, a lot of laughter the first time round, but kids really enjoy the challenge of managing that minute. Whenever I notice my students’ attention is wandering, I stop whatever I’m doing and tell them it’s time for our one moment meditation. It only takes a minute, and with better results than begging them to pay attention.

Cathy Davidson, from Duke University, has done a lot of research into the brain science of attention. She says our brains are changing and that our minds pay attention in a different way, with a shift from linear to non-linear, and our schools are not adapted for these ‘new brains’. School is linear: we complete one task after another, like an assembly line, but that’s not how our kids’ brains work outside of the classroom, and I see that just watching my son play computer games at home. Davidson also talks about ‘attention blindness’ and uses the video Selective Attention Test to illustrate this.

(Watch the video and do the test before reading any further)

I tried this test with my students and the results were fascinating. Those students who are usually focussed and always pay attention in class didn’t see the gorilla. The others, who have more problems paying attention, spotted the gorilla immediately.

Davidson says that when we’re concentrating too much on one thing, we tend to miss what’s really going on, hence the need for group learning and crowdsourcing, where multiple viewpoints make up for the limits of selectively ‘blind’ individuals. If we are responding in different ways, we need to pool together what we see in a way that is productive for everyone.

I decided to experiment with different tasks in class that allowed students to pay attention to different things. Just to give you an example, I started using the Word-Phrase-Sentence thinking routine, from Making Learning Visible when working on reading skills. I usually use this with authentic stories; texts which I know are a bit challenging for my students. After the lead in with all the prediction work using the title and visuals, I let students ask me questions about the characters and the plot. This generates a lot of interest as they try to piece together the story before reading it, and I let this go on until I see they are dying to read it. After reading to check their predictions, I ask them to find a word that captured their attention or struck them as powerful; a phrase that moved, engages or provoked them; and a sentence that was meaningful to them, that captured a core idea of the text. I put them in groups of 3s and they discuss and explain the different parts of the text that caught their attention.

David Keeling, in The Big Book of Independent Thinking says that many kids find it impossible to exist in ‘here and now’ for they are constantly preoccupied with other things that are not related to the task at hand. Children here in Portugal spend on average 8 hours at school. They are expected to sit quietly at their desks for long periods of time listening to the teacher and taking notes. When they come to our school at the end of the day for language lessons, getting them to pay attention is quite a lot to ask for. Keeling talks about the importance of assessing the following: their level of energy (can’t be asked or going through the roof), openness (how open are they to learning and contributing) and focus. I always start my lessons with warmers that will allow me to assess these 3 important things. I always finish my lessons with exit slips. At the end of each lesson I give my students a slip of paper and ask them a question that makes them reflect on what they’ve learnt in class, which they drop into a box that I have in the classroom. This enables me to find out what they paid attention to in class, which may not even be, and quite often, what I expected.

Joseph Cardillo, Can I Have Your Attention?, shares a story about his 3-year old daughter Isabella, who came prancing into the kitchen one day in her cute little tutu nearly tripping over a toy car in the middle of the room. After warning her a few times — Isabella completely oblivious as she pirouetted across the floor– he asked “Isabella, may I have your attention?”. She replied, “But, Daddy, that’s not possible because my attention is mine, so I can’t give it to anybody else.”

Cardillo, J. (2009) Can I Have Your Attention?: How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration. Career Press
Davidson, C. (2011) Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Viking Adult
Keeling, D. (2006) Chapter 1: ‘On Love, Laughter and Learning’ – The Big Book of Independent Thinking. Ian Gilbert. Crown House Publishing
Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K. (2011) Making Learning Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. Jossey Bass
Treasure, J. (2011) 5 Ways to Listen Better. TED Talks (

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Working with difficult students – Naomi Epstein

 Will The Real Difficult Student Please Stand Up?

— Naomi Epstein

Naomi Epstein

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity”

Albert Einstein

photo by Gil Epshtein

In every class in every year there will always be at least one student whom we would call difficult but difficult is a relative term. The reasons that cause us to feel that a certain student is harder to teach than the other students in the same class are not objective and not even constant. The student you found that most frustrated you (or brought you to a point where you were consciously aware of repressing anger) in one class that you taught, may have nothing in common with the difficult student in another class.

Two years ago, my most difficult student was a very clever girl who constantly interrupted me when I was explaining something on the whiteboard. She either had to inform me at once that her previous teacher had explained it differently (and better!) or needed a clarification question answered without delay.

Last year’s most difficult student was a boy whose sole aim in the classroom seemed to be proving that he had no need for a teacher and didn’t need to pay attention when he so obviously needed help and guidance.

This year my most difficult student is a girl with a constant whine in her voice. In her previous school when she whined enough she was either excused from the task or received a great deal of help.

The really slow learners or the hyperactive student who regularly knocked over the tin of pencils on my desk didn’t make it on my most difficult list. Making sure the hyperactive student had an excuse to move around during the lessons and ensuring the slower learners had support material was a very clear-cut and effective move. It’s those other ones that got under my skin.

So what did I do?

The first two students are still my students, but aren’t on my list anymore. I let off s lot of steam with my colleagues and my supportive husband. I took deep breaths before their lessons and tried to stay patient. I talked to them outside of the lesson. I looked for things I could compliment them on, unrelated to the lesson. But the main thing that happened had to do with time. Eventually, to different degrees, they learned to trust me. I really am trying to help them succeed.  Unfortunately, one can’t rush that realization.

The main thing that happened had to do with time. Eventually, to different degrees, they learned to trust me. I really AM trying to help them succeed. Unfortunately, one can’t rush that realization.

The penny has begun to drop with my  whining student but hasn’t reached that cha ching sound yet. Next year will be so much easier. Of course, then, there will be someone new.

— Naomi Epstein

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Professional Goals for 2013 – Malu

Malu Sciamarelli

Before I Have Goals, I Dream

–Malu Sciamarelli

As another year begins, our thoughts turn to making resolutions, establishing new or returning to our old goals — either personal  (this year I will get more sleep, exercise more, have a healthier diet) or professional (I will work fewer hours, participate more in workshops and conferences, take up another course.)

All worthy goals, but why do we permanently return to resolutions and goals that seem based on the idea of fixing all the things we were doing wrong? We have the feeling we want to right all the annoying wrongs of our lives, but are not fully aware of why. Is the objective of our resolutions and goals to be merely a corrective action or do we really know where we are going and where we want to be? If we do not know our true desires for our professional lives for the year ahead, then we cannot know the goals we must set and more importantly why we really need them.

In running, for example, you have a weekly training plan dependent on your target races – your desires. You have to know these desires so you can establish your training and goals.  If you want to participate in a 10-kilometer race, you will need to train three times a week for four months. However, if you then want to master the half marathon, you will need to extend your training time and the distance covered during the week and — instead of four months  — train for six months and follow a specific diet.


If you desire an advanced certificate in teaching so that you can be eligible to join a faculty, then build your training plan of classes, practice tests and study hard. If your desire is to present at an international conference this year, then submit your ideas to all the local conferences and workshops, gain exposure and experience as a presenter because this could be your training plan and diet to follow. Dream your desires then plan the training and diet that you need to follow to attain your goals.

So, instead of trying to correct all the wrongs or wanting to do everything you did not do last year, why not take some time to figure out what your professional goals really are? This is exactly the period when I take my time to dream! While goals are about should, dreams are about hope. It is only when we dream that we can hope to do something truly new, that will overtake old habits, old customs, old ways of thinking and just surviving. The plan that is made turned on its head then revised again can lead to greater success. Also by dreaming, we can have a vision of who we are and who we want to become.  The more we know who we are, the less likely we are to procrastinate, and the closer we will come to accomplishing our goals.

If you have already started the year establishing some goals, they may give you some clues as to what your deeper dreams are. And when we take a moment to look at the why of a goal, we may find the true desire that fuels it.

Ask me what I am doing at this moment and the answer will be simple: dreaming! Dreaming of:

· Reading books, journal articles, and blog posts

· Writing articles, blog posts and materials

· My lessons, planning, peer observation

· Attending conferences, seminars, workshops, webinars, and teacher

development sessions.

· Giving a conference talk or delivering a teacher development session;

· My PLN (personal learning network) and their role in my professional life

· Communities of teachers, – how I am contributing and what I am learning

· Collaborative professional development

· Professional development courses — in-person and online.

After some days or a few weeks, I will be reflecting on my dreams, selecting the true ones and then the goals required to make them come true will become evident. And rather than procrastinating, or worse, forgetting my goals this year I may actually see them through: by dreaming, reflecting, identifying my goals, establishing the plans and training to accomplish them and finally making them come true.

What better time is there to determine our deepest desires for dreams and plant the seeds in the upheaval and renewal of our lives than at the beginning of this year?

Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dreams. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. — Lao Tzu




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