Teaching strategies to engage the learner

Super-G-Graphic-blog-Consciously-Competent3The ‘Four Stages of Learning’ made popular by psychologist Abraham Maslow proposes a four-stage process that people go through when they learn something new. These four stages are 1: unconscious incompetence, when the learner doesn’t know what they don’t know; 2: conscious incompetence, when the learner realises how much they need to learn; 3: conscious competence, when the learner knows what they know or are conscious that they are learning something new and 4: unconscious competence, where the learner is no longer aware of the skills and knowledge they have acquired. When we translate these steps to how learning happens in school, most students begin the academic year in stage 1 where they are not aware of what they need to know in each of their subjects. They quickly move to stage 2 when their subjects begin and their teacher outline what is involved. However, stage 2 can quite difficult and confusing for students. Progressing to stage 3 where they are confident in their understanding and start to apply their knowledge requires time and hard work from both the student and the teacher. From here, the student can continue to apply their knowledge and ask questions and gradually move to a stage 4 where they become unconsciously competent.

As a teacher, maintaining an understanding of this process can be invaluable. Teachers, being experts in their subject areas, are in stage 4 throughout the process. This enables them to prepare and deliver excellent classes, notes, homework and tests and also to answer student questions. However, it can be sometimes difficult to maintain perspective on where the student is in the learning process – in a state of confusion and sometimes feeling overwhelmed. Students at times give in and disengage with the learning at this stage. Teachers can’t always prevent this as there can be any number of factors affecting their student’s decision. However, research has shown us that engaging the learner through classes that appeal to different learning styles (such as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) and using different pedagogical techniques such as activities where students teach each other, practice by doing and discuss the learning can significantly increase engagement and assist the student in moving from stage 2 to stage 3 in the learning model.

Elaine Cohalan

Elaine Cohalan
Programme Manager
The Super Generation

Your Potential Has No Bounds

Do you remember when you first learned to cycle your bike? The stabilisers came off and you proclaimed to your parents, ‘I am ready’, ‘I can do this’. You were nervous but eventually you said, ‘OK, you can let go now’. And off you went. Do you remember that feeling? That unbounded joy. That rush. That pure exhilaration. The realisation that you can do anything.
your potential-Super-G-Blog2

I often use this analogy to describe the place education has in our lives. Education is the bike that gives us the opportunity to propel ourselves to our goals. But the bike alone does not get us there. Our family and friends are there to support us, to guide us to the right bike. Our teachers explain how the bike works and show us how to use the bike. Our family and friends are there to help us when we fall off the bike, when there are potholes or road blocks in our path, when it rains, when we are tired and finding it hard to pedal. But we are the ones pedalling and steering the bike. If we don’t push those pedals nothing happens. If we don’t push, we don’t move.

So how do you know where to cycle to? If we don’t know where we are cycling to, how will we know when we are there? How will we know which turn to take? Having a goal is the most important step in getting the best out of your potential. The more specific the goal, the better, but even a more general goal will help you get started on the right road. If you know your destination is somewhere north, you can get started and travel towards the north. If you don’t set a goal or a destination, you might end up wasting a lot of energy cycling in circles.

How do you keep yourself pedalling? Two things keep us motivated to carry on. The first is our focus. If we focus on where we are going and why we are going there, on how lucky we are to have a bike, to have a path to cycle on, to have support from family and friends, we are more likely to keep pedalling. If we focus on the potholes, the road blocks, the rust on our bikes, how sore our legs are from cycling, we are less likely to keep going. The second thing is our belief. If we truly believe in ourselves and tell ourselves that we can do this, we can achieve our goals, we are more likely to keep going. And if we keep going, we are more likely to get there! If we don’t believe we can do it, we are more likely to give up and therefore less likely to get there. At the age of 9 Rory McIlroy was asked what he wanted. He said, ‘I want to be world number 1’, ‘I want to win all the majors’. He had no doubt in his mind. That was his goal and he believed he could get there. It’s taken him 16 years but he is now there.

People go through life blaming situations, bad luck, other people and any number of things for not getting to their goals. But in reality we are the ones who control where we get to. Our focus, belief and hard work are what get us there.

You may not have support from family and friends, you can still pedal the bike. You may not have a very nice bike. You can still get on it and start pedalling. You may not have a bike at all! You can walk. You can still get to where you want to go. The only non-negotiable in you achieving your goals is you moving. And only you can control that.

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.” – Vince Lombardi

Elaine Cohalan

Elaine Cohalan
Programme Manager
The Super Generation

Leaving Certificate Results Day!

Today’s the day you’ve been fearing and dreaming about – Leaving Certificate results. We went around the office to get some advice from the staff at the Examcraft Group. Here’s what they had to say:


theexamcraftgroup-message-leavingcert2Philip:
“If you did very well in your results, congratulations. This is just reward for work well done. If you are disappointed with your results, just remember that grades are not a reflection of who you are and what you are. Sit down with your parents and Guidance Counsellor and work out a plan that will get you to where you want to go.”

Viviane: “For those who didn’t do as well as they had hoped, don’t give up. Never give up on your dream. Keep working and you will get there.”

Ann Marie: “Relax, you will look back on this in ten years and wonder what all the fuss was about. No matter what happens, you did your best.”

Gary: “I don’t know anybody who ended up working in the career that they trained for. So if you don’t get the points for the course you want, it’s not the end of the world.”

Logan: “I didn’t get the points that everybody thought I should have got in the Leaving Certificate but I got the course I wanted so I was happy. Enjoy the day and be proud of your achievement but keep it in perspective. For those going on to college – people always say school is the best time of your life. It’s not, college is.”

Andrew: “For those who got what they wanted, well done, enjoy today! But the work doesn’t stop here. If you are going on to college you will need to get back to study. For those who did not do as well as they had hoped, this is not the end of the road. There are loads more opportunities out there.”

Elaine: “No matter what happens today, be proud of yourself. You have reached a milestone in your life and are now ready to move to the next step. Remember, it’s you who controls your future, not a piece of paper. So whether or not you got what you wanted today, only your hard work and actions will determine where it takes you.”

For information on progression opportunities from further education courses to third level courses please see: http://www.cao.ie/index.php?page=fetac_search

And now that it’s over, it’s only just begun……

It was fifteen years ago but I still remember those three weeks of my Leaving Cert clearly. The adrenaline and sleepless nights coming up to the big day, feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of what it meant for ‘the rest of my life’, the gorgeous weather that I looked out at from my desk, wondering after day one with English Paper 1 and 2 whether my writing hand would be able to last the pace, that distressed feeling when surprises were thrown into some of the papers, and the utter relief as I checked off each exam on my timetable. I even remember the room I was in in my school, where my desk was and the supervisor reading her paper every day (they are not allowed to do that anymore apparently).

blog_super Generation_education_exams2Then, when it was finally all over (I took Agricultural Economics so I was one of the last standing), I didn’t know what to do with myself. Transitioning back into reality outside of the Leaving Cert it turns out was hard. Your mind and body are trained for long hours of study and exams and suddenly they don’t have to do that anymore. The first task I took to was clearing out my room of all Leaving Cert reminders. A couple of big black bags full of notes, timetables, posters, flash cards – all in the bin. A pile of books ready to be handed down to my little sister. This is when I felt the weight come off my shoulders. Now it was over. I took the decision not to think about the exams anymore – there was nothing I could do now. No matter how aggrieved I felt about the ones that didn’t go well, it was over now. There were a couple of weeks of adjustment, but finally I felt I was back to me again.

I remember going out with my classmates after we finished. We were full of the wonder, nervousness and excitement of what was to come for us. Did we do enough? Were we going to get that college place? What were we going to wear to the debs? Who were we going to take to the debs? How are we going to celebrate our results?

Then August came around and the sleepless nights and fear returned. Wait, what if I didn’t do enough, what do I do? Where do I go? If I don’t get what I want how am I going to face any of my friends, my family? The pain of going through the Leaving Cert year was still raw so the thoughts of repeating were repulsive. This time was almost emotionally worse than doing the exams as it was completely outside of my control. The day finally comes where you get the results. In our school we lined up outside the principal’s door and went in one by one. My sister and I did our Leaving Cert together so were there together. She was extremely nervous so I distracted myself keeping her calm. We brought our little brother in with us as a further distraction. That really worked. He was only 1 so he had no idea what was going on (he’s facing 5th year himself this year). My heart was palpitating as the principal read out the individual results. It was like being in a fog though, all I wanted to know was how many points that meant. He took out his calculator and added them up. OK, now I could breath. That should get me into the course I had applied for. He handed me the results and I looked at the individual results and was happy to have done better than expected in some and disappointed to see that I hadn’t done as well as expected in others.

My sister Claire went in after me. She had worked twice as hard as I did throughout the two years. I really hoped that she would do better than I did. If there was any justice she would. And she did. She had applied for teaching though so was not sure if her points would be enough. We went home and shared our news, and then the excruciating wait between the results and the offer letters started. We didn’t know whether to be happy or not. It was a relief to have the results and not to have failed (those thoughts go through your head over the summer – what if?).

Finally, we got our offer letters. I got my first choice, Software Development and Computing Networking in CIT, Claire did not. She got offered Commerce and German in UCC. She was devastated. She thought her life was over. All she had ever wanted to be was a teacher, and now she was going to do a random course that she picked just to fill out the rest of her CAO. The points for her course were exactly what she got, but there was a dreaded star next to it. It seemed so unfair. She had got what she needed to get and it still wasn’t enough. Over the next couple of weeks we got ourselves organised for the debs (make-up, hair, dresses) and college (registration, clothes, books). But there was an air of sadness in our house. Poor Claire. After all that hard work and sacrifice. Round two came around and we held our breaths, maybe she might get lucky…. Unfortunately not. It was looking like a lost cause. Looking back now, I am shocked that she and our family were willing to accept it. She wasn’t going to repeat the Leaving Cert, she wasn’t going to look at alternative options like studying abroad. She was going to do this degree that she randomly chose and accept her fate. She was maybe going to do a Post-Grad in teaching after her degree. That was the only alternative route we considered. Now, when I speak to students about college and career options, we always speak about the many alternative routes to getting there, through apprenticeships, Further Education, studying abroad, etc. There is always another way. Don’t give up on your dream. Not getting the right amount of points does not mean this is not the career for you.

Luckily, this story ends well. Claire got offered teaching in the third round. We thought all hope was lost but I still get goose bumps remembering how happy and relieved we all were for her. Claire is a now a fantastic teacher, she was born to be a teacher. It would have been a travesty if she didn’t end up in this career. As for me, I got the course that I wanted but, as it turns out, it wasn’t the career that I wanted. I finished my degree in IT in 2003 and went on to do Masters programmes that were of much more interest to me. I have worked in varying roles in the education sector ever since.

You will come up against bigger challenges in your life than the Leaving Certificate – harder exams, more stressful work and personal situations. But nothing is like the pressure and emotional rollercoaster that is the Leaving Certificate. And now, you can gladly say that you have done it. But you control your own fate. Your path is not as defined as you might think and there is opportunity everywhere in life. If you don’t get what you want this August, don’t despair. This is not the end.

To find out more about alternative routes to college through further education in Ireland go to www.cao.ie and www.fetac.ie

Elaine Cohalan

Elaine Cohalan
Programme Manager
The Super Generation

The Evolution of Education

super-generation-evolution-educationEducation has experienced much evolution over the centuries, with influences from culture, religion, philosophy and philanthropy. Earliest evidence of formal education comes from the Greeks (5000 BC), who asserted claims of individuality and emphasised holistic education, with a focus on intellectualism. The Romans (1000 BC-476 AD) applied a more realistic, practical approach to educating children, with the aim of teaching the practice of virtue and devotion to duty. They saw children as unable to think or plan rationally or distinguish between right and wrong. Christianity later placed emphasis on the ‘twins’ of education – the intellect and soul. This ethos focused on the family, considered the fear of God the highest virtue, raised women to full equality in education and taught respect for children. When in the Middle Ages Christianity became “misapplied by man, philosophy came to the rescue” with Bacon, Lock­e, Descartes, Spinoza and Kant. They proposed that the aim of education should be the “harmonious development of well-balanced, self-dependent, vigorous and virtuous human beings.” Locke (1632-1704) was the forerunner in what is known as child-centred education today. In practice, greater insight was achieved and Comenius, Francke, Pestalozzi and Froebel pioneered growth phases in education. Comenius (1592-1670) led the way with vernacular schools, intuitional teaching and learning by doing. Francke (1663-1727) founded scientific and technical schools and focused on education forming a student’s character. Pestalozzi (1746-1827) championed popular education and natural methods. Froebel (1782-1852) advocated self-activity, the unique needs and capabilities of children and the influence of women in education.

Other influencers on education include Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), who proposed education for the masses and for women; Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817), who championed practical education and ‘useful toys’; Weston Joyce (1827-1914), who encouraged teaching a child how to think and leading them to love knowledge; and Holt (1923-1985), who called for context amid learning and argued that children should develop their own ideas without structure or planning.

Today, education is seen as a way to help us understand our world and make us better equipped to transform it. Its goal is to help young people to create their place in a changing society. Information technology literacy, i.e. the ability to solve problems and think critically about information in a digital environment, is growing in importance in education.

Elaine Cohalan

Elaine Cohalan
Programme Manager
The Super Generation

Rote Learning Vs Understanding

LearningVUnderstanding2In her book Seven Myths About Education Daisy Christodoulou claims that the pursuit of creating critical thinkers and problem solvers in education is taking the wrong direction. Is she correct? The book proposes that current educational thought and strategy is over-focused on understanding, without acknowledging the place for memorising or ‘rote learning’ in getting to understanding. She asserts that the memorising and understanding can help a student in solving problems quicker and more effectively and that the two are not at odds with each other. She gives the example of solving a maths problem, where a student can use their automatic processes developed through rote learning, for example times tables or formulas, and save their ‘working memory’ space for solving the problem. Rote learning, she writes, gives context to learning, while without it one is teaching in a vacuum.

There is an argument, of course, that these ‘automatic processes’ can also be developed through understanding rather than rote learning. It is hard to argue though that memorisation is completely unnecessary in developing critical thinkers and problem solvers in modern society.

For more see: Irish Times – Rote learning is bad – and other myths about education

Elaine Cohalan

Elaine Cohalan
Programme Manager
The Super Generation