In English Digital 10

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What is wrong with education and how would you put it right? The British Council magazine for teachers of English in Lusophone countries

Spring 2015






As Director of the British Council in Portugal, I am delighted to introduce this tenth edition of InEnglish Digital. To reach double figures is always a milestone and the success and popularity of this e-zine, which continues to reach over 40,000 teachers of English from the Lusophone world and beyond, is due in very large part to the quality and depth of the articles submitted. The theme of this edition relates to the general state of education and asks contributors the double question: ‘What is wrong with education and how would you put it right?’ I hope you will enjoy the variety of responses from a particularly wide range of authors, all of whom have a stake in the education of young people. Anabela Sala Cardosa, for example, analyses the current situation and proposes a range of practical interventions from a teacher’s perspective. Alan Maley suggests delivering more of the decisions on what, when and how to teach into the hands of teachers, whilst Adrian

Tennant suggests promoting change through more opportunities for collaborative learning with students. The pivotal role in all education settings is, of course, that of the teacher, which is highlighted by Fitch in his final editorial of the InEnglish Digital e-zine. As he stands down as Editor of this ezine (and previously of InEnglish), I am sure you will all join me in thanking him for all his hard work and huge number of written contributions over the years, and in wishing him all the best for the future. To all our readers: we hope you enjoy the 10th edition - use it, share it, tell us what you think. We look forward to receiving your comments so please do send them to You can find more InEnglish Digital content and resources for teaching on our website at: en/teach/inenglish

Joanna Burke, CMG Director, British Council Portugal

editorial Over the years that I have edited this magazine (In English Digital and In English before that) I have been aware that the one topic we never talked about in print was the one topic that you could guarantee would occur whenever teachers are gathered together – for training, at workshops or conferences, or even socially. The single biggest worry for teachers almost anywhere in the world is the state of education generally (for example, how testing has taken over from teaching) and the way that teachers have become weighed down with oppressive amounts of bureaucracy in addition to their teaching duties. As everyone who works in schools knows, if you want to have time for yourself or your family in the evening or at weekends then don’t, whatever you do, become a teacher. It seems sensible that, finally, we address this issue, which is fundamental to all teachers everywhere. I have been involved in education as a teacher since 1970, in both public and private sectors. During that time there have been many changes and challenges for teachers and schools, some seismic in their effect, though most were the result of the slower changes needed to adjust to the way that society was evolving and also to new research and a developing pedagogy. However, during most of that time and for most of those changes there was always one constant. That was a belief in the professional integrity of the teacher in planning and delivering classes, and in mentoring their students. Teachers were, in fact, respected both within society and within education systems. That, in my opinion, is what in recent years has changed the most, and for the worse. The current obsession with measuring and assessing anything and everything has led to a

management revolution in education and this has resulted in teaching being seen less and less as a profession and more and more as a technical skill to be performed according to a logistical plan devised by business managers and conditioned by accountancy thinking. Creativity has been stifled, along with dreams and hopes and aspirations. Education – from primary to tertiary – seems to me to be a very grey place, these days; bright colours are very much frowned on. But that’s my view and it might only reflect my own experiences and the conversations I have had. What do others think? We asked a double question – what is wrong with education and how would you put it right? – and invited a variety of responses. From some we received some pithy words to briefly sum up their thoughts or advice, while others chose to write at length. We also asked if we could use the words of some educational bloggers. But we didn’t just ask teachers - though everyone was involved in education of young people in some way – which is why we have two poems from performance poet Francesca Beard and a few bons mots from the popular author of books for teens, Melvin Burgess. Some chose to be very direct in their approach, while others were more oblique, but one thing you can be sure of is that the question we asked unleashed a lot of passion. Everyone had a position to take; no one wanted to remain on the sidelines. Which begs the question: isn’t it about time someone started to take notice of what is being said by teachers who are, after all, the people who are in the best position possible to know what is wrong with education, and how to put it right?

Fitch O’Connell

c o n t e n t s

Octávio Lima: Stop, Think and Do it Luísa Lima: Catch 22 or Merely KaAaesque? Mark Barnes: Building a ConversaFon about Learning Adrian Tennant Gavin Dudeney: Sound Bites Francesca Beard: Class in Session Nancy Flanagan: 9 Reasons Teachers are Unwilling to Stand up for their Profession Carla Faria: Make believe. Believe. Make Anabela Sala Cardoso: EducaFon today: Let’s Put our Thinking Hats on, Shall We? Alan Maley & Andrew Wright: Sound bites Damian Williams: Fad and Contra-­‐fad in ELT Filomena Alijaj: EducaFon in Portugal and What Seems to be Wrong with it Starr Sackstein: How I’d like to be Evaluated Francesca Beard: It’s Been Said that We’ve All Got a Story Joel Josephson and Melvin Burgess: Sound bites Carlos Ceia: How to Build a Brick Wall in EducaFon

Please remember that the opinions expressed in InEnglish Digital are those of the individuals concerned, and not necessarily the views of the British Council.

Design: Paul Driver

Stop, think and do it! “I decided to take early retirement, even accepting more than 20% cut in my pension so that I could feel free and still

breathe with some dignity.” Having taught for 37 years in Portuguese state schools, I decided to take early retirement, even accepting more than 20% cut in my pension so that I could feel free and still breathe with some dignity. Particularly to be free of the moral, mental and pedagogical erosion built over years of a system that seemed to be crushing the creative teachers and promoting those with a bureaucratic flair. I felt frustrated because some of the latest education policies seemed to target sheer

economic aims. Cutting the teachers’ salaries, making them work longer hours, squeezing them with classes bigger than that which good sense recommends, draining them with chronic, endless meetings designed to make them ruminate bureaucratic norms, consuming them with an indulgent code of conduct that allows pupils to do almost everything in the classroom and leaving the teachers at their mercy: all these trends have worn teachers out, eroding much of their self-respect.

With no physical and mental resources leftand no quality time to recuperate, teachers can’t keep themselves up to date, can’t feed their scientific, pedagogic and cultural needs. A great collective effort will be required to change the present scenario. Teachers can’t be allowed any longer to feel disempowered, frustrated and exhausted. They deserve just the opposite. A few changes should be made in order to achieve that. First, let the teachers work with manageablesized classes. Each pupil in the class deserves their attention and care. Big classes are a proven disaster for both the teachers and the pupils. Also make them have shorter hours: they need time to rebuild their stamina. Second, make the teachers meet only for strictly useful purposes. Unchain them from empty, unproductive, dull meetings aimed at foddering them with red tape. Use emails to inform teachers of minor administrative tasks. Encourage them to share ideas, strategies, projects, materials and tasks: they will feel empowered, more confident and fulfilled with the results in their classes.

“Signals of suspicion and indifference will undermine their confidence and exhaust their energy and creativity.” Third, change the current code of conduct and make the pupils take more responsibility for their behaviour. Teachers must also be more assertive and behave in such ways as to feel more self-confident and more respected. The disruptive behaviour of pupils must no longer be corrosive and damaging to teachers, who must no longer have to choke on heavy loads of red tape. They must feel their director’s support in every action they take. Signals of suspicion and indifference will undermine their confidence and exhaust their energy and creativity. Next, don’t lure the teachers into trying to become super heroes or multitasking powerhouses. This will only relieve families, society and the system of duties concerning the kids’ education and make it easy for them to put the blame on the teachers for every fault they happen to commit. Finally, do everything possible and impossible to make the teachers’ job an attractive one again. Be creative. Be bold.

Octávio Lima

Catch 22, or merely

Kafkaesque? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
 Hamlet (1.4), Marcellus to Horatio

Luísa Lima I know this line is overused but it was the first thing that came to my mind when I sat down to write this article. When I was asked for this piece I realized I had mixed feelings about the whole issue. So many things are wrong, so many things could and should be done, but… where, how, with whom should we start? Too many questions for a single person to answer and so I decided to ask my fellow teachers about it and then write something that would somehow portray a more global and truthful view. I went through all my contacts and asked fifty six English teachers for a short paragraph on this topic. This happened a while ago and so far I have received feedback from twelve people: one said she was already retired, one said she had given up being a teacher, seven promised to collaborate, THREE actually sent something. Am I disappointed? A bit, although probably not as much as when students fail me. I believe that the answers I (did not) receive(d) are a symptom of the rotten state of education, not just English teaching. I don’t think we can blame the schools per se, as most schools now have good teaching and learning conditions. However, if we see a school as a body, as an organization that should have clear goals and encourage and lead its members towards success, then, I regret to say that much is missing. Should we blame the educational system, the government policies? Certainly. The whole thing is a mess; as Filomena Alijaj (see page ) a teacher from Escola Secundária de Cinfães, says it’s “a patchwork of tried and failed

schemes from other countries, introduced in our schools without any previous debate and altered depending on the current budgets”. Teachers feel undervalued, our careers stagnated, there is hardly any training or any will to pursue professional development because we see no bright future ahead, nothing to look forward to. A few of us still get involved in projects, try to do something different with the students, and often get criticized for doing it. And then what is wrong with the teaching of English? Probably what is wrong with the teaching of almost everything else: lack of training, of chances for professional development, that old, bitter idea that “I won’t do it unless I have to”, “I don’t need it.”, “I know enough.” But the fact is that we never do. Maria João Ramos, an English teacher in my school who was kind enough to send me her opinion, said it’s not only about disruptive students, demanding parents and narrowminded school leaders – it’s also about us! We cannot deny some responsibility. She believes, and I definitely agree with her, that “it has never been so easy to update your teaching performance.” So why don’t we? Why don’t we take advantage of all the training, webinars or tutorials available online? Why don’t we use technology to enhance our classes? Why don’t we teach our students to be active, creative, critical thinkers as well as responsible digital citizens? Why isn’t there more Project Based Learning in schools instead of the old and boring book-based lecture?

“People are isolated in their classrooms; 
 they don’t share what they know or what they do.”

Filomena also believes that what is wrong is mainly the approach: “Our students spend long hours being taught dry subjects in a very stiff way. They are also never asked to help in the learning process (…) there is never any time allocated in the syllabus for developing creative and critical thinking.” She also believes that instead of so much paperwork we should plan the year properly “including collaborative classwork, new methodologies, picking a project or even more that would boost their confidence and that would get them through the school year with a smile and actual knowledge.” Maria João also points out something I remember talking about way back in the first issue of this magazine: the lack of team work or collaboration among teachers. People are isolated in their classrooms; they don’t share what they know or what they do. As she says: “They refuse to build links between subjects and cannot fathom why they need to work either with teachers of their department or others. Ask them to connect with teachers from other schools or around the world and they will panic.” How true this is! Elsa Escobar, a teacher from Agrupamento de Escolas de Macedo de Cavaleiros, believes this picture could represent what is going on in schools: everybody wants

change, nobody seems to be ready to change. Maybe I am not being “politically correct”, or maybe, as Filomena says, “we are all heroes” – teachers, students, supporting staff. We are heroes, in a way, but not all of us and not all the time. I could be better – if anyone accuses me of being an individualist, I won’t deny it. I enjoy working alone or, better said, not alone – with my students. They already know me, they know what I want and how I want it and they will do their best to reach the goals of our projects. However I do try to work in a team, to contribute, I have made the effort to leave the island and start working with teachers from other countries in international projects, I have always been willing to share my experience through training, workshops, lectures, articles (God knows you people reading IED are probably tired of all my writings!) Still, there’s a lot to improve, a lot to change, a lot to learn. If we all do it – the minister, school leaders, teachers, parents, students – we will eradicate the “wrongs” of education, the wrongs of teaching and learning. And, as I started with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I would think it appropriate to finish the same way, with a quotation that has always meant, for me, the need to reach further, to go beyond what you know, to get out of your comfort zone and learn about all those things you do not know. If we don’t change, nothing will.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
 Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 
 - Hamlet (1.5.), Hamlet to Horatio


Building a Conversation about Learning

Mark Barnes

Consider these two classroom scenarios.

In one room, a teacher hurries along rows of desks, dropping essays with grades in blood-red ink into the trembling hands of nervous students, who await the results, like children anticipating punishment from their parents. One frightened author hurriedly folds the paper, afraid to see the results. Another stares blankly at her paper for 30 seconds, before sliding it quickly into a folder, away from curious onlookers.

The student wonders what her mother will say about the crimson D emblazoned at the top of the essay, ignoring the scrawled comments in the essay’s margins and the circled misspellings in several paragraphs. Instead, she peers over at her friend, who has finally summoned the courage to unwrap her own paper. A tiny smile forms, making the D-student jealous. Her friend, she learns, received a B on her essay, accompanied by a “Good job” comment, which she too ignored

Still others sit on the floor or in beanbags, their backs pressed against the wall, fingers tapping feverishly on the faces of mobile learning devices. The teacher, an afterthought in this student-centred workshop environment, bounces from one area to the next, answering questions or conversing about the content that students are reading. Learners in this class pore over detailed digital feedback the teacher has written. Unlike their peers in the other classroom, these students are thrilled to read the teacher’s evaluation--a meaningful, written narrative with no grade attached.


One of these classrooms is entrenched in the traditional world of paper assignments and traditional grades. The other is a progressive student-centred world, rife with movement, conversation and collaboration. The biggest difference between the two classrooms, though, is the absence of grades and how feedback about learning is delivered. The students in the traditional class receive marks accompanied by meaningless comments, which they ignore. In the progressive classroom, students use technology to view objective feedback that far surpasses a simple letter grade. Not only do students in the archaic traditional classroom fear the grade, they typically ignore any written feedback that accompanies it, because they’ve been conditioned to care only about the teacher’s judgment of their work, evidenced by the grade she gives it. Consider the students receiving digital feedback in the progressive, 21st-century classroom. What makes this process so powerful is the willingness of students to use teacher feedback, when they don’t perceive it as a reward or a punishment. Web-based comments on a blog or in a comment stream on a Google site provide two-way communication between teacher and student that becomes an ongoing conversation about learning. The student who received a D ignores her teacher’s comment. Even her friend who gets a B disdains the feedback. The “good job” comment serves only to amplify the label placed on the paper, rather than to underscore what has been learned or what still needs to be improved. In order to move the traditional, grades-based classroom toward today’s


“…teachers must commit to replacing traditional grades with ongoing, meaningful narrative feedback…”

digitally-enhanced environment, teachers must commit to replacing traditional grades with ongoing, meaningful narrative feedback, employing a system that stimulates conversations about learning.

SE2R is a simple abbreviation for Summarize, Explain, Redirect and Resubmit. When traditional grades are replaced by SE2R, the teaching and learning process is ongoing, leading to mastery. Grades, conversely, discourage learning, as students either feel like failures upon receiving low marks or have a falsely inflated sense of intelligence based on high marks, which are inherently subjective. The SE2R system of feedback eliminates subjectivity, because the feedback is designed to summarize and explain exactly what students have accomplished, while redirecting them to further learning, if a concept or skill is not mastered. This creates a true cycle of learning that overcomes the traditional instruct-practice-test-grade-move-on approach to education, which leaves many students behind. Consider the following examples of narrative feedback using the SE2R formula: “You wrote a new chapter (600 words) to your novel. You have added clear character description to your protagonist, as we discussed after your last draft. Your mechanics are vastly improved from the beginning of the school year.” This comment is a combination of the Summarize and Explain portions of SE2R, as the teacher articulates what he sees–a growing work of fiction that demonstrates improvement in storytelling and writing style, based on classroom lessons and prior discussions between the student and the teacher. Notice other parts of the SE2R system as the feedback continues, when the student’s work grows. “You can add more detail to the setting in the chapter’s flashback. Return to the video on our classroom website presented last week about effectively using flashback to craft your story. Remind me when you’ve done this.” Here the writer is Redirected to prior learning and asked to Resubmit the work for further review. In this progressive, student-centred classroom, learners complete activities and projects willingly. They read SE2R feedback daily, making changes when necessary, based on a prior lesson, video, guideline or conversation with the teacher or with another student. They fine-tune their work and happily resubmit it for more evaluation, eager to continue this engaging ongoing discussion about what they are learning. In the no-grades classroom, students work toward mastery, and learning is beautiful. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markbarnes19



What is wrong with educaFon -­‐ and how would you put it right?

‘There's quite a bit wrong, but two key things: Political interference and a lack of trust in the kid's ability. What can be done? Firstly, take politicians out of decisions about education. Secondly, use far more collaborative learning with our students - this does involve changing the way many teachers do things, though.’ Adrian Tennant

‘Despite being an educational technology advocate, my primary recommendation would be: hire good teachers, ensure they get regular teacher development sessions, pay them well and support them in their job. If there is any money left over after that, invest in some modern technology, starting with wifi. Internet connectivity is one of the best things you can give students. Do not buy interactive whiteboards.’
 Gavin Dudeney

Class In Session

Francesca Beard You’re a pot full of hollow, You’re a vessel, you’re a blank, You’re a sponge which soaks up data, You’re an empty holding tank, You’re a dirty mirror, You’re a field of fallow snow, Your mind is silly putty, There is nothing you don’t know. You’re a uniglot, you’re a soft wax blob, You’re an unhewn block, you’re an untilled sod, You’re a jug and a mug, a developing thug, You’re an unknown quantity, a fraction, you’re a hole We must plug with facts, you forgot, though you’ve been told, You’re a problem to be dealt with - and it’s crowd control. You’re a child, you’re a youth, You are wild and uncouth, You are lucky to be here And you have to learn the system, It is not about you, So sit up, try to listen. Put that pencil down, put your hand down, don’t ask questions, You are guilty of not knowing that the court is now in session. No you can’t go to the toilet, no you cannot have some water, If you didn’t go at lunchtime well then next time we’ll have taught ya, You are not the only one, you are only one of thirty, And your body doesn’t matter, it’s your brain that should be thirsty, Now you’re here to learn, so you better be more grateful, Yes, you’re here to learn, so that when you leave here, you’ll be able To forget who you were when you were – What were you? The mind is not one thing. That is a category error. Light is energy and matter. What were you?


9 Reasons Teachers are Unwilling to Stand up for their Profession 5






1 Nancy Flanagan

"When I speak the truth in meetings about what is happening in public education, I am met with silence from my fellow teachers. It is the silence that is so maddening. I realize not everybody is as bold as me, but still—shouldn't the people working in this profession care about this profession? Beyond the four walls of their own classrooms? Am I crazy or what?" (Teacher in Michigan)

Evidently, this teacher (who chose not to be identified) struck a nerve—as her post drew 50+ comments, all of them thoughtful and passionate, about the problem of teachers whose heads are firmly planted in the sand when it comes to the policies, issues and critical questions shaping the work of teaching. I use word "profession" intentionally here. I have seen teaching labeled a semiprofession or truncated profession— professional work, controlled by outside forces and institutions. In Dan Lortie's seminal Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, he compares teaching to being a factory foreman—a position in a defined hierarchy, with great authority over workers below, but subject to policymaking and administration above. However—if teachers are ever going to establish themselves as fully professional, they will need to develop an authentic, very public voice and vehicles to advocate for their professional interests and control over their own work. So what did the teachers in Michigan believe were the core reasons for apparent teacher apathy, compliance and unwillingness to speak out against destructive policies and practices? Here's a boiled-down summary of comments:

1. Fear: This one came up immediately and was threaded through the discussion. I was marked down in my evaluation last year because I spoke the truth. It was called "negative communication." I've got two kids to support and a mortgage. This is exactly what the deformers want to happen. First, they attacked our union, then took away our seniority rights. 2. "It could never happen here" syndrome: It is not fear in my school—it's disbelief. Teachers truly don't think this is happening. They think I'm a conspiracy theorist. I work in a well-run district, where good administrators squeeze every last dime, so everyone here thinks the bad stuff is happening elsewhere. 3. Lack of information or misinformation: In order to advocate, to understand why better-informed folks sound "radical," teachers need genuine facts. Information. And sorting through the information and editorial content out there takes time and skill. Lots of teachers rely on what they hear in the lounge, and there's no single source of concrete, trusted intelligence about the wider world of public education. 4. Teachers are too busy or distracted: I'm too busy to lead or speak up, because all my time is eaten up following someone else's goals.

5. Teachers are, by nature, consensusbuilders, people who want to get along and be liked: I don't want to seem radical. Let's not bash our colleagues! They do not believe a word I say. I am shunned. Our biggest complainer about everything that is happening in public education goes around telling people I am a radical. When I have suggested ways she could actually do things to try to improve the situation, she has refused. 6. Teachers are not political: We are an easy profession to bull doze, and the reformers know it. Teachers tend to be rule followers, and don't like confrontation. There are also dark undercurrents of racism ("those troubled districts") and sexism ("I'm just here for the kids") at work—mention those and people really do think you're a radical. 7. Teachers too young and inexperienced to see danger ahead: Teachers coming through the ranks are being indoctrinated to work in charters and to accept teaching to the test. The adulation of Teach For America—with all their shiny young Ivy League faces— doesn't help. When going for my masters I saw this often. It symbolized in a class where the text was Writing On Demand, a book designed to help teachers prepare students for writing on standardized tests. The modal level of teacher experience is one year, so we are gradually losing the wisdom of experience in practice.

concern was working with sketchy administrators. Now, it feels like there in nobody representing professional teachers in Lansing. 9. Pervasive anti-teacher attitude in media and policy-making: Politicians in both parties have painted us into a corner. When we raise a legitimate concern about education policy (student standardized test results used to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness, for example) , the public, which knows little of all the work we've done and the expertise we've developed in the field, considers us to be "whiners." And finally, this: It is maddening and I have reached a point where I am not caring! Fire my *ss! I am trying to do what is right and advocate for teachers and our kids! Was there any reason for optimism? Several people mentioned allies in the fight to honor the teacher voice in the policy process: Parents. Retired teachers, with nothing to lose and valuable perspective. Social media groups of likeminded educators. School leaders who might speak out, if their colleagues supported them—a couple mentioned strong, vocal superintendents or principals. "The good news is that once teachers know what's going on they are a very difficult group of people to deal with. We are smart, well read, know how to research, write and make a strong argument, and are relentless." (Michigan teacher)

8. Teachers are used to outsourcing all policy issues to their unions: It used to be that we trusted the unions to lobby for the right things. Our only

Follow Nancy’s blog

Carla Faria

“What is important is life itself and not the result of life.” Goethe

All species on Earth interact, adapt to the environment and evolve. Humans also create and transform the world. Transformation begins with curiosity. When curiosity is nourished it becomes the desire of pursuit, so we dream and act. Walter Benjamin differentiates Erlebnis – personal life experiences - from Erfahrung - the experience related to others through legacy. Storytelling is an important means for humanizing, and ethics and aesthetics come as legacy.

We are a culmination of all our ancestors’ legacies, values, as well as of our own feelings, memories and experiences, and our perception of it all. Self awareness is part of this growth which, while providing a host of self revelatory experiences, implies that we know we are free as individuals, but within a system as social beings/ citizens, and that effective systems depend on both. Balance is the key.

The unbalanced times in which we live do not provide us with the opportunity to develop this legacy; instead we are bombarded with a range of fast paced stimuli which lead to superficiality and lack of life purpose. We have been put into boxes, which have narrowed our space and limited our thinking. Hence, the “thinking outside the box” idea. We have been in the process of separating ourselves from nature. Human activity has become not much more than a unit of labour in a faceless economy. The media helps to perpetuate this make-believe idea of there only being one way to get on and it is difficult to find any challenge to the predominant idea of the rule of the economy. Dehumanisation emerges as part of this neverending economic growth narrative, ruled by target setting and quantifying, and fiction becomes truth. This is also having an impact on our children and they are now ‘working’ harder than ever, rarely getting free time to just play and learn from their own experiences. Free play is where they experiment and discover new things, learn about themselves and experience joy and peace. With the hectic pace of life and learning, we have lost the deeper understanding that comes from slow, dedicated attention to a phenomenon. School needs to change, certainly. But change is going the wrong direction - even when only considered from the economic angle, schools haven’t been able to respond to the economy and job market demands. Today’s global economy is highly demanding and basic skills are no longer enough. Traditionally, schools weren’t designed to teach students how to think and whatever “value added” teachers may have provided, motivation and learning was generated mostly from the outside world. (Wagner) Current Portuguese educational policies centre on developing minimal skills - native language and maths - neglecting music, art, and physical education. The teaching of holistic human development has been suspended and eliminates the basic purpose of school – encouraging curiosity and empowerment. Schools are now under a strict system of testing, measuring and quantifying. There is increasing demand for reporting and justifying everything within the school’s operation - this means an increase in irrelevant tasks for teachers, which are time consuming and divert teachers from the school’s purpose. Besides, there has been continuous change in laws and regulations, where ambiguous definitions of teaching time and non-teaching time have augmented the workload, increased the number of students per class and extended working hours.

This is combined with the introduction of annual targets for the wide curriculum that teachers and pupils are compelled to take. Teachers are unable to focus on an individual child’s needs. Children are also facing an increase in testing and examinations from the age of 9/10 and this trend distorts the whole teaching/learning experience. This focus on education measures has become political despite being based on poor evidence. The Portuguese school has become an undesirable factory-like place, where there is little interactive communication of experience, scant observing, questioning and experimenting, but with lots of concept dumping. The individual has no real existence. Discredited by a system, people don’t emotionally engage. Thus, there is a sense of failure and boredom, leading to resistance and disruption. Where there’s space for the individual, there’s chance for self-discovery. When there’s trust and people recognize themselves as valuable individuals within social interaction, there’s reward. That’s the magic of education - the magic of reciprocal discovery, of the individual that discovers and becomes, and the way it can influence the social environment. In a possible ideal School, human values and citizenship are at the centre of learning. Curiosity, creativity and self learning are the key; human interaction is crucial; the curriculum is tailored to the student and is project based; knowledge is not partitioned and time is significantly used in learning how to think, how to communicate ideas, solve problems and, as a result, students feel great reward in the process. New technologies provide equal access to information, communication and act to trigger intellectual pursuits. Working within communities boosts the learning purpose and encourages entrepeneurship. These ideal schools already exist, creating new paths and inspiring thousands worldwide in the process. (see Food for Thought below). We must urgently consider them so that we, too, can believe, and, as a result, strike out on a new path and begin to make a difference. Food for thought Blue School Democratic Schools democraticschools/ Escola da Ponte and Escola Projecto Âncora (José Pacheco) http:// High Tech High Khan Academy Mind Lab Quest to Learn Riverside School School in the Cloud Morin, Edgar, Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, UNESCO Publishing, Paris 1999 Rancière, Jacques, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1997 files/Ranciere.pdf UK Wired Magazine hyperstimulation Jornal Público (see Vygotsky, and Freinet’s legacy) References: Wagner, Tony, The Global Educational Gap, Basic Books, New York, 2008

Education today: let’s put our thinking hats on, shall we?

Society tends to apportion blame for the state of our educational system variously to teachers, students, parents or to the government, but, rather than try to look for scapegoats, shouldn’t we instead analyse the problem and try to figure out solutions? This is one of the biggest problems faced by society. In this article I won’t pretend to be the one who invents the wheel but my goal is to list and shed some light on the biggest problems in the educational system as well as trying to puzzle out some solutions, at least from Tests In our schools students learn concepts and then are tested on how great is their memory, in other words a good student is one that memorizes all, or most, of the contents spilt during lessons. Is that really learning? What about the positive effect of questioning, discussing and discovering things for yourself? If we keep testing our students in a written paper, asking them just to repeat ourselves, aren’t we preventing them from the essence of the human being, which is questioning, imagining, getting inspiration and creating their own opinion. Solution? One way of overcoming this issue is by having a project based learning approach which would mean a major change in the way many of us teachers would teach and deal with evaluation. Teachers, would be the starting point, a “resource” an “organiser” and an “assessor” but students would have projects to work on and present. A good mark would be achieved not based on how many things they could repeat but on how they would show their understanding, their ability to discuss, even question and build their own opinion. This is already a system which some teachers use, but in my opinion it should be used more often and, even, instead of the current system of evaluation. Of course this might seem scary and a lot of work for teachers, and at the beginning I’m sure it would create some challenges but the outcome would be rewarding.

Anabela Sala Cardoso

Schools and teachers are prepared for only one type of student

It’s yesterday’s news that our schools are practically prepared to receive students with one or maybe two kinds of intelligences: intrapersonal and verbal linguistic intelligences, which means people that work well by themselves and who are good readers, writers and able to memorize a lot, have better chances to learn in our society. But as Howard Gardner has shown us, learners possess

First and Second class teachers I don’t know if this happens in every country but, let’s be honest, in Portugal there are “1st and 2nd class” teachers, which means that some are seen as the real and great teachers worthy of the help of unions and receiving many perks, and there are others who are put aside as leftovers .Older teachers or the ones that have a permanent contract or are attached to the educational ministry gain one kind of treatment and the rest have another. Moreover, even among teachers,

Learn English: massively important or not at all? Please decide Two years ago English for young learners was seen as secondary so the Education Minister approved a decrease in the number of hours of English teaching in Primary schools and a new subject emerged: Religious education. Although it’s important to teach moral values to our children, there are other institutions which already take care of that, however there is no place where they can learn English, which is a major asset nowadays, for free. Furthermore, all of us would consider that with these measures the Education Minister didn’t care much for English as a subject, but once again we were surprised to see that actually English is so important that 9th grade students are now compelled to do a Cambridge exam (oral and written). So, we’re told, it’s not important to start early in learning English but it’s massively relevant to be tested in a high level of difficulty in the 9th grade! Finally, last year the Education Minister told us that English would become mandatory in the 3rd and 4th grade after all. However, teachers who have been teaching young learners for years now, and who have taken courses to become better at what they do, are now forced to take another course to be able

“different minds and therefore learn, remember, perform and understand in different ways” (1991).

Solution? Schools should have more green spaces, the classrooms should be organized in different ways, not always appropriate for only individual or pair work but also for group work. Teachers should allow themselves and the students to learn in different spaces and carry out different tasks with different goals. there’s a separation, there’s little comradeship which sets a bad image to others - if we can’t even support each other who will want to stand up for us?

Solution? We should support each other, fight battles as a united group for the good and for the not so good. United we can achieve our goals; besides it’s comforting to have someone to count on, to know that someone is watching out for us.

to teach English to the same grades they taught for years. The fee for these courses are, of course, a problem for the teacher, the government doesn’t appear to care that we are talking about people with a degree, some with a masters and years of experience.

Solution? Learning English in a global world as ours is a major aid and it should be planned carefully and begin as soon as possible, so children should at least start becoming familiar with this second language from the 1st grade. The process of learning this second language should be planned and there should be articulation between the stages( Primary, middle school and high school).Teachers should get together to plan the syllabus , the evaluation system and be prepared to articulate contents. Moreover, the teachers chosen for the job should be the ones who have most experience teaching English to young learners and the ones who have been investing on their professional development. Finally, tests as Cambridge university exams should only be considered after an articulated and meaningful teaching system has been planned and the system tested to make sure it works.



What is wrong with educaFon -­‐ and how would you put it right?

'Education starts to go badly wrong when we focus on teaching a subject rather than teaching a living-breathing student. And in the current industrial model of efficiency, results, and measurement, the idea of accountability is transformed into 'countability'. What to do? Learn from the highly successful Finnish model where teachers are given responsibility, within a broad curriculum, for deciding what to teach, and when and how to teach it. But that implies changing the way we train teachers - not simply training them to deliver a package but to read a situation and react appropriately.'

Alan Maley

‘My impression is that education still gives too much importance to learning what is already known and the three R's are still; reading, remembering and regurgitating. In this modern age of immediate access to information and also rapid change, the remembering of information seems a mistake as the mainstay of education.’

Andrew Wright


an appeal for common sense

Damian Williams Last year, at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, I was fortunate enough to attend Russell Mayne’s talk on pseudo-science in ELT. In it, he basically tore apart the idea of learning styles (among other ideas), showing how despite the fact that they are almost omnipresent in ELT, the whole idea is actually based on no conclusive evidence whatsoever. This struck a real chord with me, as it’s something I’d been reading a lot about myself through the work of Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. He has long argued the case for a bit of common sense when it comes to learning styles and how much value we place on them in teaching. The idea that different learners learn in different ways feels intuitively right of course, but it’s one giant leap to go from ‘that sounds like a good idea’ to stating unequivocally that ‘a visual learner needs to see things’, the part of the theory for which there is no conclusive evidence. In fact, it’s not just that there isn’t enough evidence to prove the theory, the fact is that there haven’t even been enough studies to attempt to do so. In 2008, Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork carried out a meta-study into the effectiveness of research into learning styles theories, and found that: We conclude, therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Yet the degree to which a belief in the effectiveness of learning styles pervades education is phenomenal. Some schools even go

as far as to print special cards for their students, which have a summary of that child’s preferred learning styles (Beadle, 2011). An appeal for common sense So, if there is no evidence for the fact that learners with a particular ‘style’ will learn best in a particular way, should we dismiss the idea altogether? I would argue that to do so is to take just as giant a leap as to blindly believe the whole theory. Since Russell’s talk, there has been a sweeping move within ELT to dismiss such ideas and banish them from teacher training courses. Even mentioning the idea of learning styles has become almost taboo in some circles. However, it’s worth remembering the facts here. All we know is that there is no evidence that, for example, learners who like visuals will learn better if they see everything in colourful charts. That doesn’t mean that different learners don’t learn in different ways. Or that providing a variety of stimuli and input won’t make for more motivated, engaged learners. In fact, the authors of the above-mentioned meta study themselves go on to provide the following afterthought: However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all … have been found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. If we are to take a fully-informed view then, we should conclude that the jury is still out. While we shouldn’t set unchallenged store by learning styles theories, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, either.

What are fads and contra-fads? The idea of the ‘fad’ and subsequent ‘contra-fad’ is no recent phenomenon in ELT. Aside from the rush to adopt learning styles theories (and the current rush to reject them), we can see examples throughout history: GrammarTranslation and the Direct Method; Behaviourism and the Humanistic, Organic approaches; Structural syllabuses and the Functional-Notional syllabus; PPP and Task-based Learning; No translation and using translation; Reducing affective filters and Demand High; embracing technology and relying on technology too heavily, to name a few examples. This last dichotomy, for and against technology, is perhaps the largest, most pervasive to affect ELT. A more recent manifestation of this trend is the rise of Solutionism in ELT. In very basic terms, this involves casting everything as a simple problem in order to provide a tangible solution. Evgeny Morozov (2013) defines it as:

Recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and selfevident processes that can be easily optimized. This has been the main driving force behind the rise of many of the huge tech start-ups in recent years, such as in the area of fitness tracking, where huge amounts of data are collected and analysed in order to provide ‘fixes’ or practical, short-term solutions. Solutionism has made an entrance into the world of ELT in many ways. The creation of ‘game-like’ language learning apps is one, though perhaps a more worrying trend is the massive, whole-scale movement by some publishers towards technology, big data, and the ‘fixes’ it provides. This has been welcomed by many who have long viewed the publishing

industry as reluctant to adopt new technologies. In some cases this change has been sweeping, with many at the top hailing the death of the print media and adopting a headlong charge towards digital platforms. This is a real change that has led to a massive, industry-wide shake up, and in some cases resulted in many people losing their jobs. While it could be (and often is) argued that this is simply the result of an evolving market, I find it a little worrying as the rush towards technology and digital media by such powerful bodies reflects the rush towards fads in ELT in so many ways. What if this, too, turns out to be a ‘fad’, like so many that have gone before? What if students, teachers and other stakeholders realise that they actually quite like books, and while they’re keen to embrace technology, feel that it works best alongside, not as a replacement for traditional print media? What should we do? As people who work in the ELT industry, whatever our ‘level’, I think it’s fundamentally important for us to be aware of fads and contrafads. It’s our job to embrace new ideas, of course, but we should also be the ones who provide the ultimate test as to how far something should be embraced. The thing I’ve always loved about our industry is that it attracts so much innovation, regardless of resources available or experience. This is something which should be actively encouraged and maintained, but we also need to remember that new ideas are just ideas. They need rigorous testing and evaluation before they can be taken as given. Likewise, backlash against common ideas and practices needs to face the same rigour. To take (or criticise) a new idea or practice at face value isn’t just not useful, it can have real consequences, and it’s only by applying a common-sense filter that we can take what’s genuinely useful in order to build a better industry all round. References Beadle, P., 2011 Bad Education: The Guardian Columns Crown House Publishing Mayne, R 2014 A guide to pseudo-science in English language teaching [video online] Available at: 2014-04-02/guide-pseudo-science-english-language-teaching [Accessed 12 March 2015]. Morozov, E. 2013 To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist Penguin Willingham, D Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? [online] Available at: ae/summer2005/willingham [Accessed 12 March 2015].


and what seems to be wrong with it

Most teachers in Portugal rant about the fact that they plan and lay out what is going to be learned while students seem oblivious to the efforts. They prefer to chat, they would die for a quick peek at the mobile and they stare at the ceiling, looking bored, waiting for time to pass and for the bell to ring so that they can wave goodbye to yet another lesson. Students come into class and it feels as if they are in a McDonald’s processing line, as Mike Grenier so bluntly put it. It is not just a Portuguese Meantime, our problem – it happens in most countries: we prepare students sense the the students for the tests and for the marks, we stress that comes worry about the low grades and the bad with the job, look at the vast piles of behaviour, we feel hopeless and tired and the paperwork we have to experts at the Ministry of Education turn prepare and carry with us their flashlights on budgets, tables and and listen to the babble that percentages. They find the usual some of us still insist on throwing suspects or scapegoats; they throw at them, and despair. They simply words like motivation, soft skills and dislike school – they feel they spend Cambridge certification in the air too much time sitting in classes and and expect us to do a Zumba not enough time developing projects, routine. doing practical things, experimenting with the subjects. There isn’t time to focus on the infamous soft skills when students are trying to survive yet another marathon of Maths classes (yes, we have an excess of Maths in our schools and someone has to say it loud enough to be heard). Our students spend too much time sitting – 50 minutes of class times 8 is too much theory for one day. We all feel stuck, one way or another – we fight the tables, the scores, the crisis, the rise in disruptive behaviour, we have to deal with parents and broken families, we are displaced and treated as numbers and we let the Government do the same to the students – they are also labeled as underperformers and we print several forms of stale strategies to save them from failing. Feeling trapped as a teacher is a terrible thing. We have to teach the outdated curricula and simultaneously provide students with the right skills. It is not possible. If the curricula are poor, education will be seemingly poor. This is not a “ah-ha!” moment. We need to put our problem-solving hats on and be proactive – ranting leads us nowhere. Our country has changed a lot but the curricula remain frozen in time – they have received little adequate alteration – they were chewed over and spat out several times by a number of people, to no avail. That takes us to meetings. When we meet in September to plan the whole year we are disorientated and unsure about the purpose of it all – we don’t really focus on what can be done with that particular class or set of students and how to avoid the quick fixes that are the lesson plans we all file in thick folders. Where are the allocated times for running projects that will make students sparkle instead of crushing their enthusiasm? Why can’t we all work towards that and stop wearing the badge of hopeless teachers

all the time? We have a set of Education policies that works against us, that floods us all with uncertainty and keeps bringing on awkward changes into the system; nonetheless we still have more power than we care to use but we choose, instead, to cry out with despair and let the water flow over our heads. We know that some red tape cannot be avoided because it does not depend on our will, but still we can adjust it to the benefit of the people who matter – us and them, the students. How often do we do that as a group? Not so often, I’m afraid. Student empowerment cannot happen without proper leadership skills coming from school structures. That brings us to leadership – we have mostly two kinds of head teachers – the Salazar-infected ones or the uber-democratic type. In between those two there should be a new breed of modern, dynamic, competent and knowledgeable directors. Without them, both students and teachers will be even more disheartened. We look around and see that our schools have turned into places where monotony, passivity, absenteeism, classroom disorder and depression seem to reign. Every now and then, we have little oasis created by those who fight against the status quo. It is about time those positive signs of change start to pop up everywhere.

Filomena Alijaj


Starr Sackstein

One teacher’s ideas for the new teacher evaluation system Your lesson was “good,” but ... Semantics. Dangerous connotation with power to invoke fear in any professional. As a teacher, I want my craft to be respected AND I want feedback to always improve.

“…if there is something I need to work on,

Intrinsic motivation is what inspires me to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Eagerly I push myself in content knowledge: reading about the newest pedagogy, attending conferences, participating in Twitter chats with the most progressive educators in the country. That being said, I’m generally supported by my administration and don’t experience first hand the mistreatment some colleagues express. With the current conversation around teacher evaluations in NY and the country, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I’d want to be assessed. Philosophically, I have issues with grades and numbers for responding to students in their learning and that certainly transfers over to how I feel about teachers too. In an ideal world, I see my administrator often. He/She has seen me in many settings, teaching different kinds of lessons; he/she is aware of what I am teaching and why, because we talk, formally and informally about the scope of planned units. We understand and respect each other’s beliefs about learning and work together to make sure the resources my students need are available. When formal observations are necessary, it doesn’t matter when my administrator comes in, because I have nothing to hide; I’m eager to share the learning environment with him/her, may even want him/her to get involved. Talk to my students, walk around, find out if the kids understand what is going on. Then… Meet with me soon after so we can discuss what he/she saw. Lead with the positive: specific, concrete examples and then explain why. After, if there is something I need to work on, let’s work on a plan together, setting up measurable goals that will help me help kids. Don’t just comment on my learning target or myopically over-focus on something small like the look of my classroom. (I’ve heard about administrators commenting on how open windows are, no joke.) After a short time has passed, come back and visit again, specifically looking for implementation of the goals we discussed.

Lastly, put it all in writing; be transparent. I’m expected to be, so admin should be too. Narratives are really effective ways to communicate growth. Use the language of the rubric, so I have a reference point when I go back to it. I value your feedback and want to grow, so let’s work together to create the best learning environment for kids. We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to respect each other’s role. Teaching is a difficult job that requires a lot of a person. We all want to feel valued. We deserve the same time and care we are expected to give to students, to help us improve. If I can give personalized feedback on every written assignment to 130+ students, my administrators should be able to give me and my colleagues the same. Just saying. What does your perfect teacher evaluation look like? They’re just words, right? So why are we so scared of them?

Did I do a good job? What makes you say so?

Visit Starr’s website


It’s been said that we’ve all got a story, I read one book says there’re seven, all told. Some people say that there’s only one question, It’s everyone’s voice saying ‘Who am I?’ Some folks believe that truth is essential, Handed down from heaven on high, Some say truth’s in the eye of the beholder, Live and let live for we all must die. Some say history is written by winners, Better teach children to write with force. Some say the future’s a lesson to learn, Time and space, our capital resource. Some say we must give our young the wherewithal To spell ‘unnecessarily’ and demonstrate pi, I say, don’t teach them facts, give them a library, Show them how to use it and, lovingly, why.

Francesca Beard

What is wrong with educaFon -­‐ and how would you put it right?


I read recently that education seems to be the only academic area where research is completely ignored. Worse, were good examples like the Scandinavian countries, are discounted for the flimsiest of reasons. So we better ask why? Now my take on this is that we suffering from two problems: 1. That we are experiencing a reaction to the slow progression to education systems that have been developing as suitable for the future, technology based, world, 2.That Ministers of Education and their lackeys are convinced that their success, in the world, and the education system that produced their success, is the only possible solution for the youth of today, irrespective that the world of today and the education needs of the future work force are far different. And what can we as educators do? Well good examples seem to be ignored, the mismatch of skills with employer's needs is not being meaningfully addressed. Arrogant Ministers are reproducing across the globe like ... well, better leave that unsaid. My dream of an answer is for committed, enlightened educators to take back control of education. We need


to work together, unite. Open free schools, with online and offline elements using the best and most innovative educators. These schools would be based on, respect for students and the fundamental concept that over-rides everything today, that student's primary focus should be on 'Learning to learn'. Combine this with autonomy, collaboration and installing civic, humanistic values and the next generation may have a hope to tackle the dreadful problems they will be inheriting from the mess we have made.

Joel Josephson

Education seems to get more and more about producing an easily quantifiable product to service universities and industry, and less and less about expanding horizons and finding yourself. Now more than ever, if you want school to educate you as opposed to just train you up, you need to find a sympathetic soul on the staff to help you along. It's either that or simply learning how to survive. Melvin Burgess


Teaching English as a foreign language from early years in Portugal

Do not listen to “Another Brick in the Wall” while reading this article or you will be missing the whole point. We do need more education and, regarding the teaching of English to young learners (TEYL) in Portugal, we are already late. It is rather easy to justify why learning English as early as possible is an advantage in any part of the world today. Follow Carol Read’s argument in: “Is Younger Better?” (English Teaching Professional, Issue 28, July 2003) or follow the “700 reasons for studying languages” ( proposed by LLAS. Do not go through the piles of legislation on languages teaching produced by the European Commission since the beginning of this century because you will find little evidence of noticeable acts in Portugal in the past two decades. The teaching of English in the first cycle, required as an extra-curricular activity, appeared to be, from 2004 until today, one of the wonders of Portuguese society, but, in the real world, you would find teachers without specific training for the job, with precarious contracts, without quality support materials, and teaching with no kind of external or internal evaluation. In spite of a few exceptions around the country, where a few qualified teachers managed to perform some miracles in class, under such conditions, we can hardly claim that we have been teaching English to our young children with satisfactory results. It was urgent to correct the legislative framework. The current Minister of Education did so late in 2014. There has been a strong collective discontent from some of his decisions, but this one could not be disparaged. Urgent complementary teacher training was set up in all Higher Education institutions so that a first national call can be organized (it has already begun), assuring that, from 2015-16, all 88 000 students in 3rd Year of Basic Education in Portugal can start learning English as part of their national core curriculum. There was some resistance, of course, and a few misconceptions had to be cracked in order to move on with this idea. Some teachers alleged they were already prepared based on the conviction that their time service and/or professional experience in English teaching, no matter which level of education, was enough to prove their merits and adequacy to the job, and some thought all lifelong or continuing education courses they have taken were also enough for teaching English to any level. The former misjudged professional experience for

Carlos Ceia degree courses, believing their first degree would be the only one they need for the rest of their professional lives; the latter have been largely victims of decades of bad counselling and bad governing about what continuing education of a language teacher should be, and they have been wasting most of their time in pointless courses and training workshops. This resistance contrasted with a large group of teachers who accepted the new challenge and have taken complementary training for being professional proficient in English teaching to young learners. The national curriculum of the first cycle of Basic Education was adapted to this new challenge and a period of two hours per week was included for English learning, in years 3 and 4. New curricular standards were implemented accordingly, following the QECRL and EAQUALS “Can Do” (starter level). This will make all the difference from what has been done since 2005, because English will not appear to these young learners as a side-line practice, with less importance to them than playing during a break from classes, but has a subject matter they will have to study as Portuguese, Maths or Social Environment. Introducing English to young learners in Basic Education is not just a sign of the need for further and better education of Portuguese learners that will help them to communicate internationally earlier in their school days. This changes teacher training and, indeed, all English teaching in Higher Education in Portugal: we will have to adjust the entry levels of English (currently B2.1) to a higher level when these new upgraded students come to university in a decade; we will have new master courses for teacher training specifically to this area (the new masters will be offered from 2015-16); we will offer many unemployed teachers of English an opportunity to redirect their career to a brand new pathway that will be available from next academic year. Pink Floyd’s song does not read as well as it sounds. Today and tomorrow, along with the advantage of a strong exposure to English language from technology to mass media and audio-visual communication, Portuguese learners will be better citizens of the world if we manage to succeed in teaching them English as early as possible and as part of their formal education. Such a wall is much harder to bring down.