It’s the End of the Class as We Know It…(and I feel fine…)


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Vincenzo di Giorgi via


Motivating Grade 2 Students to Acquire English as an Additional Language

I was struck this week by Dan Pink’s RSA talk about motivation and drive, especially how he emphasised that studies showed rewards worked for motivating people to complete repetitive physical tasks, but not cognitively challenging tasks. In addition his discussion of how management was a technological advance designed to keep workers on task in factories where work required these repetitive physical tasks made me wonder about my own teaching.

How much do I just try to manage children?

I found it so interesting how studies found that if there was any thinking required, people underperformed if there was an offer of a sizeable reward. Instead, his meta research found that in study after study, workers were more motivated when they were were given some autonomy to control what they worked on, allowed to have experiences and space to achieve mastery of skills they were interested in, and were aware of a sense of purpose.


Engagement flows with greater autonomy. People want to become good at something. There needs to be a transcendent purpose in any organisation’s work. These are of course pillars behind setting up a good community of learners.

I thought about how I might, in the future, be able to apply these findings to my younger classrooms in order to motivate students in their language acquisition learning.

To increase a sense of autonomy amongst these students, I thought I might be able to introduce more choice into the curriculum, perhaps not in terms of what activities students are required to do, but rather the order in which they can do them. I also would like to help students become more reflective so they can see how their efforts cause their learning to increase. Perhaps I need to create more self reflecting tasks. I think I can bring technology into this as well by allowing students a choice of reflecting in writing, typing or dictating responses into a Google form, creating an Explain Everything movie, or perhaps using Padlet on iPads.

To give students the chance to achieve and perceive this achievement of mastery, I need to create opportunities for students to share what they have learned and also make sure they understand that mistakes are natural. I took some advice from this guide to encouraging mastery in the classroom. Encouraging mastery connects very much to fostering a growth mindset in all students. For example, if students have trouble producing the oral language I want them to, I can talk to them about and model how they might use provided word banks and sentence starters as a scaffold to get talking. I also need to get better at helping students chunk work into achievable goals, perhaps following the SMART model. I must help students develop their own senses of self efficacy.

The Growth Mindset

To increase students’ sense of purpose, I will try to discuss with children how what we learn in our EAL classroom connects to “real life” of their homeroom, the playground, the school, and when they travel beyond its borders. The Playfield Institute has also produced this guide on how to increase children’s perception of purpose. I think the key may be taking more time to set up a community of learners, and prompting each student to think about his or her own purpose, or function.

Avoiding the Obsolete Classroom

I also took a lot of inspiration from Prakash Nair’s blogpost on how the classroom has become obsolete.

I thought about Nair’s assertions that the schools of tomorrow need to be:

1) Personalised;
2) Safe and secure;
3) Inquiry based;
4) Student directed;
5) Collaborative;
6) Interdisciplinary;
7) Rigorous and hands on;
8) Embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations;
9) Environmentally conscious;
10) Making strong connections to local community and business;
11) Globally networked; and
12) Setting the stage for lifelong learning.

I was pleasantly surprised to realise that in many ways, the school that I currently teach at could be seen as meeting or approaching most of these criteria. We need to work a bit more on personalisation of learning perhaps, and making strong connections to the local community and business but we are well on our way for the others.

I also found this quote by Nair in particular to be quite illustrative. After reading each of them, I paused to consider what such conclusions could mean for my class and/or school.

We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects.

I could see this coming into reality in a few ways at my school. I could definitely see project based learning and challenge based learning becoming embedded teaching and learning strategies at some point. Perhaps simply by rearranging our units of inquiry so they do not begin with a central idea, but rather a central challenge/question. Or perhaps they could start with a single topic, for which students develop questions during and after provocations and tuning in. I could then see arranging instruction times based on the availability of experts who might be able to give students insight into how to answer their questions or add components to their meeting of the challenges.

A question I might have about standards, however, is this: What if the questions that students come up with do not really align with standards?

Another quote that struck me was this:

Yes, we will need enclosed spaces for direct instruction, but perhaps these could be adjacent to a visible and supervisable common space for teamwork, independent study, and Internet-based research…limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilizing adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.

When I read this, I started thinking about a current change I’m trialling in my own EAL classroom. I have a large class this year, and the noise level is not quite optimal for the language development of especially students who are new to English. However, our school has many breakout spaces and outside pods. I’m going to trial explaining basic tasks as a whole class, but will then split the class into three sections to actually complete what is usually quite interactive work. I would also like to utilise the pods in the outside passageways and the space underneath our school’s knowledge center for different learning tasks and group or individual research. As my school has internet coverage everywhere, this is totally possible if we utilise class sets of iPads. I know I for one find it difficult to work in my office nowadays and relish our school’s out door shaded places for such purposes.

My Declaration of Independence from Universities

I am embarking on an endless learning journey…


I’m pretty sure that this learning will never ever take place in a proper classroom, university, or lecture hall again.

Rather my “schools” will be my kitchen, a cafe on the riverside, a hammock in my wife’s island village, or a breezy table beneath my school’s knowledge centre. My classmates shall sit at their own beaches, cafes, kitchens, and living rooms around the world.

Due to the availability of the information available on line this week from online course conglomerates such as Khan AcademyCourseraUniversity of the PeopleSkillshareiTunes U, and edX, I’m proud to state that I think I shall never sit at a desk…in a learn…again..(so help me Internet.)

And look out “higher education”! It is also my goal to get my students to this stage of learning about 30 years quicker than I did. They are going to know how to learn and have their own strong ideas about what they want to learn, and no four walls of a classroom, unit plans, or adult designed curriculums are going to hold them back!

5 Replies to “It’s the End of the Class as We Know It…(and I feel fine…)”

  1. Dear Jon,

    I found your My Declaration of Independence from Universities to be quite a powerful way to finish your blog post. I was really impressed with how you have drawn together many of the current learning opportunities and driven it forward to create a classroom not restricted by walls or the limitations of so many of our current classrooms.

    With regards to your question about “what if their inquiries do not align with the curriculum and content needed to be covered in the classroom I can offer you “iTime” or the “Genius Hour” I went through many of the same conundrums that you did while examining the in-class practice and pedagogy. I kept coming back to the problem of how to spur curiousity and inquiry within my classroom while delivering the curriculum content. I was turned onto iTime by a few colleagues which allowed me to channel their passions and apply good pedagogical structure around their curiousity. This allowed the students to bring the skills back to the content that I needed to teach and they needed to learn.

    After the successes that we had in our classroom with iTime last year in Grade Five I am confident that by implementing these strategies you could be a step closer to your dream of liberation from today’s Universities and learning systems.

    Good luck, I hope to follow your lead!

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to make your thought provoking comment. Love the iTime and the structure that the Genius hour link lays out. Very helpful!

      These ideas bring me back to the one mission I have had throughout my career up and down the Elementary halls…help kids cultivate their own interests. It seems we start life interested in everything, but teachers have the power to help us turn these inklings of interests into full blown passions/obsessions. On the other hand, teachers also have the power to extinguish these interests (or at least suppress them).

      I want to be a teacher who has helped children figure out what they want to learn and how they might best learn these things and it sounds like you definitely are as well.

      Thanks again,


  2. Hello, Jon.

    I always enjoy reading your posts—you are very articulate and make our learning accessible. I am sure this is a quality that serves you well as an educator.

    I am struck by an early comment you make in this post. “To give students the chance to achieve and perceive this achievement of mastery, I need to create opportunities for students to share what they have learned and also make sure they understand that mistakes are natural.” This is such an important aspect of teaching. Particularly with language learners, whether they are seated in an ELL environment with you or mainstreamed in ELA with me, how important is it to show that we are all capable of making mistakes? Sometimes I spell things wrong. Sometimes I mispronounce a word. Sometimes I misspeak. It’s part of being human, and part of learning and growing. It doesn’t matter if I am the teacher, because I will forever be a student as well. This is something I try to always keep in the back of my mind.

    We work with different audiences; I am a team member in both our MS and HS this year. I know with the little ones things like wonder jars are popular, and I know that I loved that as a student. How do we keep kids interest levels high? Offer some autonomy to drive the discussion forward.

    If you enjoyed Daniel Pink’s RSA video, and haven’t already seen his Ted Talk on motivation, it’s worth a watch as well.

    Thanks for the post.



    1. Hi Kristen,

      Thank you so much for your comment! Hmmm…wonder jars…I looked them up and found this. I love the idea! Sounds like a great idea to encourage creative thinking and more importantly QUESTIONING (which you know from an EAL perspective is a huge learning behavior we need to encourage). I’m just wondering…do you give the kids prompts about things in the wonder jar or just ask them “What do you wonder about (the chalk, the bug, the crayon, etc.?)

      Thanks again Kristen,


  3. Hello, Jon.

    My husband uses it as an open forum in his classroom to learn more about anything his kids wonder about. When he gets a random question in the middle of the class he can just say wonder jar and the student can write it down. Sometimes he will have moments where kids write down things they wonder about. However the questions arrive, it’s a good use of downtime. Five minutes before recess or a special, moments like that. It’s a nice way to empower students to drive discussions.

    I hope you have a restful and happy break.


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