The flaw we see is a lack of engagement and relatedness to the subject of instruction in students. This might be due to the fact that the students feel forced to learn things that are not interesting and have no choice. In our Legacy Project the goal is for students to create a message they want to leave behind for the future students and this way contribute to a better education. This could be anything, in any form, as long as it will be helpful for future students. We think such a project will increase motivation and curiosity in students.
Learning a second language is part of almost every student’s high school experience. It is crucial for them to gain grammar knowledge and vocabulary in order to practice reading, listening, writing and speaking in the foreign language. However, the aforementioned skills are not the only component of high school second language education. To establish a favorable learning environment, besides the memory-based knowledge, we need space for students to have a say into the content of the class, let them find what they enjoy doing and let them actually do it. The flaw we see is the lack of engagement and relatedness to the subject of instruction in students. In Academie Tien, students already have a certain degree of autonomy but we would like to make it even more enjoyable and meaningful for them. As a matter of fact, their philosophy and their educational system allow for a smooth implementation of our redesign.
As a solution to the flaw, we propose the following redesign, named the Legacy project. Within the project students are encouraged to leave a legacy for the future students, to convey a message that should be heard according to them – all that in their second language. This way they can discover their interests, strengthen and deepen their foreign language skills in an autonomous manner.
Students have two months to finish their legacy project and within those two month they should have a weekly class of at least 45 minutes where they work on their legacy and interact with the teacher. They can choose for themselves if they want to work in a team or individually. The project is best suited for the 2nd till 5th grade in high school as the command of basic English is necessary and the students are not yet busy with university applications. We recommend groups of maximum 3 students, so that the work can be divided equally and everyone’s contribution is visible. If more students are required, a group can ask for help or can discuss it with the teacher.
In the early stage, students start with exploring the possibilities and presenting their ideas to the teacher. The initial list of examples can be adjusted according to the teacher:
The project will not be graded, students simply need to hand in a product of their work. They can also indicate how the product of their work should be used. The formats of the end products can be various:
After all the projects are created, they can be put on an online platform and with more and more projects, they can be divided into informative, inspirational, instructional and entertaining ones. The aim is for the students and teachers to use the projects in future within the school curriculum. The projects from previous years can be presented in the beginning of a new school year as an inspiration and motivation.
Of course no redesign is credible without reliable justifications. So, beneath will follow three different justifications. All based on different perspectives of education. The three perspectives are motivation, neuroscience and last but not least, a didactic perspective.
Before explaining the motivation justification. We want to ask you to imagine our redesign.
Imagine three students working on a project, which they are motivated for, for which they won’t receive a grade for and which they do for future students. It might be hard to imagine this, because why would the students be motivated? Well, we will ask you to imagine this on a bigger scale. This is a lot easier, isn’t it? It is because we have got a great example. Namely Wikipedia. Thousands of people are writing articles, about almost everything, for free, for other people which they do not know. This is called intrinsic motivation. They write the articles, they spend hours and hours working on it, just because they are motivated to do so, simply because they want to. We want this intrinsic motivation for students as well. But how to create it?
Well, we will first explain what intrinsic motivation is, and how it differs from extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within a person. There is no drive from outside which makes you do something. While with extrinsic motivation, there is a drive from outside. Often in the form of punishment or reward. Because of this punishment or reward, you do what you have to do. This extrinsic motivation works perfectly well in situations which are simple and have a simple solution. While intrinsic motivation will lead to more creativity. And this is what we want students to have.
According to Daniel Pink, three elements are needed for this kind of motivation. Firstly, autonomy, this is the urge to direct our own lives. Secondly, mastery, the desire to get better and better in something that matters. Thirdly, purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
We tried to implement these three elements within the redesign. By doing so, we might be able to increase the intrinsic motivation of students.
Firstly autonomy, as already said the urge to direct our own lives. Within our redesign we want to give students more autonomy than is possible within a regular class. The students can decide for themselves what kind of project they want to do, how they want to do it and with who. By creating this autonomy the students have the chance to be more creative, to share their passion and are able help future students with learning. The students might feel that they have a say, that the teachers will listen to them.
Important is having autonomy on four different fields: task, time, technic and team.
Within our redesign we are able to give students autonomy within most of these fields. The students can choose their own project and therefore their own task. The students can choose how they will do their project and therefore their own technic. And the students can choose their own team.
Then the mastery, students want to get better in something they care for. To create this engagement the assignment should not be too easy, otherwise the students will not learn anything from it and will just get bored. On the other hand, it should not be too difficult as well, because then the students will not succeed and will not improve themselves. Within standardized testing, this is often the case. A test might either be too easy or to difficult. Most tests are designed for average, although all most no one is average. But within our redesign we do not set such standards, the students can each work within their own level. Because they start at their own level of the language, they can challenge themselves within their own capacity. This will lead to more engagement. And eventually it will lead to mastery.
But also important, the students can choose whatever they want. We think they will choose a theme for the project that they are passionate about. Therefore they will care for the project as well. We think because of this, they want to improve their language skills as well, because they need it for the project which matters to them.
The last element is purpose, doing it for the greater good, for something that is bigger than themselves. This is what our redesign is all about. Within our redesign the students do not just hand in their assignment to their teacher. They will not feel that they do the project for the teacher. They will leave it for The legacy project, for the future students.
The students will know that if they deliver a good project, future students will actually use it. For example if they design a game which will make learning the names of countries in another language easier, or if they create an website on which they put videos which explains how to use the tenses, the teachers might actually use it. If they write recommendations on which books to read, or make a roadmap about how to choose a study, or make a podcast about paintings they have seen in a museum they visited, they know that it is really helpful for the future students.
Our redesign contains all the three element which are, according to Daniel Pink, needed for increasing intrinsic motivation. Because of that we think that this project will indeed increase intrinsic motivation. If this will actually happen, we hope that students will be more motivated for the regular classes as well. Because they see the value of the language.
One important element of our redesign is that students will be able to give the teacher feedback. If they think that they can do a better job than the teacher, they can come up with a new method. Together with the teachers, students can improve education.
Discipline of the education neuroscience is a relatively new area mostly consisting of translational research. As is the case with many sciences, applying the neuroscientific research findings into real-life situations has proven to be challenging. Learning as a brain process consists of multiple sets of the most complicated processes. There are eight main types of learning circuits in the brain (even though there are different ways to count them and no complete consensus on which one is the best way): episodic, conceptual, conditioning-based, control-based, reward-based, procedural, observational, and instructional (Thomas).
In spite of the lacking consensus, there are elements that contribute to an overall positive learning experience. Judy Willis, Californian neurologist and teacher, sees the stress and anxiety as the main enemy for learning. She reduced the research findings to her RAD concept acronym (Willis, 2007) – reticular activating system, amygdala, and dopamine – and proposes ways to promote better knowledge and skills acquisition through eliminating tension from classroom activities.
First, the (ascending) Reticular Activating System (RAS) takes care of the physical factors necessary for learning. This means that the conditions in the classroom need to be relevant enough to keep children´s arousal and attention. The Legacy project gives every pupil opportunity to work on a topic of their interest and therefore allows the information to pass through the RAS filter.
Furthermore, amygdala – the emotional centre in our brain – is sensitive to cortisol (stress hormone) and in its excessive presence can block information from entering the brain areas of memory encoding and consolidation. Even though the stress has been found to enhance memory formation in some studies, it is related to emotional context of the stressful situation (Vogel, & Schwabe, 2016). Therefore, pupils might remember that they felt embarrassed when they did not know how to answer a question but they will not remember what the question was and certainly not the right answer to that question. In addition, the sense of belonging is also felt thanks to amygdala and increases effort made by pupils. The Legacy project works against stress and helplessness by accentuating the idea of helping, inspiring and influencing others. There are no wrong answers, the emphasis is put on pupils´ opinions and perspective.
Finally, dopamine – the brain chemical responsible for motivation and goal-oriented behaviour – is released to direct our attention towards the predictors of reward. Herd, Mingus, and O’Reilly (2010) suggest that our reward system has evolved for us to achieve abstract concepts such as trustworthiness or recognition (which is partly aimed for in the Legacy Project). Therefore, the idea of completing a task, creating something or solving a problem is a reward in itself and motivates pupils´ to work toward more intrinsic reward. They do not work for grades or learning goals but for contributing to a bigger picture. They do not work to compare themselves with the others but to inspire and get inspired which banishes the extrinsic motivation that often involves competition and stress.
Altogether, these three elements can help create positive associations during the development of individual legacy projects which will make acquiring knowledge and encoding of the new second-language information faster, easier and more pleasant. We suppose that after becoming more skilled in one topic/aspect of the foreign language (the one that the pupils worked on to create their legacy), they will have also more confidence to use the language and therefore will progressively become more skilled in other aspects of the language (after the Legacy project, in normal lessons).
There are different methods to learn something. For example, by reading from a book or by getting explanation. A different method is by explaining the topic to someone else. By explaining something to someone else, you get a better understanding of the concept (Duran & Topping, 2017). When using a concept, it will be remembered better. So when using a concept with the goal to help someone else to understand it, you will get a better understanding of it yourself. Mompean (2010) performed an experiment where French students learned English. These students had to maintain a blog about a specific topic in groups of three. The results of this experiment showed that on average the students posted more than was required for the assignment. So the participation of the students was good. The students also had meaningful interactions on the blog, hereby the students were really into the discussions.
Tutoring can be done in several ways. Explaining can be done with a lot of creativity, for example with metaphors or stories. Creativity in learning increases the motivation, attention and curiosity of students (Torrance, 1981). For creating an creative learning environment Feldhusen and Treffinger (1980) have listed some advices. One of those points includes adapting to the interest of students. Another point is that creativity comes in many forms, for example verbal, written. They also suggested to let students also have a say in what they have to do. In a project performed at the Universitat de València teachers used digital storytelling to teach their students English whilst keeping them interested and engaged. For the final project, students had to make a digital story. The results showed that the students had improved their communication skills in English (Reyes Torres, Pich Ponce & García Pastor, 2012). In Denmark they implemented interest projects in a school. The students had to work on a topic of their interest in English class. The researchers looked at the interactions within each group of students. She saw that the students were speaking almost only speaking English and really tried to help each other to improve. An important conclusion she makes is that the students are really eager to learn more. (Little, Ridley, Ushioda, & Trinity College (Dublin), 2003)
We hope, of course, that schools will implement The legacy project. But most of all, we hope that we inspired teachers and students to think about letting students have a say within the classroom. That not only teachers create the education and curriculum, but that students have some input as well. We believe that this will increase motivation and creativity. And that it will improve education, and lead to more fun!
To remind you why our redesign can create this, we will give you a small summary of each justification.
All the elements which are needed for intrinsic motivation according to Daniel Pink, are within our redesign. So, we believe that it will lead to more intrinsic motivation, not only within The legacy project, but also within the regular classes.
The role of neuroscience in education is far from being completely understood. But one thing is already clear; making class relevant, stress-free and pleasant is the key for happy and engaged students.
Explaining is a way of learning, which can be done with a lot of creativity. When students are able to be creative in their assignments, this will increase their motivation and curiosity.
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