Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Written by Gael Luzet, a Clonlara School guest blogger and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Much has been said recently about the power of learning with others, but how can collaborative learning make a significant difference in the classroom?

Collaborative learning is a planned opportunity for two or more people to work together in an educational context. It is not just about putting pupils in groups, it is about facilitating their team work and providing great outcomes. Historically, collaborative learning has always been at the forefront of effective teaching and learning. Plato in Ancient Greece used to give his students philosophical dilemmas to solve through a dialogical process. Students who collaborate effectively have developed important lifelong learning skills such as:

•    The ability to express their thoughts with clarity
•    The ability to listen to and understand others
•    Awareness  and management of their own emotions and feelings

Collaborative learning tasks tend to be open-ended and require high levels of thinking. They demand a wide range of skills that younger learners may not have acquired yet. It is important to assist them in improving their cooperative skillset. Students learn that the answer does not always have to come from the teacher. In fact, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, a guide on the side who paves the way for learners to acquire knowledge.

Thorough planning is crucial for the teacher-facilitator who ventures into the collaborative learning world. Set the ground rules for group work, which can be discussed with your class in advance (pupils should take it in turn to speak, make eye contact and encourage everyone to participate, be silent during instructions, etc…). It is useful for the teacher to have a zero noise signal. A whistle, a bell or a hand clap could do the trick. Consider the composition of your groups: should pupils sit in friendship, mixed gender or mixed ability groups? How many pupils should there be per group? How about the roles within each team (a leader, a scribe, a researcher, etc…)?

And last but not least, give careful consideration to unwilling learners, the ones who sit with their arms crossed or a giant bubble gum in their mouth when you speak to the class. Regardless of their reluctance to participate, they have to be included in the task. They need to be placed with the right peers and the teacher has to boost their motivation before group work starts. By and large, children crave acceptance from their peers. Reluctance generally comes from a lack of confidence buried behind a confrontational or indifferent front. When handled properly, collaborative learning helps the unwilling learner to become a more active (and happier) classroom participant.

Strategies for collaborative learning range from the simplest technique to the more complex one; from the small scale paired activity to the full blown group project which stretches over several lessons. Here are four simple strategies to facilitate group learning:

1.    To create mixed groups of pupils, give each member in the class a number from one to four. Ask all the ones, the twos, the threes and the fours to sit together. You now have four heterogeneous groups of learners ready to tackle the collaborative task ahead.
2.    To encourage students to talk to each other, sit them opposite each other in a long line and ask the students on one side to move down a seat every 3 to 5 minutes. This speed dating-style activity works well when the task involves peer questioning or data gathering.
3.    Mind maps and graphic organizers are the perfect partners to classroom collaboration. Enthusiastic pupils sitting together around a large mind map are more likely to discuss, negotiate, evaluate and compromise.
4.    Group activities such as the card game ‘Higher or Lower?’ provide a great opportunity to develop ordering and sequencing skills. Create a set of cards with ideas to rank in order of importance, value, chronology, etc… Ask pupils in pairs (or threes) to reveal each card in turn, and place it higher or lower than the other visible cards on the table.

It is generally accepted that once children understand the value of working together in unity, performance, motivation and outcomes improve.  Of course, children should also be given time to think for themselves and work on their own, but collaborative learning adds another string to their skills bow. A string which is invaluable as it gives them the confidence to interact effectively with the world around them.

Author Bio:  Gael Luzet, Advanced Skills Teacher, teacher trainer and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook

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Top Ten Tips for Going Back to School

Written by a representative from Tutor House, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

The end of the summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year is an equally stressful and exciting time for many parents and students alike.

London-based private tutoring agency Tutor House has come up with its top ten tips for going back to school, aimed to help students and parents prepare for the new school term.

1.    Morning Organization – Get Back into the Routine

Create a routine for the mornings to ensure that everyone is out of the house at the right time.

Ensure that everything needed for school is prepared the night before the first day back to avoid the unwanted stressful manic rush in the morning.

2.    Prepare the Calendar – Highlight Key Dates

Having a family calendar is a great idea and solution for effectively preparing for key term dates, as the whole house can always be kept up to date with what everyone has planned.

Mark key term dates and the days kids are doing after school activities.

3.    Lunch and Breakfast Supplies

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it’s worth having the fridge and cupboards filled up with a range of healthy breakfast items.

If lunch boxes are required then ensure that you have plenty of lunch box fillers available so in the morning it is quick and easy to rustle something up.

4.    Reading List – Get Ahead of the Class

If the school has issued a reading list for a particular subject before the term starts, get these books as soon as possible.

Summer holiday reading or a 20-minute session before bed is the ideal solution to avoid last minute cramming as students will learn more effectively.

5.    Holiday Work – Slow and Steady

A continuing theme here is to ensure that nothing is left to the last minute. Holiday work is often left to the eleventh hour, causing stress and ineffective learning.

By steadily completing holiday work earlier on in the holidays ensures that students will keep their minds energised, avoiding that horrendous last minute dash to finish off 10 pieces of homework the night before the first day of school.

6.    Labelling – Get the Sewing Kit out, Mum!

Labelling all the uniform and sports kit is a sensible idea as it helps avoid having to keep buying new uniform to replace potential items of lost property throughout the school year.

An arduous task for many, but dedicate an evening or two to spend with the sewing kit – it’ll be worth evading the potentially expensive mid-term uniform replacements!

7.    Regulate Sleeping Habits – No More Late Nights

Traditionally the summer holidays can bring change to a child’s sleeping habits, especially teenagers.

Try to regulate sleeping patterns a week or so before term starts to avoid a shock to the system on the first day back at school.

8.    Brush up in Key Areas – Private Tuition?

Make a flying start to the new term by brushing up in a few key areas. Whether it’s an important exam year or a new start, hiring a private tutor for a few hours before term starts can really make a difference.

9.    RELAX!

Putting all the excitement and stress of starting a new term aside for a second, it’s actually correspondingly important to keep calm and have a positive attitude.

These schooling years are so precious, and won’t last forever so enjoy them as much as benefitting from them.

10. Avoid the Uniform Rush – don’t leave it all last minute

By shopping for school uniform well before the end of summer rush parents can benefit from avoiding manic shopping trips and can often pick up very good deals.

Currently Debenhams are offering 70% off Kids school uniform and other retailers are offering deals such as; 2 for 1 and 3 for 3 on school uniforms.

Author Bio – Tutor House is a private tutoring agency based in Fulham, London and offers private tuition for children aged 11 – 18 years old in Common Entrance, GCSEs and A-Levels. Tutor House also offers special education support, careers advice, gap year advice and University guidance.

For more information on private tutors in London and Fulham contact Tutor House on 020 7381 6253 or visit http://www.tutorhouse.co.uk

Back to School Resources and Activities

Written by Ellen Mady, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***) and has been reposted with permission and can be found on E for Educate.

Many students and teachers I know, including myself, face the first day of school with mixed feelings – partly excited for a new year with new experiences and accomplishments, and partly bummed that summer vacation is over and all the work and exhaustion associated with the school year is back. An exciting and engaging first day can go far in helping students begin the school year on the right foot.

These are some ideas I have used in the past, to help students get to know each other and get excited for the new year on their first day back to school.

1.Goal setting. On the first day of school, give all your students a slip of paper and a few minutes to think of one or two goals they want to accomplish during the coming school year. After students have written their goals down, collect them and either display them on a classroom bulletin board where the students can regularly see them, or store them somewhere easily accessible to the students during the year. At the end of the year, give students time to revisit those goals to see if they have accomplished them.

2.Student survey. I had a lot of fun with this a few years ago with an 8th grade and 11th grade class. Make a survey of random questions – eye color, height, birthday, number of siblings, favorite color, favorite movie/book, etc. Tell students to fill out the survey anonymously, without putting their name anywhere on the sheet of paper. Collect all the surveys shuffle them, and then begin reading the answers written on the first survey. The students need to guess which classmate completed the survey based on the answers given. Once the class has correctly guessed the student that completed the survey, move on the next, and so forth. This helps both old and new students get to know more about each other.

3.Summer Memories. Encourage students to share fun and meaningful experiences from their summer vacation. This helps them bond as a class and enables them to learn from each other’s experiences. You could have students write a brief paper about their summer and share their writing, or have each student give a 1 minute oral presentation.

*When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve also given the students a specific focus, such as sharing summer experiences that taught them about friendship, responsibility, or other values that will be beneficial for the school year as well…

4.Skittle Activity. This is another simple game that helps students share about each other and bond as a class. In advance, the teacher needs to create questions to correspond to the different Skittle colors. Then, in class, pass a bag of Skittles around. When a student receives the bag, he has to pick a Skittle without looking and answer the question that corresponds with the color he picked.  SAMPLE QUESTIONS: Red = What are you most looking forward to this school year? Green = What is one thing you want to contribute to your class community and one thing you want to receive from your community. Yellow = If you could pick one country in the world to visit, where would you go and why? Purple = Tell us about your favorite book. Orange = What is something you want to learn this year?

5.Welcome gift. Make your students feel welcome with a surprise gift on the first day. Something simple waiting on their desks – maybe a pencil with a special eraser, or a cupcake, or a notebook, or a bag with a few pieces of wrapped candy…

Links to other resources and activities:
1.Here is a set of free printables for a “teacher binder”. It includes calendar pages for 2013-2014, as well as other dividers pertinent to organizing a class…
2. Scholastic provides a free printable called “First Day Challenge”. Students need to come up with objects or names that fit different categories given on the sheet and begin with the letters of “First Day”.
3.Click here for more “get to know you” activities, also from Scholastic.
4.Click here for Back to School bulletin board ideas.
5.Free printable back to school cupcake toppers – click here for pink and here for blue.

About the Author:  Ellen Mady is a wife, mother and educator currently living and working in Northern Iraq. Ellen began teaching fulltime in the United States six years ago. Since then, she has taught or participated in school leadership teams in a variety of schools inside and outside the United States. Ellen’s experienced has centered around Middle School and High School education, using the International Baccalaureate Programme. Ellen currently works as Head of Curriculum Development and Authorization at Mar Qardakh School in Iraq.

Project-Based Learning In Today’s Classroom

Written by a guest blogger from Launch Education Group (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question.  And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?

Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.

Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.

Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”

No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.

This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar.  Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.”  As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.

One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition.  With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.

Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.

How Project-Based Learning Will Make Your Kids Successful

Written by Pengfei, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***) and has been reposted with the permission of Launch Education Group.

Alex Banayan, 20 years old and the youngest venture capitalist in the world. Still a college student at USC, Alex spends his days flying to various cities, hanging out with people like Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, networking with young entrepreneurs, and writing his own book. He has turned down an offer from MTV (for his own reality TV show) and another from Interscope Records. Alex is at the pinnacle of success at his age. Yet, an interview with his boss, Stewart Alsop, will make you realize that the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm did not hire him for his grades. They hired him for his creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and social saavy. Above all, they hired him for his confidence.

graphic
Most parents believe that academic achievement is the key to a lucrative future. However, we also know that success means so much more than being calculus geek or being able to write a great paper on James Joyce. After all some of our society’s most beloved visionaries are college dropouts.

Because skills like leadership, confidence, communication skills, and curiosity take a lifetime to develop, it is imperative for children to start at an early age. For example, parents should implement a routine activity that stimulates a child’s creativity and develops their confidence. A great way to do this is a project-based learning model described in Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”  -Mark Caine

Although primarily designed for homeschooling parents, the program can be adopted by all families and academic institutions. Project-based learning is a way for kids to choose their own subjects and work on projects that interests them. A time of the day/week is allocated for kids to routinely work on various projects individually or with others. Parents and teachers, for the most part, offer minimal guidance and are only there to encourage and observe. The benefits of this approach are immeasurable.

Take this scenario in the book for example:
“A group of children age three to five are working together to build a large, three-dimensional cardboard whale. Two are crouched on the floor looking at a book, shouting out information and ideas to others, Two are arguing about fin design-they decide they will each make one fin the way they prefer and they’ll use both. Another decides to make krill for the whale to eat, so he sits down and begins cutting paper into tiny pieces… Later she [parent] can use her notes to help the children remember all of their plans. One of the children walks up to her and asks her to write down the colors of paint they will need: he lists them. Another says he wants to measure how big the whale is – he would like it to be life-size. They begin to discuss the best way to measure, and one of the children runs to get a book from the bookshelf-he remembers which book mentioned the exact length of their whale, even though he can’t read yet.”

The activities and learning in this scenario are representatives of the skills the children will develop as they get older. For example, learning how to freely to express their creativity and create a whale according to their own imagination is essential for developing innovative thinking and self-confidence. Learning how to settle arguments (i.e. the aforementioned “fin” example) and working as a group help mold them into team players. Lastly, by starting the project over to build the whale with the correct dimensions, students learn to cope with failure and persevere.

Project-based learning is a workspace that allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking. By helping your children develop them at a young age, you are placing them a step ahead of the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alex Banayan. Who knows, maybe your child will be on the cover of Forbes as the world’s youngest millionaire a decade from now.

About the author:   Pengfei is a student at Cornell University. As one of the Launch interns, he assists the director, Matt Steiner, with online marketing and business development. During his high school and college years, he has held a couple of tutoring jobs, helping elementary to high school students in math. Pengfei also has strong backgrounds in technological design, social media, and information policy.

The Implications and Treatment Options of Mental Illness in Children in the UK (part 1)

Written by Amy Fry a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Grazed knees, a runny nose and measles may be the most popularly expected ailments that parents can expect their children to face, not mental illness. However according to government data , 1 in 10 children aged between 5 and 16 years has a mental health problem.
two young girls laughing behind another girls back

Photo courtesy of Zalouk Web Design on Flickr

With the issue of mental illness in children being a relatively unexplored concept, it could be difficult to identify. Therefore what is being done to distinguish a mental health disorder in a child, and what help is available?

Identifying mental illness in children

Mental disorders commonly associated with children such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder can be detected through disruptive behavior. Experts have recently stated that if bad behavior goes beyond being naughty, and parents suspect their child may be suffering from ADHD , then they are probably right.

For example, it is normal for a child to let off steam when they come home, but if they struggle to concentrate or fail to learn from their mistakes, then they may be suffering from ADHD.

However ADHD is only suspected to affect 2% of children, and not all mental health issues will be as simple to diagnose. For example, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 4% of children suffer from anxiety and depression, and 6% will struggle with a behavioral disorder.

Identifying these illnesses has been proven to be difficult; recent figures show that between 60-70% of children and adolescents with significant mental health problems were not offered necessary interventions at the earliest opportunity.

The effects of a delayed diagnosis

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui wrote for the Guardian that untreated mental health issues in children can lead to unemployment and poor levels of education later in life, so it is important to adapt a public health approach to this area in future to provide support where necessary. Currently less than 0.001% of the mental health budget is used for prevention, and Professor Bhui says this must change to improve the future of children’s mental health.

A lack of diagnoses and support of young people with mental health issues could have a damaging effect on their future; figures show that around a quarter of young offenders have a learning disability, 60,000 have difficulty communicating and a very large proportion have mental health demands. It does beg the question that if a preventative and supportive approach towards mental health disorders in children was applied, could prison have be avoided all together for these individuals?

Treating mental illness in children

To address the high figures of mental illness in children, the government is now investing an additional £22 million into providing more mental health care services for this age group, on top of the £32 million already dedicated to therapies as set out in the Mental Health Strategy. This extra financial support is to help a those who may have before “suffered in silence” due to lack of understand or resources.

In the meantime, there are a range of methods to treat mental health which can range from therapy to medication. Prescriptions are often only administered as a last resort, and a course of psychological treatment may be recommended first. This can include consulting with a psychiatrist to take part in cognitive behavioral therapy, or a form of talking therapy such as counseling.

Creating a safe, supportive and trusting environment for a child with a mental health illness is imperative to encourage a stable future and steady recovery. By seeking help as soon as possible for a child with mental health problems means that necessary treatment can be administered, therefore hopefully halting the damaging effects that can be caused by a delayed diagnosis.

Amy Fry writes for a variety of industries, but specializes in personal well-being, lifestyle and health issues. Amy lives and works in Brighton, UK and spends her spare time strolling by the seafront and going to art galleries.

 

ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips

Written by Mary Stedman a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips

There is nothing more natural for a child than to be restless, absentminded, to forget things, to show inability to focus or sit still in some situations or in certain places, usually where it is required to be calm, quiet and concentrated. However, all of the above are also symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), one of the most controversial disorders of our time, and, ironically, the most common psychiatric disorder in children and adolescents.

Following are some less known facts and tips for parents whose children suffer from this very common problem.

What is ADHD, and what is ADD?

“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric or neurobehavioral disorder characterized by significant difficulties either of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsiveness, or a combination of the two.” (Source: Wikipedia)

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is a former name of one of the types of ADHD, labeled as “predominantly inattentive” (full name ADHD-PI), the other two being predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (ADHD-HI) and previous two combined (ADHD-C). ADD is today sometimes used as a synonym for ADHD, which is incorrect, and the name itself has officially been changed in 1994.

Why is it controversial?

Diagnosis and treatment of ADHD have been considered controversial since the seventies, with differing opinions of teachers, the media, clinicians, parents and policymakers. There are still scientists who don’t believe that ADHD exists as a medical problem.

Though very few health care providers today deny the existence of the disorder, the debate in the scientific circles regarding the methods of diagnosing and treatment, as well as the causes of ADHD still rages on. Those methods wildly vary from one country to another, which is the reason for large differences in the number of diagnosed cases. For example, only one percent of children and adolescents are diagnosed with ADHD, compared to more that 10 percent in the US, depending on the sources. Australian Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being reported ADHD being present in 11 percent of children and adolescents.

Similar differences exist in guidelines regarding the use of medication in the treatment. For example, UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommends their use only in severe cases, with most US guidelines recommend it in almost all cases.

How to spot it

As said before, the nature of ADHD makes it very hard to spot, since the symptoms (identified as lack off focus, impulsivity, hyperactivity and disruptive behavior) can easily be misinterpreted as normal phases in growing up. Generally, the rule is that the symptoms must be observed in at least two settings for a minimum of six months, and they must be more noticeable than in other children of the same age. Seventh year of life is excepted as the boundary for the appearance of symptoms.

It is considered that, by the age of five, most children should learn to pay attention when expected, not to talk out of order frequently and not to say everything that pops to their mind. Most parents will draw the obvious conclusion themselves – if you notice any of the symptoms reoccurring, don’t hesitate to have your child examined. In order for the treatment to be successful, it is crucial to diagnose ADHD as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that, as said before, there are two distinct types of ADHD – inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive, and the third, with the combination of the two. Inform in detail exactly what symptoms to look for, in order to be able to spot them on time and help your child in the best possible way. Also, know that difficulties in learning don’t always constitute ADHD, as there are various learning disorders that can be, and are relatively often, mistaken for ADHD.

Helping a child with ADHD

If you spot some (or all of) the symptoms of ADHD, don’t wait. Go to the doctor as soon as possible. Also, there is no need to wait for a diagnosis. As said, it can take some time. Inattention and/or hyperactivity can cause a person big problems in all areas of life later on if left untreated, whether they are a part of ADHD or not. There are numerous ways you can help your child yourself. These include changing the diet, organizing your home environment to minimize distractions, encouraging the child to exercise and getting him or her into therapy.

Excluding medication, these are generally accepted strategies in helping kids with ADHD and similar problems in coping with them. If your kid is diagnosed with ADHD, the treatment will probably essentially be the same, but you will develop a plan in accordance with the doctor’s recommendations. In addition, treatment for childhood ADHD usually consists of parent education and training, social support, behavioral therapy, and assistance at school.

About the Author: This article was written by Mary Stedman, inspired by Shine Education, tutoring agency from Sydney.