How are you today?

Any student of mine knows that my priority in class is their well-being, which is why classes usually begin with: How are you? How’s your day going? What’s new and exciting?

I’m sure that most teachers would agree that a happy student is a learning student (at least, more likely to be learning student!)

So coming across one of Martin Sellgman’s latest books, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, NY, USA, 2011) was a fascinating find. In this book, Seligman describes the research and explains the principles behind his innovative theory of Positive Psychology.

Today I thought I’d share three takeaways from his exciting work.

  1. Optimism can be learned.

What does that mean? Let me give you an example, when dogs were exposed to electric shocks and were unable to control them, they learned that they had no control over their circumstances. However, if they were given the means to control the shocks, they would and therefore avoided potential shocks.  Similarly, we as humans learn at a very young age whether we have any control over our environment or not. Unfortunately, if we feel we have no impact no matter what we do, we will have a tendency to experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

However, the good news is: if we learned helplessness, then we can unlearn it, and take control of our reactions to our circumstances, thereby choosing optimism. Maybe you weren’t good at using verb tenses in English. You are not doomed to perish in a tenseless existence! You can learn. The question is not: Why do I have to learn these when I’m useless?, but rather: I have a bit of difficulty in this area, but I can do something about it. What tools, tricks or resources can I use to make a bit of progress? Optimism can be learned.

2. Positive Psychology focuses on mental health (not illness).

When Seligman began his research, it was hard for him to get funding. No-one wanted to invest in this strange new idea that perhaps it would be better to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Once he got the ball rolling, however, the money came rolling in too. In fact, today Seligman’s work is being taught in educational, military, political and corporate settings around the world.

Why? The theory doesn’t focus solely on ridding people of their mental illnesses, but more on leveraging the five ingredients proven to enhance well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (thus the acronym, PERMA).

What do I mean? Let’s say you know you have a learning disability, maybe you’re dyslexic. You still remember the shame and embarrassment when a teacher told you you’d never be any good at learning English since you had no memory for grammar rules, never mind spelling irregular verbs or strange-sounding words in foreign languages.

Putting the dyslexia aside, perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of, I enjoy my English class with my colleagues. We have a good time. We laugh and learn together. Everyone makes jokes and it certainly makes for a terrific break from the humdrum of my regular work! That’s an example of positive emotion. Perhaps just that will help motivate you to continue taking classes when the going gets tough.

Or maybe the heady feeling of accomplishment, having overcome a difficulty and proven you can do it despite the odds, or for the sheer fun of it, will keep you motivated.

Whatever the means, focus on one of these elements of well-being either at work or in class, and see what difference it makes.

3. Gratitude +  Love of Learning = Well-being

Another researcher, Barry Kauffman, a peer of Martin Seligman, decided to run some tests and do the math to determine the two values that were most important to attain PERMA (link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/which-character-strengths-are-most-predictive-of-well-being/). He found that they were gratitude and love of learning. I love that!

How can we develop gratitude? Seligman recommends people ask themselves on a regular basis this simple question: What went well? You simple cannot remain negative when you are focusing on the positive!

The love of learning value comes into play once the list of positive events is compiled. The follow-up questions are obvious: How can I make this happen more often? What do I need to do?

Coming out of class tomorrow, either as teacher or student, ask yourself the questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I get more of that? What do I need to do?  No matter the misunderstandings or seemingly unsurmountable challenges, an upward spiral of optimism and hope is sure to ensue.

So, how are you? What went well for you today? Let’s keep the gratitude energy flowing! Drop me a line in the Comments section.

  • Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/fizkes]

In a rut? Maybe it’s time to follow Sarah’s Script!

But I don’t want to follow the script! I hate scripts.”, I commented emphatically to a colleague while discussing a professional experience I had had a few years ago.

“Me neither”, agreed my colleague Sarah, “Whenever I try a new recipe, I can’t just follow the instructions, I have to add my own personal twist to it.”

“And why color in the lines when there is so much beautiful white space around it?”, I asked.

 “Yes, because the lines are what someone else did. The shape is someone else’s creation.”, she added.  

“And we can’t do anything original if we just draw within the lines. Hey, a new expression: when you change things up, it’s a case of Sarah’s script!”,  I laughed.

Indeed, why do things as they have always been done? After all, if you don’t change the script, you can’t expect a different ending.

So, what’s this got to do with your language learning class? Three things: mindset, motivation and mastery.

  1. Mindset. Carol Dweck wrote an amazing book about the mind of the learner (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Ballantine Books, 2006). She explained that when you are in a learning situation (which in my opinion, is pretty well all the time!), and you keep in mind that you will take risks, stick your neck out, make mistakes, and remember that that is okay, then you’ll make progress in whatever it is you are learning. That is what the growth mindset is all about: making mistakes and continuing to lean in and grow. If, however, you get stuck, and choose to stay stuck, and stop wanting to learn, then you’ve fallen prey to a fixed mindset. Maybe it’s time for Sarah’s Script! Change up the ingredients a bit. As Dweck encourages: “Next time you’re in one of those situations, think about learning and improvement, not judgment – and hook it back up.”

 

  1. Motivation. Daniel Pink eloquently explained how personal purpose drives humans to outperform themselves in his book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth Abut What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books, 2009). If you’re having a hard time learning how to use real conditional sentence structures, you’ll find a way to learn them because you want to be able to negotiate with that supplier in Colorado quicker, and be able to get home in time to coach your son’s hockey team. Take it from Pink: “The science shows the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.”

 

  1. Mastery. I have studied eight languages. And I always emphasize the verb ‘studied’ because I am not fluent in those eight languages. I don’t study them or practice them near enough. And as long as that is the case, then I will continue to say that I have studied eight languages! However, I can say that I have mastered two: English and French (btw, I do get by in Spanish, but I don’t master it). Mastery is the reward of consistent study and practice. And that calls for Sarah’s Script on a regular basis. You have to change things up to keep motivated to study and practice. Robert Greene gave a list of different ways to keep yourself on the path to mastery in his book called Mastery (Penguin Books, 2012). He recommends: “keep expanding your horizons, revert to a feeling of inferiority, trust the process, move toward resistance and pain, apprentice yourself in failure and advance through trial and error”.

 

The next time you’re stalling in that steep learning curve, try Sarah’s Script and change up the ingredients so you can lock in your growth mindset, stay motivated and climb towards mastery.

Lights, camera, action!

– Claire :O)

 

[Photo: Martin Lopez/Pexels]

5 Ways To Boost Your Child’s ESL Learning (and it’s not as hard as you may think!)

The question my student voiced was valid: How can I help my kids with their English homework? They just don’t seem to retain the words I teach them.

This father was echoing the very same concern I heard over and over again when I taught at a local elementary and high school.

If you are a parent, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know how important it is; you use English at work, as soon as you do a search on the Internet or when meeting clients from the US or elsewhere in Canada. You know that these days, you can’t get by without it.

And to bring things home, Secondary 5 students in Québec can’t get their high school diploma without demonstrating mastery in English oral and written skills.

So, how can you help your child? Neuroscience tells us that to develop the pathways (learning), it takes repetition and constantly having to retrieve the information at varying times and in varying contexts.

Here are my 5 top tips to keep your kids on their toes.

  1. Surprise them – Sing to the songs the radio station plays in English on the way to school or dance lessons. Switch up the program on Saturday morning, and choose an English show instead. Use an English-language family event calendar on the fridge.
  2. Play with them – Challenge them to play online games and apps in English for a set time before being allowed to game with friends in French. Even bath-time can be an opportunity to identify objects, colors, shapes, textures functions of basic, everyday objects. Why not? Get on the floor and play Lego’s in English.
  3. Model for them – Once a week, speak in English at dinner time, or while having a snack. When I was doing a practicum in teaching in a grade 5 class, we had Star Time, in which the students could only speak English. They would earn stars for their efforts. If they spoke in French, they didn’t get their star. A chart on the fridge could keep track (just an idea!) The idea is to show that English is used outside the classroom walls, and that the words they are learning in class are useful at home, too!
  4. Read to them – Reading a book to your child before going to sleep is an excellent way to feed vocabulary into your child’s brain so that it processes during the night. Once a week isn’t a chore, and your child will come to associate English with a quality time with Mom or Dad. Emotions are key to learning, and snuggling up for a read is sure to give an endorphin boost that will lower the day’s stress levels, and help you both sleep better!
  5. Be a fan – One last thing, that I just have to mention here. Keep the tone positive when talking about or to your child’s English teacher. Teaching thirty-some children, all at different language levels, with different learning styles and needs, once or twice (maximum!) a week, to speak a foreign language is no easy feat. You are your child’s hero, and if you think your kid’s teacher is awesome, then chances are they’ll think so, too. Personally, I remember the students whose parents had a super-positive attitude towards me and the work I was doing with their child. The child always made more effort to do the homework and made greater progress when the teacher-speak at home was positive.

You know, when you make the effort to speak English, even if you make mistakes, your child is impressed (even if they laugh at first!) They see that making mistakes is no big deal, not the end of the world, but the beginning of an adventure. What’s more, they’ll be much more likely to take the risk of raising their hand to answer in class because they understand that taking risks can mean making mistakes, but more importantly, it means learning.

And that’s when your child will start retaining and speaking in English. You, as parent, are the one that can give them that essential boost. What are you waiting for?

Have fun! – Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych)