How Important is the SAT Today?

For a long time, the SAT has been and still is a central part of the college application criteria. I’ve always had my qualms about centralized testing, although I also do see the need for some form of evaluating basic reading and math skills. Still, the importance places on SAT and SAT II scores is disproportionately high, in my opinion. It is, therefore, welcome news that many colleges are making SAT scores an optional rather than essential criterion in the college application process, as detailed in this article.

MORE STUDENTS IN THE graduating high school class of 2019 took the SAT than ever before, despite a record number of colleges and universities dropping the entrance exam requirement that’s long been a standard part of the admissions process.

More than 2.2 million students took the SAT, which is administered by the College Board, representing a 4% increase over the number of students who took the college entrance exam in 2018. The increase was driven in large part by the growing number of states that allow schools to administer the test during the school day, typically free of charge.


Idaho, Delaware, Maine and the District of Columbia participated in the SAT School Day in 2018, which the College Board launched in an effort to increase access for students who historically take the test at lower rates, including low-income and first-generation students, students who work on the weekends, have family obligations or have trouble accessing transportation to testing centers. Seven additional states – Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia – participated in 2019, driving up the number of students who took the test that way from about 780,000 to nearly 1 million.

Among the students who took the SAT during the day at school, 46% attended a high-poverty public school compared to 22% of students who took the SAT on the weekend at a testing center; 45% have parents who lack a college degree, compared to 30% of students who took the SAT on the weekend; and 46% are students of color, compared to 32% of students who took the SAT on the weekend.

What are your views on the SAT? Is it still a relevant tool for sifting though college applicants?

How High School Writing Can Kill Creativity

How many 5-paragraph essays have you read as a language teacher? How many outlines have you handed out, telling students how long a body paragraph should be and where the thesis and topic sentences should fall? And how many times did your eyes glaze over as you read the same argument as you graded the essays?

If this is what the formulaic 5-paragraph essay is doing to us teachers, one wonders what it does to the students’ creativity. This is described quite poignantly in this article about high school writing.

Here’s a snippet:

One student uses an extended cookie metaphor to contrast the writing she was tasked with in high school with what she’d experienced previously. High school has been a series of repetitive tasks, “I have (for the most part) only written one essay–introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. I would clearly state my thesis, structure my evidence into three neat little pieces, and wrap everything up in five sentences rambling about how extremely significant my point was to the world.”

To this student, “My writing as well as my experiences with high school english in general ended up dry and flavorless, like a grocery store sugar cookie that sat on the shelf for too long. Sure, it’s beautifully shaped and frosted, but it usually doesn’t taste that great. It’s the type of cookie you only buy for its appearance.”

Read the complete article at Let’s Stop Killing Students’ Spirits.

Do you agree with the views here? How can we move away from this cookie-cutter formula and bring back creativity into high school writing assignments?

How ELL Teachers Can Enhance Students’ Math Skills

I get incredibly excited about any new research on interdisciplinary learning. That is why I am fascinated by this article that details how improved language skills can really push forward an ELL student’s potential if he or she is struggling in math. It makes perfect and obvious sense if you think about it. Better cognition means better computation in this case, since many ELL students’ problem might not actually be math but the language and the technical terms!

Read more about this here: Improving Math Curriculum for English Language Learners by Renae Skarin

Why We Teachers Need Edtech

Like many, I as a teacher initially was resistant to incorporate new tech tools into my teaching. I was worried I’d end up spending more time on the tool or that it would take away my students’ focus from my actual lessons. However, after grudgingly giving in, I am now in total awe of what edtech can do for us teachers.

This has been excellently detailed in this article: How EdTech Can Expand What Teachers Do.

Here’s a snippet:

Teaching isn’t an easy job, and recent changes in education and society aren’t making it any easier. A generation ago, if you made sure to cover your curriculum according to pacing guides and best practices, you were doing a satisfactory job. But as students’ needs and society’s expectations have risen, so have the demands placed on teachers’ shoulders.

Teachers today need to differentiate their instruction, use data-driven instructional practices, address students’ social and emotional challenges, close achievement gaps, and ensure that all students are prepared for the 21st-century economy. It’s hard to imagine teachers measuring up to these goals just by getting better and working harder.

Fortunately, in the face of these challenges, technology has something to offer. Many common uses of classroom technology serve primarily to enhance teachers’ existing lessons, but technology can start to really move the needle on the many demands on teachers when it expands the frontiers of what they’re able to accomplish in a day.

Mid-Year Stocktaking

Now that we’re halfway through 2019, I’m sure most of you, like me are going “I can’t believe half the year just flew by!” Once you’ve dealt with unwelcome realization, it is time to get down to brass tacks and take a hard look at the to-do lists and goals for the year. How far along did you manage to get? Did you check off most of the things you’d hoped to by this time?

This is also a great time to revise/reassess your goals, get realistic if need be–mentally, emotionally, and in terms of gearing up for the second half of the year.

So here’s a great post on taking stock that I came across: That Spring Clean Feeling

Using Poetry for Class Discussions

A post-lunch class is the dread of every teacher, and that’s why I know we’re always looking for creative ways to foment student engagement. Here’s a fantastic perspective from a teacher on “teaching” talking through class discussions on poetry. I absolutely LOVE this idea, and I can’t wait to use this with my students.

Read Teaching poetry at KS3 – why we need more chat in the classroom and let me know what you think in the comments below. Would you try this in your classroom?

Teaching Listening to ESL Students

Listening is an important skill that allows us to receive, understand and evaluate information that is communicated to us. As human beings, we seek to interact on a daily basis with each other. This interaction, consists of the two key elements of speaking and listening. According to Nadig (2010), “[speaking] is only half of the communication process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening and understanding what others communicate to us.”

The art of listening when practiced properly, leads to the improvement of a person’s ability to communicate effectively in everyday life. Firstly we must explore the concepts of human communication and what role listening plays in it. There are also different levels and modes of listening that can be applied in different situations. Listening also plays an important part in allowing an individual to perform tasks in a business environment. Not only is proper listening important for the listener but it is an integral part of the “aizuchi” process (enhances the speaker’s role in communication). Also, understanding and overcoming the barriers to listening is essential in facilitating highly effective communication skills.

What is human communication and where does listening fit into this process? Human communication can be defined as “The process by which meanings are exchanged between people through the use of a common set of symbols (i.e. usually language).” (Adair, 2003). This is precisely what takes place when humans decide to communicate with one another. In an effort to relay information, exchange ideas or thoughts, voice an opinion or even to fulfill a need, the sender initiates communication by encoding a message and sending it via a channel to the receiver. However, for the sender to be successful in transmitting the message, the receiver must be listening. The receiver may have heard the message but did not necessarily listen to it. Hearing is the aural reception of the words and sounds we have heard. Listening however, requires concentration so one can process and give meaning to what has been heard. Listening allows the receiver to understand and interpret the message that has been received.

Listening is also a tool that helps us to tailor our approach when communicating with others on different levels and gives us the ability to either present or receive response. Everyone’s level of listening is different given variables such as time, place, feelings, beliefs etc. The appropriate level of listening and the amount of importance assigned to the interaction can also are determined by the purpose of the communication and the relationship with the other person. For example, a stranger can ask us the time and get a response, or we can listen to a spouse’s problem and try to offer a solution. In the above settings, one would use a higher level of listening when communicating with one’s spouse than the level used when giving a reply to a casual question.

In human communication, there are three basic modes of listening. Firstly, there is competitive listening. This is used when we pretend to listen to someone else’s point of view but believe that ours is better. We listen hoping to find areas to attack and looking for opportunities to present our beliefs to the speaker. An example of this is during political debates when candidates only pretend to listen to their opponent while planning their rebuttal. The second mode of listening is called attentive listening. This is when we concentrate on what the speaker is saying and show genuine interest in the topic. We assume that we have understood what was said but we do not verify the information we are given. The final mode of listening used is perhaps the most important and useful one. This is known as active or reflective listening. Active listening is distinguished from other modes of listening because of the feedback process that is involved. Active listening is practiced when the audience is able to genuinely grasp what the speaker is saying and checks their interpretation and understanding via the process of feedback. The audience does not merely listen but also verifies what they have understood by paraphrasing the information, mirroring what the speaker has said or by asking for clarification on the subject. These actions demonstrate to the speaker that the audience has made a genuine effort to listen to his message and understand it. Therefore, active listening is believed to be effective in facilitating successful communication.

In the workplace, employees who practice listening in an effective manner, perform better at their respective duties. “For example, when a group of adults were asked to identify the most important on-the-job communication skills, listening ranked at the top of the list.” (Sypher, Bostrom and Seibert, 1989). Since effective listening leads to increased knowledge and understanding, more information will be shared among staff and they will be better equipped to answer questions, find solutions and resolve conflict in the organization. This will eventually result in increased productivity in the organization and in turn more profits, clients etc.

Apart from paying attention to what the speaker says, an employee who is able to listen effectively will also listen to what is not being said. Non-verbal cues such as body language and eye contact allow the listener to grasp the underlying meaning of what is being conveyed to them. If the communication however is not face-to-face, but is facilitated over the telephone, the listener must pay careful attention to the paralanguage that is used. Paralanguage refers to voice pitch, volume, silences etc. An example of this in the library setting can occur when a patron calls with a reference query and the librarian who is listening effectively can gauge how much the patron already knows about the subject or the specific kind of information they require just by paying attention to the paralanguage used while requesting information. This type of listening can result in a successful reference query.

Since communication is an interactive process it is only fair that the speaker reap some rewards as well. One reward would be the improved relationship between the speaker and the audience through the use of empathic listening. Learning to be an empathic listener means that we listen without judging and provide the other person with a forum to share what they believe or feel. “Empathic listening is total response. You reassure, comfort, express warmth, and show unconditional positive regard for the other party.” (Stewart and Cash, 2000). When a person feels that they are being listened to, they will feel inclined to form a relationship with the listener. If the audience is able to give the speaker feedback and indicate that they are listening, it will encourage the speaker to continue talking. This is known to the Japanese as “aizuchi” (interjections during conversation that indicate that the listener is paying attention and that he cares). This in turn, will also make the speaker feel more confident, therefore, resulting in open and honest discussion which enhances communication. Another advantage would be that the speaker together with his audience will be able to reach a mutual understanding about what each other hopes to gain from the shared communication. Listening aids the speaker not only in his efforts to share his message but it also contributes to the effectiveness of his presentation.

There are many barriers to listening that can cause the communication process to be ineffective and these can be broken into two groups: external and internal. The external barriers include such things as a noisy environment and hearing impairment. These barriers are beyond the control of the listener; he is unable to overcome them. On the other hand, internal barriers such as “mental noise” (thinking about other things), negative mindset towards the speaker, competitive listening, selective listening, stereotyping etc. are all within the power of the listener to improve by practicing proper listening skills. These obstacles impede the flow of information to the listener who does not receive the subtleties of the intended message. An example of this would be if one has a negative preset opinion of a speaker, one will not give the speaker his full attention and will therefore miss out on the valuable points that were made, and this therefore results in miscommunication.

Listening aids human beings not only in the quest to share their message but it also contributes to the improvement and growth of communication skills. We are born with the ability to hear but not to listen. Listening is not a natural gift but we can work towards improving it. It is shown that most people listen ineffectively and they do not fully understand what is conveyed to them on a daily basis. This lack of effective listening leads to misunderstanding, confusion and finally conflict among persons. If sufficient effort is made to improve it, one’s listening will eventually become effective. Once this is achieved, the human communication process can function successfully.

Addressing Students’ Psychological Needs in College

We’ve all relied on our school guidance counselors as we were preparing to apply to colleges, exploring the best colleges for our chosen majors or finalizing our top colleges lists. While I didn’t go to my counselor for much more than choosing courses in high school and applying for college, I have friends even back in the day who sought out their counselors for guidance in their personal struggles, both at school as well as home.

Things have changed over the years. School administrators, teachers, parents, and even students themselves have realized the importance of seeking out help and support for mental health issues. And this becomes crucial when high schoolers transition to college. This issue is addressed in detail in the following article.

We frequently hear that today’s students suffer from record rates of anxiety, depression, and stress, that they are emotionally immature, and less resilient than their predecessors. Raised by overprotective parents who, too often, shielded their children from failure and regard their offspring as extensions of themselves, it is not a surprise, many assume, that they are deficient in coping skills and have high expectations for handholding. No wonder, it is easy to conclude, that they want trigger warnings and safe spaces.

Are today’s students more emotionally fragile than those in the past?

Many reports in popular media say yes.  After all, demands upon counseling centers have reached record highs.

The actual evidence, however, is unclear.

Longitudinal studies show no trends that suggest that psychological disorders are more prevalent. Suicide rates among college students have actually fallen.

So what’s going on?

Read the full article Are Today’s College Students More Psychologically Fragile Than in the Past? – Steven Mintz |

STEM-Writing Crossovers

It is not news that writing, and good writing, has become essential in every field of study and profession as well. Today’s students need a more diversified writing education, as I have enumerated on my post on Teaching Writing for STEM here.

There has been on-going conversation and effort in this area, which is exemplified in this must-read blog post for both STEM and language teachers.

In 2006 when I arrived as president at Harvey Mudd College, a small (800 students) science and engineering college in Claremont, Cal., my first order of business was to  lead a strategic planning exercise that engaged the entire campus. We developed a strategic vision centered on six themes. The first step toward our new vision was to restructure our core curriculum—a proud tradition, and, as such, challenging to change.

Our students major in STEM fields but also have a concentration in the humanities, social sciences and the arts (HSA). As a liberal arts college, we value students’ development as communicators, thinkers and scientists. Since our founding, we have focused on teaching our students to write, but this emphasis was centralized among HSA faculty. To communicate that writing is important across the STEM disciplines, we decided to try something new: engage faculty from all departments to teach WRIT 1, our first-year, half-semester introduction to college writing.

via Look What Happens When STEM Professors Teach Writing

Using Movies in the ESL Classroom

Movie day is always an exciting event in a classroom, especially a language classroom. When I worked as a substitute teacher, I would plan for at least one movie day based on the book the class was reading. Over the years, I used various strategies to ensure that my students not only have fun watching the movie, but also engage with the film and relate to it with the context of the text we were reading in class.

Check out some more interesting movie-related classroom activities you can use in an ESL classroom.

There are countless ways in which movies can support your lesson.

For example, they can be used to:

  • Reinforce a grammar point
  • Listen for gist
  • Practice vocabulary
  • Discuss and debate
  • Role play

Movies are a brilliant way for students to hear up-to-date authentic speech and be exposed to various accents. And because there are countless movies based on an infinite amount of things, you can use them to introduce or spark discussions about a certain topic, be it a historical event, a time period or the culture of a foreign country.

And of course, by bringing popular movies into your lessons, you show students how they can learn from and practice English when watching movies in their own time.

Read the full article 10 Creative Ways to Use Popular Movies in Fun ESL Lessons by Fluentu.