A methodological approach informed by the latest research
As part of our quest for academic excellence and our mission to do more than fill our students’ heads with language, we are constantly striving to develop our methodology and to inform ourselves of any new research or ways of thinking that could be instructive or enlightening. What follows is a summary of some of the research and writing that has guided us in our journey thus far and serves as a reference point as we look to the future.
In a New York Times article Borstein (2015) describes a 1990s study in America where teachers assessed their students’ social skills and then those students were tracked as they progressed through their careers. This study showed that ‘children who scored high on social skills were four times as likely to graduate from college than those who scored low.’ He also mentioned studies in New Zealand and the UK which had similar conclusions: ‘If we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.’
This is core to everything we do at SEC. We are constantly striving to empower the students to think and learn independently and to develop the skills detailed above which will serve as an essential foundation on which all of their future success can be built.
On a similar note, Gardener (2009) details, in his book Five Minds for the Future, the sort of skill-set that is likely to be needed in the future. These are his ‘five minds’:
They will need to be experts (body of knowledge and key procedures) in at least one area/discipline. It takes up to ten years to master a discipline, craft, profession. This mind also knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding.
They will need to be able to gather together information from disparate sources, evaluates the information objectively, and put it together in ways that work for themselves and can be communicated to others.
Anything that can be formulated as rules will be done as well by computers. Rewards will go to the creators—those who think outside the box. This mind puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers.
They will need to respect those who differ from as well as those who are similar to themselves. They try to understand others on their own terms and seek to work effectively with them.
They will need to think beyond their own self-interest and to do what is right under the circumstances. They are characterized by adherence to a set of principles and concerned with their obligations.
The challenging nature of our courses, their emphasis on independence of thought, the global, inter-cultural nature of the classroom, the content designed to challenge new ways of thought and the collaborative nature of the classes and the extra-curricular programme serve as a superb training in the areas detailed above. This allows us to help our students in preparing them for their futures.
In addition to these skills underpinning everything we do is an emphasis on creativity both in thought and action. The students are offered incredible scope to develop their creative output and to think more creatively. This has so many benefits in the short-and long term for the student personally allowing them to think more freely and to engage with the world and other people in new ways however it is also suggested that these skills, currently highly important in the world of work, will soon be crucial in the success and survival of business as a whole. According to a major IBM survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, chief executives believe that – more than rigour, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. Conducted through in-person interviews with senior leaders and consultants from IBM’s Global Business Services division, less than half of global CEOs believe their enterprises are adequately prepared to handle a highly volatile, increasingly complex business environment. CEOs are confronted with massive shifts – new government regulations, changes in global economic power centres, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, rapidly evolving customer preferences – that, according to the study, can be overcome by instilling “creativity” throughout an organization.
The above is just some of the huge body of research underpinning the broad foundations on which our course is built. However, broad educational aims must also be supported by a detailed and rigorous study programme. Our syllabus is a bespoke course designed specifically for SEC by the Course Director and includes a huge array of original lessons and authentic materials chosen to meet the learning objectives of the students and to increase levels of student engagement. Again, this approach is supported in the literature.
Studies have shown the importance of using authentic materials in the classroom particularly to develop independence in use of listening or reading materials (Miller, 2003, Berardo, 2006, Hwang, 2005) and interest and confidence in the use of the language.
Garza (1991) noted the use of audio-visual materials in the classroom (particularly when used in conjunction with captions) strongly improved language learning outcomes. Many of our classes have supporting audio-visual materials specifically chosen to emphasise or enhance the learning aims.
Further, it has been shown that students who interact with native level English speakers show significant improvement in their English level compared to those who interact only with other English learners. The Open Minds course (integrated fully with the Learn English programme), involving many native level English speakers, and the afternoon programme with British students offers a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of this fact (Johnson, 1983).
Similarly, it has been shown that students who are integratively motivated (that is to say motivated by a desire to learn more of a language due to having a personal relationship with people who have the target language as their first language or by a desire to learn more about a language’s culture) are more successful in their short-term language goals and more likely to continue studying the language in the long-term. The presence of British teenagers and inspirational teachers and staff members in addition to the rich and immersive cultural experience provided serve to enhance the student’s integrative motivation and thus improve the learning experience in the short and long term (Hernandez, 2006 and Clement, Dornyei and Noels, 1994).
In a study by Tsui (1996), it was noted that the importance of student participation and classes with student created content in the language classroom cannot be underestimated. It was also noted that student reticence to participate in a communicative approach to learning had significant implications for the learning outcomes. Our students are compelled to adopt a communicative approach to their learning from the moment they begin our course. In addition, where any anxiety about this method may occur our staff are highly skilled at creating a friendly and unthreatening atmosphere in the classroom in which the students feel at ease speaking naturally and supported by the staff and their peers in a way that is proven to reduce anxiety (Young, 1990).
Again, this is just a small offering of some of the research that informs us in the development of our approach. We are constantly learning and developing our methods in line with the research available and, of course, in combination with the feedback from our students which unanimously endorses the merits of our approach.