FoRe-GO: A Basic Tool to Nurture 21st Century Skills during Remote Learning
"FoRe-GO: A Basic Tool to Nurture 21st Century Skills during Remote Learning" is a paper presented at the 2nd International Conference on the Future of Education (17-18 November 2020)
During the Movement Control Order, we have come across terms such as online learning, distance learning and remote learning. Shisley (2020) explains that the phrase “emergency remote learning” refers to an alternative and unplanned method for teaching from a distance because of teachers’ inability to be physically located in a classroom with their learners. This paper aims to share a remote learning experience in the teaching of ESL writing which nurtures essential 21st century skills; reasoning, critical thinking and decision making. Muhammad and Abd Majid (2017) highlight that learners’ exposure to these skills is crucial and they should be given opportunities to polish their 21st century skills as early as possible. With that in mind, FoRe-GO was designed and implemented in the remote ESL writing lessons. This paper will share FoRe-GO - a simple yet an effective graphic organiser, designed to assist pupils to sharpen their reasoning, critical thinking and decision making skills in their writing task. Based on pupils’ feedback and teacher’s observations, FoRe-GO can be regarded as an effective basic tool to shape learners to be better thinkers and decision makers, thus, enhance the quality of ideas presented in their essays.
Keywords: writing, remote learning, critical thinking, graphic organiser
The coronavirus pandemic has been enhancing remote learning among leaners all over the world. Although other terms such as online learning, distance learning and virtual learning are also used by various parties, remote learning is an accurate term in most learning contexts during the Movement Control Order implemented by the Malaysian government or during lockdown which took place in many parts of the world. Shisley (2020) explains that the phrase “emergency remote learning” refers to an alternative and unplanned method for teaching from a distance because of teachers’ inability to be physically located in a classroom with their learners. The mass shift from face-to-face learning to remote learning in schools has been pushing learners to be more independent. This is very obvious and necessary with the absence of their teachers.
Governments throughout the world have been scrambling to adapt to and adopt conditions leading to a new normal in their countries. One of the sectors seriously affected by the pandemic is the education sector. In Malaysia, the education sector has opted for the approach of remote learning with technology and devices as a mediator of communication to replace face-to-face learning.
The Teaching of ESL Writing
Tsui (1996) believes that as writing is predominantly product-oriented, learning to write in a foreign language involves as much anxiety as learning the other skills. During the Movement Control Order, there is a high possibility that learners’ anxiety increases when they are required to write essays. Writing is not an easy task to be accomplished and it is often considered a difficult skill to be acquired. It is more complex in a second or foreign language context.
Definitely, it is more and more challenging to write alone at home without personal guidance from the teacher. Writing in ESL or EFL requires the writer to conform to all the conventions and deal with the language at the same time (Zahariah Pilus, 1992). Tunku Mohani (1992: 26) considers writing as the most challenging skill to be mastered compared to other skills such as listening, speaking and reading. It is described as “a fragile skill, the last to be learned and the one soonest lost in states of acute disturbances”. Therefore, it is crucial for learners to be supported as much as possible to accomplish their writing tasks during the remote learning.
Remote Learning and ESL Writing Tasks
Before the details of FoRe-GO are explained, it is crucial for all to understand more about the writing tasks which the author focused on during the Movement Control Order. For the English paper, coded as SPM English Language 1119, the Form 5 pupils have to write a 350-word essay based on one of the questions given like the ones listed below.
· Which do you think is more important, money or health? Compare the two and decide if one is more important than the other.
· “Modern inventions have made our lives much too complicated. Things used to be a lot simpler in the past.” How far do you agree? Explain why.
· Some people complain that they have no free time. Discuss the reasons why they might say this and suggest how they could use their time better.
· Young people should be trusted to make their own decisions. How far do you agree with this opinion? Explain why.
· The Malaysian tradition of having open houses is important and should be practised more. Do you agree? Give reasons to support your view.
· If you had the opportunity to move to another part of Malaysia, where would you choose to live? Explain your choice.
· Some people believe that all students in Malaysia should learn at least three languages. What do you think?
· What is the best way to help teenagers to stay fit and healthy?
· Social networking has caused a lot of problems. How far do you agree?
· Why is having good neighbours important?
Obviously, the essay questions above need the SPM candidates to write about certain issues and explain their views well. They are required to make and justify their stand with convincing reasons. No doubt, not all pupils have good or excellent thinking skills. Even during face-to-face writing lessons, some pupils fail to offer reasons satisfactorily. They also do not think seriously about the ideas or points to be included in their essay. Consequently, their essays lack in many areas in term of content and development of ideas.
Conducting a remote learning session during the Movement Control Order has always been challenging particularly in teaching essay writing. It is not that easy to guide pupils to write during the online lessons. There are challenges to be faced by the teacher especially when the pupils have to think critically and make their own decisions. Some pupils seem to be struggling. They just do not know how to go about in preparing the best contents and details for their essay. Moreover, they are not sure how to present convincing ideas and details. With the aim of coaching the pupils to be independent thinkers and better decision makers, FoRe-GO is developed specially for them.
FoRe-GO: A Simple Learning and Teaching Tool
FoRe-GO is a simple graphic organiser that is developed during the implementation of remote learning. “Fo” stands for focus, “Re” stands for reasoning and “GO” refers to graphic organiser. This simple innovation is designed for a group of learners who need assistance to focus their thinking on reasoning, in line with the essay question assigned to them. This graphic organiser has three parts; part one is about pupil’s stand, the second part is the reasons that the pupils offer to support their stand and the third part is the summary. Table 1 illustrates the three parts of FoRe-GO.
In completing the graphic organiser, pupils will have opportunities to polish 21st century essential skills such as reasoning, critical thinking and decision making. In providing the three reasons in FoRe-GO, pupils also have to think critically and make a wise decision on what to be included in their essay. They have to brainstorm and make a list of possible reasons and details to support their stand. In addition, their critical thinking and decision making skills are also enhanced when the pupils have to determine what could be the three or four most convincing reasons to be chosen for their essay. The pupils have to critically examine each reason and detail and then determine their strongest ones. Moreover, the pupils also have to rank the reasons and then place them accordingly. Surely, the strongest reason is presented first in FoRe-GO. This process will reinforce their reasoning, critical thinking and decision making skills.
The last part requires the pupils to sum up their reasoning or arguments. A good summary of the whole discussion of the essay would require them to highlight the gist of their ideas. Surely, critical thinking is involved here. The pupils need to think of the strength of their ideas presented in line with the essay question. Their summary is not long, therefore the pupils have to be selective in determining what to write in the summary. Part 3 may not be easy to be accomplished but what is more significant is their attempt to do so.
During the Movement Control Order, the author’s Form 5 pupils had English classes based on the timetable prepared by the school. The Form 5 pupils had two online classes each day. There were two different subjects on each day. English fell on every Monday morning. During the Movement Control Order, most of the remote learning sessions focused on reading activities as the author had to maximise the English Module which the pupils had with them at home. Writing lessons were occasionally carried out. The pupils managed to do two Continuous Writing questions as shown below:
i) SPM 2018: Some people complain that they have no free time. Discuss the reasons why they might say this and suggest how they could use their time better.
ii) SPM 2017: The Malaysian tradition of having open houses is important and should be practised more. Do you agree? Give reasons to support your view.
FoRe-GO was used for both essays. First of all, the graphic organiser was used to discuss the SPM 2018 question. As the online discussion was taking place, learners fill in the printed graphic organiser with relevant ideas and details. Since it was their first attempt to use it, the online discussion was mainly held to familiarise them with FoRe-GO. Then, the pupils were given an individual task to fill in their printed FoRe-GO with relevant ideas and details based on the SPM 2017 question listed above. The pupils worked independently at home and a thorough discussion on the second FoRe-GO was done in the following online class. Though FoRe-GO was only implemented twice during the home-based learning, the experience had been positive. The positive oral feedbacks from the pupils involved give a clear indicator that FoRe-GO is a practical tool to enhance their reasoning, critical thinking and decision making skills.
The positive responses given by the pupils who were involved in remote learning reveal that FoRe-Go, though it is a simple graphic organiser, has helped them to prepare for their essay better as it guides them to think critically about the content of their essay. The pupils appreciate FoRe-GO as it also acts as their teacher who coaches them to think critically. In short, the pupils’ reasoning, critical thinking and decision making skills are nurtured fairly well through FoRe-GO. To prepare our pupils for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to equip them with a list of essential 21st century skills. Gray (2016) highlights ten 21st century skills which are vital for job seekers in future namely complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
As teachers, we need to incorporate those essential skills in our lessons, be it listening, speaking, reading or writing. Muhammad and Abd Majid (2017) highlight that learners’ exposure to these skills is crucial and they should be given opportunities to polish their 21st century skills as early as possible. Teachers can always be selective in determining which skills to be integrated into their lessons. Perhaps, in another writing class, the focused skills could be collaboration, negotiation and coordinating with others.
Ating (2020) highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to sustain for some years. This unprecedented phenomenon brings many possibilities for the implementation of a new normal for us. In the education sector, many new normal activities also take place. Perhaps, designing relevant graphic organisers to assist learners to develop their thinking skills can be one of the supports to be offered during remote learning or home-based learning. There is a possibility that good graphic organisers can enhance learning especially among learners who do need some guidance at the initial stage of their learning.
During this pandemic, we have witnessed teachers are forced to be more creative and innovative in addressing each of the teaching and learning challenges. This noble effort by teachers who want to ease their pupils’ remote learning or home-based learning experience should be continued. Learners who are always more dependent on teachers’ assistance would really appreciate graphic organisers like FoRe-GO, which can at least offer them step-by-step guidance to complete their listening, speaking, reading or writing tasks.
Developing graphic organisers which can nurture pupils’ thinking skills is highly recommended. Perhaps, in future, teachers can consider developing graphic organisers that can promote thinking skills which cover more than reasoning, critical thinking and decision making. Hopefully, our pupils will only have to rely on tools such as FoRe-GO for some time, not all the time. As time passes by, the pupils can be less dependent on graphic organisers and are able to think on their own. It is important to note that any graphic organisers which are used as a supporting tool to nurture thinking skills among the pupils should only be used temporarily. When the time comes, the pupils have to be able to think critically on their own.
Organisations in 2020 and beyond will see critical thinkers as highly employable, and definitely a welcome addition to their team. Being a critical thinker means the individual is able to use logic and reasoning. Critical thinking involves being able to use logic and reasoning to interrogate an issue or problem, consider various solutions to the problem, and examine the pros and cons of each approach (Luu, 2016). Those are the qualities of school leavers we need to groom and produce. Though this may not be easy for teachers to nurture and produce, it is of utmost importance for them to challenge themselves to give their best shot for the benefits of their pupils.
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