Monthly Archives: March 2012

Accents and Education


Throughout our lives we engage in social interactions regularly and frequently (Clark et al. 1998:ix) language is the key and education is certainly no exception. But language and in particular accents serve so much more than to transfer information back and fourth. They are a form of social identity and set us as belonging to a certain community.

Having established the multiple interconnections of social situations and language choices, we now come on to consider how such choices are socially meaningful to others. In fact, even a single vowel or consonant sound, contrasting with others or with our expectations, can have evaluative repercussions for its utterer. (Giles & Coupland 1991:32). Surveys and investigations, Illustrate that prejudiced towards particular dialects is common (Giles and Coupland 1991:32-33).

But do students in a class form associations with teachers depending on their accents and if so does this effect their attitudes and thereby learning?

Sahlström (2005) carried out a study on Upper Secondary Students’ Assessment of Four Women Speaking Four Different Varieties of English namely Scottish, American English, Australian English, RP (received pronunciation) ie. ‘proper’ English. RP is the variety of English taught in schools and abroad when English is taught as a second language, seen in previous years as being associated with those who are well educated its popularity is decreasing most likely as it has negative connotation linked to it of being superior, posh (Trudgill 2000:194-195) and snobbish (Sharwood-Smith 1999:59-60) and (Sahlstrom, 2005).

Scottish on the other hand has positive connotations with Scottish people being viewed as friendly, hospitable and warm people (Edwards 1982:23).

Sahlström (2005) discovered that American speaker scored highest, in comparison to the other accents, on traits like ‘ambitious, articulate, benevolent, educated, friendly, organized and trustworthy’. But the Scottish accent was rated the lowest on traits such as ‘arrogant, condescending, funny, generous, sociable and wealthy’ (Sahlström, 2005).

The Australian Speaker was rated the lowest on traits such as arrogant and shy and yet she was rated the highest on traits such as Arrogant Articulate, Benevolent, confident and educated (Sahlström, 2005)

The Scottish speaker, was noted as the most experienced (Sahlström, 2005). With participants rating her as ‘confident, experienced and relaxed’ (Sahlström, 2005). But she was rated as less educated in comparison to the other speakers (Sahlström, 2005).

So it is clear from the research outlined above that there are stereotypes and prejudices against particular accents. But going back to the question that I asked previously do different accents affect the student’s learning?

 Gill (1994) examined accent and stereotypes and their effect on perceptions of teachers and lecture comprehension. Gill discovered that students administered more positive ratings to teachers with standard North American accents (Gill, 1994). Interestingly accent variety also influenced comprehension (Gill, 1994). It was found that participants recalled more information from North American teachers in comparison to British or Malaysian teachers (Gill, 1994). Also stereotyping had no impact on impression formation or comprehension (Gill, 1994).

Additionally Kelly (1970)  carried out research on students attitudes to regional Irish accents that indicated that there exists regional differences between teachers and pupils class- room interaction depending on their accent. So potentially pupils attend less well to teachers whose accents they perceive unfavourably on certain dimensions as supported in research by (Edwards, 1977).


Don’t worry be funny :-)


’Classrooms in which laughter is welcome help bring learning to life.” (Kristmanson, 2000)

The traditional education system with its often dull methods seems to leave little room for one of human’s most wonderful characteristics, the production and enjoyment of humour. But when one examines the current education system and the benefits of humour there are endless opportunities to harness this tool to enhance, learning, understanding and discussion of material. The positive emotions that are brought to the fore through humour can increase our engagement with a particular subject or topic by altering how academic material is perceived and dealt with, in addition to creating a favourable classroom environment, where students feel relaxed (Powell and Andresen, 1985), (Berk, 1996, 1998) and (Loomax and Moosavi, 1998).

Research has shown that the affective state that one is in can influence ones cognitive processes (Hannula, 2006). One “fundamental principle of human behavior is that emotions energize and organize perception, thinking and action” (Izard, 1991). Additionally from personal experience the teachers who were joyful and willing to look at the humorous side of the particular material we were covering were the teachers that were most liked and the classes in which I did and still do remember the most material from, as supported by (Powell and Andresen 1985), Korobkin (1988) and Stewart and Furse (1986). Bryant, Comisky, Crane, and Zillmann (1980) discovered that there is a positive link between using humour in a classroom and students ‘assessments of their male teachers on levels of favourability and overall successfulness of teaching’. Bryant et al. (1980) also show that a sense of humour is one of the most crucial attributes students desire from their teachers. One manner, in which humour benefits the teachers, is to make them come across as increasingly ‘approachable, down-to-earth, and friendly’. Flowers (2001) also says that utilizing humour in education lessens the disparity between student and teacher and promotes group work.

Kaplan and Pascoe (1977) maintain that appropriate humour to the particular subject material increases the student’s memory of the principles being taught. Edwards and Gibboney (1992) say that humour in the classroom is especially beneficial if it aids the clarification or understanding of a certain area, but the humour utilized must be relevant to the subject matter.

Humour also makes the material or particular course more enjoyable and interesting to students and instructors (Whisonant 1998Trefts and Blakeslee 2000) and Trefts and Blakeslee (2000) which intern increases attendance as students often only skip the most dull or boring classes. Friedman, Halpern, and Salb (1999) for example used humorous anecdotes in order to liven up and make a statistics course more engaging to the students.

Blumenfeld and Alpern (1985) lay out ten reasons why humour should be used in the classroom, these cover advantages like increasing avenues for communication. Burkhart (1998) and Lundberg and Thurston (1992) also discuss manners in which humour can be implemented in the classroom. Grecu, (2008) has looked into the benefits of using humour in teaching, he found that after integrating more humour into a typical classroom, the atmosphere became significantly more positive. Questions and issues were viewed in a positive light thereby, increasing motivation to learn (Shmakov and Hannula, 2009).

Kristmanson (2000) highlights the importance of fostering a classroom in which pupils feel welcome particularly for second language learning: “In order to take risks, you need a learning environment in which you do not feel threatened or intimidated. In order to speak, you need to feel you will be heard and that what you’re saying is worth hearing. In order to continue your language learning, you need to feel motivated. In order to succeed, you need an atmosphere in which anxiety levels are low and comfort levels are high. Issues of motivation and language anxiety are key to the topic of affect in the second language classroom.” Although Kristmanson (2000) was referring to learning a language this quote and the points that he has made is applicable and crucial for learning any subject.

Utilizing humour in your class also has positive impacts for the teacher and principal too, in addition to the wider classroom and school environment. Woods (1963), examined coping mechanism in a British high school, and found that humour and laughter played a key part in coping strategies of both teachers and students (Burford, 1987). This form of coping is supported by the following quote: ‘Life is tough, and if you have the ability to laugh at it you have the ability to enjoy it’ (Hayek, 2009).

Woods (1983) has shown that humour serves as a  coping mechanism in a number of different domains for instance ‘coping’ through humor allows reacting through ‘constructive and creative ways’. It is a manner of facing ‘contradictory goals’ that the educational system often throws at its teachers, in addition to the problems encountered in classes (Berlak and Berlak, 1981) and the stress produced by the ‘physical, emotional, intellectual’ requirements of the profession.

To conclude humour is a wonderful way for humans to express themselves and it can contribute a huge amount towards enhancing education for teachers and students alike. It allows educators to foster an affective and positive learning environment, reduces anxiety and stress levels in the students, increases engagement and motivation to learn and encourages a positive rapport to build between the teachers and pupils.

Blog 7 Its not left that’s right!?


The other day in the maclab while daydreaming my mind wandered off and began to think about potential topics for my blog, scanning my eyes around the room I could’t help to notice how pretty much everyone was right handed. It got me thinking about the potential differences between left and right handers cognitively in addition to their academic performance. It is estimated that 85 percent of individuals are right-handed with the remainder being left handed. In schools left handed pupils are often discriminated  against in particular during the ’70s and ’80s, parents often forced their left-handed children to use their right hands. But from looking into the definition of left handed globally it has negative connotations, also lefties often feel out of place in right handed world so often become ambidextrous in order to adapt

Cross culturally the meaning of left is certainly seen as negative. The Latin meaning for left is sinister. In French an individual seen as unskillful is called “gauche” meaning left. In German someone is given the name ‘linkisch’ (meaning ‘leftish’) if they are either weird, odd or even nasty in an antisocial sense. Right, in Dutch is recht but it also means straight, privilege (as in human rights),Link means left, stupid, awkward, but also keen, skilled. The Gaelic (Irish) word for lefthanded is “Ciotach”. It has two imports as well 1) lefthanded and 2) Awkward or difficult. In Welsh left is ‘chwith’, which also implies being strange.

But research suggests that left handedness may not be as negative as the definition suggests. Left-handed individuals are quicker at processing multiple stimuli than righties for example tasks like talking and driving simultaneously. Left handed individuals are more bicerebral. They become faster at tasks because they have to use both sides of the brain more.” Through adapting to a right handed world.

Another area of specialization in left handed people is that of sensory-data processing: Typically, information received on the right side of the body (the right eye, or the right ear, for example.) goes to the left hemisphere for processing, and information received on the left side goes to the right hemisphere. Eventually, the brain combines the processing results from both hemispheres to form what we consciously perceive visually and through our audition.

There is a distinct link between handedness, brain lateralization and anatomy. Lateralization of speech is related to handedness. 95% of righthanders have speech lateralized in the left hemisphere, with only 2% of left-handers exhibiting this (Hellige, 1990). Additionally, Driesen and Raz (1995) established that the corpus callosum was bigger and better connected in left-handers.

Experts also theorize that left-handed people could perform better mentally as they become elderly and general brain processing starts to decrease in speed: with an enhanced ability for one brain hemisphere to quickly back up the tasks of the other, left-handed seniors could retain mental quickness for an extended period of time in comparison to their right-handed counterparts.

Regarding cognitive skills in left handed individuals, the research is mixed. (Eglinton and Annett, 1994) discovered a “small but reliable increase” of dyslexia among left handed individuals (Eglinton and Annett, 1994). Certain studies have discovered average performance in high school is lower for left-handed students (for example, Williams, 1987), while additional studies have discovered conflicting evidence for example Faurie, Vianey-Liaud, and Raymond (2006) found handedness to be positively correlated with school achievement and leadership skills for boys, while the correlation was negative for girls. Typically, studies show discrepancies in cognitive skills that are in favour of right-handed individuals (Hardyck and Petrinovich, 1977; Porac and Coren, 1981). But again there is research to prove otherwise Benbow (1986) established that gifted youths were two times as likely to be left-handed than individuals in the control group. Geschwind and Galaburda (1987, p. 98) determined that “non-righthanded populations are over-represented in all populations with high talent” (McManus and Bryden, 1991).

In addition it has been put forward that discrepancies may be due to cognitive styles rather than cognitive abilities. Coren (1995) approximates that the link between handedness and two forms of thinking- convergent (“a fairly focused application of existing knowledge and rules to the task of isolating a single correct answer”) and divergent (“moves outward from conventional knowledge into unexplored association”). Divergent thinking is proved to be positively associated with the extent of left-handedness, but just for males.

Lastly left handed individuals may not only fair better cognitively but once they have received their education or relevant qualification they may earn more. A noteworthy increase in earnings for left-handed men with high levels of education was discovered. This positive wage effect is strongest among those who have lower than average earnings relative to those of similar high education. Coren (1995) discovered that “divergent thinking” is more customary with male left-handed individuals. If it is this differential cognitive style that is the source of higher earnings for University educated left-handed men, it would justify why it is not found in women.













The King or Queen of the class Extroverts or Introverts?


This week I cast my mind back to when I was on a weeks work experience in my former primary school and it got me thinking about the students individual responses and reactions when the teacher asked them a question, some jumping off their seats arms waving eagerly, others remaining very quiet indeed.

Eysenck and Rachmans (1965) and Fouts (1975) define Introverted children as ‘nonsocial that is, they prefer being alone, have few friends, and tend to be generally introspective and inhibited’ . Extroverted children on the other hand are characterized as ‘social’ that is, they like to be with others, have many friends, and are impulsive’ (Eysenck and Rachmans, 1965) and (Fouts, 1975). Although as with most things in life the majority of people are somewhere along the spectrum between an introvert and an extrovert.

But why genuinely fairs best in a school setting extroverts or  introverts?  From looking into the research it is often provides conflicting evidence.

Eysenck (1967) argued that Extraversion and Neuroticism are theoretically and empirically linked with aptitude, predominantly as a consequence of likenesses in mental speed (i.e., high Extraversion, low Neuroticism, and high intelligence are all related to high mental speed). Also, it has been proved that stable, as opposed to neurotic, individuals tend to score higher on ability tests—possibly due to the fact that they are generally less influenced by anxiety (Furnham & Mitchell, 1991; Zeidner, 1995; Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham  (2003); Zeidner & Matthews, 2000) and perform better in university classes (Cattell & Kline, 1977; Goh & Moore, 1978; Lathey, 1991; Sanchez-Marin, Rejano-Infante, & Rodriguez-Troyano, 2001; Savage, 1962).

In addition, Rolfhus and Ackerman (1999) discovered a negative relationships between Extraversion and many knowledge tests, and put forward that these connections may be linked, there may be discrepancies in knowledge acquisition time, between introverts (spend more time studying) and extraverts (spend more time socializing).

However, Furnham, Forde, and Cotter (1998a, 1998b) showed  that extraverts significantly outperformed introverts on a test of logical reasoning.  Thereby it is challenging to reveal a consistent pattern for the link between intelligence and Extraversion, which is either weaker or more context/task specific than Neuroticism. A number of the ambiguities may be clarified by Eysencks  (1967) and Furnham et al.s (1998a, 1998b), suggestion that the relationship between Extraversion and intellectual ability depends on the intelligence test used:  extraverts perform better at timed tests, while longer and non-timed test are performed better by introverts.

Research into the relationship between Extraversion and academic performance,  (Child, 1964; Entwistle & Entwistle, 1970; Savage, 1962) reveals that introverts perform better than extroverts—because of a greater ability to consolidate learning and better study habits (Entwistle & Entwistle, 1970). Yet, many researchers (Kline & Gale, 1971) have been unable to replicate these results.

Although stable introverts  generally  have the most positive attitudes toward studying, their examination results were similar to those of neurotic extraverts (Cowell and Entwistle, 1971). Furnham and Medhurst (1995) repeated these results, but found extraverts to be rated more positively in seminar classes than introverts.

On the other hand Sanchez-Marin et al. (2001) discovered that extraverts were inclined to fail their courses to a greater degree than introverts, no doubt due to their distractibility, sociability, and impulsiveness. A reasoning behind the ambiguity of results was put forward by Anthony (1973), who said that extraverts generally do better than introverts in primary school, while the opposite occurs in higher levels of education. This would be due to higher education involving more analytical, formal and complex tasks compared with lower education.

In terms of purely personality traits influences on academic performance, two longitudinal studies were carried out in University samples. The results indicated that, the Big Five personality factors (Costa & McCrae, 1992)—especially Neuroticism and Conscientiousness—predicted overall final exam marks more than  academic predictors, accounting for more than 10% of unique variance in overall exam marks. Neuroticism has been shown to impair academic performance, while Conscientiousness may lead to higher academic achievement. Eysenck , 1985 showed that personality measures were the most powerful indications of academic performance, accounting for nearly 17% of unique variance in overall exam results. It is demonstrated that (similar to Neuroctisim) Psychoticism could also have a negative impact on academic success.

On a side note I discovered research by Thompson, and Hunnicutt (1944) that showed ‘that repeated praise increased the work output of introverts much more than that of introverts who were blamed or extroverts who were praised’.’ Repeated blame increased the work output of extroverts more than that of extroverts who were praised or introverts who were blamed’.

So possibly the fact that extraversion falls along a spectrum is very positive as it means that individuals may benefit from the positives of either extraverts or an introverts without having too many of the drawbacks associated with either. But from looking into the research there is certainly as mentioned above conflicting evidence that needs to be clarified and then applied to the school setting to benefit subtly different learners.