Approaches to the use of online language tools and AI to aid language learning

Adèle Venter, Head of German at WHS, considers how, in a time when Google Translate has insidiously pervaded every homework task, students could be trained to use online language tools and AI to aid their language learning rather than lead them astray.

 

A few years ago – some of my students may still remember it – my Year 10 German class experienced a dark moment. Upon handing back their homework essays, I asked them to write me a note about the extent to which they had used Google Translate to complete their homework.

The atmosphere was grim as they sat writing their confessions.

It reminded me a bit of the confessing sheep in Animal Farm and I almost felt sorry for them. But no – this had to end. I explained to them how I was in fact not assessing their progress and understanding but rather how well (or not – as was still the case at the time) Google’s artificial intelligence manages to translate language completely out of context. I illustrated to them how they were sometimes unable to even translate the German in their essays, and how therefore, they had learnt nothing in the process, making my conscientious attempts to provide feedback on their writing a waste of time.

The Google Translate dilemma

Of course, this has been a much-discussed topic and the bane of foreign language teachers’ lives for some time now, as illustrated by this Twitter joke that did the rounds:

I still stand by everything I had said on that day. And I would like to think that it may have changed their outlook somewhat. But I have since changed my approach to it. Because, as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Ultimately, it is also true that the Internet has become enormously useful in helping people with language acquisition. In the first instance, various language-learning applications have seen the light of day and people casually engage with these on various levels. If it means more people are able to buy croissants in France, or have a basic conversation with their grandchildren who live in Italy, it must be a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, the one thing that has remained true for the acquisition of a foreign language is that there is no quick and easy way to do so. I am of the firm belief that to really learn a language, it takes a lot of time, dedication and perseverance, and that your best chance of becoming proficient is to combine the formal learning of its grammar and vocabulary with immersion and exposure in authentic contexts.

Can AI tools play a useful role?

And so my question is mainly: what are the implications of the use of online tools for the dedicated language learner?

As a linguist, I do not deny that I use these myself all the time. But instead of just modelling my use of online dictionaries, conjugators and such, I have decided to engage my students more fully in the conversation so that they can be conscious of the advantages and pitfalls to various tools. I have told my students that I do not consider Google Translate to be one of the seven deadly sins anymore. After all, online translators have made enormous strides in past years, and a student workshop with Mrs Rachel Evans, our Director of Digital Learning, has revealed that more often than not, they tend to translate phrases and sentences, even idioms correctly.

Instead, I spread the message that whatever students do, they must ensure that they remain in charge of the things they write down. If they do not understand what they are writing, or why sentences are formulated in a certain way, they cannot hope to learn from it. I have consequently set up the following rules as guidance:

  1. Always turn to the dictionary first. There are excellent online dictionaries, and it is worth knowing which ones can be trusted to be correct and informative. It is important that they should understand that verified dictionaries offer synonyms, context and more information about the word, which translators do not. Dictionaries are a great source for developing intuition around words in varying contexts. The more advanced student could also draw on etymology. In the making of a linguist, these are skills well worth developing.
  2. Use online technology to enhance knowledge, not replace it. If pupils use the structures they have mastered as a starting point, they could explore replacing elements of the sentence (such as verbs by researching via a dictionary or conjugator).
  3. Keep the channels of communication open. Let your teacher know how you came by a certain word or phrase. I ask my students to highlight phrases they have constructed using a translator and indicate how they researched it. What were they trying to say? Going back to my second rule of course, are there ways of bringing across their meaning, using the structures they can already manage?

At a more advanced level, language learning becomes increasingly adventurous and as students gain independence, they are able to use language tools to develop the sophistication and concision of their expression. It is mainly younger students who experience frustration around their limited ability to express themselves. The following scenario serves as the perfect example of such a problem. A multilingual girl in Year 9 who is used to expressing herself effortlessly in various languages, produces the following sentence:

„Ich liebe Little Women weil es mich zum Weinen brachte.“

I love Little Women because it brought me to tears.

“Brought” as the imperfect form of the mixed verb “to bring” was rather more than I had counted on at her level and true enough, she did not understand the verb she had used, having typed in “it made me cry”. In fact, there is a myriad of grammatical complexities in this sentence that she had not yet mastered; she could not hope to construct such a sentence with her level of skill. Instead, a well-chosen adjective in an opinion phrase would have been within her reach and might have expanded her repertoire.

Learning to be independent and in control

I hope that having an open discussion will help students to become conscious of problems such as the example shown here and encourage them to use verified sources, finding those tools that are worthwhile learning aids. If they approach it with the right mind, these tools could help them to become truly skilled linguists who are able to reflect on elements of language in a sophisticated way. If language teachers can succeed in creating such healthy learning habits, they are likely to make a meaningful contribution towards developing students’ independence and ability to be life-long learners in the age of technology.

Who is in control? The human being.

Why do people procrastinate?

Naomi, Year 8, discusses the reasons as to why people procrastinate.

My experience with procrastination

Procrastination. I have always procrastinated, whether it has been small things in my life like tidying my room to larger things, like writing an essay. We would be given a week to write an essay and I’d tell myself every single night ‘you’re going to start this tonight and spread the workload out until the deadline’. This never happened. Instead, I ended up procrastinating by doing an activity that I really didn’t want to, for example tidying my room or organising my books. I was always perplexed by the non-procrastinators in my life who would do their work when it was set.

The rational decision maker

I was confused to the point where my dad, realising I could use some help, showed me a TedTalk by Tim Urban (linked below). It discusses the basic premise that in everyone’s mind there is a rational decision maker who encourages work to be done. However, there is also a voice in your head, the instant gratification monkey, which has no memory of the past and no regard for the future. It only cares about two things: ease and fun. When you have work to do the rational decision maker will make the rational decision to be productive, but the other voice in one’s head discourages this, so instead this voice takes control and we end up doing potentially meaningless (but fun) activities.

The instant gratification monkey

The instant gratification monkey is the animal instinct part of your brain, the amygdala. But because we humans are more advanced than other species, we also have the rational decision maker, in the prefrontal lobe, who gives us the ability to visualise the future, see the big picture and make long term plans. It makes the decisions to do what makes sense right now. When it makes sense to do things that are fun or easy, the two parts of your brain agree but when it’s time to do harder things, there is a conflict. In the mind of a procrastinator, the monkey wins every time, so we end up doing fun, pointless things.

The panic monster

So, the question still stands, how does a procrastinator ever get anything done at all if the monkey is always in charge. There is a simple answer to this question: there is another character in your brain called the panic monster, similar to the fight or flight instinct. The panic monster comes out whenever there is a scary or stressful consequence looming. When it comes out, the monkey goes away and we are scared into doing the work.

This works short term: we meet the deadlines. However, in the long term, it can cause anxiety and stress problems that will only get worse. The knowing that there is always something you should be doing cause continual stress which can become overwhelming and take over your life. Procrastination is an issue that many people suffer from. These three characters only work when there is a deadline and there are things in your life that don’t have deadlines that we want to do. After many years of suffering (dramatic, I know) I have only one solution: start.

Sources:
https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html

 

The Hidden Gems of the Drama Department: Involvement

Eleni in Year 12 discusses the benefits of being involved in drama productions, and gives some advice to anyone considering getting involved in future projects.

 

Whether you are well versed in appearing on stage or a newcomer to the dramatic arts, the WHS Drama Department fosters a welcoming approach towards all those interested in theatre. More often than not, pupils involved in productions will experience a distinctive emotional investment with regards to the piece they are rehearsing for. It is the gradual accumulation of this sense that allows the productions to become an effective release from the strenuous moments of the academic atmosphere, whilst also elevating its calibre as a creative output. 

Opportunities

 Whilst the number and types of productions vary year upon year, there are several that take place annually. These include:

  • Year 7: House drama
  • Year 8: Musical
  • Year 9: Play
  • Year 10: Play (newly added)
  • Year 9 & 10: Musical
  • Years 11-13: Senior Play
  • Years 11-13: Senior Musical
  • Year 12: New Views Script Writing Club

    The Audition: What to Expect & Advice

    Musical

    • Unless instructed otherwise, choose a 2-minute piece from a musical that you feel embodies your performance abilities
    • If you are not interested in auditioning for a principal role, you may be asked to sing a simple song (such as Happy Birthday) in a group of 3 or more
    • A group dance audition, where a key routine from the show will be taught to you by a group of sixth formers
    • Occasionally, girls will be asked to perform a scene with others to provide the directors with an indication of their dramatic aptitude
    • Those who are in consideration for principal roles will be contacted for a call back audition, the requirements for this vary depending on the production and the individual

     

    Play

    • Prior to the audition, those interested will be provided with a series of monologues from the play in question
    • During the audition, you will be asked to perform your chosen monologue in front of the audition group
    • The directors may ask you to try different vocal, physical or proxemic interpretations of the piece to explore the different aspects of your ability to perform

     

    Here are some top tips on auditioning from the drama staff:

    • Approach the task with a positive outlook
    • If you are an experienced performer, humility and perspective is key
    • Be open to critique and suggestion
    • Respect others on stage by either remaining silent or reacting appropriately to the content of their piece
    • Don’t pre-apologise
    • If you are too ill to audition, email in advance and organise another slot to audition with one of the directors
    • Most importantly, if you don’t get the part you wanted, don’t be disheartened! Take your new role as a challenge and remember there are always other opportunities around the corner

     

Inter-year relations

The productions are an excellent platform to further nourish inter-year bonds. Encouraging different year groups to work together is something which the performing arts value, and can be seen in any inter-year production, with the cast being able to unite in an efficient and enjoyable team. The inevitability of inter-year friendships forming as a result to the productions, is one of the several enriching benefits that accompany the productions.

My Personal Experience

Having trained in Piano and Voice from a very young age, I was mostly involved in the music side of the school. However, my role as an onlooker changed to that of a performer in the Year 9 and 10 production of Little Shop of Horrors, where I was lucky enough to have been cast as Mr Mushnik. This opportunity inspired a huge passion for performing in me for both vocal and theatrical appearances. The following year, I was part of the senior production of Sweeney Todd, where I played the part of Johanna.

This stands as a great example of the performance potential for musicals with more classically oriented vocal writing. This year, I was fortunate to have played Tobias in Education Education Education which was also the first instance of my involvement in a school play (rather than the musical). With the aid of the drama department, I was able to develop my performance skills in an extensive variety of genres. It is safe to say that my involvement in drama at WHS has allowed me to approach theatrical opportunities in a more nuanced, informed and experienced manner.

Can outdoor learning create thinkers, risk takers and environmental pioneers?

Mrs Sarah Brierley, Miss Tiffany McIntyre and Miss Jade Mayes explore the impacts of learning beyond the classroom on pupils’ social, emotional, physical development and academic progress.

We are the Wild Girls

Outdoor Education is an umbrella term for any educational session which takes place outside the classroom; from Maths lessons in the playground, to visits to the Tower of London. For us, Wild Girls provides our pupils with the opportunity to jump in puddles, build shelters, write poetry in the woods, fly kites and learn to love nature. As we like to say, there is no Wi-Fi in the woods, but you’ll find a better connection! Children are also given permission to play freely, to explore their natural environment and take controlled risks.

Meet the facilitators with a vision

Participants are destined to achieve. The Wild Girls’ facilitators aim to make observations based on each individual girl, in order to scaffold their learning and allow them to take controlled risks.

Sarah Brierley:
I moved to the centre of Wimbledon 4 years ago, from the beauty of The Lake District, which offers a different outdoor classroom for each day of the year. As a mountain leader and RYA dingy sailing instructor, when I shared my vision with my fellow outdoor instructors from the Lakes, they were bewildered at how I could possibly suggest delivering outdoor education in central London- but we’ve done it!

Jade Mayes:
As a Year 1 teacher, I fully understand the importance of hands on, child-led learning. I have a background in Forest School Education, and bring this knowledge to our new initiative. My vision is to foster a community of individuals, who have just as much love for the natural world as I do, and in return will take care of it for future generations.

Tiffany McIntyre:
As a Reception teacher, I aspire to make this project more than just taking learning from indoors into an outside area, but to go further and provide opportunities that cannot be achieved within the confines of a classroom. Once the walls are removed, children have a sense of space and freedom that allows their young minds to investigate, explore and create on a larger scale. They move freely, building confidence through shared enterprise and hands-on experiences. Whether this involves building a pirate ship or investigating the best consistency of sand to build a sand castle, it all supports the children in the acquisition of skills and encourages them to develop independent thought, where the possibilities are endless.

The importance of learning beyond the classroom

We can learn so much from nature. The trees in a forest care for each other, communicating through their roots. They warn each other about dangers and use this network to decide when to seed. We can learn so much from this ‘wood wide web’ (Flannary, 2016.)  The lessons trees provide us about team work are endless. Isolated trees have much shorter lifespans than those living connected together in the woods (Wohlleben, 2016.) Surely, this is a lesson that will support our pupils as they progress through life.

Our KS1 sessions include the use of a range of activities and resources to encourage our pupils to participate. Nature provides a therapeutic environment for pupils to truly be themselves and grow as individuals. This point of view is supported by Carl Roger in his book A Way of Being – ‘I love to create such an environment, in which persons, groups, and even plants can grow…real relationships with persons, hands dirtied in  the soil, observing the budding flower, or viewing a sunset, are necessary to my life’ (Rogers, 1995). This concept is at the heart of our practice and has already been successfully implemented within our Junior School.

Holistic pedagogy

The holistic approach is naturally engrained in the structures of a Wild Girls’ session, as emotions, fears, conflicts and friendships form an intrinsic part of each session. This offers children the opportunity to grapple with challenging processes, as they play freely within the woodland setting.

In an urban environment, it is essential for children to have access to nature. For us to be able to extend these opportunities as part of our Wild Girls programme is invaluable.

In addition to this, children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and consequently their learning and creativity. Asking children to use their senses to interpret the world around them can be challenging for those who have not had the opportunity to develop these faculties.

These classrooms come cheap too. London provides the world’s largest urban forest, ‘8.4 million trees for 8.6 million people’ (Wood, 2019.) In London, most areas of outdoor space are free to access and close to transport networks making it easy and free for schools to use them.

Wild Girls in Action

At Wimbledon High Junior School, we have created different activities for our girls to explore whilst outdoors.

In Year 6, our pupils study navigational skills in a woodland setting, in order to learn how to use compasses and read maps. These are skills that could be potentially get lost in the high-tech world our children are being brought up in. When learning about directions on a compass, one misconception emerged when a pupil suggested that North is always dictated by the direction of the wind! Even if she never uses a compass again in her life, she has been afforded a valuable learning opportunity.

In Reception, these experiences are focused on inviting the pupils to be a part of their environment, to observe and respect what they can see, hear and feel. Using stories as a starting point, we connect with nature and encourage the girls to lead the learning experience. However, the most fun our girls have had was splashing in the puddles on their way into the forest! These opportunities provide the foundation for these young learners to grow and to develop as they move through the Junior School.

Year 1 pupils have used free play to explore the woods, making wind chimes and mud cakes, whilst coming across many mini beasts to identify. In the outdoors, nature is in control. Although you can predict what the weather is going to do, you can’t predict what children will learn the most from in the natural classroom you’ve created. This is the beauty of outdoor education.

Final thoughts

This opportunity to roam unchecked and learn life skills in the outdoors is arguably the most important education any child can have. It is enriching for the soul and brings out character traits that may be hidden whilst learning indoors. In the short space of time that we have been delivering ‘Wild Girls’, we have observed social connections becoming stronger and more universal, and an even more cohesive sense of community emerging. Personality types who may be naturally more reserved, have been given the space to show the qualities of leadership and collaboration. In an ever-changing, evolving world, giving children the space and freedom to be a child, has never been more important.


References

Wohlleben P, The Hidden Life of Trees, London, William Collins, 2017

Wood P, London is a Forest, London, Quadrille, 2019

Training to train or training to compete?

Coutts Coutts-Wood, Director of Sport at WHS, looks at the psychology behind training and being active in a competitive environment, and how we can make training more effective.

 

Training is designed to develop a player; it creates a safe learning environment where repetition and reinforcement help to foster the necessary mental and physical skills required for competition. It is where you can try to be the best version of yourself. In training or practice, athletes are often more relaxed and focused, full of positivity and excitement and it is the space in which making mistakes repeatedly is ok. It is where the athlete can learn from errors and where faults are forgivable and ‘allowed’ – after all it’s only training, right?

It can be too easy to approach training or lessons with the mind-set that your time is not as important, that the rewards from excelling are lower and consequently less value is placed upon quality of performance. It’s very easy for pupils at times to think, ‘it’s just a lesson, it’s only a practice, it doesn’t matter’. Does this, therefore, allow the quality of practice and training to diminish? Should poor performance during these sessions be excusable from peers, coaches and athletes alike?

U15 Tumbling Team
U15 Surrey Tumbling Team Champions

Of course, in competition everything is different. The low stake, relaxed and positive emotional state established in training does not always translate into competition. Instead, the ‘now it really counts’ mantra attached to the performance encourages increased pressure from the athletes on themselves. It can be true that for most athletes, once in the competition, thoughts of self-doubt and disbelief creep in so that they tense up, and their fluidity and control is compromised and consequently the performance is not as good as in training. Moreover, athletes experience cognitive overload and narrower attentional focus during competition. A great example of this was shown in in early research on the topic by Yerkes and Dodson and is known as the ‘Inverted U Theory of Arousal’ (1908). Their model looks at the relationship between arousal and performance and suggests that optimal performance should occur when arousal is at a moderate level. If arousal is too low (perhaps in training) or too high (often in competition) performance quality can be compromised.

If we always have this distinction between training and competition, we are never truly preparing ourselves appropriately. It is important to think about how we can get the best results when it really matters and what that means during practices and lessons. It seems vital that any training is structured to mimic the types of competition that we are striving to excel in.

Using training effectively

U13C Netball Team

It is our job as physical educationalists to ensure that our athletes have the ability to handle the psychological ‘now it really counts’ challenge of the event alongside the physical demands. It is now much more common that professional athletes seek sport psychology services to learn how to perform in a competition as well as they do in practice. As Weinberg and Gould (2007) discuss ‘a lack of physical skills is not the real problem – rather, a lack of mental skills’ can be the cause of poor performance.

Your physical ability has not changed or decreased, so why does your performance? In training you don’t always put pressure upon yourself. In training you stay focused on what you are doing. In training you are relaxed and having fun. We must repeatedly train ourselves to always be competition ready, to improve the flow of skills, and to cope with the fast paced, high intensity environment where more is at stake.

So if we really want the performance of our athletes under pressure to resemble what has been done in lessons and training, we need to shift the view that competition is far more exciting than training, of greater importance and only enjoyable because of the extrinsic incentives that motivate performers. We must duplicate exactly what has been done in those practice sessions mentally and improve the coping skills under pressure to reflect the demands of the competitive environment. If we never practice in these high stakes situations, we will never be prepared for competition.

Conclusion

As teachers, I believe it is our role to make training as stimulating as competition, create problem solving opportunities and appropriate challenge. We must fashion training environments where we prepare our athletes for competition and move away from the view that practice is just where you go to train to prove you deserve to be in the team.
So, perhaps next time that dentist appointment is due to be booked over a games lesson, rather than thinking ‘it’s only training’, think would you approach a fixture with the same attitude?
You can therefore expect the quantity of competition-based game scenarios to be increased in lessons and training going forwards to ensure than we are ‘practicing’ at the desired intensity and with the high quality that we know we will need when we formally compete. More ‘mock’ competitions, a bigger audience present, sessions where the stakes are higher will all help reinforce the fact that training and competition should not be seen as separate. Ultimately we will be competing in our training and training to compete.


References
Weinberg, R; Gould, D (2007). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology.

Yerkes, R.M; Dodson, J.D (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Physiology, 18. 459-482

For interest, I would recommend reading Bounce by Matthew Syed where he discusses the importance of purposeful practice.

What is it like being a Music Scholar preparing for Cadogan Hall 2020?

Lizzie, Year 12, writes about what it is like being a music scholar preparing for the large WHS concert at Cadogan Hall later this month.

As the annual Cadogan Hall concert draws nearer, everyone involved is working hard to rehearse the music and make final preparations for the day, striving to improve upon the standard of the previous year. This is especially true of music scholars, who play various vital roles within the music department.

All musicians have the important task of individually practising their parts and potentially asking peripatetic teachers for help with really challenging passages to ensure they can not only play the music, but engage with the effect each piece is trying to convey. It is crucial that each and every part in the orchestra and choirs are learnt individually if the ensemble is to sound brilliant together. It means that the rehearsals, which are more limited in time than private practise, can focus on developing cohesion and emotion in the music in order to make it really impressive.

Violin players
Violin II section performing at Cadogan Hall in 2019 by Zest Photos

As a music scholar, I also have the role of brass section leader which entails many different things. These range from encouraging other musicians within my section to practise their parts at home, helping to tune in rehearsals and performances, and making stylistic decisions about how our part should be played so that it can sound within the overall emotion.

Section leaders also go through all of the music themselves and note down difficult passages that their section struggles with in order to help highlight them to Mr Bristow, who directs the Orchestra. We then focus on perfecting these few passages in sectional rehearsals, where the orchestra is divided into smaller groups to provide more attention to each part. This is key in making sure that all of the music is ready for the performance, giving each and every pupil in the orchestra the confidence to play to the best of their abilities.

There are also other student-led preparations that must be made and are carried out by scholars such as putting together the programme. This year a meeting was held to re-evaluate the normal design of the programme and to put forward new ideas in the hope that the programme will be not only informative for the concert, but also become more valuable for the pupils as a souvenir of the performance. In addition, scholars are each given a piece to write a programme note for, which contextualises the music for the audience. This requires researching the composer, piece itself, when it was written and then collating the information a brief but interesting way.

Music scholars, especially those in older years, tend to be much better at controlling the nerves that come with performing than other performers due to having more experience performing, like at the scholars’ recitals each term. On concert day it is always really nice to see that everyone is sharing in the excitement and anticipation ahead of the performance, but also helping to make sure that no one is getting very worried or anxious.

WHS 2019 Cadogan Hall Concert, by Zest Photos

One of my other favourite parts is the inter-year bonding within the music department, stemming from shared interests, which displayed and strengthened every year at Cadogan Hall. From the manic and cramped atmosphere in the changing rooms, to the sad realisation that when it is over the leaving year 13s have performed their last ever big Wimbledon High concert, it always feels like the department has come together and achieved its goal of being even better than the year before.

If you would like to come to the concert this year, do visit the Cadogan Hall website to get more information on repertoire and information on how to buy tickets. The concert this year takes place on Monday, 30th March from 7:30pm.

https://cadoganhall.com/whats-on/wimbledon-high-school-2020/

To what extent did the Second World War influence the Brexit vote?

Lauren, Year 13, discusses whether the Second World War influenced the 2016 Brexit vote.

Above: via http://theconversation.com/what-happens-if-parliament-rejects-a-brexit-deal-103939

Both World Wars had a dramatic influence on European relations in the first half of the 20th century, with the continent being divided during both conflicts.  This made the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 extremely significant, as one of the reasons for its founding was to maintain peaceful relations between the countries of Europe.

There is a misconception which is prevalent among some people that Britain was alone during the Second World War after the French surrender. This is not entirely accurate.  Britain was the largest imperial power in the world at the time, with either direct or indirect control over around 25% of the world’s population and almost a third of its land mass.  Two and a half million soldiers from India alone served during the war, and lots of people from occupied countries also fought alongside the Allies, thus, demonstrating that the British were not isolated.

Furthermore, Britain did not have the same experience as most other countries during the war. This was largely due to the fact that it was never invaded because the Channel separated Britain from the rest of the continent, making it more difficult for its enemies to transport troops and resources over. This ‘island mentality’ has been maintained by some.

Above: Line of Soldiers via Pixabay

However, research conducted using Eurobarometer survey data shows that the war generation actually has a predominantly positive opinion of the EU, compared with the more negative views perpetuated by the immediately post-war generation.  This is interesting because over-65s are always grouped together as one, but they actually often have very differing opinions.

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, 122 veterans signed a letter calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit because they recognised that the EU has maintained peace in Europe and didn’t want to see a repeat of the war.  They also challenged the Leave campaign’s mentions of the war as a reason for Brexit, pointing out that Churchill called for the creation of a “European family” to prevent another conflict.

It is worrying that so many politicians mentioned the Second World War in their arguments for Brexit and against the EU.  For example, in May 2016 Boris Johnson argued that the EU was trying to create a European super-state like Hitler had created in the 1930s.

Another Conservative MP called the EU “ungrateful” in February and complained that Britain had received no money from the Marshall Plan of 1948, when in reality it received around 20% of the $12 billion dollars given to Europe, which was more than any other country.

The Second World War itself should not have contributed to the Brexit vote because the EEC, and later the EU, was partly designed to prevent another war, but myths and misconceptions surrounding the Allied victory fuelled the idea that Britain could “stand alone”, which is an argument often used by supporters of Brexit.

What role does the House system play in a modern school?

Miss Hannah Johnston, Head of Houses at WHS, examines why the House system is as important in the modern world as it was in the famous tales of Mr Chips and Harry Potter.

Identity

Mention ‘Houses’ in the context of a school and for a certain generation it is hard not to be instantly transported to ‘Hogwarts’ and all the connotations of the sorting hat. Originating from boarding schools where students lived in a ‘house’ the inclusion of a House system is popular among schools, and, thanks to J.K Rowling and those 4 most famous of Houses there is more awareness than ever of the advantages the House system brings.

While we do not rely on a sentient hat, each year we have the ‘Stepping In’ ceremony where our new girls are warmly received into their House, a pivotal moment in their entry to senior school. As girls and staff cheer from the side-lines, the initial ties of camaraderie and identity are being formed.

The Specialist School and Academies Trust (SSAT) found that in 2008 16% of Year 6 students did not feel ready to begin senior school. They advocated the House system as a way of ensuring students felt supported by their peers from the beginning; “Ensuring students feel comfortable in their new surroundings and making them feel part of their new environment as quickly as possible” (Garner, 2008). By dividing the school into 4 smaller groups (Arnold, Hastings, Meredith and Scott) we allow students to develop their sense of belonging quickly and help to remove the fear of ‘small fish big pond’ that can often follow, particularly if a girl has joined from a smaller primary school environment.

Above: Year 7 Stepping In; 2019

Collaboration

One of the main strengths of the House system is giving students of all ages the opportunity to work together, creating a truly cohesive environment and ensuring that age is not a barrier to friendship and collaboration. This reflects the life that we are preparing our girls for outside of WHS, nowhere beyond the confines of a classroom will they be required to work / interact with those only of their own age.

As David Tongue (Head, Brighton College Bangkok) said of the value of the House system; “camaraderie and solidarity is second to none and the benefits of this vertical interaction, where the young look up to the elder and where the elder look out for and support the younger, are profound”. We see this throughout the year in WHS but perhaps nowhere is it as evident as during House Drama. Watching the Year 7 and Year 12 students plan, rehearse and perform is one of the highlights of the Winter term. The dedication shown by all involved and the support given by fellow House members at each performance is wonderful.

Of course it is not only students who are allocated a House, staff are also involved. The sense of community that pervades throughout the school would, arguably, be incomplete if students were not given the opportunity to interact with teachers beyond those they see in the classroom, thereby encouraging stronger relationships between adults and students” (Green, 2006). Our recent ‘Connections Fortnight’ highlighted the importance of celebrating the relationships formed in school. Where better than to see this than through our Houses, small communities within the larger whole formed on shared interests and challenges.

Above: House Drama 2019

Competition       

To talk about the House system and neglect to mention competition would be foolish. Potentially it is the competitive element of the Houses that people think of first. The all-important termly round up where the current leader is announced to great fanfare, the selection of mini competitions each term and, of course, Sports Day. Competition is good, it drives our students to improve, improves collegiality and teaches how to fail.

The House system is first and foremost inclusive of all learning types and interests. We have sporting (swimming, netball, hockey and sports day), artistic (Big Draw, House Music and House Drama) and cross-curricular (Robot Wars and the upcoming Spelling Bee and House Escape) events.

As was seen in a study between engagement and performance the sense of belonging provided by House membership, and the opportunity to enter into competitions with your peers can have numerous academic benefits as well as the social-emotional (Lee, 2014). Those who feel comfortable and supported enough to participate in House events are more likely to feel able to commit themselves fully to academia.

Leadership

Above: Current House Captains

The House system allows for the promotion of student’s responsibility, “giving pupils the chance to learn and develop leadership skills is an outstanding benefit” (Tongue, 2016). The House Captains hone their leadership skills in the role, managing not only their peers but also learning how to ‘manage up’ among the staff body.

In another case of preparation for life beyond school, our House Captains rise to each challenge set, developing impressive time management and delegation skills.

In the upcoming House Robot Wars, the Captains have delegated the training sessions to those in KS4 that they have identified as having leadership qualities and the necessary Computer skills. Events such as House Music promote team work and communication. It takes a small army of girls to form the small group, organise whole House rehearsals and teach the choreography, yet everyone throws themselves in with dedication.

While we have our 4 House Captains there are opportunities throughout the year groups to take on smaller leadership roles, recent House Jigsaw saw students in Year 9 take charge and each inter-house sports team has a captain.

Above: House Masterchef

The House system searches for ways that students and staff can feel more connected to and involved with the community around them. It facilitates discussions between the most junior and most senior of school and fostering friendly competitive spirit along the way.


References

Garner, R., 2008. State secondaries urged to bring back the house system. [Online]  Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/state-secondaries-urged-to-bring-back-the-house-system-913930.html

Green, D. G., 2006. Welcome to the House System. Educational leadership: journal of the Department of Supervision and Curriculum Development, N.E.A, p. 63.

Lee, J.-S., 2014. The Relationship between Student Engagement and Academic Performance: Is It a Myth or Reality?. Journal of Educational Research, pp. 177-185.

Tongue, D., 2016. The House System: a typically British educational institution. [Online]
Available at: https://www.relocatemagazine.com/articles/education-the-house-system-a-typically-british-educational-institution

Does Great Britain need to move on from the Second World War?

Rosie, Year 11, shares her recent WimTalk with us, discussing issues surrounding the way Britain remembers its past to shape its future.

September 2nd, 1945, Tokyo Bay. On the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender document was signed by representatives from Japan, the United States, China, the United Kingdom, the USSR, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. World War Two was officially over. This ceremony aboard USS Missouri lasted 23 minutes, and yet the impact of what it represented rings on to today, almost 75 years later.

Now, in 2020, Great Britain has not moved on the Second World War – far from it. Everywhere in Britain, wartime memorials and museums can be found, remembering the half a million soldiers and civilians who lost their lives. Most British people have relative who fought in or experienced the war, and there are few who would not recognise the phrase ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ from Churchill’s most famous speech. And this prominent remembrance is not just confined to the older generations: It is an integral part of every child’s education too. Hundreds of books, TV programmes, podcasts and films have documented the war with great success – even recently. The modern economy, too, remembers the war, with Britain making the final war loan payment to the United States only 14 years ago in 2006. Overall, the memory of the Allied victory in the Second World War – “our Finest Hour” – inspires the national sense of pride in our military history that has become a rather defining British characteristic.

But the question is: why does Great Britain cling on to the Second World War more than any other nation involved? And is this fixation justified, or is it time to move on?

One perspective is that the British viewpoint of the Second World War is bound to be different because of geography. The triumph of physically small island nation prevailing in war is something we can celebrate and take pride in. For other nations involved – larger landlocked countries with shifting borders – this is less easy. For example, Germans today are less inclined to look back, not only because of the radical changes in society since the Third Reich or lack of a victory to celebrate, but also because modern Germany is physically different to the earlier Germany of the Kaisers, Weimar, Hitler and the divided states of the Cold War. Instead, Germany today looks forward, not backwards, which some would argue has allowed it to become the economic giant on the world stage that it now is.

And that’s another thing – how much has Britain changed since the Second World War? Of course, it has modernised along with the rest of the world: politically, economically, and physically, but so many of the same institutions remain as were present in 1939. Our democratic government, our monarchy, our military and traditions have survived the test of worldwide conflict twice in one century, the collapse of the British Empire and the Cold War in a way that those of France, Spain and Italy have not.

Above: Photo from wikimedia commons

The Second World War was a clear clash of good vs bad – peace vs aggression. Britain was not directly attacked by Hitler but stepped up to honour a promise to defend Poland against invasion for the greater good. Remembering the Second World War makes Britain proud of these national values, as had Chamberlain not roused from his policy of appeasement and committed Britain to the sacrifice of money, empire and life, had Churchill not fortified the nation’s most important alliance with Roosevelt, the world would certainly be a very different place today. And so, if a nation’s psyche comes from the values and institutions it possesses that have stood up throughout history, is it really any wonder Brits take pride in looking back?

On the other hand, perhaps after so many years it’s time to recognise that we are not, in fact, the same Britain that we were in 1945. In 1944, British economist John Maynard Keynes spoke at the famous Bretton Woods conference. He said that the Allies had proven they could fight together, and now it was time to show they could also live together. In achieving this, a genuine ‘brotherhood of man’ would be within reach. At this conference, the IMF and World Bank were created, soon followed by the UN, to promote peace and prevent the kind of economic shocks that led to war in the first place. But at the same time, these organisations were a convenient way for the main Allied powers to solidify their power and privileges. Since then, a European has always headed the IMF, and an American the World Bank. The UN Security Council is dominated by the five permanent members, whose privileged position, some say, is nothing but a throwback to the power distribution on the world stage of 1945. By clinging on to the war, are we really clinging on to the idea that Britain is still a leading power, and modern economic giants such as Germany and Japan do not deserve to disrupt the power structure of 1945? We pour so much money into Britain’s defence budget to maintain this powerful status – into remembered threats and sometimes archaic strategies: submarine warfare, aerial dogfighters and manned bombers. The Second World War was certainly a catalyst for change across the globe. Perhaps now, Britain’s inability to let go of these old power ideals and designated roles of nations prevents us from achieving the ‘brotherhood of man’ that, in 1944, Keynes dared to dream of.

We are told that the value of history is to ‘learn a lesson’ to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes again. But there is an argument to say that this concept is a consistent failure. So many conflicts around the world seem to be caused by too much remembering: refreshing tribal feuds, religious division, border conflicts, expulsions and humiliations. Doesn’t remembering cause Sunni to fight Shia or Hindu to fight Muslim? Is it memory that maintains dispute in the Balkans, the Levant, Mesopotamia? Perhaps the emotion sparked by remembering the details of our past is better left in history when it has the capability to spark aggression, conspiracy theories and irrational anger. Today’s politics of identity seem provocative enough without being fuelled by history, so perhaps we should heed Jorge Luis Borges who wrote: ‘The only vengeance and the only forgiveness is in forgetting’. This advice has been proven to work over time – Nelson Mandela’s philosophy in 1990s South Africa was to focus on ‘truth and reconciliation’ and draw a line under his country’s recent history – closure. Can Britain not find closure on the 20th century?

What I can conclude is that there are two perspectives to take on this statement: there are some who hold onto our history as a lesson for the future, as a reminder of the importance of peace and action for the greater good, who will never be able to forget the Second World War because of the core British values that it represents. And then, there are those who think it is time to let go of the past, and adapt our nation’s values to suit our current position in the quickly-changing world that we live in. And so, the only question I have left to ask is: which are you?

Dreams – what are they and why do they happen?

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Sofia, Year 9, discusses what dreams are and why they happen.

When you think of the word “dream”, many questions may pop into your head such as ‘what do they mean?’ and ‘what are they for?’ and perhaps ‘can they predict my future?’ I guess the best way to describe a dream is a story or sequence of images your mind creates while you are asleep. Except of course there is a lot more to it…

The history of dreams

It is thought that people in the third millennia in Mesopotamia were the first to record their dreams on wax or clay tablets and over 1000 years later Egyptians made themselves dream books, which also listed their potential meanings. Priests would be the ones to interpret these since they were written in hieroglyphics. Interpreters were looked up to, as they were blessed with this divine gift.

Interestingly, in the Greek and Roman era, dreams were interpreted in a religious context, thinking gods or even those from the dead were sending them direct messages. They believed dreams forewarned and they even built special shrines where those who sought a message would go to sleep.

In China, dreaming was also seen as a place where your spirit and soul left your body and went to a different world while asleep. If you were awoken, your soul may fail to return to your body. In the Middle Ages, dreams were considered to be the devil’s dirty work and fill the humans’ minds with malicious thoughts while at their most vulnerable state.

Above: Photo by Andrew Neel, Unsplash

The psychology behind dreams

Dreams can sometimes be exciting, terrifying, boring and just plain random, and although it may not feel like it, we have multiple dreams in one night that actually only last approximately 15 minutes. It’s hypothesized that everyone dreams, even though people who don’t remember their dreams may think they don’t dream[1]. Within 5 minutes of waking up, you usually forget 50% and by 10 minutes almost 90% is gone[2].

Dreams typically involve elements from life such as known people or familiar locations. And yes, it has been proven that your brain is incapable of “creating a new face”. They can also allow people to act out certain scenarios that wouldn’t happen in real life and make you feel incredibly emotional if it is vivid enough. In 1899, Sigmund Freud wrote a study “Interpretation of Dreams” which has been controversial among other experts. He states that we only dream to fulfil wishes, but many have disagreed. The Continual Activation Theory explains that we dream to keep our brains working and to consolidate memories, so that when data is needed from memory storage, we have it, but it’s just expressed in a different way while we dream. It is also suggested that we dream to rehearse and practise. Have you ever had a nightmare of being chased by a bear or even a criminal? These have been proven to be very common and challenge your instincts in case you ever do come across a dangerous situation in your life.

 What does science have to say?

The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology (derived from Greek word ‘oneiron’) Dreams mainly occur in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep when brain activity is high and feels similar to being awake; it occurs within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep. During this stage, the pons in the brain shut off signals to the spinal cord causing you to be immobile while sleeping. When the pons doesn’t shut down the spinal cord’s signals, people will act out their dreams which of course could be dangerous, perhaps if you run into a wall or fall down a staircase.

Above: Brain illustration by pickpik.com

This is known as REM sleep behaviour disorder, which is rarer than sleepwalking. Even though we are immobile, the brain is very active, and you could still move and accidentally hit your sister in the face thinking you’re in a netball match. The blue represents inactive parts in the brain during REM in the image shown. Linking back to a previous point, an additional reason we may dream is to forget. This may sound confusing, but our brain creates thousands of connections by everything we think and do. A neurobiological theory known as Reverse Learning told us that during REM sleep cycles, the neocortex reviews the connections and ignores unnecessary ones, preventing your brain from being overrun with useless connections.

Even if we never know the real reason why dreams happen or whether they have any significance, it is possible that we will eventually one day find out due to developing technology. However, they may always remain somewhat a mystery to us, but hopefully, the next time you go to bed, you’ll maybe consider the complex aspects of science behind them.


References 

[1] https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/does-everyone-dream

[2] https://www.manifatturafalomo.com/blog/sleep-tips/15-incredible-facts-about-sleep/