Five weeks into the school year, and I am just making my first post. Not to make excuses, but the start of this school year has been particularly hectic. I have taken on additional leadership roles within my school, and I am teaching a course I haven't taught in a couple of years. On top of the aforementioned professional changes, my personal offspring is dual enrolled at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). I wouldn't wish any of these opportunities away but golly gee more times than not these past five weeks have been challenging.
As professionals and parents, we often seek (or even demand) the benefit of the doubt when you are dealing with difficult situations. How often as a teacher have you been late with report card comments, or you didn't call a parent back within 24 hours. Or maybe you are the teacher who has to run to the copier during the passing period because you forgot to make copies for your afternoon class. I know I am guilty of at least one of these things.
Why do we as adults leave little room for mistakes to happen in our classrooms when we (at least me) make mistakes all the time. Mistakes: missing a deadline, not fulfilling the criteria, or failing to attempt the assignment should be a jumping-off point for learning to happen. And while sometimes that learning is content-based in my experience, it is often more important to facilitate kids in discovering methods to help them deal with the high expectations.
Learning new processes on top of learning new information can be both exciting and frustrating. As a professional adult person, I sometimes need a break or a helping hand to deal with new challenges. I sometimes want to quit, or I sometimes need to vent, but that does not mean I am a bad, lazy, terrible teacher.
If you have a student who is struggling to meet the expectations, remember they are not bad, lazy, or terrible either. They are learning. They are a senior in high school who is taking two online college courses and needs to learn how to stay organized and how to navigate the online system. They are a grade seven student who is new to international schools and doesn't yet speak much English. They are a grade nine student who is new to high school and is participating in sports and other school groups.
Yes, content is important but building students up by teaching them skills to help them become a better student, and a better human is even more important.
Why do we have grades? How often do teachers say the students don't care about an assignment unless they receive a grade? Are grades are for the students and their success or are they for the adults? Have you had parents call concerned about students grades but not student growth? How many students have dropped out of school because they will never be able to make the grade?
For learning to happen students have to be awake and engaged. Are grades the answer to getting and keeping my students engaged? Students will often ask is this a grade? The implied meaning being that if it is not graded, then the assignment or activity is not essential. When students are given a choice, they ask which option is the easiest? The hidden message: I will do the easier one not because I am lazy but because I want to ensure I get the best grade possible.
Many teachers engage in "gotcha you grading," pop quizzes to prove that students are not prepared, or trick questions. But why? I thought school was about learning, but the longer I am a teacher, the more I come to understand that school is about grades. Students beg for good grades (an A+ please) and teachers and parents pester students about grades (that should be an A+).
What do grades measure? The ability for students to memorize and follow instructions? Time management?
When students fail to make good grades, I hear adults say that student is _______ (insert negative adjective: lazy, careless, dumb, stupid).
I want to venture that it is not the student nor the fact that they are lazy, dumb, etc. but the supposition that grades motivate all students.
Maybe there is a better way to ensure that students come to class prepared. Could school work with grades? Or is the only way to engage with students by slapping a number in red pen on the paper?
Without grades what would teachers and students focus on? Some schools and schools districts are moving in that direction. At Brooklyn's Middle School 442, students and teachers are focused on ensuring students are mastering the material, there is no "C or a D for a lazily written term paper. There is no failing. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later."
As a teacher, I want to ensure that I can help every student I teacher to grow as a student and to meet every milestone. I hope that the field of education one day gets to a place where the importance is placed not on the grade but on the student and their learning.
For the past few years, I have been interested in the concept of the flipped classroom. The idea of a flipped classroom is simple. In the traditional classroom model, direct instruction (the lecture component) is delivered in class, and the activities are either tacked onto the end of class or assigned for homework. With the flipped classroom model the direct instruction is delivered outside of school, through short videos and other materials. Students view these materials before class, allowing for in-class time to be devoted to active work, such as discussions, collaborative projects, and problem-solving activities. Many proponents of the flipped classroom approach believe it gives students the chance to master the content, at their own pace, and allows them to engage at a deeper level in-class.
This year I started to implement the flipped model in my classes. I record my lectures and students listen to (and watch) me for homework. Students have time to develop questions about the content, and we have more time in class for activities (and who doesn't love a good science lab).
While this change has not been without some bumps in the road (mainly students not listening to my dulcet tones, but just copying the information for the slides), the flipped classroom model has been a boon to my class. Students who have had extended absences have been able to stay on track, and those students who are not native English speakers have had the time to digest the lectures at their own pace.
Phase two of the flipped model (at least for me) is to allow students to work at their own pace through the unit. Students would be able to move as quickly or slowly within a unit of study as they needed to. For example, the biology genetics unit is broken down into three concepts or sections. Students would have a goal of 70% to demonstrate mastery. All materials would be assessable to students lectures, hands-on activities, and exams. There would be designated lab days where students would be able to complete the unit labs (I think, hey I am still working things out).
Students will have the opportunity to retest several times to show mastery of each concept. The issue for me (with allowing students multiple testing opportunities) is the making of the retests. I may have something that will help with the retest dilemma. Questbase is an online quiz creator that has quite a few options including the ability to pull a random set of questions from a test bank each time a student takes the exam.
Do you have experience with the flipped classroom model? Do you have any advice concerning standards-based testing, or have a test creator that you use and love?
So much has happened in the past couple of months. In March our school went on our annual week without walls trip. This year I had the opportunity to travel to with grade 6 to Tai mountain. This short trip was a great way to get to know the class of 2025. We all worked hard to climb 6,666 steps to the top of the mountain.
On April 13th the QISS art department did an excellent job putting on an art show of both student and faculty artworks. I was pleased to be able to display some photographs I have taken over the past year.
The most significant event in the past few months (at least for me) was our inaugural innovation fair. I am so proud of the students here at QISS. They worked so hard to solve real-world problems. Lower school students came up with plans for improving their playground. Another class worked solved the issue of the little kids not being able to reach the water fountain by finding step ladders to assist them.
In the upper school, one student researched how animal micicracy could be used to make better architecture for humans. Another student turned his love of skateboarding into training wheels for those who are learning how to skateboard. Middle school students worked on different projects to raise funds to support various social causes.
All students worked hard, and with the support of teachers and staff, they were able to learn more authentically.
Starting a new skill or habit is easy, but maintaining the journey is often difficult. More than 30 days ago on this blog I made a declaration of starting and continuing a journey of mindfulness. Making an update is always hard, especially when you don't reach your goal. I started out full of enthusiasm and a plan: during one of my planning periods I would take ten minutes to engage in my mindfulness practice. For two weeks I was able to follow through with this plan, but my plan had a small flaw. My weekend practice during these two weeks was almost non-existent. It is super easy on the weekend to sleep a little later, to head to the local coffee shop for a late morning coffee with friends, and to complete all the task and errands that never get done during the school week. Then came Chinese New Year, which includes a two-week break from school. During the second half of my thirty-day timeframe, my mindfulness practice went from okay (hey it's a journey) to non-existent. The two-week break was an extended version of my weekend. At this my initial public check-in for this mindfulness journey, I won't say I have failed, but there is room to grow. While the plan to have a practice daily during my planning block is a good idea, I think this next 30-days I will switch my practice to the morning upon waking (because you know I wake up each morning even on the weekends). I will check back in with you in another 30 days.
What is the purpose of education in the 21st century? What is the best way to ensure that students are not only prepared to take on global issues but are working currently to solve current local and global problems? How does a teacher know that they have been successful?
Success looks like students who are willing to take risks and teachers who are willing to place the learning back in the hands of the students, giving the students the opportunity to solve problems they are facing, to display their passion, and who are excited about learning.
Teachers at QISS strive to use multiple methods to access student learning including the yearly science fair and other quarterly showcases of student learning called key assignments (KA). While students are displaying high achievement as measured by the current expectations and opportunities, some of these projects lack student agency.
In the article "What is student agency?" Margolis, states that giving students more agency over their learning builds skills such as perseverance, creativity, confidence, curiosity, and leadership skills (2016). Not only are these skills developed when students direct their learning, but positive effects for both teacher and student are increased: an increase in critical thinking and problem solving, being able to connect content to their own lives, teachers are able to reach every student, and teachers can help students learn how to think not what to think.
According to John Hattie (2012) to truly have a positive impact on student achievement, teachers and schools should focus on the methods that are best at increasing student outcomes. Through years of research, he has ranked factors by the effect size they have on student outcomes. A method with an effective size of 0.4 or higher is said to have a high level of effect on student achievement. Towards the top of list of factors that influence student achievement include self – efficacy (effect size: 0.92), the belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task, seeking help from peers (effect size: 0.83), effort (effect size: 0.77), student self reflection and evaluation (effect size: 0.75), and deep motivation (effect size: 0.69).
Many competitive colleges and universities are changing the requirements and expectations for incoming students. Harvard, which consistently ranked as one of the top five best universities, lists the following as questions admissions officers think about when looking at potential students: Do you have initiative? Are you a self-starter? What motivates you? What have you learned from your interests? What have you done with your interests? How have you achieved results? With what success or failure? What have you learned as a result? What is the quality of your activities? Do you appear to have a genuine commitment or leadership role?
A passion project also called innovation project, inspiration project, or genius hour is the opportunity for students to engage in learning topics and content that is interesting to them. This concept is said to have started at Silicon Valley giant Google. The search engine company allowed and encouraged its engineers to spend 20% of their time working on a personal pet project. Many companies would balk at allowing their employees time to work on personal projects feeling like it would be a waste of time and company resources. In the years since Google has implemented this change, 50% of the company’s new products have come from this time. This concept could easily be translated to students.
Innovation projects would allow students to meet the newly changing requirements of the world’s top universities. With the implementation of innovation projects, students are more likely to make connections to the real world and more likely to take on global and local issues. Teacher collaboration would happen more often and more naturally between subject areas as evidenced by teachers mentoring students, and students would also be able to see the interconnectedness of the curriculum.
As Stevens (2018) says, learner agency allows learning to move from “Do as I say, to based on your needs, let’s co-develop and implement a plan of action together.”
Ali Student Editor, A. (2016, July 22). The 10 things university admissions officers look for in students' applications. Retrieved July 4, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/student/into-university/applying/tips-on-applying-to-university-through-ucas-clearing-adjustment-what-to-write-a7150121.html
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York, New York: Routledge.
Margolis, A. (2016, March 23). What is student agency? Retrieved July 4, 2018, from https://inspiredteaching.org/what-is-student-agency/
Stevens, J. B. (2018, February 22). Learner Agency: Pushing the Boundaries of Educational Possibilities in the Digital Age. Retrieved July 4, 2018, from https://pllc.fi.ncsu.edu/2018/02/22/learner-agency-pushing-the-boundaries-of-educational-possibilities-in-the-digital-age/
How much coffee have I had this morning? Or this week? Or this year? Goodness gracious probably enough to fill the Yellow Sea or at least a couple of bathtubs. Have I worked out this week? There are grades to enter and lessons to plan. How did I end up on some many committees? Does a spoon full of peanut butter count as dinner?
These questions illustrate the routine of my life recently. As a teacher and a parent, I don't often think about taking the time to care for myself. The past week or so I have gotten home and fallen into bed (the other day I fell asleep with all my clothes on). I am resolving to take better care of me. As the saying goes, you can not pour from an empty cup.
If you don't know me, I am a planner (I am a nerd that way). So I have made a self-care plan to ensure (hopefully) that I am taking care of me. This plan includes time for practicing mindfulness. For the past few years at QISS teachers have been learning about mindfulness, but I have not been consistent with my mindfulness practice. I have downloaded the app HeadSpace. The goal is a streak of 30 days using the app to practice being more mindful. I would also like to start implementing some mindfulness practices with my students to help them learn more about self-care. The students I teach often perform at such a high level that they forget to do things like sleep and eat a proper meal.
Check back to see how my students and I are doing on this mindfulness journey.
In the world of international teaching, you often get to practice using the word goodbye. The end of the first semester has come and gone, and as both a parent and a teacher, I have to help the students in my care deal with the loss of classmates and friends.
The companies that bring families to our school from countries all over the globe often make the decision to end an employees time abroad before the start of the new year. This means that the winter holiday while greatly anticipated is also a time for tearful goodbyes.
For many people making friends can be tough and with the frequent changing of the student body some students can be reluctant to make an effort to make friends when they may be gone in a year (sometimes even sooner).
I have talked to a few students recently about the difficulty of making and maintaining friendships within a small international school setting. They stated that the fear very significant possibility of friends moving away makes them hesitate to form bonds.
But, what is high school without close friends to laugh and hang out with? One of the things I look back on with joy when I think about my high school years were the three girlfriends I walked the hallways of East High with. Having a group of friends is essential to the mental health and wellbeing of everyone, especially students in an international school who may be away from everything that is culturally familiar.
As a teacher, I try to have a classroom culture and fosters positive peer interaction.
Allowing students to chat (about off topic things) both to me and with peers.
Chatting with students during off times (at lunch, in the hallway) helps me learn more about them and may allow me to help them to make connections with another student. i.e., I know that student A is really into fashion and I learn by chatting with student B that he is also into fashion. I can use that knowledge to play friend matchmaker. (I usually do this with new students or students who are having trouble making friends.)
Loss is inevitable and being in the world of international schools means that you are always saying goodbye to old friends and welcoming new friends. As a teacher, I try to be there to support students when they are dealing with the loss of a friend, and I encourage them to be open to meeting new friends.
As the first quarter comes to a close, I find myself stopped in the hallway by students who are looking for an increase in their grade. The majority of these students have shown that they understand the standards and concepts and have C's, B's or even A's to prove it. But for some of these students, anything less than an A plus is a sign of failure. Today I had a discussion today with one of my classes about the meaning of success. For them, success meant getting into a good college (top ranking) and having a high paying job as an adult. They were surprised that even top-ranking Harvard accepts students who haven't made all A's and having a perfect SAT score isn't required to get into Yale (below I have linked an article "Why a Perfect SAT Score Can Keep You Out of Harvard"). Colleges and universities are looking for students who are creative and have a passion for learning (not just remembering). School is about so much more than what your grade is on a test or report card. Unfortunately for most students grades are still apart of the equation, but as a teacher, I strive to help my students develop those soft skills (organization, time management, the ability to have a discussion, etc.) that will help them be genuinely successful human beings. I work to engage my students in more discussion about the importance that should or should not be attached to grades. I want my students to be lifelong learners not forever grade attainers.
For the second quarter, I am implementing a required sign up a system for students wanting to meet about grade concerns. My hope is twofold with this one that this system will require students to stop and think about any request for grade adjustments and two when we do meet I will have more opportunities to discuss the relative unimportance of grades.
Next Monday, September 24th, is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (zhong qiu jie) which is one of the most important festivals in China. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the 15th day of the 8th month is the exact middle of autumn; hence it is called the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is an evening celebration when families gather together to light lanterns, eat moon cakes and appreciate the round moon.
I work to remember to have celebrations with my students. To celebrate both the large and the small, the success and the failure. Often teachers (or at least me as a teacher) get caught up in the things that have to happen (the standards, paperwork, and the bulletin boards), and we lose sight of the small successes that occur in our classrooms every day.
Today in biology class we did a reading comprehension exercise. In this class, many of the students are experiencing an American style (English only) education for the first time. As we did, a whole class read out-loud many of the students were hesitant to read, because they did not know how to pronounce some of the words. After a short speech of encouragement that assured the reluctant students that the class works as a team, I was able to get two of the most hesitant students to read out loud. After each girl read her paragraph the class burst into applause. We all celebrated their success.
While my students are not biological families, I am working to ensure that we build a positive school "family" environment where everyone feels safe enough to read a difficult passage and to ensure that we also celebrate everyone's successes. Not every celebration has to include moon cake or a lantern, but it is important to cultivate a culture of celebration in the classroom.
A teacher from the United States of America, currently teaching abroad. I teach science to middle and high school students. I enjoy reading and doing nerd things.