Join the #ReadOutLoudChallenge

Help build 100 school libraries in the Philippines by reading out loud your favorite books!

Learn more about the #ReadOutLoudChallenge here: National Book Store Blog

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#1. What is the Main Goal of EAL?

Six months ago, I wrote an article which clearly reflected how confused I was with EAL teaching and learning. As I am learning more and more about the world of EAL, I thought of sharing my insights (yes, I don’t want to sound like a textbook) about the questions I wrote in my previous blog post. I’m treating my previous blog as my ‘pre-assessment’ and my upcoming blogs as evidence of my growth as an English teacher.


My Grade 2 students sharing how they could improve their English skills

My first question was: What is the main goal of EAL. Answering this, I thought that a more conceptual approach to this question is asking what is the goal of learning any language anyway? There are multiple answers to this question- we can go from the most practical to the most scholarly ones. But simply put, I have come to understand that the goal is to communicate and understand meaning.

‘Learning the meaning of things’ is not quite a simple task to do- not for the teacher, not for the student. This involves learning within a context, culture, certain expressions or words that could have multiple meanings, slang and basically understanding people’s way of life. The meaning of words and phrases develop with time, technology and even with how ‘playful’ people could be. It could be highly subjective and reveals multiple realities—this, by the way, shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but an evidence of how fascinating language could be.

So I say that learning the meaning of things requires constructivism within authentic experiences, a sense of immersion, a sense of imagination. I know a lot of teachers now are aware that language learning  requires more than the rigidity of forms, structures, grammar and skills development. However, more stress should be placed upon understanding that the essentials of language learning involve global awareness and values, such as empathy, open-mindedness and risk-taking. Therefore, as a language teacher, the goal is to help my students use language (in any form) to adapt to both typical and unique situations, to express, to understand, and most of all, to belong. I didn’t really expect that I’d end up with a ‘world peace’ kind of answer to this question, but in retrospect, much of the hostility in the world do stem from miscommunication.

So I say, strive for meaning and, the rest will follow. And if we value perspective in our classrooms, our students will come to realise that learning any language will help them see the world differently. Then, the ABC’s will never be the same.

‘A different language is a different vision of life.’ – Federico Fellini






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EAL and Inquiries

For the past 6 months, I have been working as an EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher in an IB PYP school for grades 1, 2 and 3. As a former PYP Homeroom teacher for 6 years in two different countries, I would naturally source inspiration, ideals and strategies from what I know: the inquiry approach.

However, what I know may not always meet the needs of my EAL students.  I remember I was hired to ‘bring inquiry’ in EAL, which I was extremely excited about. It is something very new to me and I was excited to help my students make connections, ask questions, find out for answers, and ultimately help them learn English. Doesn’t that sound exciting? It did, still does, but it is confusing. How does inquiry actually look like in an EAL class? How effective is inquiry in an EAL class?

This article is an honest sharing about what I am currently going through as a PYP and EAL teacher, thoughts about the workshop approach for EAL learners, and the questions that I have. If you’re going through the same thing, then I’d love to ponder and share this journey with you.

Reading and Writing Workshop Approach

I LOVE the reading and writing workshop approach to learning a language. It gives the students a practical context for learning. It also gives them the opportunity to learn reading and writing like experts. According to Peha (2003 p.3), ‘The idea behind Writer’s Workshop is simple: if we know from experience that a workshop approach to the teaching of writing works well for aspiring profes-sional writers, why shouldn’t we use this approach in our classrooms? As in a professional writer’s workshop, each student in the class is a working author.’

In reading and writing worskhops, there is a focus on integration, the learning process and ‘what good writers and readers do’. Some models may focus on text type or genre based exploration as contexts. Frost’s (2015) online article called ‘How Do We Plan Language on a PYP Planner?’ gives a step by step guide to PYP language planning, which reflects the inquiry and workshop approach. To me, it is fundamentally the kind of language teaching and learning that makes sense.

Short Story about the Grade 2 Class

Before I move on, it is critical to share that most of my students in Grades 1, 2 and 3 have low level English. Further, we are in an almost zero English environment. I occassionally work with teaching assistants who do some translations for me. Therefore, across the learning process, we ask the students to find out the meaning of some English key words through the use of dictionaries and/or by asking their parents/adults.

For our 3rd unit, the Grade 2 class explored ‘Stories and Imagination’ in UOI. As you might have guessed, we did a 5-week language unit on stories. We had daily read alouds and story telling from both the teachers and students. We observed Oxford Stages 1 and 1+ big picture books and learned about elements of stories. We read different Oxford leveled reading books, which helped us inquire about the structure of stories and develop reading strategies. We used a story mountain to show what is happening in the beginning, middle and end of short stories. Then, we focused on learning about what sentences and phrases are, what is a subject and predicate and the simple past tense , as these languge features are applied in simple story books. As you can imagine, this language focus part took a lot of time.

On the 4th and 5th week, all students engaged in the writing process and attempted to publish their books. Some students attempted to put words to retell a story of a picture book, while some were more willing to write their own stories in English. The students read aloud their creation! They seemed highly engaged in the process and were very proud of their books. We placed all our books in the library for other students to read. There was a clear integration, there was transdisciplinary learning and it was communicative. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was rewarding and fulfilling.

Despite the success I felt, I did get a feedback that this approach may not be the best match for EAL learners. Further, I received a feedback that the IB English Scope and Sequence may not be necessarily designed/appropriate for non-English speakers. How true is this? I respect that persepctive and I am open minded to do what works best for my EAL students. We are after all, student-centered teachers.

Hence, I do have a couple of essential questions, considering that I lack EAL/ESL practice and experience:

  1. What is the main goal of EAL teaching?
  2. How do the the IB PYP strands and inquiry help achieve this goal?
  3. How does inquiry look like in an EAL class?
  4. Is the workshop approach the best model for EAL students?
  5. What is a more important focus as a context: genre, text-type or a real life interaction context (buying from a market, visiting a friends’ house, asking for directions)
  6. How much grammar and workbook activities are ‘necessary’? When does it come in and how does book-based practice impact EAL learning?
  7. What does careful EAL unit planning look like? How do I help my students develop their English language communication skills the best way possible, considering that they don’t speak English outside the EAL classes?

All in all, what I understand so far is that a school and its environment need to have a solid vision towards language learning, especially if there is a pressure for our students and teachers to achieve good English proficiency. Without that direction, it can obviously very confusing for teachers like me.

Despite ongoing disucussions and debates I’m experiencing, I still do believe that EAL can be learned in a meaningful and inquiry way. It may look different from my previous classrooms, but there are many elements of inquiry-based teaching that are conceptual and trasnferrable, like giving students voice and choice and finding out about student’s questions. They may not have the perfect English to express themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t think, nor make connections, nor develop skills to help them learn about, through and the language.

Your thoughts?  Help.


Peha, S., 2003. Welcome to writer’s workshop [Online]. Available from: http:// [Accessed March 21, 2016].

Forst, C., 2015. How do we plan language on a pyp planner? [Online]. Available from: [Accessed March 21, 2016]

Helpful websites:

What Ed Said/Language:

EFL-ESL Blogs Worth Following:

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Number Sentence Nowadays:

New city + new school + new students= new adventure

Non-English speaking students= 110% challenging

DSC_0150After 6 years of PYP Homeroom teaching, I wanted a different challenge, and I definitely got what I asked for. It’s true when they say be careful what you wish for. Last August 8, I moved to Astana, Kazakhstan. I now work in an IB World school in the said city, where I teach English and International Maths to students from Grades 1-3. Inquiry with non-English speakers is my current challenge. Am I loving it? Learning to. Do I know what I’m doing? Haha, good question. But I’m excited to get better.

I survived my first two weeks of teaching. That’s a great achievement. Everything seemed to fail: classroom management strategies and engagements. I was at the point where I didn’t even know what I was doing! I thought I knew what to do but I didn’t…not with my these kids. Suddenly, I was back to my 1st year of teaching. However, I also know in my heart that it is this continuous process of unlearning, revising and brand new learning that makes our craft meaningful.

Again, I was reminded to let go of control, work on my patience, listen more and collaboratively design lessons that are purposeful and relevant. On the brighter side of life, my past two weeks of confusion proved important developmental things about children:

  • Students teach themselves and make lots of effort to make connections (usually with their own language, environment and experiences) in order to figure things out. (I love this bit, it’s inquiry)
  • Children have this great ability to adapt and resolve uncomfortable situations.
  • Children have natural inclination to learning.
  • Children naturally connect with their teachers, or elders.
  • Children, no matter what their age, race or language is, will want to understand you.

I may not spend a lot of time with my students like how I used to as a homeroom teacher, but those lessons when I and my new students try our best to overcome language barrier and celebrate language are enough for us to bond and develop many crazy, learning moments together. Yes, this is indeed the beginning of a difficult-crazy-you-got-what-you-asked-for journey. But it’s humbling and if it doesn’t kill me, it can only make me stronger. As I said, I’m excited to get better.

Cheers to a new School Year. One world, one love. Never give up. Teach.

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True Friendship with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B White with my class will always be a class favorite.  It’s my second year to read the book with my students and it still makes me feel so emotional (as if I’m reading it for the very first time).  I cry inside…over a pig and a silent-martyr spider.  This book is an excellent reminder of what true friendship is all about.


As we went through our Literature Circle discussions, the students learned different reading strategies and had mini-lessons about the elements of a story.  We also learned about different Literature Circle roles, which helped the students analyze the chapters in a fun way.  Of course, there were some students who were not very interested in reading but the roles helped them become accountable for their reading journey as they know that they had important parts to play during the small group discussions.  There was that collective-unifying feeling during our Literature Circle sessions that encouraged everyone to read.

Some thoughts from my students:

‘It’s not only what your friends do for you, it’s how good you are to your friends… Literature Circle help us feel the book (feel emotional).  We can have a mental image of what’s happening.’-  Noella

‘I learned that friendship is really important in life because Wilbur and Charlotte helped each other in matters of life and death…I have many questions that were not answered but after (I became) the passage picker, I understood the passages better.’ –  Archit

‘The most important thing that the book taught me is that friends will come and go…I learnt that since we have been reading Charlotte’s Web, it has given me an idea that reading is fun.’ –  Raven

‘True friends are really rare.  Friends just come and go.  True friends can teach you things of great value and you can help them too. True friends remain and keep a bond.’ -Anjolie

‘I liked the book because it was very interesting and fun.  Also because when one problem was solved, another would come and it would become more interesting.’ –  Valmik

‘True friendship (can happen) even if we are alike or different, like Charlotte and Wilbur’s friendship is very true.  I have learned to identify important words in a paragraph (vocabulary words).’ – Rehan

‘I give this book 5 stars because I think it really deserves it.  It has made me interested and engrossed and I had lots of fun reading it.  In the end it was a little emotional.’ –  Sankhya

‘You can care about people and animals who are not perfect, like Wilbur, he’s a runt.  I learned to use expression when reading…I learned how to write a summary.’ –  Rohan

After we read the book, the students suggested to watch the film (directed by Gary Winick).  The curiosity of whether the movie depicted the story like how they did gave me an insight about how the book impacted their thinking and interest.  True enough, as we watched the film, they were predicting the next scenes, noting scenes which are not in the book and shared things they were surprised about (like how they imagined the characters before watching the film).  They were delighted to see the characters and the story come to life, not only in their imagination but in the film as well.

We ended the unit by creating individual Charlotte’s Web projects.  The students shared their understanding of the book through their chosen products (book calendar, diary, accordion books, etc.)  This eventually led us to decorating our library with the purpose of encouraging other students to read the book as well.

DSC_1089 (800x550) DSC_1127 (800x590) DSC_1131 (800x591)  DSC_1219 (800x591) DSC_1220 (800x600) DSC_1222 (800x600) DSC_1223 (800x582) DSC_1224 (800x581)

I’m very confident to say that the students thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and will never, ever, forget the story, the lessons that came with it and the journey shared with their…friends.

DSC_1216 (800x599)

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SAIBSA Job Alike Session April 2015: Role of ICT in PYP

This coming April 11th, I will facilitate a discussion about the ‘Role of ICT in PYP’ in SAIBSA-Job Alike Session ( to be held in Ascend International School, Mumbai, India (  I don’t simply want to preach or discuss about the importance of ICT in learning.  Rather, I’m hoping to have a LOT OF GROUP SHARING and open discussions where participants can reflect about their current ICT practices, be critical about them, explore other ICT practices and hopefully, come up with personal and professional action plans.

Here are some of the resources that I believe are helpful for this session:

1.  #pypchat 20th September 2012 discussed the role of ICT in the PYP

2.   Integration in the Classroom:  Challenging the Potential of a School Policy

3.  Will YouTube profit from new child-safe app?

4.  Student and Technology:  Addiction or Education

5.  York School PYP Exhibition 2015

6.  Glossary of ICT Terminology

7.  Best Apps for Teaching and Learning from American Association of Librarians

8.  Quick Guide:  ICTs in education challenges and research questions

9.  The Power of Student Action in Inquiry-based Learning

10.  Technology Integration:  A Case Study and Personal History

11.  Sugata Mitra’s new experiments in self-teaching (2010)

12.  Did you Know 4.0

13.  App Tools 21st Century Skills:


14.  Ipadagogy Wheel:


15.  What is a PLN?

16.  Global Projects:  OurGlobalFriendships

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Unit on Arts (and why we love it)

Unit on Arts is definitely a fun combination of thinking and working.  Whether one is into arts or not, it’s something everybody can enjoy.  There’s so much perspective, interpretation, talent and skills into it.  It seems simple, but it’s not;  it seems difficult, but it’s rewarding.  It’s amazing how inquiry can help us dig deeper about life through arts (see video for students’ insights).

Students inquire on Pre-historic art by observing different cave art and by making one. Materials:  charcoal on rough surface

Students inquire on Pre-historic art by observing different cave art and by making one.
By Grade 4, charcoal on rough surface

I love Arts unit because students get to work and develop two things that the world need today:  creativity and imagination.  I think nothing can be more powerful than a mind that has the power to imagine and a heart determined to create.  I love seeing my students work with different materials and express themselves in different ways- ways that reflect who they are.

Grade 4 understanding the realism and perfection of Renaissance art. By Grade 4, painting on paper

Grade 4 understanding the realism and perfection of Renaissance art.
By Grade 4, painting on paper

Art can teach us so many things about history, places, cultures and life in general. It teaches us to look closely at things, observe and interpret so well that you give people the privilege to see life through your eyes. Learning arts across different time periods and cultures is a great historical experience for us.  Through the years, we can see how we have used art, not only as a means of expression, but as an evidence of human evolution.  Through arts, we can see how our thinking, ideas and perspectives develop, together with the changes in the society.  Students’ investigation on art forms and history revealed the differences people have but also commonalities, like shared emotions, beliefs, values aspirations, issues and desire.  Art helps us understand each other and what it means to be human.

Students inquiry into Modern Art and how it challenged the seriousness of previous art periods.  Yes, Art is also meant to be fun. By Grade 4, paint on paper

Students inquiry into Modern Art and how it challenged the seriousness of previous art periods. Yes, Art is also meant to be fun.
By Grade 4, paint on paper

Inquiring on Modern Art. Grade 4, paint and cray pas on paper

Inquiring on Modern Art.
Grade 4, paint and cray pas on paper

Here’s a short clip of our Arts journey.

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