Posts by kviloria

Educator, musician, traveler. Currently living in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Conceptual Learning in Additional Languages

Because there are a lot of basic necessities needed when learning a new language (eg. alphabet, parts of speech, basic interpersonal skills, etc.) Additional Langauge (AL) teachers may feel the pressure to laser focus on teaching language content.  While this is very important, there is a way to pursue it in an integrated manner.  We can do this through conceptual learning.

When concepts and approaches fitting for the development and language needs of our students are the starting points of language teaching, we naturally open different possibilities for our students, without losing the essentials of learning a new language.  This blog shares the process that I and my students went through learning about the concept of ‘sequencing’ for 7 weeks.  I also shared some teaching strategies that you might be helpful for your AL class.

Background.  I teach English as an Additional Language (EAL) in a context wherein English almost does not exist in the environment.  This is not your usual ‘pull-out, push-in’ type of EAL model.  In our context, therefore, it is crucial to explicitly teach language content, structures and skills.  Repeated exposure and practice are also extremely important as our students only get English exposure during EAL class time.

The Design of the Unit and Collaboration Matter.  In my Grade 4 EAL Beginner class, we learned about the concept of sequencing, with form and function as our key concepts (7 weeks).  Since they are learning about ‘Healthy Living’ in their Unit of Inquiry, the teachers and I thought that the students could learn how to share a healthy food recipe, alongside learning other EAL practical skills and language function.  The overview of the unit looks something like this:

Listening and Speaking Reading Strategies Writing Vocabulary Viewing and Presenting

giving clear sequenced instructions

giving clear sequenced directions (using map)

describing events in a familiar story

on-going: making requests (eg. May I go to the toilet?)

answering literal questions (from recipe and short stories and play scrips)

sequencing events

describing the events in the picture

on-going:  using the dictionary and reading fluently and with feelings (play-scripts)

 

sequencing words

imperatives

subject-verb agreement (singular, plural, verb)

simple present tense

using a graphic organizer to sequence (flow map)

 

cooking verbs and usual ingredients (bread, vegetables, dough, etc.)

UOI integration:  healthy, words related to nutrition, balance

directions- go straight, turn left, etc.

vocabulary found in our reading passage

using Class Dojo to share ‘How To’ video and journal

viewing and using simple maps to share directions

using a flow map to share the sequence of instruction and direction

 

 

Knowing Where Your Students Are Matters.  At the beginning of the unit, I asked the students to use a flow map and share how to they brush their teeth in the correct sequence. They struggled not because they do not know the proper order of brushing their teeth, but because they did not have the tools, vocabulary and language to sequence events.  This is typical in many of our students, especially that we do not have an English environment.  The beauty of pre-assessment is you get to be more targeted with how to help your students.  Your students will be able to understand their own progress.

The Process Matters:  Visible learning.  As we went on with the unit, we learned many vocabulary words, repeatedly read the same storybooks (apart from their chosen storybooks every library time) and repeatedly practiced the same skills and language structures.  Making learning visible is extremely helpful for the students.  Observing color codes for different parts of speech help them make sense of sentence structure and pattern.  Making a process visible (like giving step by step direction of how to use a Russian-English dictionary, a step by step breakdown of subject-verb agreement, defining ‘Success Criteria’) help students become more independent and in charge of developing their skills and understanding.

IMG_0657Students learned how to use the dictionary, and demonstrated the IB attitude cooperation

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Illustrating the flow map to share the sequence of ‘how to make a ham sandwich’

IMG_9949September 5 work shows that students are still learning how to structure their thoughts

IMG_0658Example: explicit teaching of vocabulary, parts of speech and language structure, and repeated practice in both familiar and unfamiliar contexts
IMG_9950September 19 work shows students apply the structure learned independently in a familiar context.

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A student initiates to correct himself.

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A student initiates to complete her task successfully by reminding herself of the language structure learned in class

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Students sequence events in familiar stories (applying sequence words), and learning how to describe events in the story

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An example of discussing ‘Success Criteria’ and making it visible to the students

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A student making his own strategy to remind himself of the correct subject-verb agreement (place a box at the end of the verb)

Paying Close Attention Matters: Stations Day.   During Stations Day, I get to focus on assessing students’ progress, give a more personalized feedback and reteach with a small group of students, while the other students work on different activities.  I usually have three stations, and I always make one station fun and practical.  For example, the students love the ‘Games Station’ because they like playing games, but they also know that they have to speak English while playing.

 

 

 

The first picture (left), the students and I are practicing a speaking and listening exercise (giving directions using a map).  The other students are focused on their writing task and playing games.

Advantages of Conceptual Learning.  As the concept of sequencing tie the learning objectives in different language areas, the students were able to understand that sequencing is a skill that can be applied in different situations. They also understand that they can use the same language structures for different purposes; for example, in giving instructions, in giving directions, in telling a story, in describing events in stories and even in writing a simple sentence.  And because the concept is embedded across different language areas, the skills, content and target vocabulary were naturally repeated and practiced over and over, which are extremely necessary for our context.

Application in Different Ways Relevant to the Student. One of the students’ final unit assessments was a differentiated task.  The students can choose to do one or more tasks below (applying what they have learned in class):

  1. Share a healthy recipe- flow map, written and oral sharing
  2. Share directions from the Grade 4 class to any place in the classroom (pretend you’re helping a new student)- make a map, written and oral sharing
  3. Share instructions of a favorite thing you like to do (eg. How to play football)- flow map,  written and oral sharing

The tasks were a combination of familiar and unfamiliar tasks.  It’s rewarding to see that the very students who initially cannot give simple directions (how to brush their teeth) looked very excited and confident sharing instructions in correct sequence.

 

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My Philosophy (as of 2018)

I just realized that I am entering my 10th year of teaching and so I took this time to look back to see the changes that occur in me.  I read my previous philosophy statements, and yes, I noticed a lot of changes in how I think and feel as an educator.  This is my 2018 version.- – –

When asked about my educational philosophy, I now reply that first and foremost, I believe in nurturing human beings. Therefore, the first step I take is understanding who a child is, and what we can do as educators to nurture his intellect, character and nature.

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A vibrant life, which is interdependent and productive by nature, should be mirrored in the life of schools.   Hence, I believe in an integrated and holistic type of education, inclusive of developing values and life skills.  We are multi-faceted beautiful beings, who live together with other beings on this beautiful planet. It is in the nature of children to wonder and to want to experience many things.  We need to nurture our students to become active and successful (in accordance with how they define success) together with others, using and enhancing the talents, capacity and unique characteristics they are gifted with.

I believe in constant reflection and critical analysis of the curricula we deliver- the curricula themselves, and how we implement them.  Since the beginning of my IB career in 2009, I have been passionate about the IB program, delivering the requirements of the program to the best of my capacity.  But as I go through my journey as an educator, I realized that at the heart of what I do as an educator is to teach human beings. Therefore, I’m not merely an educator who delivers a program.  There was a shift in me- from focusing on what and how to teach, to understanding who am I teaching and how effective am I in helping a student.  All strategies work, all curricula work because it is in our nature to learn. But we need to constantly understand the impact of what we teach and how we teach. It is not about how beautiful, promising and inviting a curriculum sounds like, but its impact, considering research and our ecosystem. We need to understand the essentials of our curriculum and how to best implement it in ways that work best for our learners and for our organizations, considering the contexts we are in. Contextualized leadership and teaching are two important things that I continue to hone in myself.

I believe in mutualistic teamwork, that it takes a village to raise a child; but I also believe in the capacity of a child to raise himself.  Therefore, I believe that collaborative work involves not just the adults in the learning community, but the children as well.  The kind of teamwork that I believe in is collaboration that is grounded in caring relationships and freedom. We are free to choose and direct our path, but we are also held accountable for each other, and for actions and decisions we make for ourselves and for others.

I continue to learn more about the world of education, and I continue to get to know more about the educator in me.  I am excited about the evolution and maturity that I go through, which are of course shaped by the experiences that I gain with all the students I am fortunate to teach, and the learning communities I collaborate with.

Thoughts on Differentiation

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I recently read the article of John Kenny about differentiation and the article of Christina Milos about educational myths. I’d like to say that I admire these educators as they put forth their questions and critical analyses (which I believe are valid) out there. I share the same view with them: ask and explore with an open-mind until it totally makes sense.  This is what a real discourse is, and this is how we evolve. In this article, I will share my thoughts on differentiation.

Background: I’m Asian and Asia is very communal. We grow up knowing that we are indeed part of a community, starting with our big families. Having to be a part of a communal society also implies that we live up to the standards of our community- whatever that means, whatever it takes. The society does not adjust to us, we adjust to it and I never saw this as something necessarily bad, only different from the Western social beliefs and structures.

During my early teaching years, I had many trainings that were very ‘western’ in nature, including personalized learning and differentiation. They are amazing and learning about them opened me to a whole new universe. But you could imagine how challenging it was to absorb these for us, granted that our context is quite different. I had many questions, but at that time I knew I just had to learn more to reach clarity. So like any passionate teacher, I strove to learn more about them, I implemented them in the classroom, adapted them in our context, and observed results and impact.

The differentation idea: The idea behind differentiation is noble and sound. Everyone is unique, we could all learn differently, we could all learn best in different ways, we could show our understanding in different ways.  It’s nothing new, though. Back in school, I knew I had to strategize and do things that work for me to get through Maths. I drew all my solutions, but just the same, I had to calculate to get to the answers. I just had to draw first. I drew my ideas before I wrote my papers, but just the same, I needed insightful content and proper grammar.  I just had to draw first.  It’s nothing new, only that in Asia, or specifically in my school, the conviction to ‘differentiate’ came within me, and not from my teachers. We the students needed to adjust to the same teachers, lessons, tasks and exams…but we all, more or less, did something different to enjoy and survive school.

I knew that we are all smart and special. But I also knew that some are smarter than me and that I could be smarter than some- I didn’t have any problems with this (I’m not sure about my parents). But I think many people do because they want the same results and progress from children who have different abilities.

Like as if when a student fails to get good marks in Maths, I didn’t differentiate enough in class and that’s why my student failed. And this is one notion or implication of differentiation that bothered me: that we differentiate so we could help our students achieve the same results as others. This notion put pressure on my back and kept me low for some years. But back then, I didn’t feel the need to question.  I just felt that I just needed to learn more and improve my ‘views’ and practice, because there’s always that space for self-awareness and growth.

The learners: In my years of teaching, I’ve seen how differentiation improves motivation for learning, how it makes learning fun, and how it develops my students’ healthy self-esteem. Students realize more about their strengths and areas for improvement. However, I’ve also seen students compromise their strengths in order to get ‘easier tasks’ and to spend more time with me (because the students see that I spend more instruction time with the ‘less able’ kids). Similarly, I’ve seen how some of the ‘less able’ kids take advantage of their own challenges, to get ‘easier’ content, process and products.  But these things- students comparing work and effort and classroom competition- are easy to handle if you have a good relationship with your students, and if you do constant pep talk.

But the thing that really bothered me the most about differentiation is that, as much as we are able to enhance our students’ strengths through it, it seems that we have also become more forgiving and lenient of our students’ weaknesses- and this seems to be an accepted practice in education. Kenny verbalised some of my ideas in his article, paragraphs 4 and 5.

The teachers: I’ve seen how differentiation makes teachers feel more fulfilled as they could see better progress from their students. I’ve seen how it forces teachers to develop their skills and over all mindset about teaching (in a positive way) and about the nature of learning. But yes, I’ve also seen how difficult and taxing it could be. We could differentiate through many ways, like through content, process and product, but that only means that we need to differentiate engagements, mini-lessons, learning outcomes, assessment tools and strategies, and over all standards. This is fine, of course, but it is a lot of work. I’ve seen teachers burnt-out of differentiating, and teachers pressured to do whatever magic it takes so students with ‘low abilities’ can produce ‘good’ results like the others. I’ve seen teachers get confuse because the practices of grade level expectations and standardized tests don’t seem to match the noble ideas of differentiation.  I’ve experienced all these challenges, too.  And there on-going doubts; only now I know I have the capacity to critique and ask questions, because I am self-aware and this is how I grow.

My thoughts today: Maybe if my teachers back in school knew how to differentiate, I could be a smarter person today. But I guess I turned out just fine. In fact, I knew from a young age that the world doesn’t revolve around me, and I had to actually do something and work hard to achieve good results- whatever my teachers threw at me. And if I don’t get good results, I just have to try harder, or else I will be grounded forever. Even if we are now in the 21st century where we continue to experience massive shifts and changes in education, somehow my schooling in the past continues to remind me of the essentials.

My point is, if we do not understand the wisdom and process behind differentiation, we miss teaching grit and resilience in our class, which research suggests are the very important traits we need today in order to succeed (Duckworth 2013). And if we fail to hone these traits, we also seem to fail to hit the point of differentiating, which is to help students achieve personal success.

We shouldn’t just differentiate because of what students can and can’t do. We differentiate so student can learn how to help themselves to overcome their weaknesses and fears. We differentiate to teach them that setting and achieving personal goals matter a lot– sometimes more than the grade level and societal standards.  Giving realistic standards to students should not equate to lowering standards. And differentiating doesn’t mean that students can’t or shouldn’t learn and do what the others are learning and doing.

If the ‘one-size fits all’ instruction does not work, then one way of differentiating would also not work. There is so much exploring to do when we talk about differentiation, and we should continue to ask questions, to examine this, to suggest best pratices considering different contexts, and to analyze why it works and why it doesn’t. Clearly I have to learn more about this, but one thing I know for sure- teacher trainings about differentiation shouldn’t box it into ability groupings.

My take on differentiation now (I’m sure this could further evolve later) is that it is not just a type of strategy or education that comes from the teacher, but an effort coming from the students and the entire learning community.  Let’s teach the students how to differentiate for themselves so they can learn how to adapt; instead of just the teachers adapting to the students’ needs.

Let’s collaborate realistic goals with our students and make concrete plans on how to reach them.

Let’s not just give some of our students the ‘easy tasks’, but let’s give all of them many opportunities to develop strategies.  So they can choose the best tool to help them tackle difficult situations. Explicitly teach study skills.

Let’s teach using concepts and use them wisely in class, so students can freely utilize their knowledge, different skills and talents when developing an understanding.

Let’s know our students well so we can make smarter and more targeted lesson plans and assessments- by anticipating different needs, giving provisions for diversity, giving spot on resources  to those who struggle and to those who don’t.

Together with our students, let’s collaborate on concrete choices with clear expectations (rather than ‘do whatever you’re strong at’ tasks and assessment), so we can make sure that the students are showing the targetted outcomes and understanding clearly.

Then feedback, feedback, feedback.  Let’s give them individual feedback and how their effort help achieve their goals.

And finally, let’s keep on discussing about how we can show grit, hard work, perseverance, fairness and success in and outside the classroom, so that our students (and parents) understand differentiation does not necessarily mean arriving at the same results.

Reference:

Grit:  The power of passion and perseverance by Angela Lee Duckworth:  https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Still Not Convinced About Differentiation by John Kenny: https://johnkennyweb.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/still-not-convinced-about-differentiation/

Myths in Education, or How Bad Teaching is Enourcaged by Cristina Milos: https://momentssnippetsspirals.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/myths-in-education-or-how-bad-teaching-is-encouraged/

Myth-Busing Differentiated Instruction: 3 Myths and 3 Truths by John McCarthy: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-myths-and-truths-john-mccarthy

What Differentiated Instruction Is-And Is Not by TeachThough Staff: http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/the-definition-of-differentiated-instruction/

 

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 thoughts and what I have been learning.

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

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.

As an additional language teacher, I strive for meaning and use a realistic and relevant contexts to teach language features, structures and skills. Value local and global perspectives in our classrooms so our students will come to realise that learning any language will help them see the world differently.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Charlotte

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.

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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.

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