Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Xmas Activities

I have been doing a lot of arts and crafts with my students for Christmas. Here are some you can download and use yourself:

Angel Arts and Crafts
Kids cut and clue the pieces together after drawing the face and coloring the angel. If you have yarn, they can glue some yarn to the head for hair. Use pipe cleaners to make halos.

Mini Santa Hat Decoration for Tree
You cut the design and roll it into a cone. Make sure to put a piece of yarn through the top to make a loop to hang from a tree branch!

3D Snowman
Draw the same face on each snowman. Cut out the snowmen and cut along the dotted lines. Combine the snowmen to make a 3D, free-standing snowman.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

My Evaluation as a Teacher

My Evaluation as a Teacher

Although my goal is to earn my teaching license for education in North America, I’ve already been teaching in Japan for over three years. Despite this, there are many gaps in my educational experience, compounded by the fact that I never attended or was enrolled in any formal teacher education program until recently.

There are many aspects of the teaching experience that I lack, due to my status in Japan. Until just over a year ago, I never had to write progress reports, evaluate students, or do anything other than make lesson plans and teach classes. As a result, I feel very confident in the latter areas but lack confidence in the former ones. Also, as a former assistant language teacher and current kindergarten teacher, I have never been required to submit any proof that my students are learning the material I teach in class. It makes me wary about whether I am an effective teacher or not.

Therefore, when receiving constructive criticism and evaluations from my mentors (both at TEACH-NOW and also any future institutions where I work or study), I will pay special attention to things like assessments, evaluations, and grading. I think a teacher should be judged in a number of areas: teaching effectiveness, lesson planning, rapport with students, disciplinary ability, and other areas of importance.

In school districts in both Japan and America, I see evaluation systems being used where I would be fine being judged by their criteria. For example, Woodcliff Lake in New Jersey evaluates teachers based on areas like professional knowledge, instructional planning, assessment of learning, and student progress. I feel like these are all fair game when judging teachers, since each of these areas contributes to the ultimate relationship between teaching and learning. In Japan, MEXT evaluates teachers by measuring objectives set by teachers and their ability to achieve those objectives, along with classroom observations and relationship with students. Although not as well-defined as Woodcliff Lake’s criteria, the evaluated areas still pertain to aspects of teaching that I consider relevant.

To me, the most unnerving thing is formal observation. My former head of school sat in on a few of my lessons, and a newspaper even documented one of my classes. At those times, I worry not because I am unprepared, but because I tend to get lost in the rhythm of class and lose awareness of what is going on around me. I don’t consider whether I am presenting a lesson that can be evaluated, but rather I focus on a lesson that flows understandably for the students, which leaves me concerned that the lesson won’t be well-received. The added pressure of knowing that an observation can affect my career leads to a lot of stress and even a little fear.

I think I would like any of my peers to look not only at my teaching in the classroom, but also at the completeness of my lesson plans and notes, the state of my workspace, and my rapport with colleagues and students. I would want my observers to have a well-rounded view of me as a an educator. My greatest weakness as an educator and a person in general is missing details, and as a result I have to re-read things and keep vigorous notes. I would make an effort to keep myself well-informed about the criteria for any evaluations, like the Teaching Channel video suggests.

The thing I need to remember is that the person evaluating me has more than likely been in my situation before, so hopefully they will be sympathetic and not judge me too harshly if things don’t exactly go as planned, such as in the Teaching Channel video. Just thinking about that makes me feel a little better.


Woodcliff Lake:

MEXT (Ministry of Culture and Education): 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Pre-assessment for Alphabetical Awareness in Kindergarten

Pre-assessment for Alphabetical Awareness in Kindergarten

Assessing the skills of your student from the beginning of your mutual relationship is one of the best ways to judge their level and prepare appropriate learning materials that cater to their growing abilities. In kindergarten, a single year can mean a world of difference in terms of mathematical awareness, language awareness, and other knowledge. This applies to ELL students even more than regular learners, since they will enter kindergarten speaking their home language rather than the classroom language.

Click the link below to access a set of flashcards I've created for ELL students. This learning app is excellent for new language learners because it uses audio-visual aids to present relevant and recognizable information effectively.

Pre-assessment Flashcards

Shapes, Objects, Animals


There are two assessments. The first assessment checks whether students can recognize and name basic English words. They may have seen and heard these words on TV, or at their Japanese kindergarten. It gives me an idea of their awareness. Advanced learners can go a step further and say what letter each word starts with, or even spell the word.

The second assessment is of the English alphabet. The goal is for the student to say the letter aloud, and if possible draw the corresponding lowercase on a sheet of paper provided at the time of testing. The test can be done in reverse for advanced learners.

Based on this pre-assessment, I sort the students into three groups:
1) Students with high awareness of the subject matter (more than expected)
2) Students with moderate awareness of the subject matter (appropriate to the assessment)
3) Students with low awareness of the subject matter (little to no experience)

Students are then divided into specialized groups for differentiated learning. Click the link below to view a mind map that shows the routes taken for each group in regards to separate classroom instances of differentiated education.

Mind Map

It is through pre-assessments and differentiated experiences like this that students' talents can be fostered without overwhelming them with difficult materials or boring them with activities below their skill levels. The particulars of each student will vary depending on countless variables, but managing them to at least a basic degree will make a world of difference when engaging them and challenging them to learn.


Friday, 14 October 2016

High Stakes Assessments in Early Childhood Education and Japanese Culture

High Stakes Assessments in Early Childhood Education and Japanese Culture
By Nick Martin

Kindergarten and early childhood education are all about providing emerging students with the tools to tackle structured educational systems, starting with first grade. Emphasis is placed on introducing children to the building blocks of what they will learn next year, and identifying problem areas that may cause future concern. However, high-stakes assessments are difficult to implement so early in the process. At the ages of 3-6, children are lacking any sort of foundation that can be critically assessed, and so most assessments end up being formative or geared toward preparing for future learning, rather than judging the culmination of a student’s experiences. However, once my students graduate from kindergarten and enter primary school, they will begin studying for the purpose of testing.

Teachers in Japan, at all grade levels, must meet stringent requirements to be formally certified in the education system. This involves holding a degree in higher education, passing the National Entrance Examination, training, clinical studies, and practicums. Teachers must retest between one and ten years (depending on subject and grade level) to maintain their certifications. While teachers are expected to teach material relevant to testing, “even if an individual student fails a course, they may pass with their class regardless of grades on tests. The grades on tests have no effect on schooling until taking entrance exams to get into high school.”

In terms of professional accountability, teachers are subject to the evaluation of their peers and their superiors. Japan has a strong group culture, and contributing to the overall welfare of a group or organization is seen as paramount. An example of accountability is ‘lesson study,’ where new and seasoned teachers “take turns presenting lessons that are practiced and critiqued in a group setting.” This system reinforces accountability in schools and the promotion of effective teaching strategies. In addition, this accountability is strengthened “through high levels of parental support and pressure for education, coupled with strong ministries of education and high professionalism among teachers.” My Japanese colleague tells me that this high professionalism manifests itself in the difficulty in securing a teaching certificate and the high rate of failure National Entrance Examination. On average, only 20% of applicants succeed.

Middle school/junior high school students (grades 7-9, called 1-3 in Japan) end up taking placement tests their final year to determine what high schools they can attend. In Japan, high school is “not compulsory and therefore requires the passing of an admission exam to enter.” Some students will forgo secondary education to enter a family trade, or apply to a technical school instead. Many students will end up studying or hiring a private tutor, called juku, to prepare for these tests to ensure they can enter the best schools. As a former teacher at a Japanese junior high school, I can attest that emphasis is put on ‘rote learning’ so students are able to pass tests for entrance into high school.

In the realm of secondary education, the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) administers testing on an annual basis, with different levels for each grade: There are 5 periodical tests in a year (the midterm and the finals). There are some subjects which only require 1 test per term, some 2, others give no test at all, and some would base the student’s grade on daily classroom performance alone. To graduate, there are a fixed number of necessary subjects. Passing these subjects earns you units. Getting the necessary number of units enables you to graduate. In most high schools, after studying for one year, if a certain score (marks) is obtained in tests, etc it is considered that the required units for that subject have been achieved.

Finally, here are the requirements for a school in Oregon, my home state, and a school in Japan. There are nine state and local assessments from the Oregon Department of Education, administered at three levels between kindergarten and high school, grades 3, 8, and 11. In Japan, there is nothing like PSAT or SAT, and while students are tested in their classrooms by their own teachers on what they have learned, nationwide assessment has only become popular again in the last 10 years. The tests administered by MEXT are given twice in a student’s career: when they are in the sixth grade of elementary school and when they are third-year junior high school students. While it seems that Oregon has higher stakes for its testing and assessment procedures, Japan’s willingness to innovate in the area of education shows it also aims for the same goal, a competent metric by which to judge its students.

Ultimately, in Japan high-stakes testing is a process still under reform. While the current pool of teachers is considered to be highly skilled, well-paid, and educated, their effectiveness over years and generations is still not measurable in a meaningful way. While it is true that students are assessed, emphasis is placed on later years and entrance exams. As current trends shift MEXT from these assessments to all-encompassing educational assessments, information on effective testing procedures and results will become clearer. Let’s wait for that day to arrive.

APA Citations

The Japanese School System/What is High School like? (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http://www.pref.osaka.lg.jp/jidoseitoshien/shugaku/g_english/shu_2_8.html

High school, university and graduate school | Tokyo International Communication Committee. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from https://www.tokyo-icc.jp/guide_eng/educ/03.html

NCEE » Japan: Teacher and Principal Quality. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http://www.ncee.org/programs-affiliates/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/japan-overview/japan-teacher-and-principal-quality/

Williams, J. H., & Engel, L. C. (2012). How do other Countries Evaluate Teachers? Phi Delta Kappan, 94(4), 53-57. doi:10.1177/003172171209400414

ASSESSMENT - Student Testing in Oregon. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/results/?id=169

A. (2008). Achievement tests in public schools: When, why & what for. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from https://educationinjapan.wordpress.com/education-system-in-japan-general/achievement-tests-in-public-schools-when-why-what-for/

Thursday, 15 September 2016



The objective I’ve chosen to assess is “Objective 2: Uses letter–sound knowledge.” This objective judges whether a children can distinguish the individual sounds associated with the 26 letters of the alphabet.

Formulative assessments for this particular objective can manifest in at least three different ways. One important factor is that students should be able to demonstrate the objective in both directions. A child must be able to match letter to sound and match sound to letter. An assessment is incomplete unless both are tested.

Assessment #1: An example of an assessment that could be student-centric or teacher-centric would be to play a game where the teacher elicits responses from students. For example, I would say “Can you think of something that starts with the letter/sound...” and the students would have the freedom to volunteer whatever comes to mind. This assessment is less rigid than others. Students can provide a wide variety of answers, but it still requires them to meet the criteria “starts with letter/sound,” which is the factor that must be assessed. This is a good means of assessment because a child who is just learning English will have a very small vocabulary. The lax nature of this assessment allows even students with small vocabularies to contribute, and children with larger vocabularies can provide more complex responses. If you wanted to adapt this assessment to be more teacher-centered, the teacher could pre-select images and words, and choose students to identify the letters/sounds associated with them.

Assessment #2: If the assessment were meant to be more student-centered, one way to do so would be to perform it as an activity, such as making a poster or book using the alphabet. Give the students blank papers and then magazines with English words in them. Tell them they have to locate all 26 letters of the alphabet in the magazine, cut them out, and paste them in the correct order. As the students are performing this activity, the teacher can ask them to identify the sounds the letters make, and observe/correct them if they are out of order. One rationale for doing an activity this way is that it puts kids in a calm state of production, where they are not concerned with being assessed and simply consider the teacher’s queries to be casual conversation. It also encourages the children to look at the use of alphabetical characters in the context of daily life, through realia. Although the assessment would be difficult to measure, it would show the students are capable of understanding the objective in different contexts.

Assessment #3: I would like to have written assessments that I can use for grading, progress reports, or portfolios. During writing practice, I would like to provide students with worksheets. These worksheets would each have one letter of the alphabet, along with several pictures. Only one of the pictures would start with the letter. Students would be asked to select the picture that starts with the same letter/sound. Ideally, students would sound out the names of the images in their heads, or whisper to themselves, and select the correct answer (B - Bee, S - Shirt). The need for formal written results means that this is a rational method for assessing the objective.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Applying and Understanding Standards

Applying and Understanding Standards

This unit was very enlightening. At the moment, I am transitioning into a role as primary classroom teacher for the first time in my career. Having no formal educational training certificate, I often feel ill-equipped to handle lesson planning. Unpacking objectives is beneficial to me because it allows me to simplify objectives and standards that seem daunting at first.

When reviewing standards for my class, I often find the language to be complex and off-putting. I wish they could be written for the layman, and spelled out for ease of use. That is a benefit of unpacking a standard; the language becomes clear and so do your goals. When unpacking my English standard, I thought “What do the students need to be able to do to meet the standard?” I tried to interpret the language using the verbs as checkpoints, and found that if I compared them to my own knowledge and upbringing, I could find a way to make sense of each standard. This helped me define the standards in ways that would lead me to search for games and activities that related to those standards in different ways.

Backwards mapping is a strategy I would like to use in the future. Many of my students are graduating preschool in September of 2017, and they will be expected to arrive in first grade with experience in English, math, and other basic skills. Starting from the end allows me to set benchmarks and derive the core of each objective. For example, for my students to ultimately be well-versed in the ABC’s, they need daily exposure to the alphabet in all of its forms: speaking, listening, reading, writing. They need to associate sounds with symbols. These are are simple things that can be repeatedly worked into games and other activities.

Ever since we started discussing SMART objectives in the previous module, I’ve tried to consider each of my objectives in that way. As a preschool teacher, I have very basic benchmarks, but they can still fall short if ignored or neglected. With little oversight, it is up to myself to help my children attain these goals. Once my Japanese students enter primary school, they will only study English one-two times a month for less than an hour. That means they need as much immersion as possible now, so they can retain those skills. This leads me to put a stronger emphasis on English than math, without neglecting either subject. It means I choose to work English into math lessons to get the greatest mileage out of my lessons.

If my students graduate to elementary school and go on to lead normal, happy lives there, I’ll consider my job done. If they do it while using the English they learned in my classroom, I’ll consider my job a success.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Backwards Mapping Standards for Alphabetic Proficiency

Backwards Mapping Standards

The Standard: "Uses sound-letter knowledge (of the alphabet)"

I am an educator in Japan who has been teaching for only four years. My twelve children are preschool-kindergarten students, aged 3-6 years old. They attend my English school three hours a day, every weekday. My school uses the Creative Curriculum, which is a multilingual curriculum that is curated and set through Teaching Strategies.

Children in my preschool are expected to meet this standard by the time they graduate to first grade. The curriculum works in multiple games and activities around this standard throughout the year, with appropriately adjustable challenges for age levels. Since the school exists first and foremost as an English school, focusing on the four cornerstones of reading, writing, speaking, and listening is essential.

The standard I am using is one of 38 objectives from the Creative Curriculum:

Objective 16: Demonstrates knowledge of the alphabet 
  • a.Identifies and names letters 
  • b.Uses letter-sound knowledge
The children should be proficient in a) the ability to sound out words, b) recognizing the repeating the individual sounds associated with each letter, and c) understanding that a sequence of letters represents a sequence of spoken sounds.

When it comes time to assess the level of their competence, some of the rubrics we use are:
  1. the student can produce the correct sounds for all 26 letters of the alphabet on command
  2. the student can produce the correct sounds for all 
  3. applies letter-sound correspondence when attempting to read 
  4. applies letter-sound correspondence when attempting to write
Some examples of what I look for when assessing children's skills levels are:
  • Sees the word cat; begins to sound out the word:  /k/ /a/ /t/
  • Makes an open sign for the doctor's office by writing "opn"
  • Asks when writing, "How do you spell cough?" 
As their knowledge grows, they cease to make as many mistakes and I am more likely to observe and record successful instances of the standard in practice. A full asseessment might look like:
  •  If the child can listen to and replicate the letters I spell out for them on a number of occassions, that shows they have profieciency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to listening and writing.
  • If the child sees the word dog, and can sound out the word, using each individual sound: /d/ /o/ /g/ on a number of occassions; also if the child can listen to the word sounded out and understand that it is dog; that shows they have profieciency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to listening, reading and speaking.
  •  If the child writes a word by themselves on a number of occassions by sounding out the word and choosing the correct letters to spell the word, such as spelling the word tree on their homework without assistance, that shows they have proficiency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to writing and speaking.
There are many different ways to incorporate this standard into the curriculum without shoehorning it in. The learning experiences and activities I will use to help students meet the standard will be of a variety that incorporates other parts of their days, such as daily vocabulary words, active play, and music class.

Here are some learning experiences and activities that I have either used in the past, have wanted to use, or have recently discovered and found to be conducive to the standard:
  1. Animal Cracker Association: Sometimes during snacktime, I give the children animal crackers to eat. These crackers are made in the shape of easily-recognizable animals, with their names printed in all-uppercase letters. When I sit with the children at snacktime, we talk about what animals they are eating, and how their names are spelled and sounded out. This is a repetitive exercise that can be done during downtime every day to increase proficiency.
  2. Writing a Letter to a Friend: In order to combine writing with sound-letter association, I will encourage the children to write thank you cards to the public speakers who visit our school, using paper and a pencil. While the students write the English words they would like to use, I will talk to them and help them sound out the words so they recognize that what they want to say can be written down as prose on a piece of paper.
  3. Poetry in Motion: This is a game I've played with the children before. I show them a picture and then make up a short poem about that picture using simple English they have heard before. Then we review the poem and the children try to identify the words in the poem, either through careful listening or sounding them out. Then we write the words on the board, and read the poem aloud. When the poems are about things the children find interesting, they are more likely to participate with vigor. Poems about animals and their friends are popular.
  4. Reading Proficiency: Reading a book with a child, I'll point to the featured letter as I speak it. "Here is the letter T. What sound does it make? That's right! It makes a /t/ sound. What do you see on this page that starts with the /t/ sound?" This is also a good activity if the kids are making books or posters, because they can look for words or images that start with each letter of the alphabet and sound them out when they find them. 
For children growing up in countries where English is not the primary spoken language, this can be a long and difficult process. Here in Japan, there is almost no benefit to using English outside of the classroom, so the only exposure the children will get is the three hours they spend here. That is why it is essential that the teacher speak only English, and that the process is a slow and steady one. Once the children become accustomed to speaking and listening to English, the rest should follow.