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.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Unpacking Standards

Click on the link to check out my slideshow about unpacking standards for preschool literacy... it's a slideshow using a program called 'emaze.'



Monday, 22 August 2016

Rules & Procedures Flowchart

“Creating Effective Classroom Rules and Procedures”

Blog Post: “Creating Effective Classroom Rules and Procedures”

In your career as an educator, you will come across a variety of students, each with their own unique character. Some of these students will be perfect angels, some of these students will be devilish rascals, and most of them will fall somewhere in between. As a result, one question many educators ask is ‘how do I manage my class?’

Rules and procedures are meant to give students purpose and direction in their daily classroom experience and interactions. These guidelines should be demonstrated to students early on, to avoid misunderstandings later. Having contingency plans for positive and negative behavior is essential, because neglecting one in favor of the other will result in a lopsided class where students are either compelled to act out at one extreme or another. Be flexible and be prepared, and you should be able to come up a succinct set of rules that students can comprehend and obey without too much trouble.
Positive Behavior

Positive behavior should be noticed and rewarded. In one example class, the foremost request of students is that their hard work be acknowledged (Marzano). There are many successful strategies for presenting your students with positive reinforcement beyond praise. One such example is a reward system. These rewards can be anything from points, to tokens, to stickers. Classdojo.com is a website that allows teachers to keep track of their students online, and assign points for completed tasks and skills.

Besides tangible rewards, positive behavior can be encouraged by granting students privileges they would not have without demonstrating an ability to follow the rules. Such privileges might include helping to prepare lunch for everyone, being the first student to line up for recess, or choosing the book to read during story time. Granting privileges for consistent and reliable good behavior shows students how to act to obtain those privileges. When given haphazardly without regard to merit, they suggest a lack of direction or focus. “The student who is most quiet may line up first” seems more fair and achievable to kids than “You can line up first because you’re the first kid I noticed.”

Praise is the simplest and most common type of positive reinforcement. Recognizing accomplishments through verbal acknowledgement shows students that their presence in class is valued, and that their efforts matter. One concern is that students who are often praised will become lazy or unmotivated. Marzano says “early studies demonstrated that if you reward people for things they are already doing by their own volition, then they will begin to decrease their intrinsic motivation.” But studies also show that praise can yield positive results. Whether it is correlation or causation, students praised for their effort tend to work harder and seek strong solutions (Dweck). Either way, students will respond well to praise.

Inevitably, you will encounter students who break the rules in creative ways, and it is important to administer appropriate consequences gauged to the level of misbehavior. However, such situations can produce positive results if dealt with in a fashion that fosters growth, reflection, and correction. Robert Marzano of ‘The Art and Science of Teaching’ says that consequences don’t always need to be negative. You can turn a punishment or a warning into an experience that helps the student develop into a more socially aware member of the class (Marzano). In an example class, the students responded best to immediate action involving misbehavior, rather than delaying consequences.

Punishment and consequences don’t work when they are not doled out in equal measure. Disproportionate retribution shows that a teacher doesn’t have a handle on how they manage their class. When students see themselves punished while others committing the same offenses walk free, they will begin to develop a mindset where the class is unfair, and by that point punishments have lost meaning.

A better method for administering consequences for disruptive behavior is setting a uniform set of rules ahead of time, and defining the punishments for disobeying these rules once they have been established. You can alter degree of severity, or other factors, but showing your students that you are consistent is essential. Sending one kid to timeout and one kid back to play when they both kick each other during recess could make the child with the greater punishment resent you… or their classmate.

Personal Experiences: Positive Reinforcement

My own students are a diverse group of learners who each respond differently to rules and the consequences for breaking them. Until now, I have had an unwritten set of rules and procedures I use in the classroom to keep order. This involves a rewards system for good behavior, and a series of escalating punishments for bad behavior. See the flowchart for examples of how this system is implemented in my classroom.

Based on my personal experiences and the research I’ve done into positive reinforcement and behavior correction, I’ve found a style of behavior management that works for my students. As a class, whenever we enter a new situation, we review all of the rules associated with that situation in the beginning. Students are welcome to discuss the rules and ask questions. When students demonstrate their ability to follow those rules well, such as cleaning up their own messes and sharing with others, I will occasionally let them select stickers from the sticker box, or give them a treat to take home. Once, we all got temporary butterfly tattoos. In those cases, students didn’t know when rewards would be given, and therefore were encouraged to follow the rules at all times simply for the chance of possibly getting a prize.

However, pre-planned rewards systems are also effective. For example, when we had our first smoke and fire drill, the assistant teacher gave a two-day presentation on fire safety rules. After we reviewed the rules, students were told that they would receive stickers in the case of good behavior. Afterward, we participated in the exercise, and all students (there are only eight) received stickers. In another example, we were learning a new song and dance around ‘Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?’ Students were told that if they participated vigorously, they would receive real cookies to take home as snacks. Those students who wanted snacks performed with gusto, and their low-performing classmates joined in to imitate them.

The best rewards are given not out of a desire to placate, but for the purpose of reinforcing good behavior. In both cases, students were aware before the activity of what they needed to accomplish, and what reward they would gain if they followed the rules. The students used the procedures we covered to complete their tasks within the assigned guidelines, and saw their efforts were recognized with tangible prizes. They remain aware that, for future activities, there is a chance that good behavior will result in similar outcomes, and stay vigilant.

Personal Experiences: Misbehavior & Punishment

Of course, there have been times when I’ve had to deny students prizes, or punish them for disruptive behavior. These situations are often more difficult to handle, because they are often reactive situations where students have suddenly taken umbrage at something class-related. One student teases another, a student has an accident, or something bumps their head. When these situations result in classroom disruption, I am required to take action to diffuse them.

As seen on the flowchart, my reactions to students who misbehave differ depending on circumstance. Non-physical disturbances, such as yelling, playing around, and whispering in class are dealt with cooly, with verbal warnings and relocation if self-correction is nonviable. If the student cannot self-correct, or correct their actions with teacher intervention, then the next option is to remove them from the source of the bad behavior. For example, separating two friends who won’t stop chatting by placing them on opposite sides of the classroom.

From our class rules, students know violence is not tolerated in any way, nor is inappropriate touching. These acts result in stricter punishments, such as removal from class or parent conferences. When such an act is severe enough to grab the attention of all students, it is dealt with swiftly, at the cost of learning coming to a halt. Yet by acting decisively, students see that their teacher does not turn a blind eye to physical abuse. Other students reflect on receiving the same punishment for violence, while also safe in the knowledge that their teacher will come to their aid if they are a victim.

When my students do not clean up after themselves, they know that those toys they left out won’t be available to them for the rest of the day. Students know that if they hit, punch, push, or kick they will have to apologize to their classmates and go to timeout. They know if they try to talk over me during a lesson they will be relocated, first inside and then outside the classroom. This is because I have administered punitive measures like these over and over with consistency.

I had a pair of students who would argue over their favorite toy, and refuse to share. My initial attempts to mediate between them would last for a while, and then they would return to arguing. I then escalated the situation, removed the toys from their possession, and offered a choice: share the toy or have it removed from the learning area. The students came up with a successful strategy of taking turns with the toy, as opposed to losing all opportunity to play with it. This rule was incorporated into our classroom, and students now are given a verbal warning to share toys before they are removed for the remainder of the day. Aware of the penalty for non-compliance, most students will choose to either a) take turns or b) find a new activity to engage themselves.

Punishment cannot be the only step taken. Correction must be given to avoid recurring behavior. Whenever possible, I have a conversation with the misbehaving student about their actions and how they affect themselves and others. In language they can grasp, we discuss what they’ve done, why they’ve done it, and what they plan to do differently in the future. Sometimes, I will have the students involved complete an activity related to their offenses. Consequence in my classroom is never just to ignore the problem. I want my students to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior for the benefit of everyone in the class, teachers and students alike.


After several years of teaching, I have found some successful strategies for rewarding positive behavior, and for managing misbehavior. I will continue to utilize and improve the strategies I have mentioned in this article and on my flowchart. I use a variety of systems for managing and reinforcing positive behavior: rewards, privilege, and praise. Likewise, I use many problem-solving techniques to manage misbehavior and in-class disruptions. For positive reinforcement, fair and regular acknowledge of student achievement leads to a healthy and happy class culture, inspiring students to work well and take pride in their accomplishments. For discipline, I believe that escalation should be a gentle slope, not a sudden step, and that exhausting all possible options before moving to the extreme is better than doling out ultimatums and harsh punishments until they lose all meaning.

Although it may seem overwhelming, one of the best things you can do in these situations (positive and negative) is be consistent. Show them what they can expect from you, and your students will grow to trust in your judgement and authority. Give them the tools to follow your rules and surpass your expectations.

Rules & Procedures Flowchart


Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction.

CM Mueller, CS Dweck - Journal of personality and social psychology, 1998
Related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWv1VdDeoRY

Friday, 12 August 2016

High-performing Learning Environments: Three Examples

High-performing Learning Environments: Three Examples
By Nicolas Martin

Roller Coaster Physics by Donna Migdol

This high-performance activity does an excellent job of fostering individual and group learning. Ms. Migdol obviously holds her students in high regard, as she grants them autonomy under the expectation that they will function well as a group and restrict their learning to the subject matter she has assigned. Likewise, the fact that she has given them multiple restrictions and rules shows that she believes her students are all capable of working within the confines of these rules and finding successful strategies through critical thinking and assessment of the problem. “The more constraints, the better problem-solvers they become.”

That she lets them work in groups without supervision speaks to her trust in the proper behavior of her students. In the first scenario, making the roller coaster, they are able to stay on task without deviating. The second scenario, sketching designs, is a strict design that takes advantage of the knowledge they have already learned and puts it to use in the activity. Ms. Migdol specifically says students must use knowledge ‘you have already learned,’ meaning they already have all of the tools they need available.

The concept of ‘chiming in’ allows free-form discussion and critical collaboration. Procedures are defined in the lesson plan. Ms. Migdol says that students are unable to remove themselves from the learning aspect of the lesson, even when it is a game, because they must remain engineers and always be mindful of the physics they are using. This means they are constantly aware of and implementing the physics-based knowledge they are meant to be developing.

3rd Grade Chinese Math Class by Crystal Chen

The rhyming scheme that seems to be ubiquitous in Chinese classrooms appears to be held in high regard by the teacher in the video, who expects all students to be proficient and able to keep up with the rest of the class during recitation. From the article linked, parents and teachers have high expectations for children in math, and China consistently tests high in this subject. One reason may be that math is considered a core curriculum, and so much time is spent on the subject that proficiency is expected.

The procedure of the rhyming scheme itself is ingrained through routine and repetition, a behavioral expectation and norm the students can count on. Since, according to the article, math classes focus on ‘rigid practice’ and ‘whole-class instruction,’ the video shows what should be the norm: the entire class, functioning as a single unit, able to recite the rhyme without pause or problems. Challenging students to keep up with their peers is one way of motivating them. Regarding classroom management, the students are taught to focus through chants and cheers that incorporate hand gestures like clapping.

Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High - The Basics by roxishayne

Like the Chinese teacher in the previous lesson, the academic expectations for these students are high, and shown by the teacher’s expectation that students can follow and execute the classroom management rules that have been previously established. Students are ‘rewarded’ in ways such as class cheers and ‘bonus points’ as defined on the website, which give them a sense of accomplishment. Students are expected to be able to recognize the procedures in class and follow them like their classmates. There was no deviation from the rules in the video.

Some norms and procedures that keep students on track are recitation of classroom goals, and repeating tasks assigned by the teacher, such as the page number of the next activity in their textbooks. Some of these procedures are listed on the Whole Brain website, where they are used as transitional steps in the learning process to better allow assessment and encourage collaborative learning.

If I were to incorporate these learning strategies into my classroom, which is composed of Pre-K students, I would focus mostly on sound and repetitive actions that are short and easy to remember. Clapping associated with familiar phrases, for example. These acts would have to be simplified, as per assessment my students are still developing in rhyme recognition and pattern emulation. Variations on the ABC song, similar to the rhyming math pattern in the Chinese example, could prove positive for students. Likewise, the rhythm and motion actions in the third video are fun and easy to replicate for early childhood learners.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Establishing a Positive Classroom Climate

Establishing a Positive Classroom Climate

Maintaining a positive and supportive atmosphere in class is one of the most important things you can do, besides actually teaching. In my kindergarten class, I have Spanish and Japanese students, and they have little understanding of my own cultural background. Even so, I try to incorporate my own culture, and the culture of my students, into the classroom when possible.

‘Teaching Tolerance’ mentions that a child’s understanding of their own race and ethnicity are instrumental in teaching and how they learn (Common). I’ve never heard my students disparage each other’s ethnicity in any language, which makes me think they have been raised similarly enough to not recognize the differences in heritage. They were all born and raised in Japan, after all. On occasion, I will work aspects of each culture into classroom activities. For example, on Father’s Day we had Spanish students make their cards early, since that holiday in Spain is on March 19th. To avoid falling into stereotypes about cultures, we tend to stick to holidays, traditions, and crafts that children of all backgrounds can participate in.

I am an American, and that means I am able to relate to my students through pop culture. All of the children, raised in Japan, have been exposed to American media that has been translated overseas. They like Frozen and Lilo & Stitch, they like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they like Spider-man. Although the kids may recognize these characters, they won’t make the connection that they are from America unless I explain it to them. Showing them cartoons in their original English language, or showing them cartoons from Japan dubbed in English, helps to show how our countries are connected, and encourages their curiosity toward other parts of the world.

One part of a positive classroom is equality. I’m talking about all students having the same opportunities and chances. Each student can participate, share, and play. For teachers, this means anti-bia teaching: there should be no favoritism, and students shouldn’t be ignored for not measuring up. Teaching Tolerance says this can be done through methods such as ‘supporting students’ identities and making it safe for them to fully be themselves,’ or ‘creating classroom environments that reflect diversity, equity and justice’ (Critical). At the start of last year, my co-teacher and I made sure to place racially and ethnically diverse photos, artwork, books, etc, around the classroom so students would see a greater variety of worldviews from a global perspective.

Another aspect of a positive classroom is safety. I mentioned this in my previous presentation, and in the anti-bullying case study, but students function better when they feel the classroom is a safe space. I mean free of persecution, of exclusion, and of danger. Practicing anti-bullying strategies place the students on an equal level where they all feel safe with each other, and that will contribute to a positive atmosphere for everyone. We participate in multiple safety and emergency drills annually, working with the community so the students are aware of what to do in the case of emergencies, and that they can count on us to take care of them. They know not to talk to strangers, and who they can turn to for help when they are in trouble.

In the future, I would like to expand the amount of content in my lessons relating to the racial and ethnic backgrounds of my students. Ideally, I’d cover one aspect of one culture everyday, but time constraints make this difficult. I plan to continue exploring options and will seek out an easier, more effective way of making this a reality. I hope that, by continuing to integrate the cultures of my students into the their daily lives, I can make them more aware of their own cultures and the impact their cultures have on their lives and the lives of others.


Teaching Tolerances, Common Beliefs (PDF):

Teaching Tolerance, Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education:

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Why should a teacher be prepared to allow or require students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives?

Activity 1: Mobile Learning
Unit 5: Digital Skills for Instruction, Part II
Module 3: The Learner and Learning in a Digital Age

Why should a teacher be prepared to allow or require students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives?

When I was a student, smartphones did not exist. Some students, but not all, had cell phones they could use for basic texting and phone calls. I had friends who would sneak Nintendo Gameboys into class in their backpacks to play during study hall. If you wanted to access the internet, you either went to the library computers or went home. Now, every adult has a computer in their pocket, with access to the internet and the world at large. That same access is becoming more and more prevalent in schools as parents buy smartphones for their children. So why shouldn’t we teachers allow students to use these mobile devices when learning?

There are pitfalls, of course. Most students would rather surf the net than listen to a lecture. You cannot keep an eye on each student’s screen at all times. As mentioned in Tom Daccord’s article, it is more beneficial to use mobile devices--such as smartphones and tablets--as learning aides to foster creativity than plugging students into pre-made content that does not fit the scope of their lessons. ‘On average, children are 12.1 when they receive their first mobile device’ (Growing Wireless). This shows that, from a young age, many students have access to mobile devices. Comprehension of basic functionality is a necessity.

One example of a mobile activity that could be done with smartphones or tablets would be a game based around sharing information in a variety of ways. In a Project-based Learning experience, students could be granted the agency to share information with a number of peers. Giving students the freedom to choose what information they share, and how they share it--either through apps, or via email, even photographs--could reveal interesting results about the student body and the way students choose to communicate with one another. I executed an activity similar to Daniel Roggenkamp’s ESL activity, and found my students used the tablets they were given to explore the environment in completely different ways, and even went above and beyond the goals of the activity due to high interest levels.

Another example of mobile activities could be geocaching. The overview mentions this: ‘Using the GPS or the phone measurement tools on a school field trip such as to the zoo or a camping trip to gather data and complete specific project activities.’ Similar in nature, this type of activity involves using a mobile device’s GPS to locate a container placed at specific coordinates somewhere around the globe. Students are encouraged to use navigational tools in a familiar (or unfamiliar) environment to complete a task. Popular activities using geocaching are games like hide and seek and scavenger hunts. This type of activity can be augmented through collaborative teamwork and alteration of tasks and goals. The same type of activity could incorporate other aspects of mobile devices, like taking photos to show successful completion of objectives, or relaying additional information to other groups to help them meet their own goals.

The reality is that mobile devices are here to stay, and have been integrated into daily life. Preparing students to use them outside of school means allowing them to experiment in school, even at the cost of some disruptions. Finding teaching and learning strategies that compel students to use these mobile devices properly and successfully will take time, and trial and error. Ultimately, it will yield positive results, and students will be able to translate what they have learned through their mobile devices into challenges they face in the real world.