Complete & Concise

I did something risky today.  I updated my Twitter profile.  Allow me to explain why this is risky.

As part of a Movers & Shakers unit, I recently started ‘teaching’ (what does that word even mean anymore when it comes presenting the use of digital tools to teenagers nowadays) my HS students how to use Twitter.  The purpose is to connect with contemporary M&Ss through social media and determine the impact a 140character tweet can have.

We started with the basics: creating an account, getting rid of the egg, following each other and following different M&Ss on social media.  I then tweeted our Director of Learning Innovation Mark McElroy, and asked for his input to which he responded:

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 1.29.27 PM
Screenshot from Twitter.com

Great advice! We dug deeper into the twitterverse to find people to follow that interested us, topics and hashtags, and of course our M&Ss.  But what struck a chord with me that I didn’t even think about was the part about writing “a concise, complete profile”.  Sure, I thought, that makes sense.  But again, what does that really mean?

So I looked at mine which included my name, my position, a link to my most influential PLN (#SISrocks), a link to this blog and then something about me being “a confessed granola bar thief and dumpling lover”…?

I wondered, what is complete and concise about that?  What is that really saying about me, my beliefs as a teacher, my passions, my practice?* I just couldn’t continue to preach something so banal let alone use it as a model for my students.  As I struggled to show what a ‘complete and concise’ profile I realised I needed to quickly update my own.

This is what I came up with:

twitterprofile
Screenshot from TweetDeck

“Disrupting and innovating the traditional methodologies of ELL (English Language Learner) support through coaching and inclusion”

Yes, risky.  Why? Because this is my digital self.  Most people in my PLNs will meet me, get to know me and make assumptions about me through my Twitter profile.  Most importantly, it’ll be expected that what I share and post, support the statement on my profile.  Yes, yes, risky.  I basically just tied myself to this statement, this philosophy, this disclaimer that yes ladies and gentlemen on Twitter:

  • I’m disrupting the traditional practices used to support English Language Learners in schools
  • I’m using innovative tools to move these methodologies out of the classroom and focusing on authentic not scripted learning
  • I’m showcasing student work to empower ELLs to find a real voice in a language they didn’t grow up with
  • I believe that ‘it takes a village’ and coaching models allow for real collaboration, flexibility and creativity in schools

I like it.  I believe in it.  Complete.  Concise.  Boom.

*To be clear, I do often steal granola bars when they’re offered as snacks in in-house PD days and yes, I do absolutely love dumplings.

Six Week Coaching Crunch

Apparently, I can’t stay away from anything Kim and Jeff do.  So it only made sense that I signed up for EduroLearning‘s Coaching: From Theory to Practice, six week online course.  I will be sharing my tasks and reflections here because the forum where we are posting is private, but I want to archive and share all my learning experiences in one place.  It’s a no-brainer that I use my COETAIL site since it all this learning connects so well.

The task is essentially to have a ‘coaching conversation’ with a colleague.  Read on for my reflection on the first task.

Choosing a coach to collaborate with at SIS was surprisingly difficult – but because I’m spoiled for choice! After consideration I decided to ask Marty Ruthai to be my coaching course collaborator. Because I admire his work, respect him professionally and he is a great friend.

First a bit about Marty. Marty is our MS Innovation Coach (@mmruthaienhanceology.com). He is one fourth of the SIS Innovation Dream Team composed of Diana Beabout (@dianabeabout – ES Innovation Coach – coetail.com/dbeabout); Mark McElroy (@mcelroy23 – HS Innovation Coach – mcelroy23.me); and their unequivocally innovative leader John Burns (@j0hnburns – eLearning & Innovation Director). I apologize if that reads like a shameless showcasing of our school and this coaching team. But trust me, this team of coaches/innovators/educators, are the elite and deserve to be showcased as such. If you don’t know them or haven’t heard of them, if you’re doing this course, you need to.

Back to Marty. I emailed him to ask if he’d be willing to collaborate with me and be my mentor for this course. His response was my first lesson in coaching: if someone asks for your support, you say “Yes, how can I help you?” and “Let’s chat more about it”.

We met yesterday to plan out my first task. It was a quick meeting during our prep time but we used the time effectively. Marty mostly asked questions about what my ultimate goal was for this course and what my first steps were to get there. He shared knowledge about his experiences as an iCoach and the standards he bases his work on in order to be a successful one. He made references to coaching in sports and how by definition, a coach “guides, trains and teaches” others in enhancing their performance. He also alluded to the fact that coaches model but are not actually the ones ‘on the field’. Needless to say it was a great conversation and a great first step towards completing the task at hand. I knew I’d chosen a supportive and motivating mentor in Mr. Ruthai.

It’s important to note that I’m not a stranger to the idea of coaching. As an EAL support teacher, my job is to support teachers with English language learners, as well as supporting the students within their classes and subject areas, where the target language of instruction is English. What I do isn’t that far removed from the practice of coaching. By taking this course, I’m solidifying my practice as a coach. To answer one of Marty’s first questions, my ultimate goal for this course is to be able to branch out in my practice of instructional support and approach it more as a teacher coach – not just to encompass support for ELLs, but rather to be a facilitator for differentiation strategies, eLearning tools and instructional strategies to build up an educator’s toolkit to apply in their classrooms.

Due to scheduling conflicts, Marty and I won’t be able to meet until next week to plan the observation and decide exactly what to target in developing my coaching skills. Our initial thoughts are that he will observe me in a planning session with a couple of the teachers I support and take it from there.

I’m incredibly excited about the next six weeks! It will be a great journey of exploring my potential as a coach and how it directly impacts my collaboration with teachers and enhances my best practices.

Over-iChiever

Do you remember the movie ‘Bruce Almighty‘ with Jim Carrey?  It’s a sweet comedy about a guy named Bruce (Carrey) whose ambition doesn’t allow him to see all the great things in his life.  It’s a good movie, funny and heartwarming.  I was thinking of this movie the other day, not because I identified with the character necessarily (or have a God-like complex), but because of this scene:

www.propstore.com
www.propstore.com

I keep my daily to-do lists on sticky notes on my desk and this is how I’ve been feeling the past few months.  Doesn’t matter if I tackle a task, there’s always another sticky just waiting to be tackled.  I bet, reader, that stickies or not, you have felt this way too.  Never-ending lists of tasks.

I’m an overachiever.  My friends and colleagues try to sugarcoat my freakish A-type nature by calling me a ‘planner’ or complimenting me on my ‘attention to detail’ or even saying that they envy my ‘organizational skills’… thanks guys, but let’s call it like it is.  I can be an overachieving pain in the neck.  Especially to myself.  I take on too much and nitpick at everything.  My public motto is “I did the best I could. I’m happy with the outcome.” but my private motto is “You could’ve done so much better… shoot higher next time!”

And that’s exactly how I feel about the last few months regarding COETAIL.  Not that I haven’t done some other great things, but because of taking on so much, it’s only necessary for things to take a back seat… And as I glance at the rearview mirror, all I see is course 5.

So here is an attempt to peel off the stickies (trust me, course 5 posts and comments are layered in there) to get back on the COETAIL train.  There are so many wonderful things happening in the different classrooms I collaborate with and I want to share it with the COETAIL network.

Write a ‘come back’ post on my COETAIL blog, check!

Empowering Parents by Flipping Support for ELLs

All parents can relate to the school setting one way or another.  They all studied Math, Science, Social Studies; they had recess, lunch time, made friends, broke the rules; they had great teachers and good memories, and they also had struggles, all of which formed the people they are today.  So when we meet with parents to talk about their child, they will have a frame of reference to what their children experience in school on a daily basis.  However, in an international school, to a parent of an EAL student, this point of reference is completely different.  Very few will have attended a school where they didn’t speak the language of instruction.

In my years of experience as an EAL support teacher, I have found that the trickiest support is the one given to parents.  Many parents of EAL students don’t speak English or speak very little, and therefore feel that they can’t support their child’s language development.  So how do we build this bridge?  What do we tell a parent of an EAL student when they ask “How can I help my child at home?” And no, watching TV in English, hiring tutors and/or translating texts is NOT what we should be advising.   We need to empower parents and let them know they can be active participants in their child’s learning, regardless of whether they speak English.

So let’s flip it.

The first and foremost rule of second language (L2) acquisition is the development and reinforcement of the first language (L1).   In reality, schools cannot offer bilingual instruction to each and every student in an international school.  A program like this would be impossible to sustain!  And that’s where the parents come in.  Here’s an example:

G5 students are reading ‘Stone Fox’ by John Reynolds Gardiner.  It’s a tricky read for students who are not very familiar with American culture, but it’s a moving story with strong characters and a great ending.   This is the students’ required reading for a book club.

Here are some ideas about how to flip it:

  • Before starting the book club, I ask students to research the book synopsis in their L1 and collect any information they gather.  Wikipedia.org is a good resource since it provides options in other languages for many of their pages.
  • As homework, they are to take the information they collected and have a conferring session with mom or dad.  I ask them to go over their research and make predictions together.  All in their first language.
  • If there’s a concept like ‘dogsledding’ that might be tricky to understand, I front load these concepts and ask them to translate them and ask their parents to tell them what they know about the concept.  Again, all in their first language.
  • As book clubs are underway and we read the book in class, I tell parents to confer with their child about their reading (check out these useful multi-language bookmarks by Bonnie Campbell-Hill).  You guessed it, all in their first language.
  • And for those parents who want to go the extra mile? How about finding a copy of the book in their L1? Actually, I ask parents to keep grade level texts at home in L1, both fiction and nonfiction.  Also important to remember, all EAL students in all grade levels are attending said grade level for the first time in any language!  Support in L1 at home is invaluable for their learning as a whole, not just their L2 acquisition and development.

I strongly believe that flipping instruction is not just about using technology tools, but rather all tools that support learning.  By actively involving parents in their child’s learning, students are being provided with opportunities to learn concepts and understand content even if their language is still developing, and parents are being empowered by making their support at home a crucial part of their child’s language development.

By flipping ELL support, students take charge of their own learning.  They become engaged and make a symbiotic connection between what they learn at school in their L2 and how they reinforce it at home in their L1, resulting in the equal development of both.

Ceci 2.0

Where do I see myself as an educator in 5 years?  Now that is a loaded question since 5 years ago I didn’t know I would be where I am today.  But ok, here are my aspirational predictions:

  • I will be an international collaborator.  My colleagues will no longer just be outside my door, at my school, in my campus.  They will be all over the world and work in different fields.  We will share strategies and experiences, and collaborate globally.  I will know their faces mostly by avatars, and my professional learning network will become my ‘tribe’.
  • I will be a learning coach to my students.  I will guide my students into using strategies to enhance their learning and develop their skills.  I will not be a ‘sage on the stage’ but rather a ‘guide on the side’.  I will no longer look to see who needs my help, but rather allow students to come to me for my expertise, as well as choosing others (including their peers) for their expertise.  I will coach them through their learning and use of learning tools.
  • I will be a learner.  I will continue to evolve my practice, challenge myself, and take chances.  I will be a risk-taker and an explorer.  I will be a complex thinker and not have all the answers, but rather an inquirer who embraces innovation.

 

Time to Play!

Let’s be honest.  Games are super fun.  I like them.  I’m sure you like them too, reader.  But when played in the classroom, sometimes, most of the time, they don’t look like ‘conventional teaching’.

And that is a good thing.

As most of the readings on gamification state, using games in education is not a novelty.  Educators all over the world have been using educational games for decades in order to engage their students.  I remember when I used to teach English to adults back in the start of my career, the one thing that would get my class going at at 8pm was a quick language game.  There was this competitive streak, innate to all human beings, to participate, learn quickly and beat the other opponent/team.  It was awesome.  And whether I did it for a short time at the beginning to get everyone going or as a formative assessment to check how much they  had acquired, everyone had fun and that was my main goal.

Enter 21st century technology.  Back then, the only technology I used for gaming was flyswatters on a whiteboard, where students had to swat the past participle of an irregular verb I called out… I’m literally laughing out loud as I remember how awesome it was 🙂

Gaming in classrooms, especially one-to-one environments, cannot escape the use of gaming for learning.  There is so much out there that engages students of all ages!  It also allows students to acquire skills that make them feel successful.  For instance, an ELL playing PopWords against an opponent in his class or anywhere else in the world, doesn’t have to worry about making mistakes with a word they don’t know.  Rather they get to explore the different ways they can form words, and when they form a word they don’t know, they quickly learn it in order to use it in the future and become ‘better’ at playing the game.  It’s a win, win situation.

Although this might be a very simple way of looking at gamification for education as I know there are all sorts of games out there that reinforce all kinds of learning in all subjects, I think the most important aspect of gaming is the engagement of our learners.  If a game can present students with situations where they have to think in different ways, see things from different perspectives, use diverse problem-solving skills and challenge themselves to learn new things, I can certainly see the relevance, or even importance of gaming in any classroom.

 

 

Moving up the SAMR Ladder

It’s almost impossible to explain my absence during course 4, except that it started with this back in October:

wdtfs
(info@coetail, this should explain the weird email…)

And ended yesterday celebrating my 32 years of life.  Yes, it’s been a month hiatus that I will try to make up for in 1 week.  I do, in fact, have a lot to say and reflect upon in Course 4.  So let’s go, ha-tee-ho!

As many of you COETAILers out there know, my school Shekou International School, as a whole has been moving up the SAMR model ladder. Just our hashtag #SISRocks has trended (in fact, it’s the most trended international school hashtag in the Asia South-Pacific region) since mid-2012, and has redefined our professional sharing practices, both among our staff and with other schools/colleagues/classrooms in the international school community.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in our practice.  Everywhere you turn on our campuses, learning is being redefined.

When asked to reflect on my practice and how the English language learner support is also being transformed at SIS, I don’t know where to start!  So much has changed as language barriers and the students’ exposure to, and the opportunities to develop language (both academic and social) are now endless due to global connectivity.  So here are some examples about what this transformation looks like, and how it continues to evolve and climb that ladder step by step:

  • Augmentation – Using A+Pro or other flashcard apps to make individualized word banks that include images, audio, links to web and a daily practice reminder.

A+

  • Modification – Using the CONFER app to combine WIDA Can-Do descriptors and the TCRWP teaching points, to assess ELLs.

confer

  • Redefinition – Using Padlet to create a ‘wall of walls’ to collaborate on vocabulary learning and learning.

The tricky part about me reflecting upon this as ‘my practice’ is that it’s doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them, the students.  I may guide them into using the tool, but it is them who redefine their learning through the use of the tool.  For the Padlet, for instance, I may think of the endless ways it can be used for students to develop their vocabulary.  I may also suggest to them what they can do and how to take it further.  But it is really in their application of the tool that will show me its capacity (and/or limitations).  It is the exploration of the strategy through the tool and how each learner uses/applies it that will truly be the real redefinition.

Again, just the tip of the iceberg in what truly is to be a 21st century learner as well as a 21st century educator.  So I climb this SAMR ladder with my learners every day.  I see them climb it as well, sometimes without even realizing it, they enhance and transform their learning.

From Scratch

I’ll keep this post short and allow my C3 project to speak for itself and tell the story.  But I couldn’t not post about the experience of creating this project.  I’m very proud of the project itself, but making it was some of the funnest times I’ve had on a COETAIL assignment 🙂

It should be noted that it is very overwhelming to start a project from scratch.  Having a set of directions and the freedom to create can become a daunting task with too many ideas bouncing around in ones head.  But more so than the product, the experience of creating is really what will be valuable authentic learning.  During this planning process, there were some standout things that I hope that my students ‘do’ whenever they are creating.

  • KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.  The product of your project should be something you will be proud of, reflect your creativity and deliver your message.
  • WORK COLLABORATIVELY.  Whether you are making something with a partner, in a group or individually, surround yourself with people whose work you respect and who can help you get your creative juices going.  Working with Liz on our project, a colleague I respect and a friend I love, was certainly the highlight of this process!
  • HAVE FUN.  Use tools that you like and that will reflect your creativity, take your time and create a space where you can focus and enjoy your work.

Can’t wait for what Course 4 has in store!

Fly Me to the Moon: My Learning2 Moonshot

The song goes ‘Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars.  Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars..’ and then it goes on to say ‘Fill my heart with song and let me sing forever more…’ dah-duh daduh daduh.  Oh Sinatra, how I love you.*  The song is beautiful and simple, yet speaks such passion.  A passion that will shoot one to the stars to celebrate spring on lifeless planets.  A passion that will make the impossible, possible.

Learning2.013 in Singapore this past weekend was quite a passionate experience.  Each part of it was something special: The beginning talks, snapshots of how educators are transforming learning in international schools in Asia and other regions; the parts in between with extended sessions and workshops that became spaces to discuss best practice and explore new ideas; and the closing by Jeff Utecht, one of the highlights of this whole experience.  After all was said and done, it was time to ask:  How has this experience rocketed your passion to transform learning, literally, as soon as you get back to your classroom on Monday?  What is your moonshot?

So here it goes.  My moonshot is to create an iTunes U course that houses mini lessons, strategies, and resources accessible to students, parents and teachers; and in turn maximizing my English language learner support, making it fully transparent and available 24/7.  Phew.  That’s a lot of moonshots in one sentence!

You’re probably thinking, an iTunes U course?!  Where is the passion in that?  Well, after attending Dana Watts‘ iTunesU workshop, I realized that the possibilities of maximizing one’s instruction are endless.  Universities like Stanford, Harvard and Oxford, offer free courses through iTunesU to whoever wants to take them!   No ivy league tuition required.  Many powerful educational institutions have flipped their classrooms and lecture halls, and by doing this, they are transforming higher education.  Now, I won’t pretend to be on the same arena as these institutions, but the idea of flipping my practice and transforming the support I give my students, is a huge step.

Empowering students that I seldom get to see due to time constraints or scheduling conflicts, feels like spring on Jupiter.

Sharing best practices and strategies with teachers to support students, feels like playing among the stars.

Reaching out to parents who would otherwise meet/talk/see me once a year during conferences, connecting with them and breaking down language barriers… The impossible, possible.

This is a gamble as this could potentially bring change to how EAL students are supported in our school.  But I’m going around this friggin’ wall and taking a chance. After all, isn’t change the biggest constant in our practice?

Dah-duh daduh,
Fly me to the moon
And let me plaaaay among the stars.
Let me see what spring is like oooon Jupiter and Mars.
Dah-dah dah-dah, daduh daduh

*’Fly Me to the Moon’ was actually written by Bart Howard, but made epic by Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.