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.

#GoodbyeBreakingBad

Did you watch it?  The finale of all finales?… … … Do you even know what I’m talking about?  If you don’t, it’s cool.  It’s only a matter of time before you decide to binge-watch all 5 seasons of the best TV show in television history, Breaking Bad.  But this post isn’t about the show’s 100% pure awesomeness (inside joke, again, if you haven’t seen it, I apologize), this post is about the power of the media and its undeniable and unstoppable global connectivity.

**This post itself doesn’t include any spoilers, however, some of the links might lead to the online community’s reactions to the finale and they are likely to include spoilers**

I live in a timezone that is 14hrs ahead of the west, so my favorite TV shows are DVRd upon airing and saved on my hard drive waiting until I come back from work, ready for me to sit, relax and watch.  I love those moments when I unplug and ‘lend’ my thoughts to fictional characters on the screen. Global Connectivity It’s also worth mentioning that in the last 10 years, TV shows have upped their game incredibly and a lot of the writing and performances are outstanding.  But I digress.  As an avid TV watcher, I rely on the availability of online media to not only get the episodes immediately after they have aired, but also to  read up on what the online viewing community is saying.  This sense of community is at the core of global connectivity.

You might be wondering, why is this so important to me, I mean, it’s just a TV show right?  Maybe to bring up the topic of a global community in the context of a TV show is a bit superficial (you might change your mind if you watched this genius show, just saying ;)).  But the ability to connect in real time with people from all over the world, who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who think in different ways with different perspectives… all over one common topic (be it a TV show or any other), is a great privilege.

Don’t get me wrong, it can also be overwhelming and sometimes a pain in the neck (I hate spoilers!).  So how can one person keep up with all these global interactions?  Just today, as I opened my HuffPo feed, three days after the BB finale aired, it’s still a much talked about topic in the online community.   If you look up any Twitter #s related to the show (#GoodbyeBreakingBad, #BreakingBad, #BreakingBadFinale, etc), they’re still “blowing up” (trending and relevant) as people continue to talk about it.

This community, these connections, allow all of us to feel like we’re part of something big.  That we all have a voice.  And as we connect to these communities, we become active listeners of different global perspectives.

Connect in Real Time...

For instance, these critics (and some of the actors from the show) LOVED the BB finale, where as this critic was very disappointed.  I read both opinion pieces and although it didn’t change how I felt about it myself, it did make me think of how awesome it is that we can all see things in different ways.

I also felt validated.  I love this show! And it’s cool to read up on others who feel just as strongly about it as I do.  I mean, it’s not like it’s part of my professional life (the story line is about a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to start a meth lab with an ex student to make money and secure his family’s future before he dies… hooked yet?!); nor is it an essential part of my personal life… It’s just pure entertainment. You know that feeling when you find out someone else has read a book you loved? And loved it too? Or didn’t? It doesn’t matter! That feeling of sharing that commonality is what’s awesome.  Now think of it in a way bigger scale… Imagine finding a whole global community that you share something with, that not only you can be a part of but contribute to it as well.  Pretty powerful stuff.

A global community of this can now empower people to share their views in real time about all sorts of issues and topics.  I quickly realize that this was not possible 20, 15 or even 10 years ago.  I talk about a TV show, but can you fathom the impact on current world issues?  A platform that gives anyone a voice, and not just that, but gives influential people a chance to hear these different voices?  A privilege.  A great one.

Ponder on these thoughts of global connectivity, the impact it has on us as educators, world citizens and/or avid TV watchers.  I’d love to hear your thoughts via this blog or Twitter – In fact, I love that I can hear your thoughts via this blog or Twitter 🙂  We may never meet face to face, but the fact that we are all part of COETAIL’s online community is certainly a privilege in itself.

Also, if/when you decide to watch BB, don’t forget to join the online community who will hold your hand (albeit digitally) through the intense story line.  So good!

A letter to Creative Commons, Part 2

Dear CeeCee,

How are you friend?  It’s been a while since I last wrote.  Not fair.  You get to hear about me so little when I hear about you and how you’re doing all the time!  You’re breaking ground and I have a front row seat to your success.  Good on you 🙂

CC, can I just say, following your work has been nothing short of amazing.  I get it now, what you’re doing.  And it makes so much sense:  Work is created.  Creators want to put their work out there.  Sometimes their work inspires others.  Others borrow it for inspiration but give credit to creators.  It’s just like a very good friend reminded me recently, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – Charles Caleb Colton (Public domain btw ;)).

But you know what? I’m a visual learner, and this infographic really helped me:

Photo credit: https://www.gcflearnfree.org/useinformationcorrectly/module/12/print
Photo credit: https://www.gcflearnfree.org/useinformationcorrectly/

I get questions about you all the time, especially from some that have heard about you but are still having trouble understanding your ideology.  For most, material out there is one or the other: private (copyright) or public (free-for-all).  So your idea of shared material is new to them, as it was to me when I wrote you last, so I get it.  But infographics make explaining what you’re all about so much easier!  I plan to use this infographic in the future to help me spread the word of the great work you’re doing CC, anyone who creates material and wants to share it, and everyone who borrows material and/or is inspired by others, now has a good understanding of how to share material online.  Genius!

Anyway CC, I hope you continue to do as well as you have and that your message keeps spreading, especially among the digital natives that create content everyday and inspire themselves by others’ work.  There’s so much out there after all!

Sincerely your friend,

Ceci

 

We’ve Come so Far

While cleaning out my work mailbox the other day, I found this email I sent our eLearning (previously known as ‘Tech’) team.  Please read on and I’ll explain why it was so important (although risky) for me to share.

Date: February 8, 2012
 
Dear Technology Team,
 
I had some wonderings regarding the decision to block networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Pinterest) from our server during school hours at SIS (Shekou International School).  There was a time when I pushed for such a block, especially when students can access these sites and use them unproductively or even inappropriately during school hours.  However, as we reflect on the use of technology at SIS, I wondered about the disadvantages of blocking such sites.
 
From a support teacher’s point of view, one that feeds on the creative ideas provided online to continue to enrich the support given to the curriculum (Pinterest is a great example); I wonder if this restriction will have a negative impact in the way I look for inspiration online.  Also, as the Double Happiness Committee representative, I’m currently trying to encourage SIS staff members to ‘Like’ our new DHC page on Facebook (this undertaking was also an inspiration by the PD given by Kim Confino).  This is already a hard sell and the popularity of our page hasn’t taken off the way I would’ve liked; and I wonder if having Facebook blocked on campus has had an effect on the popularity of the page.  How can I ask staff members to ‘like’ us when our own server won’t allow us to visit it?
 
In my experiences, I’ve seen that any technology brought to the masses can have one of two effects:  impress or intimidate.  I wonder if blocking Facebook or other networking sites that are blocked in China, adds to the intimidation rather than inspiration that such networking can bring.  I’m very well aware that when technology is used inappropriately, the consequences can be brutal.  But if an educational establishment that fosters exploration and inquiry like SIS restricts the use of such websites, I wonder if the message we’re sending is that blocking the sites has a more effective impact than educating and training for their appropriate use.  Therefore if the teaching staff is restricted from using these sites freely, how can we impart our knowledge of the right uses of this technology to our students?  How can we learn to be guides for our students when they’re out there surfing networking sites in this technology heavy world?
 
And lastly, as a tech person myself, one who not only loves the use of technology but also strives to explore it in all its entirety to improve my practice as an educator; I wondered if I would be writing this email a few years ago.  Like I said, I used to be on the front lines when it came to blocking sites, always with the thought of protecting our students from using them inappropriately.  But that hasn’t made them go away and it certainly hasn’t stopped me, you, our families, our friends, our students, our students’ parents; from using them on a day-to-day basis.  And now I wonder if I want my role as an educator to be to stigmatize those sites, label them as ‘something you do at home’, and support the restrictions imposed on them; or if I would rather be an educator who asks questions about ways to educate everyone in productive, creative and effective ways to use them.
 
Like you, I want our school to move forward in its use of technology in all its aspects.  And I wonder if these restrictions are a step back as opposed to a step in the direction we want SIS to go.  I don’t want this email to sound like a complaint, it’s not.  It’s simply meant to be a seed that sparks up a real discussion about what this block really means in the long run and whether it’s time to look into other options as to how best to educate others in using these sites, whether it’s at school or at home.  I would love to be part that discussion if it happens 🙂
 
I’d be lying if I said my first instinct was to share this email.  It’s almost like ‘airing our dirty laundry’, so to speak.  But as I re-read my thoughts and reflections on this topic, I can’t help but emphasize how far we have come.
 
We as a school.  Shekou International School is now one of the leading tech-integrating international schools in the world.  Our Twitter hashtag #SISRocks is shared, used and ‘trended’ on a daily basis to zoom in on how SIS is transforming learning.  A vast array of media is used to enhance our classrooms and our curriculum.  Our teachers and students have self-managed devices, 1-to-1 iPads starting in grade 4, and MacBooks up to grade 12.  Our Kindergarten students build digital portfolios and tweet their learning every day.  Our community tweets, blogs, and collaborates online using Padlets, Google Docs, Edmodo, Evernote… And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
 
We as a professional learning community.  Our eCoaches who work tirelessly to provide us with the tools to enhance our teaching practices.  Teachers who are willing to take risks and challenge themselves to try new things as their classrooms are repeatedly ‘disrupted’, principals and directors who learn with us and support us while we explore a new age in education.  Students and parents who have embraced the changes and put their trust in us to lead this transformation.
 
And I as an educator.  Back in February 2012, as I wrote that email, I could’ve never imagined this.  Flipped classrooms, full transparency, enhanced learning for a generation of digital natives.   A transformation, a paradigm shift, in only 18 months!  Wow.
 
How far we have come indeed.