From K-pop to Common Core: A Conversation with Christina

Everyone remembers their first year. I remember the lunch periods trying to figure out what you are going to teach next period, staying late after everyone has left the building including the custodians, the unruly kids testing your patience, and feeling like quitting is the only option.  Well despite the challenges, there is so much that you learn about yourself, teaching, and students that makes it all worth it. I had the privilege of interviewing a first year NYC teacher last summer while in NY.

I met Christina a few years ago at my church in Korea. After her time in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, teaching English, she went to graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College. Now she is teaching at a charter school in NYC. I was intrigued by her experience because she teaches Korean language and culture to high school students in Harlem. Her school requires students to learn Korean as their foreign language. We sat down and caught up over delicious frozen s’mores and coffee as she honestly shared about her experiences as a first year teacher. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!

What made you decide to take this teaching job?  I actually studied Internal Education Development in grad school. I always thought I would go into administration. When I was offered this position, a part of me thought, ‘okay, this is not curriculum or policy development, but gaining field experience would eventually lead me to where I would like to be in education.’ 

After the first year was done, I was really glad and humbled I went into teaching first. Now to come to think of it, I don’t know how I thought I would have gone into policy work and administration without having stepped inside a classroom and really interact with students on a day to day basis for better or worse.

What was the toughest part about being a first year teacher? I was used to being responsible for my own learning curve. To have the tables turned and being responsible for someone else’s future was tough.

What was the most memorable moment of your first year teaching? A lot of my students question why they have to learn Korean. They think that Korean is not relevant to their lives, which quite frankly is very true. However, our Korean department and school as a whole stress that learning additional languages builds character towards understanding people from various walks of life (which of course begins with language and culture). Learning a completely non-Western related language, additionally, builds grit and a tenacity towards learning as a skill set–not just something to be evaluated upon. Yet, our students will still frequently push back out of frustration. For example, I had one student acting out in class, saying, “I don’t need to know this. Why are we forced to learn something I cannot use outside of school?” We had a pretty long conversation about the matter that included everything from globalization to living in NYC, but to put it short three months later, I randomly got an e-mail from the student saying that in hindsight, struggling with the subject and expressing his frustration with me allowed him to think twice about people and how their backgrounds can shape their interactions with others.  

What words of advice would you give to another first year teacher? Take a deep breath and approach everything with a sense of humor.

What are some essential things you carry in your teacher bag? A tumbler, wet wipes, cough drops, a pen and laptop.

What is your typical work day at school like?  I used to wake up at 4:30am so I can catch the LIRR train–I did this for a year and half and it nearly zapped the life out of me. Now that I moved into Harlem, it’s a bit easier to get to work by 7:00 am. From 7:30-8:00 I have homeroom and the kids eat breakfast. I teach four classes then a class for tutoring, then a period for lunch. Then, we have enrichment period after school. At the end of the day, tidying the classroom, grading, and printing materials for the next day, I roughly leave school around5:30 to 6:00 pm

As a Korean language teacher, how do you integrate history and culture? In the tenth grade, students prepare for the Korean LOTE (Languages Other than English–language version of NY standardized high school exams), so I try to incorporate culture and history during days after finals and midterms. As a result, grammar and reading comprehension is often emphasized more than history and culture, which is a bit unfortunate. I do try to squeeze culture and history in when I explain different honorific forms of speech and writing patterns. Also, during free writing periods, I occasionally turn on K-pop songs. 2ne1 and Big Bang are usually popular with the students. 

I know Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary, came to speak at your school’s commencement. How does your school interact with the Korean community? The local Korean newspaper supports us by raising awareness for us and highlighting our students’ achievements in Korean. Also the Korean government supports all schools in the U.S. that officially integrate Korean language programs within their curriculum. We also annually have Korean cultural performances/festival and get support from Korean associations and groups. Most recently, our school network also created a outreach extension to the Korean American community in which I believe we have a board member, who advocates for our Korean language program and connects us with various Korean related programs for our school. Honestly, I don’t know the full extent, but our school definitely proactive about integrating Korean culture in not only the high school, but also the Harlem community at large.

What are your hopes for NYC public education in the next 10 years? If I were a student, I would want more time for lessons on empathy and awareness in general. Right now everything is based on the the common core and standardized testing.  I think that students are forgetting that there’s a purpose behind this value and achievement we place on education. 

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Classroom Management: Behavior Chart

Working with Kindergarteners can be a tough job. It is full of constant reminders. “Do this.” and “Don’t do that!” and “What should you be doing right now?”

At the beginning of the year my grade teaching partner and I decided to establish the rules and routines, but we did not set up a behavior chart like all of the grades above us, because we felt we would be punishing our kindies for… well, being kindies!

Now, the year is more than halfway done and my students have a solid understanding of our expectations, rules, and routines. Because of that, we felt comfortable putting up a behavior chart in each of our classrooms. My teaching partner decided to go with an Olympic theme one because we started it at the beginning of the Olympics and who doesn’t love, THE OLYMPICS (how many times can I say Olympics in one sentence).

This is what it looks like:

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There were two more after “Make Better Choices” and before “Parent Contact” but we took them out because we needed to make sure all of our students could reach the top of the chart to put their name (on the clip) up by themselves. At the end of the day if a student is at “Outstanding” we give them one of our school “Bear Paws” which is a piece of paper showing their parents that they were following our school rules, the students LOVE THESE. (Our mascot is a bear).

I have noticed that this behavior chart works REALLY well. The behavior chart is from the amazing and incredible TeachersPayTeachers and comes with the option of printing it out on colored paper or printing colored versions of the pictures on white paper.

After the day is over we e-mail parents when their child made it to “Outstanding” (parents LOVE it when you compliment their children!) and if they got down to “Parent Contact.” Once we implemented this the parent response has been extremely supportive.  Also, when the student comes back the next day they move their name back to green, “Ready to Learn” and start the day fresh. It’s a good reminder if they didn’t do so well the day before to do better, or if they did do well to keep up the good work!

What are some classroom management systems you set up in your classroom?

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Kindergarten Centers

I love center time. Wait, let me make that clear. I love center time after the first two months of school. When you teach the youngest students in the school you literally need to hold their hands for the first several weeks/months. This is why routines are so important at the beginning of the year. Because once they get those routines down, it’s amazing what a five-year-old can do.

Our kindergarten program has center time in the morning where they are rotated through the seven centers we have set up (three centers per day for about ten minutes)  and then in the afternoons at the end of the day they have 15-20 minutes to choose their own center for “free-play”.

I love hearing about the different centers other teachers have in their rotation and gleaning ideas from them. In my classroom the seven centers are:

Construction Zone: Outfitted with a Lego table and a ton of foam blocks for students to build with!

Imagination Station: Where there is an actual wooden treehouse/fort (we never know what to call it as it’s not actually in a tree), tool bench, kitchen, puppet stand, and dress-up clothes galore.

Reading Center: Books, books, books! (This is obviously our classroom library corner as well)

Technology Center: We are blessed to be able to have three iPads and two Mac computers to deck out our tech corner. This took time to integrate into center time as the other Kindergarten teacher and I had to work one on one with each student to teach them how to properly handle an iPad and how to log into their raz-kids account.

Writing Center: The students use what they learn during writing workshop and write stories, we usually give them a prompt or ask them to finish a story they started the day before. Our most recent guest blogger, Mark, gave some great ideas to add sight words and such into this center. I am going to add Jewel King!

Math and Science Center:  At the beginning of the year it was lame, but after a couple of months we were able to get some great pattern block pages and other math games, as well as magnets for science (though, admittedly it’s more of a math center) . Later, I will do a separate post on some of the great activities we have been able to put into this center.

Art Center: Depending on the season, I will assign different activities for the students to complete during the week in art center. This includes creating fall pictures, making snowman to decorate the classroom with, cutting and coloring hearts for Valentine’s Day, etc. A friend told me that she has a cutting center (which I love) and since then I try to incorporate scissors into the art center regularly.

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What are your favorite centers to do?

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Guest Blog Post: A little Creativity goes a Long Way

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Our first guest blogger of the year is Mark Yu, a Kindergarten Teacher  at Korea International School – Seoul Campus. Mark is an amazing teacher whose ideas I am constantly stealing from Instagram. I am absolutely thrilled that he was willing to write-up a guest post for Two Apples A Day. More guest posts in the future? Yes, please!

Sometimes repetition is necessary. Especially in a  Kindergarten classroom.

To add more flavor to my literacy centers, I sometimes come up with games to help my kiddos have more fun with the  activity. Where do I come up with these ideas? I really have no idea; my ideas come up at random!
So instead of this:

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Which is a game, but it’s just taking turns rolling the two cubes and then reading and writing the word on a dry erase board… not too exciting.

I came up with a game called, “Jewel King,” which looks something like this:

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As you can see, just by changing and adding a few things (including the name) it makes the activity seem much more exciting than it really is.

I let my students use my “special” colored pens and choose one color to be the “king” or “queen” of. So if a student chose light blue, for example, he would choose to be the “King of Light Blue.” They will be using their pens to write the words they roll on their kingdom’s “scrolls.”

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After they decide which pen color they want, they can start the game. The point of the game is to get as many jewels as you can for your “kingdom.”

Now, to earn jewels, you have to make a correct prediction of which word you are going to get. So the student has to pick letters to make a CVC word, and hope to actually roll that word. For example, let’s say before I roll I choose “d” and “ot” to make the word, “dot.” If I roll and actually get that word, I get a jewel for my kingdom. It may sound complicated, but just modeling it a few times helps the children to catch on pretty quick.

This game actually gives all the students more practice in decoding and reading CVC words because they must choose a word they want before they roll, and then they have to read the word they actually roll, as well as write it down on their scroll.

Not to mention this game allows the practice of social skills in learning to cooperate with others and following game rules as well as taking turns!

I also did the same thing with a sight word graphing activity. Before “Jewel King,” it looked like this:

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Just rolling and graphing the word.

Then after making a few changes… and voilá!

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Same concept as the other game, the student picks a word on the cube and says it out loud, and if they get the word, they get a jewel for their kingdom! Whatever word they get, they fill out their graph.

And you can differentiate with your students.

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I have some of my center groups simply graph by making Xs over the words they roll, and I have other students practice writing the sight word in the graph. And others, I have them write a few sentences on the back about which word they rolled the most and which word they rolled the least!

And you can always change it to “Catch the Dolphins” and use little dolphins instead of jewels or with whatever you would like to use! And it really didn’t take much time at all to make these changes to my centers, but it made a world of difference to my kiddos. Who doesn’t love pretending to be a king or a queen? ^_^

How can you add some flavor to your centers?

Mark

Follow Mark

twitter: http://www.twitter.com/kismryu 

class flicker site: http://www.flickr.com/kismryu

Developing Story Arcs with Sarah Weeks

One of the key and most practical take aways I had this summer from the Teachers College Writing Institute was during my session with author, Sarah Weeks. I attended her class on writing children’s books. She shared with us the importance of a balanced story arc in children’s stories. We examined how the best children’s books out there had really strong story arcs. She had story arcs written out for various well known children’s books. We looked at the story arc of the action in the story, which showed what was happening in the beginning, middle and end. Then, she had us also examine the emotional story that the character went through.

The next step was to start creating our own story arcs for the picture books we would write that week. She shared with us how some teachers, actually had a piece of string that they used to represent the arc. Another method was to use post-its. One color post-it would represent the action of the story, and another color post-it would represent the emotional story arc of my main character. I really loved using the post-its verses just writing it down in my notebook, because I could move around the post-its, add more details, and I could clearly distinguish between the two different arcs. After many hours, I finally had a story arc for my children’s book (still a work in progress).

Last week, I found myself whipping out the story arc I created this past summer, during one of my mini-lessons for our fantasy unit. My students were collecting ideas for their fantasy stories and we had just gone over the story arc of The Paper Bag Princess. I modeled for them creating a story arc of the action and then the emotions of the princess. Then, I showed them the story arc that I created for my children’s book as another model.

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Then, I had them create their own story arcs. I gave them post-it notes, bigger sized white paper, and let them go. I encouraged them to be creative and manipulate the size of the post-its as they needed. I had a few students add another arc, of the setting, with another post-it color. Another student included small drawings on her post-its along with the description. I even had some students layering the post-its on top of each other as they added more details. As the students worked on their story arcs, I kept emphasizing the importance of how having a strong story arc would help them write a better story. Plus, it would make the drafting process a lot easier.  And this was a lesson I definitely learned after spending many hours writing and revising my own story arc this past summer.

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Last Minute Valentine’s Day Ideas!

As a teacher, Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. It’s true. I LOVE IT.

This year I had my Kindies cut out hearts (making the hearts from the heart shape in Word) and I asked them a simple question, “What is love?” I told them to write “Love is …” In the middle of their hearts and then color it. I tried very, very hard not to lead my students. We talked about the word love and the different kind of love you can feel. Love for your parents, your brother or sister, your classmates, your teacher, and so on and so forth. But I really didn’t want to give them examples because I wanted to see what they wrote.

Some of my favorites (though all of them were my favorites really):

“Love is my mom’s love.”

“Love is fish and cake.”

“Love is good.”

“Love is friends.”

“Love is hearts.”

And one student said, “Love is BCC [name of our school], KTX, and Frozen.” The KTX is our speed train here in Korea. You can go from Seoul down to Busan in three hours. I also think Love Is KTX. And another thing, Frozen is SO WILDLY POPULAR here in Korea. My students have seen it up to 6 times in the theater.

Here is a picture of our final board:

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Don’t make fun of the background and border of my bulletin board! You work with what you have when you don’t have a Teacher’s Center around the corner/around the nation.

Another idea I found that I am having the entire elementary class do this Valentine’s Day is a project called “Inchies” though I made my squares 2″ by 2″. I found the idea on That Artist Woman and I LOVE IT.  Check out the link.

What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?

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The Hour of Code

Apparently the new language to teach in schools is not Chinese, but it’s coding. In England, students will be required to learn coding in primary and secondary schools  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10410036/Teaching-our-children-to-code-a-quiet-revolution.html). They will be the first country to mandate this for their students. It seems like they are taking the steps needed to get the students prepared for a future where knowing how to code will be a valuable skill to have.

Well, even if your school or state is not quite ready to embrace coding as another language taught in school, there is a great opportunity to expose your students to coding. Our technology coach has our students participating in the Hour of Code 2013 this week! Students will get an opportunity to participate for an hour on computer science this week. It’s not too late to get signed up. Go to the website: Teach the Hour of Code for further instructions and lesson plans. My students will be participating on Thursday!

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A New Kind of Library

A good friend of ours in California, Mona, just introduced us to the little free library. And I absolutely love the idea! People are creating their own mini-library outside of their homes for people in their neighborhoods. It’s an honor system, where you keep the books inside and people are free to take a book and bring it back. Neighbors can also add books to the library as well. Also, you put a notebook inside, where people can leave comments on what they thought of the book. It can be a mix of adult and children’s books. I would totally start one if I didn’t live in an apartment building.  This video gives a brief explanation on this idea:

Story featuring Adison Schanie by Beargrass Media about the Little Free Library.

This movement is growing which you can see from this map. Not only are there free little libraries in the US, but all over the world! As of now, I don’t see any in Singapore, maybe it has to do with lack of front yards, but I’m hoping someone will start one soon.

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Have you seen any of these little free libraries in your city? Do you plan on trying to start one in front of your home? Let us know! :)

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When I am more prepared.

When I am more prepared as a teacher…

My students know what they are expected to do.

When I am more prepared as a teacher…

My students are NOT as crazy, and my classroom management works SO much better.

When I am more prepared as a teacher…

My students are given different ways to learn the same concepts and ideas.

When I am more prepared as a teacher…

I am more patient with my students.

When I am more prepared as a teacher…

I am a happier teacher, and therefore I have happier students.

Just a little post to remind myself, and all of us, to be prepared for each and every lesson. Teaching is my passion, and that often means putting in more hours than the eight to five allotted time slot. But if it means I do my job better… I am going to do it!

What do you do to help yourself be prepared? I remember Jee Young mentioning once that she tries to start her lesson planning for the next week by the Tuesday before. We know in elementary especially that our lesson plans need to be flexible, and can usually change as we are teaching them… so it’s hard to plan multiple weeks at a time, once lesson may take two lessons. Two lessons might be finished in one. What I am trying to say is that I need to make it a goal to try to start lesson planning by tomorrow or Wednesday for next week! I can do it.

Goals are good. Students have goals. Teachers need goals as well. What are some of your goals this year?

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Does this photo have anything to do with this post? No. But I LOVE all the owl things I found at the Teacher Center store over the summer. I felt very clever when I designed my door this year. “Whoooooo’s in Kindergarten with Ms. Welton?” All the name tags for EVERYTHING are owls. Those owls are so wise.

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a Wall of Art

Hello friends and fans of two apples a day. It is Jee Young’s long-lost blogging partner-in-crime, Melody! Working and living abroad can sometimes involve crazy visa and paperwork challenges. Here I am standing on the other side, and I can tell you, if you want to teach internationally— the paperwork and, at times, crazy stress, that goes with it— is totally worth it.

Jee Young’s last post explained one of her beginning of the year projects she did with her fifth graders. I chose to do the same thing I did last year— self-portrait drawings (and at the end of the year they will draw themselves again, it is amazing to see how much they grow in Kindergarten)— only I displayed it much more prominently in the room.

My grade teaching partner had this idea of an art wall in the classroom. I created frames and a few times throughout the year we will rotate the students art to hang on the wall. I went a little crazy decorating each frame differently, if the students were older I would have them make their own frame.

If you have space in your classroom, I highly recommend hanging up some frames (bought or handmade) and displaying some of your students work. They love to see their work on the walls of the classroom, and not just in the art room. You could rotate different students so that you don’t have to have 26 frames on the wall (though that is what I did, hehe).

I can’t wait to see what their self-portraits look like at the end of the year!

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More posts soon!

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