Let Your Students Inspire You

Something new I am trying to do this semester is to not teach as much. Hmm. Does that sound bad? As a teacher it’s in my blood to correct every mistake, or tell them my knowledge about a certain subject. Obviously, students need to understand and know math concepts, and how to read and write, etc. But I feel like there are so many things I tell them, that are my truths. They could be real and all, but my students might find a better way to explain it or think about it.

I heard a story once (I have no idea from whom, or if it is even true, but it as stuck with me for years) that the man who invented the door to washing machines sat on his floor and thought forever about how a penguin would open a door, and that was how he came up with the handle.

Do I ever give my students the time to sit and think about how penguins open doors?

I am not sure if you have guessed by now, reading this blog by Jee Young and I— but everything we do is inspired by our faith in God. My church here in Seoul has a theme for every year. 2013 is the year of Inspiration. I am realizing this is seeping into my teaching life as well. I want to inspire my children, and I often realizing that they inspire me more. The ideas they think of, the solutions they come up with- they are usually pretty brilliant.

I am learning not to shut them down even if they don’t give what I think is the right answer. Instead of telling them the “right” thing, I am asking them how they came up with their ideas. I still correct them, and I correct them often, but this is a start.

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My students inspire me every day.

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Author Visit: Rosemary Wells

One of the cool things about being at a big school is that we get some amazing authors visiting! This past week, we had Rosemary Wells, who wrote many well-loved children’s books including Noisy Nora, Max & Ruby, and Yoko.  Not only does she write these books, but she illustrates them as well.

Even though she was not working with my division, I got to attend a special session with her afterschool for parents and teachers. There is something so magical about meeting the authors of books that you love. I’m always so amazed and in awe of them. For me, as an avid reader,  they feel like celebrities.

Rosemary shared with us a bit about herself and journey to becoming a an author. She was actually an artist first and went to school for art. She said the writer inside her came out later on when she was an adult, after she had some life experiences and stories to write. I definitely agree with that. The writer in me keeps coming out more, the older I get!

Rosemary also shared that a lot of the stories she writes are nonfiction in the sense that she gets her ideas from her every day life. She continued to share with us the importance of fostering in kids a love for reading. She adamantly shared her concerns about how many people are focused on students reading level and labeling readers. She continued to emphasize the importance of instilling a love for reading in our kids.

We also found out that it was her birthday and celebrated with this wonderfully made cake from a parent. It was an amazing afternoon of getting to meet Rosemary and she even signed my book! I bought her new book, Time-Out Sophie, which was just published. I highly recommend this book! I know many young kids will be able to relate to getting  a “time-out”. Now, I can add this to our “two apples a day” collection of signed books. Thank you Rosemary!

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Teaching Nonfiction Reading Unit-Part 1

In November, we had the privilege of having a staff developer from Columbia Teachers College Reading & Writing Project come to our school. Annie, the staff developer, worked with our grade level team for a week. She also was in my classroom as I got to be the labsite, which I was super excited and nervous about. Annie did demo lessons three times during the week.

The first lesson was a preassessment on nonfiction reading. I learned some great tips and strategies. She shared with us to maximize the time during an assessment by taking informal notes on the students WHILE they take the asssessment. There were a lot of observations I could quickly make and jot down while walking around. We had two different level text sets that we gave to students. There were 2 different non-fiction articles on one topic for each text set. We had 3 questions for that the students had to answer for the text sets.

Annie had us observe how the students were reading, looking at how they tracked the words (with their eyes, fingers, highlighting), and also how much they read of the texts. As we observed and continued to take notes on their responses to the questions as well, it was really good to have the information. This is all information that I could use when conferring with students

When I confer with students, I always get stuck on what to compliment them during my reading conferences. Annie suggested using things that you’ve observed about them as readers in the past. I usually thought that I would have to compliment them on something I noticed them doing at that moment. However, if I can have notes on them during assessments and during their independent reading time, I could use those positive things I noticed as the compliment for the conference.

One of the important take aways is to used leveled reading assessments. This is definitely a difficult task at times, but it was beneficial to give students texts that are accessible for them. That helped us gain a better understanding of their comprehension and higher level thinking skills knowing that the text was at their level. Therefore, we couldn’t say, the text was too hard for them, therefore, they couldn’t answer these questions.

After we looked over and analyzed their assessments, that shifted how I decided to teach the nonfiction unit. I think often we tend to give pre assessments and then teach the unit how we always taught it. It’s critical to look at what students know and see what gaps there are. I know for my students, I noticed on the assessment that a lot of them needed explicit teaching on nonfiction text structures and comparing two texts. Therefore, I shifted my original mini-lessons in order to focus more on those two areas.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll discuss good read alouds, mentor texts and some more tips!

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Favorite Reads Right Now

My students LOVE to read. I give them free time and they decide to grab a book instead of a toy. I fully believe that part of the reason is because I LOVE to read, and children are extremely perceptive… they pick up on everything! And since my kids are so young, they tend to love what I love 🙂 What? It’s true.

Since the beginning of the year my Kindergarten students have been dying to get their hands on any and all Froggy books. This is a series by author Jonathan London. The books are cute and funny, and every book has great illustrations. I encouraged the students to guess what was happening in the story by the pictures at the beginning of the year when they couldn’t read the words. Then I wouldn’t let them look at the books for a period of time. Is that mean? Ooooh, well. I told them they needed to learn how to read, before they “read” Froggy books. Once a week I would give them time to choose any book they wanted (you know, to keep their love for books going strong), and they always went for our Froggy series. Now, they are reading the stories on their own, it has been amazing to see them fight for the right to read their favorite books! A win-win situation for everyone.

My first graders (both girls) are huge fans of Junie B. Jones, and have recently started reading Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows.

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What series or story types are your students interested in? Let us know!

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Guest Blog Post: The Science in Making Mistakes

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I am excited to share a guest post by Chris this week, whom I first met a couple of years ago at New Philadelphia Church here in Seoul. And now we are co-workers! Chris is a passionate and well-connected educator with a blog titled Teach Science Right. I think Chris is our first high school international teacher to be featured on our blog, so check out his site, you won’t be disappointed.

As a science teacher my younger students often look at me in fear at the beginning of the year. The first things they tend to notice is my buzz cut, facial hair & low voice and immediately assume that I’m an intimidating, hard-grading type of science teacher.

But that doesn’t last long!

I’ve learned that many students have these views of my classroom and me because often their previous teachers have filled their heads with this impression. I also know that it’s usually not me that they are intimidated by; rather it’s the content. Science is given a bad rap in many classrooms (not all, but many). It’s often seen as a subject that only the socially awkward students tend to enjoy, or only the really, really intelligent kids enjoy.

It doesn’t take long for me to right these wrongs…

I’m beginning to lose count of all the parents that have personally thanked me during PTCs. Many of them express that their child grew up with a love for science, nature and experiments but quickly lost that love as they grew into adolescence and the pressures of content, tests and memorization squeezed the joy out of it for them. They express to me that their son or daughter finally enjoys science again.

What music to my ears!

And now I want to share my biggest teaching secret….

Room for Mistakes.

Now I realize many readers may teach younger students in which mistakes happen all the time and are common-place, and rightly so are seen as vital to the learning process. But somewhere between lower elementary school and middle & high school teachers have unlearned that mistakes are such a part of the learning process.

Now if a student forgets their homework at home or misses a deadline… well too bad. If a student forgot to answer a question on the practice worksheet (I repeat… the practice) we take points away that can never be made up (because we are calculating their grade based on how many points they got correct out of how many points they could have gotten correct and then wonder why they always ask for extra credit).

And I want to ask, where is the room for mistakes?

I put a lot of effort into creating a class atmosphere that is safe – safe from ridicule of mistakes, safe from rewards for not making mistakes, and safe from a grade being lowered for making mistakes.

Does everyone get an A in my class? – Nope. Not even close. Does everyone have a chance to earn an A? You betcha!

“Forgot your homework? That’s alright, get it to me tomorrow.”

“Forgot to do that problem on the practice? Well show me now that you know how to complete it and I’ll give you credit.”

“What?! You did the wrong page in the textbook?! Oh well, while we work on Activity D why don’t you complete the correct problems and then show me?”

My methods aren’t popular. Many arguments I receive are along the lines of “Not adequately preparing our young people for the future workforce”, and “You are making it too easy on them.”

To which I ask, What made you decide to teach? Did you want to prepare students for jobs? Be a tough, hard-nose teacher?

Or did you simply want to inspire?

Think about your hobbies – i.e. the things that you really enjoy doing and get energy from doing. Most likely they are activities in which you are no expert and you make mistakes.  And most likely they are activities in which you had freedom to learn, freedom to experiment, freedom to mess-up without somebody punishing you for it.

That’s all I’m doing. I’m teaching my kids to not only learn science, but to enjoy science – by taking the fear out of it.


For more information, be sure to search Google for “Standards-based grading and reporting” to see where many of my methods were derived from.

Think Outside the Box

Don’t be scared!  Think outside the box, and create your own lessons. The best way for me to think outside the box is to explore how OTHER people think outside the box. That may sound like I am just copying other teacher’s awesome ideas for how to teach a lesson (like the awesome Adjective Lesson I did, or the great Said is Dead poster I found on Chartchums), and in fact, that is exactly what I am doing. But by taking what other teacher’s are doing I am realizing that I can create things on my own too. It has been giving me the confidence to add my own spin on lessons.

After I did the lesson on the Said is Dead poster I thought of other posters to create for other commonly used words. My students learned about those words by acting them out. I might have not thought about those lessons if I had not used the original idea by another teacher. This happens to me all the time, I jump off of ideas and come up with things on my own.

This is why Jee Young and I love sharing our ideas, as well as other colleagues great work. It helps us work outside of the box of our curriculum and become better teachers. We are the ones in the classroom after all.

Here are a few visuals of a few things I have done in my classroom right before and after break:


Alligator mouths made out of popsicle sticks for first grade math!

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Our reading buddy activity with the fourth graders before break was to create a math story,

they did such an amazing job, the stories were SO creative!

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I found this book at one of the only English book stores in Seoul. It is amazing for Social Studies when students are learning about maps! My students love this book.

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Oh by the way, do you have a favorite blog you go to for ideas in certain subject areas? In certain grades? Share!

Guest Read Aloud in Melody’s Class!

While I was in Korea, I had the chance to visit Melody’s kindergarten/1st grade classroom. I was really excited to meet her students and read to them. I read aloud the story Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Afterwards, we filled out this fun story map that Melody had made. On post-its I wrote down what the students shared. We went through the title, characters, setting, problems, solutions and theme. It was a great way to get them discuss the different elements of the story. I was so impressed that they were able to answer all these including the theme!

Afterwards, we did a quick question and answer session with them. They asked me about Singapore and my students. We had some time left before lunch so we played with some super cold play dough as well. I’ve never taught such young kids before, so it was a lot of fun to be in their class. I always have a lot of respect for teachers that teach the younger kids!  I’m not sure I would have the energy and patience. Thank you Melody for letting me visit your classroom! You have an amazing class and I could tell that  you are making an impact in their lives. 🙂



                                         Photo credit to Melody.     

Guest Blog Post: Pecha Kucha More Than Chit-Chat

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We are excited to start off 2013 with our guest blogger Jackie. She took the leap of faith and started teaching internationally at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia this past year.  I had the privilege of meeting her in person in Singapore a few months ago when she was visiting during her vacation. She is a faithful reader of our blog and currently teaching 7th & 8th English and technology. We are thankful for her thoughtful contribution! 

Seventh grade students in a growing English proficiency literature class struggled to comprehend Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman until the setting and social issues came alive through their compositions of pecha kuchas.

What is a pecha kucha and how did students compose them in our classroom? To begin, Pecha Kucha is the Japanese word for “chit chat.” The term refers to 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The idea originated as a way to prompt presenters to create thoughtful, compelling representations as an alternative to a popular presentation method that tempts people to be wordy, not in a good way.

Our class took a cue from a previous teacher at our school, Jabiz Raisdana, to attempt amini-pecha kucha (10 slides shown for 20 seconds each) as a way to familiarize ourselves with the setting of Boy Overboard, Afghanistan. Because students appreciated the visual aspect of pecha kuchas, we decided to expand it to examine the themes of  the book, Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman. Also, the Middle Years Program (part of the International Baccalaureate program) at our school, requires a “Visual Literacy” criterium for English Acquisition Learners which pecha kuchas provide an opportunity to demonstrate.

“Pecha kuchas helped me understand the book better,” was overheard by one student in the middle of researching this project. Boy Overboard proved to be somewhat challenging with its vocabulary referencing war and its Afghan setting. When asked why and how pecha kuchas helped her, the student responded that the slides allowed her “to see” scenes from the book.

Students gravitated toward the social issues surrounding the book as well. We tied the theme of gender equality, prevalent in this book set during Taliban control, to the UN Millenium Development Goals. Students followed the unfolding story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for her BBC blog and views on education for girls–and connected this to the characters in the book as they are forced to leave Afghanistan because their parents run an illegal school for girls.

We capitalized on the text-to-world connection and the visual nature of pecha kuchas to build a scaffold for students. My hope was not only that the students learn about Afghanistan and themes of the novel, but how to comprehend written and visual texts.

Here are the steps we took to compose our mini-pecha kucha reader responseassignment:

  1. Discussed the elements of the book: characters, setting, theme, etc.
  2. Identified setting or themes that would help students better understand the novel. (Made a list.)
  3. Partners chose a theme and began planning by copying and sharing this planner.
  4. Carefully evaluated and selected images that supported an understanding of the topic.
  5. Cited each image, while starting with a search of Creative Commons images.
  6. Composed text for each image that reflected an accurate reading of the image while connecting it to the topic and how it helped the students better understand the book.
  7. Recorded the pecha kucha while timing to be sure the slide was shown for roughly 20 seconds only.
  8. Screened the pecha kucha for the class, answering questions about why certain images were selected and explaining how the slideshow connected to the novel.

Pecha Kucha Evaluation Rubric.

Here is an example of a finished mini-pecha kucha on the topic of Desert Life in Afghanistan by 3 seventh grade students; Holly, Elaine and Da Ran.

Reflections: After the assignment, I had these thoughts:

  • We are still working on beginnings, middles and endings when writing. Although the pecha kuchas encourage writers to focus on the specific image shown, we are still thinking about we can incorporate a “wrap-it-up” ending and tie the topic to the novel.
  • Many students struggled with selecting images that “looked” like they fit the topic, but they were not sure if they were taken in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere. We discussed how Flickr images often include a description of the photo and could provide more context than a simple Google image search.
  • Students shared the citations with me on the planner, but where should they include them on screen in the final project? Rolling credits?

For more from Jackie, go to: http://jakartajackie.wordpress.com/

A Revelation on Sharing

I had a revelation over my winter break. My students need more time to share with each other what they are doing. That is why I love reading and writing workshop (this curriculum hasn’t been implemented at my current job, but I have taught it in the past, and I am itching to get back to it!).

When student’s share their work, they are able to articulate exactly what they are learning and doing at school. They also learn from each other. Better presentation skills, better listening skills, it just makes better learning.

One thing I am going to aim for during the second half of this school year is to give my students more time to share. It is something that easily gets forgotten in the hustle and bustle of getting every lesson in. I have a lot of instructional time since my school only has one 45 minute special class per day, time to take advantage!

Which is what I have started to do this first week back in school. My students are learning how to compliment each other’s writing (the constructive criticism will come much later ^^), read in a clear voice, and talk about the details of their story and what they are going to write next. They are excited to share their stories too, I just absolutely love it.

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What are some ways you have your students share their work? I bet there are so many creative ways from the younger students to the older elementary students. More posts to come on ways I get my students to share!

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{1.02.2013} Happy 1st Blogiversary!

Happy 1st Blogiversary! One year ago, in a cute cozy cafe in the middle of Nowon, we started this blog, not sure what to expect. Now we have over 19,000 hits from 143 countries, 214 facebook likes, 111 blog posts,  52 e-mail followers and 8 guest blog posts . We are actually celebrating together here in Seoul, over some cupcakes and tea. We are having a blogging day, which means spending some time brainstorming and writing up blog posts!

Help us celebrate by liking our page on Facebook! Click on the button over on the left of our blog. It’s a great present to give us on our first anniversary and it’s free. If you already like us, please share our page with your friends.

Our goal is to bring together educators from all over the world by sharing our ideas, experiences and resources. Sharing is caring! Happy blogging in 2013!