Guest Blog Post: Blogging in the Classroom

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This week’s guest post comes from Mr. Mat Wachtor, who has had the pleasure of working with both myself and Jee Young. He is currently the lead Middle and High School English teacher at an international school in Seoul. Mat is passionate and dedicated to the teaching profession and seems to be leading a seminar every other day (according to my facebook newsfeed)! He was kind enough to give us a post on how he integrates student blogs into his teaching.

“This semester we are getting rid of paper journals, and moving online.”  This is how I started my high school English language arts classes on the first day of the Spring 2012 semester.  When I came to my current international school, I instituted a journal writing program into all of the high school classes (easy to do since I was the only high school ELA teacher at the time).  My rationale was to get students writing and engaging with various topics: creative, personal, school, and classroom topics.  However, after having piles and piles of student notebooks each Friday I quickly desired change.  Thus, the idea to get students’ blogging was born.

Personally, I have gone through quite a few of the blogging phases: Xanga, Myspace, Facebook Notes, Blogspot, and now Tumblr.  One day as I was searching the education hashtag on Tumblr, I came across an article about how the benefits of student blogging.  I began imagining what it would look like if I implemented a student blogging into my course.  It would simplify collecting journals, and would also allow for greater student responsibility on their part to do their homework.

I chose Tumblr because of its features: following blogs, news feeds, comments, and customization.  Students would be able to see my post in their blog feed when they logged in, and then write their own responses for me to see.  I customized my Tumblr page to have various sections for keeping up with homework, Youtube resources, and school announcements.  I tried to make it as much of an all in one stop for a student as possible.

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Students were also able to customize their blogs as well, and follow each other.  This allowed for students to comment positively (yes, I monitored the comments) on each others journal posts.  This also helped with EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students as it gave them samples for how to respond to the questions.

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Each Monday I would start off class by explaining the journal topic for the week, which I actually posted on Sunday mornings for those who were eager to do their homework.  Students would then have until Friday 5pm to post their responses.  Responses were assessed based on the length and how accurately they responded to the question.  In order for students to know that I graded their journal assignment I “liked” their post, and would occasionally post feedback by commenting.  This system also helped keep my records in order!


Since the nature of blogs are social, I encouraged various extra credit assignments that required photos or videos.  My goal was not only to educate students on how to use the internet as a form of communication, but also to have them understand how to positively use social networks.  One of these extra credit assignments was to post pictures from your spring break.  Before leaving for break I announced that I would be traveling to Chicago to visit family, and the could follow different parts of my trip on my blog.  Thus, they would receive extra credit for posting a picture with a quick thirty word explanation.

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Blogging as a class can be very exciting and fun!  Remember to set rules for the students to follow so that the community is safe and free to express themselves.  Happy blogging^^


Reading Buddies: Not just for Reading!

Jee Young and I have offered many blog posts about reading buddies during our first year of blogging. It just made sense seeing how our two classes used to hang out once a week when we worked at the same school, we loved reading buddies!

Tips for Successful Reading Buddies

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Reading Buddy Activity for Poetry

End of the Year Book Buddy Activity

This year I am coordinating the reading buddy activities for the whole elementary school, since our school is small we all have reading buddies at the same time— and with each other! As I am trying to find reading activities that fit ages ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade I am realizing more and more that reading buddies are so much more than just reading together. My younger students look forward to it every week, a chance to hang out (in a class like setting) with the older students, who wouldn’t want that?

This year we have been able to not only read together, but they’ve been able to do art projects together, they have played games together, they  co-authored a math story book, they have colored, they have laughed, they have learned how to communicate with people outside their age group.

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I readily admit though, that watching these students read to each other and with each other, and ask each other questions— that is my absolute favorite part of reading buddies!

I just typed in “reading buddies” into pinterest to check out how many boards there are, I am about to have a field day! I love that new things are always popping up there.

What are some great activities you do with reading buddies?


Guest Blog Post: Art with Children during Fallas – Oh My!

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I am thrilled to introduce you to this week’s guest blogger: Sarah! She hails from my home state, Michigan, and is currently teaching at an international school in Valencia, Spain. After reading this post, I want to apply to teach in Spain immediately and enjoy Las Fallas. Is there an opening at your school Sarah?!

Living in Valencia, Spain in early springtime is exciting.  The weather starts to change, restaurant terraces are open, orange trees start to blossom and there is a lingering scent of Las Fallas in the air.  Hard to believe a holiday has a scent but this one does!  Not most people outside of Spain or Europe know about this holiday but let me tell you, it’s a big deal.  As an annual celebration, only in the Valencian province, beginning March 12th until March 19th, Las Fallas honors the carpenter Saint Joseph.  For people who live and work in the city, it’s a holiday that you either love or hate.  But for a schoolteacher who works in Valencia, it’s a holiday you have to recognize.

This is my second year working at a private school here in Valencia and as part of the curriculum; we study Las Fallas.  We study it in Spanish, Music, and Art.  Think about the last one: Art.  That’s right.  As part of the celebration in the school, every class must make a small “falla” based on the year’s theme.  Now, being a first-second grade teacher, this is a complicated task (It would be for any year group!), but I’m lucky enough to have the little ones of the school so my falla planning has to be well thought-out and organized.

For the year’s theme, we choose languages and countries.  At my school the children study five different languages – FIVE!  So we teachers thought it would be a good idea to have the children learn more about the countries, rather than just the languages.  Every year group was assigned a different country and told to construct a monument, landmark, or something large-scaled, that could represent the country.

My year group was lucky enough to have the United States (helped me in terms of planning!) but we also have teachers from Australia, England, China, Spain and France at the school.  As I said, every year group took a country and designed a falla to contribute.  You can use whatever materials you want, cardboard, paper-mache, wood, paper, ect., the only requisite is that it needs to be big.

With my kids and the United States, I decided to do a California theme.  I have three classes at this school and with the three classes I decided to have them build something together to contribute and make a big California falla.  One class took San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, I assigned another class the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, and finally I gave one class the beaches of Southern California (think San Diego).  It’s taken us nearly 5 weeks to make these large-scale models but it’s been really fun and enlightening!


     Art can be amazing with little ones.  I use to dread art classes with them because I thought they weren’t capable of doing such great things, but I’m wrong.  They’re so eager to help you set things up, prepare things, try new ideas, they don’t really mind if the project doesn’t turn out exactly how you wanted it to be.  Although it might be overwhelming to work with twenty seven-year olds at one time to make a huge installation, it’s definitely worth it if you are well-organized and have all the right materials.  After Fallas, I’m thinking about doing some big art installations to make to decorate the classroom.  They just love collaborating making things together, which is a theme I never stop talking about in class.  It’s something they can all be proud of when the product is finished and can look at it and say, “I made part of that!”  I’ll tell you, it’s quite impressive to see what these little ones can do together when they’re excited about something!

Digital Research: The Double Edged Sword?

I recently got an e-mail from Allison over at OnlineEducation.Net, who came across this post about the ISTE conference in San Diego, Jee Young wrote last spring.

Allison explained that she helped create a graphic that, “examines how todays students are conducting research in the digital era, as well as the impact technology is having on the quality of their research.”

I thought the graphic was interesting and wanted to share it, so here it is!

digital research image

What do you think about these statistics? To me, most of them make sense, especially concerning how distracting technology can be. It is an amazing tool we have, the internet, but when not used correctly— can be a student’s biggest downfall. There are a lot of arguments to be made for both cases.

I like the three tips at the end for how to research better, as I myself fall victim to multitasking. I am learning more and more how NOT to do that.

Speaking of technology, a school I heard about during my graduate studies that I found really interesting is Waldorf School in California, a school that doesn’t allow computers in the classrooms… I have to admit, after reading this article, I was intrigued. I am not saying that I completely agree with the article, if I had an iPad, you better believe I would be using learning apps in my Kindergarten classroom. Still… I like to look at both sides of the coin.


Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

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I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Paul, who is from Toronto, Canada. He took a detour from his original path of pursuing law by going halfway around the world to teach ESL in Korea. After realizing his passion for teaching, he pursued a degree in teaching and is currently teaching high school computer science at an international school in Dailian, China. It’s always refreshing to meet other educators who love what they do!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a revelation I had in a ginseng tea shop at Incheon airport in Korea 5 weeks ago.  I was sitting there with my own cup of tea, passing the time on my laptop, when I observed a couple ordering some tea at the counter. Immediately, two things were apparent.  The first was that they were newly-wed and the second was that they were on a backpacking trip.  Accordingly, two thoughts ran through my head: the first was ‘it must be nice to be newly-wed’ and second, ‘I wonder how they enjoyed Korea?’  The latter thought made me reflect on my own time in Korea, and that’s when I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment.  I realized that the Korea I knew and had experienced for 4 years was nothing like the Korea this couple had experienced in quite possibly a few days.  As common-sense as it may be, I realized that the more time spent in a place, the more intimately one would come to know a place, and this got me to thinking about the breadth and depth of knowing things.

So here’s my pearl of insight:

We all have a finite amount of time and energy.  How we invest this time and energy results in increasing either our breadth or depth in knowing a thing.  For example, when we travel, the reason we visit different countries, even if it be for a couple of days, is to experience and see new things.  In this case, we are expanding our breadth of knowledge.  If we spend more than a year in the same place, we begin to drift away from breadth and begin to move towards depth.  Things are no longer new, and through repetition, we begin to delve deeper into becoming familiar with a thing.

To take an example, when I lived in Korea, I really went out of my way to try different foods.  Whenever I tried a new food, I would be expanding my breadth of knowledge in knowing Korean food.  However, it’s not everyday that I would be able to try a new food.  Rather, more often than not, because I would be working at school, I would usually eat common foods such as rice, kimchi, and doen-jang jjigae (bean-paste soup).  Through the repetition of eating the same food everyday, a depth or familiarity developed with that very food.

And do you know what happened to me last month when I visited Korea?  I was sitting in a traditional Korean restaurant in Kang-won province, with a bowl of rice, a side-dish of kimchi, and a bowl of doen-jang jjigae in front of me.  I went to taste the doen-jang jjigae, and I kid you not, my eyes began to tear.  It wasn’t just the taste, which in itself was exquisite (being in the country-side, it was as authentic as it gets), but it was also the depth surrounding the experience.  In that first taste, recalling the four years I spent in Korea, eating doen-jang jjigae day in and day out, I said to myself, “dang, that’s some good doen-jang jjigae.”  And the point here is that I knew it only the way someone who had lived in Korea for 4 years could know it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? I’m glad you have a special relationship with doen-jang jjigae.  In fact, I think you and doen-jang jjigae should get a room…”  Okay, well…no need to be facetious.  I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by depth.

One of the things that attracts me to international teaching is that it gives me a chance to develop this very depth that I’m talking about.  Whether it be working abroad as an international teacher, or living abroad in some other capacity, isn’t it fair to say that living in a place for 6 months is different from 1 year, which is still different from 2 years, which is still different from 5, or even 10 years?

I believe being a good international teacher is greatly helped if you have a love and passion for learning another place in depth, which includes embracing such things as different culture, language, and food.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of international teachers out there who have no interest in learning their new country of residence, yet still win my full approval for being a good international teacher.  However, I would make the argument that performing to your best ability requires being comfortable.  If we are comfortable, this means we are familiar, and if we are familiar, it means that at some point, an investment of time and energy has been made.


Dream BIG!

I was really moved and inspired by this TED talk video I watched a few days ago on this blog called Inquiry Within. I showed my students this video and they clapped at the end! After watching it, I asked my students what their dreams are. I heard various things from, making a change in the world, helping shy kids become more outgoing, starting my own duct tape wallet business, saving the oceans, coming up with a new type of clean energy and more. It was so exciting to hear their dreams. I don’t know why I haven’t asked them earlier. I challenged them to think of ways to take action on their dreams now and not wait until they are “older”.

Often I wonder if what I say to them sticks inside. My students have been blogging for the slice of life challenge this month. I suggested that they write about their dreams for their blog post today. When I came home, I was checking their blogs, and quite a few of them wrote about this TED talk. It was so encouraging to read their positive responses to the talk and hear them talk more about their dreams. Here is some of their writing!

“What I learned is that nobody can tell you that your dream is stupid. Just believe you can make a difference!!!”

“This is a poem I wrote about my Dream.

Dream even when you don’t have to,
Remember all the things you dream about,
Everyone has to dream of something,
Anyone can can believe in their dreams,

“I really liked this film because I thought  it expressed very good details about how to always try your best. I think it really motivated us to dream big, work hard, and to stay humble, I know what you are thinking, why stay humble? But as it said in the video “no one likes a big jerk”. I mean think about it, do you think you are a big jerk. But it also said that only you could dream big and only you can make your own history. Think about it!?

“Just now My teacher wanted me to think of a bigger dream. At first I couldn’t think of anything but then as other people started sharing their big dream I got an idea. My big dream was to open a dog rescuing business because in China there are lots of dogs that doesn’t have a home, and I want to give them a home.”

“DREAM BIG. WORK HARD. STAY HUMBLE. These words have been stuck in my head as if they had been super-glued. Today after school, I immediately turned on the computer to watch a TED video. It was called:  Write Your Story, Change History. By just one short video, I never knew I could learn that much. The wisdom of words spread into my ears. I learned that by just one helping hand, you can make a big difference. A girl born with cancer has made a big difference all around the states raising millions of money to help people with cancer. One girl. One dream. One lemonade stand. Seems normal right? But look at how much she’s done. Even us ordinary people can make a big difference in our world right now.  Now it’s your turn to start taking action to changing history.”

Another idea I have swirling in my head is to have the kids write and perform their own “TED talk” that will inspire others!

How do you inspire your students to dream big? 


Social Studies in the International Classroom

Hello! Does anyone else find it hard to teach an American curriculum in an international classroom, especially when it comes to Social Studies? My students are still really young, and they have almost no grid for America. Everything in our curriculum constantly points to the names of the states, the white house, the statue of liberty, and the liberty bell, and so on and so forth. Obviously, there are things that are relate-able and easily transferable… like communities, and citizens, and laws, etc.

BUT I find myself searching for more and more extra activities to do during Social Studies to help “fill in the blanks” and have it make sense to them. Right now we are discussing the past and the present, how things have changed, what does a long, long time ago mean, lalala. This morning I found CrissCross Applesauce in First Grade and a couple of years ago Holly made this awesome freebie. I am totally doing it today! I will update this post later with some of their pictures (if they are cute, haha).


As an international teacher, what do you do when you teach social studies?!



My favorite response was when my kindergarten girl said, “When I was a baby I could drink my mommy’s milk!”

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Classroom Makeover

I admit there are times where I’ve teared at the end of the Extreme Home Makeover when the family sees their amazing and dream like home after all the struggles they’ve gone through.  There’s something about the predictable formula of makeover shows that draws me in. Well, my classroom has slowly been having a makeover throughout the year, not quite as drastic as the makeovers on the TV show, but enough to make an impact on learning.

The past few weeks we’ve been doing a coaching cycle with our literacy coach, where we’ve done various walk throughs in classrooms. We’ve been going in small groups, looking at classroom charts, libraries and classroom setup. I absolutely love being able to see other classrooms. There are so many amazing teachers in my school, and I hardly ever get a chance to go into the classrooms of the other grades. I enjoyed having the chance to walk through classrooms from 3rd-8th grade.

It’s so interesting to see how other teachers set up the same amount of space that we’re given in our classroom. I was so impressed by all the creativity and uses of the spaces I saw. I felt very inspired to really reflect on my own classroom space and be more intentional with how I set things up. Here are a few reflections after my visits:

1. Create bold, visual and interactive charts. I decided to try to get more pictures and visuals with the text on my charts. Also, I used various colored post-its to make things pop out.  I have some interactive charts like the one that keeps progress on our book club groups. I love to go to chartchums when I need some inspiration on spicing up my charts!

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2. Utilize the entire classroom space.  In my original classroom, I had wanted my meeting area in the back and it took up 2/3 of the space in the back with pockets of space not used for anything.  I changed my meeting area in the front, that way I can utilize my projector and document camera during my mini-lessons.

I also divided the back into two equal areas. I got a new table so I could do small group lessons there while keeping the library in the other half. My students and I are really enjoying the new set up!

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3. Create more interactive bulletin boards. Again, I’m trying to be more intentional in how I use my classroom space including bulletin boards. On one section of the bulletin boards in the back of my classroom, I’m using to keep track of post-it notes that students do in reading workshop. I’m sorting them into categories we use: progressing, secure, & exceeds expectations. That way, students can see where they are in the spectrum and can help them push their thinking and writing to becoming in the secure and exceeds expectations categories.

We’ll continue to add post-it notes as we continue through our fantasy unit. You can see the post-its hanging in the picture above. I got this great idea from another fabulous 5th grade teacher on my team, Kate!

How do you utilize your classroom space effectively? What tips can you share? When was the last time you visited another colleagues classroom for ideas?