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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Tips for the End of the School Year

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was checking into the York hotel and going to orientation with my fellow incoming teachers here in Singapore. The past nine months have have gone by so quickly here and my flights home to NY for the summer are already booked! Some of you might be saying, it’s only April, slow down.

Since I end school the first week of June, the countdown has definitely started. Here are a few tips and ideas I’ve had swirling around my head these past few weeks as I’ve been pondering the end of my first year here in Singapore. I will admit that the last two months of school are usually pretty crazy. Here are a few things I’m going to try to do in order to make it to the end successfully!

1. Plan out the end of the year. Like the UBD model, do some backwards design and make sure you have enough time to cover what you need before the end of the year! Make sure to factor in all of the end of the year field trips and assemblies.

2. Start early on report cards and projects that need to get done in the last weeks of school. The last two months of school are always super hectic, with last minute things popping up. So get a head start on those things you know you have to get done at the end, so you are a little bit less stressed, if that’s possible! 🙂

3. Delegate the work. One of the projects I like to do is creating a short video clip of my students from the year that I can show my students at the end of the school year. Creating these videos can get pretty time consuming, so I try to start it EARLY! This year, I’m going to try to get some of my students to help me on this big project and try to delegate some of the work.

4. Make time for friends. I know this sounds obvious, but for international school teachers, the end of the school year can be pretty emotional as there are always teachers leaving the school and country. Make sure to carve out time to spend with those close friends that are leaving and giving them their proper farewell. I know I was pretty emotional when I had to leave Korea after four years. I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time with my friends that my time so memorable in my last weeks.

5. Overplan for the last few weeks. Even if your grades and report cards are due a week or two before the school year ends, keep your students working! I’ve always found it a lot easier to manage when students have projects they are doing in the last week of school instead of a lot of free time (obviously). The end of the year is a great time for them to reflect on their learning from the year and be able to show their learning whether through presentations or projects.

6. Start planning for next year. This is a great time to start reflecting on what you want to do next year. I know for me, there are a lot of changes and tweaks I want to make. If there are a few projects that I can get started on now or at least write down, to remind myself when I get back after the summer, I know it will be helpful.

Here’s a fun comic I found on Chris Pierce’s blog, called teachable moments, that I just discovered. Thanks Chris for letting us use your comic!

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What are some tips you have for the end of the school year?

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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.

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FAQs About Becoming an International School Teacher

Last year, we had posted about How to Become an International School Teacher? This post continues to consistently get a lot of hits and comments from people all over the world. So we decided to follow-up on that post and share out some of the answers to the many questions we have received. 

Q: What would be the next step for me if I wanted to have the possibility to teach at an International School?
M: It depends on where you want to go. Most top international schools around the world require a teaching license, and there are several programs that can get you your teaching license in nine months, and a lot of universities are offering online programs for it now as well (usually you have to do your internship wherever the university is located).

Q: Could you give me a bit more info on these teaching licenses? I’ve looked on the internet, and mostly I’ve run into TEFL licenses for teaching English.
J: I recommend going through the process of getting your master’s degree and a teaching license through an accredited university. You can do that easily online through a lot of different universities. I just did a google search on online masters degree in education. Here are some universities here:http://www.elearners.com/online-degrees/master/education.htm?page=8  Make sure that the online master degree program allows you to be certified.

Q: Is a Masters Degree in Education after I get my bachelors the right thing to do? Do you get a teaching license along with the degree? And is there really a difference whether you take up the course online or actually sit in the college? 
M: YES get a masters in education, but you don’t necessarily have to. There are programs you can take to get your teaching license in less than a year without getting your masters. One thing to be careful of if you do decide to get a masters in education, is to make sure that the program also gives you a teaching license. Certifying yourself to teach, and getting your masters in education are two separate things, but many programs will offer them together. They are usually two years long. In order to teach at any international school you must have a teaching certificate/license.

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What qualifications are necessary in order to become a teacher at an international school?
J: Most reputable international schools will want teachers to be certified and have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some of the more competitive schools would like you to have at least 2 years of teaching experience and/or your master’s degree as well. If you are already living abroad and you want to pursue teaching, you can start an online teaching program where you can get certified and/or your masters.
M: No matter what, to become a teacher you should have your teaching certificate (as mentioned several times previously, but hey- some people overlook it!). There are several programs available that last from one to two years, and others as short as nine months. There are also programs that will give you a master’s degree as well as a teaching certificate, but not ALL education master programs do that, so make sure you do your research.

Q: 
I read on this post that Nov. is when the recruitment starts happening? Is there a general timeline I should be aware of as I start searching?
J: International schools tend to recruit earlier than schools back in the US. Many international schools will require teachers to let them know if they are not coming back the following year anywhere from October-January of the previous year. The recruiting fairs start as early as January and many schools even hire before that if they already know of openings! It never hurts to start looking for openings and send your resume to schools that you are really interested in earlier on.

Q:  Do you know anything about teaching at a DOD school on bases overseas?
J: Unfortunately I can’t say that I know much about the DOD school system.  You can find more information on their website here: http://www.dodea.edu/  

Q: Is there anything else specifically that they look for in international teachers, that I should be aware of?
J: It really depends on the school, and what fit is good for them. There are some newer schools that may tend to hire more young & single teachers, verses some schools that prefer married couples. Many schools do generally prefer married couples when hiring. Some schools may have more of a focus on a certain type of curriculum like IB or AP, and may prefer candidates with experience in teaching that. While other schools are willing to spend time and to get teachers trained for those programs.

Q: How hard is it to find a job as an international teacher given you have very limited experience in teaching, but have the necessary degrees and attitude? 
J: There are actually many international schools out there. Again, if you are willing to teach at newer schools in countries or cities that are not as popular for foreigners to live at, you will probably have a better chance. It really depends on how picky you are going to be with the school and country you want to live at.
M: To go off of what J said, once you have a solid two or three years of teaching experience at a possible “less popular” international school the chances of getting a job at a school and in a country that you desire are much higher.


Q: What should I prepare to become as an international teacher in IB?

M: To my understanding (and quick research) there is no special “IB” certification you can get, you receive the training that you need when you work at an IB school.

Feel free to leave us any further questions you may have in the comments section!

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Guest Blog Post: World Changers

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This week’s guest blogger is not only a rare high school math and physics teacher, but also my younger brother. Even though teaching was not something he originally planned on doing, he is quite good at it. (It must have been due to all those times we played school together and I was of course the teacher and he was one of the students in my class.) I had the unique privilege of teaching at the same school as my brother in Korea and I could tell that he was making quite an impact on their lives.

World Changers

By Brian Kim

As a certified nerd and non-certified math teacher for the last 5 years, I’ve realized quite a few things about my “oh-so-lovely” students.  The most important of these can be spelled out with a simple cliché: every single one of my students can change the world. I don’t mean this in a butterfly effect type of way where if they flap their barely post-pubescent wings now, it may cause a storm of ominous and unavoidable chain reactions leading to the complete, utter, and mass destruction of the world. But I mean this in a genuine way, where I’ve come to believe that I’m teaching the future leaders, policymakers, and trendsetters in a constantly changing and evolving world (that hopefully won’t end in mass destruction).  My students are world changers.

In my ‘selfless’ quest to prod my students along on this journey towards success and hopefully a share in their future billion-dollar corporations, I started off with some new classroom decorations. Realizing their need for good role models outside of their suicidal celebrities, largely absent fathers, and their overly sarcastic math teacher, I decided to post up pictures of my heroes in the math world for them. As I desperately tried to explain how Einstein, Gauss, and Euler are important to their future successes and why giving equity to past teachers is a good business decision, I didn’t get much of a response from my iphone-hugging, gangnam-styling students. A few blank stares, nervous nods, and a feigned laugh later, I realized I needed to change my approach. 

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A bit discouraged, but still unfazed, I decided to turn the tables on my students. I gave them a simple homework assignment: Come to math class with 3 math quotes that are not from google (aka write them yourself!). The following class, we took time to share the quotes in class and we voted for which quote we liked the best for each student. And then we went for an impromptu photo shoot in our classroom armed with my DSLR, the bulletin board, and a pinch of creativity (aka adobe photoshop). I printed out the pictures along with their quotes, laminated them, and posted them on my back wall.

Now everyday when my students walk into the classroom or look to the back because they’re tired of looking at my handsome face, they see a wall full of world changers: Einstein, Gauss, and Euler, next to Bae, Kim, Lee, Nelson, Crystal, Jung, and probably some more Kims.

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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. 🙂

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                                         Photo credit to Melody.     

Read Aloud…is it worth it?

Yes, it is totally worth it! I had a chance to present with another amazing 2nd grade teacher, Elaine, at my school about the joy and importance of read aloud at the KORCOS conference on Friday. It was a pretty relaxed and hopefully informative session for the people that came. Here is the slide show that we presented. A lot of these nuggets of information we gained last summer at the Teacher’s College Summer Reading Institute.

We also modeled reading aloud two different picture books. Some of the strategies we modeled were stop & jot, turn & talk, allowing students to envision by not showing the pictures at first, and thinking aloud as you are reading as a mentor reader for your students.

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Here is a link to the wiki site, where we put a list of books we recommend for read aloud, book clubs, poetry and mentor texts.

I absolutely love read aloud time with my students. I’m glad I could share some of this passion I have with other educators at the KORCOS conference. Again, if you have any questions about any of our posts or other education related questions, feel free to leave a comment.  We will do our best to respond to your questions. Or just let us know that you stopped by our site. 🙂 Like Melody mentioned in her post, we ❤ comments!