Appropriate Challenge and the ZPD

While we all love a good acronym, it can be frustrating when they get thrown around and you feel like you are not in the know.  Chances are, however, even if you don’t know what ZPD is off the top of your head, you probably think about it in the context of your classroom all the time.

ZPD is short for Zone of Proximal Development, which was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s and was elaborated on until his death in 1934.  The ZPD is used to describe the distance between what a child can do independently and what they can do with the assistance of a more knowledgeable partner (Eun, 2019).  That more knowledgeable partner could be the teacher, a peer, or even an interactive computer program.  The ZPD is the basis for a lot of our current scaffolding practices such as simplifying a task, monitoring ongoing performance, and adjusting the level of assistance provided.  We can also see the influence of the ZPD when we use graphic organizers to support student thinking, help them choose a “just right” book to read, or reference the learning continuum from student Map results to target learning.  The ZPD goes beyond scaffolding, however, framing student-teacher collaboration and negotiation as a bilateral process as opposed to something that is always done by the teacher.  Finding appropriate challenge and thus avoiding boredom and confusion and the subsequent distraction, frustration, and lack of motivation, is thus a shared responsibility.

Closely tied to the concept of a ZPD are social practices associated with learning, both in and out of the classroom.  Vygotsky believed that learning was a process of knowledge co-construction and becoming a member of a community, reframing learning to be more than just an accumulation of knowledge (Renshaw, 1998), but rather a property of the interaction between the students and the learning environment (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  In our classrooms students are learning more than just the content we teach, they are learning the vocabulary and ways of talking about the different subject areas, they are learning to communicate and verify different knowledge claims, and they are learning the values and beliefs that form the implicit and explicit features of our community culture.  Knowledge and abilities are dynamic and are the result of a student’s history and social interactions in the world and we all come to master our cognitive functions in unique ways and through participation in different activities and cultures.  Thinking through the lens of the ZPD can give us another way to think about developing cultural objectives that are meaningful for our students and how they see themselves and form their identities in the various content areas they move in and out of throughout the day.

When we think about learning and the ZPD it is easy to see how students learn through the support of a more knowledgeable peer, but this social component of learning is supportive for the development of the higher mental functions of both students (Shabani, Khatib, & Ebadi, 2010).  The collaboration provides a space for the more knowledgeable student to reflect and make concepts explicit in their thinking.  These roles often evolve as well, with students taking on different roles at different points in their learning.

So what role do I play as a teacher?  Think of students not as just separate individuals in the same place at the same time.  Rather they should be engaged in a collaborative activity that fulfils a specific goal where the ZPD is created based on the need for collaboration and assistance to make progress toward that goal.  The teacher’s role is thus facilitating the interrelated zones of students as they take control of their own learning.  We are on a continuous journey with our students as they progress through different and evolving zones and make sense of the world.  Vygotsky said it well, suggesting that teachers must be focusing “not on yesterday’s development in the child buy on tomorrow’s” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211).

References

Eun, B. (2019). The zone of proximal development as an overarching concept: A framework for synthesizing Vygotsky’s theories. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(1), 18-30.

Renshaw, P. (1998). Sociocultural pedagogy for new times: Reframing key concepts. The Australian Educational Researcher25(3), 83-100.

Shabani, K., Khatib, M., & Ebadi, S. (2010). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development: Instructional implications and teachers’ professional development. English language teaching3(4), 237-248.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton (eds.)., The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 1. Problems of general psychology (pp. 39-285).. New York: Plenum.

Welcome to Learning @ ISB!

Welcome to the learning at ISB blog! We’ve been pretty quiet the last 2 years, but we’re back and excited to continue sharing learning at its best at ISB.

At least twice per month, we’ll be publishing posts written by ISB educators sharing their thoughts & reflections on learning. Have an idea for a guest post? Let us know! Want to get inspiration delivered to your inbox? Enter your email on the right to subscribe! [Make sure to keep an eye on your ‘Other’ inbox tab for the emails!]

Have thoughts about something you read on this blog? We love comments! Feel free to leave your thoughts here or come chat with us in person.

As we relaunch this blog, we wanted to introduce Learning at its Best and our principles & approaches of learning. You probably have one of these posters up in your classroom or have seen them around the school. All of our blog posts will be written through these lenses. Want to dive deeper into one area? Check out the categories on the right to begin exploring!

Learning at its Best

ISB’s principles of learning provide a research-based foundation for how students learn best and insight into what makes our learning environments most effective. ISB’s Learning Principles are based on Tripod’s 7C framework of effective teaching: Care, Challenge, Confer, Clarify, Captivate, Consolidate, Collaborate, Classroom Management.

The approaches of learning are integral to how we design learning experiences at ISB, guiding our instructional practices.

Social-Emotional Learning – Research shows that explicitly teaching social and emotional skills increases student well-being, enhances positive behavior, reduces crises, and enhances academic achievement. A focus on social-emotional learning also creates a safe, positive school culture. At ISB, we prioritize building relationships and want every student to feel cared for every day. Our Social-Emotional Framework supports students in developing self-awareness, self-management, social and cultural competence, nurturing relationships, and taking purposeful action.

Personalized Learning – At ISB, we believe in a progressively learner-driven model of personalized learning to facilitate student ownership of the learning process and provide student voice and choice in their learning. We empower students to build strong relationships, leverage their interests, and assess their strengths and areas for growth to engage in deep, relevant learning.

Service Learning – Service Learning is infused into the curriculum and across the co-curricular program at ISB. It is a relevant learning journey that integrates meaningful action with instruction and reflection. We believe that Service Learning develops compassion and empathy, strengthens communities, and nurtures a global mindset.

C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework – The community at ISB is culturally & linguistically diverse, and we aim to serve our emergent bilingual and multilingual students so that they are able to access grade-level standards regardless of language proficiency. The C6 Biliteracy Instructional Framework supports faculty in creating culturally responsive lessons that celebrate the diversity of our students.

Inquiry Pathway – At ISB, we empower students to ask questions, think critically, and reflect. Based on provocations and real-world phenomenon, students see & think, wonder & question, investigate & explore, make meaning & find patterns, and explain & construct arguments.

Design Process – Solutions to the problems of the world do not exist in silos and neither should learning. Students at ISB are given the opportunity to use design-thinking to create connections between traditional curricular areas and build empathy while solving real-world, authentic problems.


We hope you’re as excited as we are for this blog to be active again! Next week, keep your eyes open for a post from Angie (MS/HS Math Instructional Coach) with a focus on Challenge. Even better, get her post delivered to your email as soon as it’s published by subscribing on the right! After you subscribe, look in your email to confirm your subscription.

September 2021 TTTs

Several times a year, we turn professional learning over to our faculty & staff during Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTTs) sessions. TTTs focus on improving our collective professional practice, allowing us to engage with our colleagues. On Wednesday, September 22, we were excited to have our first TTTs of the school year.

90-minute Sessions
Coding Fun! Spiced up narrative writing
We will tell stories with animations using Scratch (examples). With voiceovers or speech bubbles, students can re-tell, summarize, or create stories with animations. We will also look at the scratch community and why it is a great world for students to get into.

 

Graffiti: Write your name in style
Take a chance to explore and play on the ISB Graffiti wall as we learn basic techniques and introductory methods in the skills of spray paint art. Limited to 14 people.

 

Jewelry Design
I’ll teach you how to use some software, and you’ll use it to design some jewelry. You’ll walk away with some new skills and some new bling!

I’m C6ed… Now What?
This follow-up session from C6 will dive deeper into Content, Language, and Cultural Objectives. Why do we write them? How do we write them? And most importantly how do we make these meaningful for students.

 

The Mindful Use of Power in the Classroom: How Authority Distorts Respect, Honesty, and Trust—and What You Can Do About It
Presentation of research on the distorting effects of power and authority on people’s perceptions and perspectives, followed by strategies and techniques to facilitate greater respect, honesty, and trust in school settings (and examples/case studies to discuss).

 

Ceramics – Learn to Play
Join us for some stress-relief ceramics fun, and to create something that you can take home and brag about it! 🙂

45-minute Sessions
Sip and Read
Love the smell of a new book? Come discover the delightful new books the ES library has purchased to support our SEL focus! ABAR, inclusivity, equity, LBGTQIA+, friendship, emotions, and more! Hey MS/HS folk, picture books aren’t just for little kids! These big concepts are often best deconstructed using accessible stories so come browse! Staff Resources

Exploring Backstage
Take an all-access tour of the ISB theatre venues to see what goes on backstage. If you are curious about all the theatre ‘hidden spaces’ or how the magic happens, then now is your chance. There will be stairs involved as we visit the highest and lowest spots in the theatre.

 

Singing for Mind and Body
In this session, we will learn a couple of easy songs to sing in a group and discuss how singing can positively affect your mental and physical health.

 

Wellness with Basketball
We will host a wellness option of a friendly basketball game! Co-ed and any skill level welcome, you can play in long pants and shirt or whatever!

 

Hill’s School of Hot Sauce 
Want to learn to make your own hot sauce? This is the wellness activity you’ve been looking for! This will be the first of two sessions. You’ll need to be able to come back on the morning of Sat Sept 25 or at 4:30 on Monday Sept 27.

 

ABAR Conversations 1
For those who want to know more about ABAR, ask some questions, and begin engaging in this work.

 

Deconstructing DX: Learning how to create beautiful lessons
In this session, we will learn how to create units, lesson pages, quizzes, and assignments in DX. This is a great way to make lessons accessible for all!

 

Having Fun With Glyths!
What are glyphs? Glyphs are a pictorial form of data collection. Glyphs can be used as a fun SEL activity or as a summative assessment. Come and learn about a fun way to assess students using paper and glue.

 

Excel 101
Learn some simple Excel tips and tricks. In this session, we will focus on the basics of how to work with Excel. Bring your laptop and any burning questions you have and we’ll explore together.

 

 

Ideas for in-depth reading in Chinese classes
Wondering how to teach students to read? Want to know more about strategies for in-depth reading? Join this session to enhance our collective knowledge and skills on effective reading. Staff Resources

 

Making excellent graphics
Want to improve your graphic design skills when making resources for your classes? Join us as we look at some simple rules and techniques for improving your visual communication skills. Staff Resources

 

Integrating creative data collection and visualization with a Dear Data project
A Dear Data project gives students an authentic way to collect data about their own lives and present their findings with a creative visualization. Topics can include any content area, including SEL topics. Students keep a process journal throughout, integrating literacy and notebooking skills.

 

Executive Functioning Skills 101
This session will go into detail about what Executive Functioning Skills are, why they are important, how we can build on them at school, and tips on how parents can reinforce them at home.

 

Simplify Your Life with Power Automate and Mail Merge
How do you empower students and personalize communication quickly? Come see examples using two tools and brainstorm how you might leverage them in your classroom! Resources: Slides, Mail Merge Survey, TTT Automation Mail Merge Sample.xlsx, Student Interest Survey Template.docx, Power Automate Survey, Power Automate Home Page

 

Classroom management for TAs
Work with kids but not trained as a teacher? Come learn basics of managing a classroom and feel more confident while support students’ learning.

 

Practical Practice for Reading in DL
This workshop bases on Chinese reading and learning in DL program, but is applicable to other language reading. It focuses on using reading assessment data to plan and arrange reading activities; planning stations with word study, character learning, self-reading, and guided reading to students across a big range of language proficiency; sharing station examples.

 

ABAR Conversations 2
For those who are ready to have some deeper conversations, lean into some discomfort, and continue to engage in this work.

 

Fall 2021 Cohort 1 C6 Homework
Need some time and support to catch up on your C6 homework before our next session Saturday? Keen to collaborate with colleagues in the cohort? This session is for you!

Inclusion at ISB

Inclusion at ISB
I was asked to write a blog about inclusion at ISB. As an inclusionist, it seems this ought to be an easy topic for me to write about and yet, after 30 years of doing this work, I still find myself at a loss in defining inclusion in our international schools.
You see, the idea of inclusion as well as my own thinking about inclusion has expanded and evolved over the years. In the early 1990s, I worked in a group home with adults with intellectual disabilities. Inclusion meant ensuring they had access to the community and participated in social activities with peers without disabilities. During that same time as a special education teacher I taught in inclusive schools which meant all students were taught in their neighborhood schools with their same age peers in the classroom.
This narrow definition of inclusion held true until I moved overseas in 2000. For those of us who have been teaching in international schools this long, we remember the days where we either didn’t accept students with diagnosed disabilities or we only accepted students with mild learning disabilities. Often, we accepted these students in elementary school where we felt confident in meeting their learning needs and then determined by middle or high school they wouldn’t be able to manage the rigorous, academic program. So, we did what we thought was in ‘the best interest’ of studentS and encouraged them to find a different school placement. Inclusion meant we accepted some students into our school for some period of time. Whether or not we provided adequate and professional services was another matter.
Thank goodness we’ve moved forward and now better understand the needs of our international families and their children. Some of our schools have been forced to be nimble and adaptable in terms of the students we enroll and some of us have enthusiastically chosen the pathway of greater inclusivity. I’m proud to be in a school where the latter is true.
International schools have expanded inclusive services where we now welcome students with Specific Learning Disabilities,  communication disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, etc. – and we have invested in professional resources to meet the needs these high incidence conditions present. A few international schools around the world have or are starting programs for students with intellectual disabilities, pushing the boundaries of inclusion even further.
And yet these definitions of inclusion still feel too narrow. Inclusion isn’t just about accepting students with identified diagnoses. Inclusion is really about equity and access for ALL. Inclusion is for all of us and when it comes right down to it, we are all unique and have the need to be included in our school community, regardless of gender, race, disability, religion, social beliefs, socio-economic status, sexuality, language background, etc. I encourage ISB to think about and define inclusion in this broader sense, emphasizing equity and access for all, rather than thinking inclusion is only for those with learning disabilities. Because of our privilege, our responsibility for including others is great. We have an opportunity to make the world a better place by embracing our differences and celebrating the value we each bring to the school community.
I went home for the winter holidays and witnessed firsthand the work so many advocates have done over the years in including those with intellectual disabilities into the community. While at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, I ran into a gentleman with intellectual disabilities I supported 27 years ago! He is now 60 years old, living a full life that included work (he’s retired), friendships, and an active social life. My heart was full knowing he was accepted and fully embraced in his community these past years. This acceptance and sense of belonging is what I wish for EVERYONE at ISB.

Our parents have changed their perspective, but have we changed ours?

One part of my job is occasionally leading parent workshops. I think they are so important, but they give me so much anxiety. I will spend several hours planning for a 1 hour workshop. I will rehearse what I am going to say over and over, because I want it to be perfect. At least that’s what I tell myself. But in truth, what I really want is to fill the time to avoid parent questions. Because I hold this assumption that parents are angry we teach math this way; I assume our parent community thinks more traditional methods, quick repetitious pace, and rote instruction is what is best.  
And that’s implicit bias. I was adopting a single story of what these parents are like because it has been fed to be over and over. Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of accepting a single story in this brilliant Ted Talk. What’s more, this single story and Chinese education is wrong. In fact, according to this Quartz article, in typical Chinese math classes there is more time spent on collective learning and less time using an individualistic approach. The whole class does not move on until the entire class has the concept. In a sense, collaboration and support of one another is nurtured. 
 At the most recent ES math parent coffee, my co-presenters and I did our best to be inclusive of the parent community. Many of the slides were written in English and Mandarin, they were able to collaborate, we provided materials for them to take in both English and Chinese, and we used several visuals to accompany our slides. We created space and access for our parents to not just sit and get but engage. And  the 40 parents that attended were beautiful examples of learners. They explored the mathematics problems, listened to one another, collaborated, had a laugh, and took risks. Not once in the oral or written feedback did I hear anything about parents wishing we didn’t teach math this way, nor was there anger or frustration that math class looks different now. The sentiment was appreciation for the opportunity to learn this way.  
Now I don’t want to sugarcoat it, I’ve been at ISB for 5 years now and I know that the parent feedback about our approaches to teaching math has not always been this positive. But, if our parents have shown us that they are willing to change, why are we still holding these negative biases about what we think they think? Have we been as willing to grow, change, and shift as our larger parent community?  
So. I hope next time you feel that discomfort when a colleague says something about our parent population, or a group of students, or a cultural group, in seriousness or in jest, that you’ll remember that people can grow and change. And I hope it encourages you to say something. 
 We have a responsibility as educators to move our community towards cultural proficiency. I know it can make things awkward. I know it can make people uncomfortable. I know it takes bravery. Brené Brown, a prominent research storyteller says, “courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” Seems like something worth doing, doesn’t it? 

Capturing Information from the Day to Day

I was having difficulty time finding a topic to write about that seemed to be applicable across all classes and grades. However, working in a kindergarten classroom last week provided me with inspiration on collection of data.
The alphabet chart – I bet it has been a while since you have thought about that unless you are a kinder teacher who is facilitating a class of word scientists currently exploring the alphabet chart. If you want to be amazed by all that a 5 and 6 year can learn about letters, sounds, patterns and more from one tool, I suggest you stop into a kindergarten classroom for word study.

Picture this, 18 young children sitting and laying on the rug with their alphabet charts that are missing pictures and a stack of pictures to add. Working in partners, they go about the task of identifying the picture, stretching out the name, catching the first sound, and matching that sound to a letter (whew)! As we walked around coaching into the students’ work, we realized the need to be capturing this learning as it is so rich in information. We walked around to snap pictures of each of their boards. Quick, easy data – using what you are already doing to gather information to guide future instruction and reflect on past instruction.

By taking a photo at the same time, we were able to look at partners’ speed and accuracy of the task. Several partnerships had a completed and accurate chart, indicating they had the vocabulary of the pictures, knew the concept, could apply the concept of hearing an initial sound, and then were able to connect the sound to a letter. Other partnerships were accurate but only halfway done, showing they understand and can complete the skills but are not yet automatic. Still a few partnerships only had a few on their board or pictures on incorrect spots, more investigation we decided is needed for those students to determine if it was the vocabulary, phonological awareness or letter sound connection that made the task challenging. On top of that, we gathered observational data on who could take turns and work with their partner. We didn’t have to add anything, just have a way to collect the data and then turn around and use it. We will reflect on this data in our weekly planning meeting to determine next steps for minilessons and groups and make notes on the previous week of lessons.

I write this for several reasons, one my love of data, as many of you have seen me nerd about over the years. Also, this one task reminded me that data is one topic that speaks to all teachers and faculty at ISB no matter the grade or position; we all collect and use data. It reminds us that collection of data does not need to also be additional work if we set up systems to collect data for what we already do.

We continue to reflect on our work at ISB and our alignment with our data belief, below are our data beliefs, updated as of November 2019.  As we know, data is collected and used in many different ways, in reflecting on our practices as described above I found the following most related for this example (shown with an *).

Data Beliefs at ISB

Updated Nov. 2019

Beliefs about the role of data:

  • The most valued data is teacher-collected formative data that is used to differentiate student learning. *
  • Quality, valid data from multiple sources creates shared ownership of student learning.
  • Data analysis supports both student and teacher growth.*
  • Data should be shared in a safe and open environment that depersonalizes ownership in order to support our understanding of student learning.
  • The act of reflecting on data is a part of our role and professional responsibilities.

How we use data:

  • Data is used to differentiate instruction to support all students.*
  • Data is used to inform instruction across a range of levels and for a variety of purposes.*
  • Data is used to document student progress for the purpose of reporting and school program improvement.*
  • Collaborative teams explore data for patterns.
  • Processes and protocols assist in establishing supportive environments to look at student learning.

 

The “Why” of Professional Learning Blogs

So we’ve started blogging our professional learning journeys, but why? 
21st Century Learners
A report from The Institute for the Future, claims that emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), are going to completely transform the workplace by 2030 (2017). This change is happening so quickly that an estimated 85 percent of the jobs that will make up the future workforce are yet to been invented (IFF, 2017). In light of such rapid change, preparing students for specific careers is of decreasing value, and the role of teachers becomes increasingly more challenging given the constantly changing landscape. The nature of innovation also suggests that most students can expect to change jobs several times throughout their career (Harper, 2018) making it imperative that education prepares them with the skills required for success. With this being said, no longer is it sufficient for us, as educators, to simply explain our subject-matter well, rather, we must motivate students to learn which requires us to take on new roles – challenger, activator, facilitator, coach, mentor and reflector of students’ learning processes (Vermont, 2014). These challenging and complex roles we face require us to be able to reflect critically. 
Reflective Practice & Metacognition
John Dewey’s book How We Think (1933) is widely accepted as the origin of the concept of reflective thinking as a key component of learning. In his later work, Dewey emphasised the importance of reflective thinking in teachers, discriminating between routine and reflective action (Dewey, 1933 in Liu, 2015). Reflection plays an important role in developing our metacognitive skills which can facilitate both formal and informal learning. 
The theory suggests that metacognition consists of two processes:

  1. the knowledge of cognition – knowledge of the factors that influence performance and the strategies used for learning
  2. the regulation of cognition – setting goals, planning, monitoring and controlling learning, and assessing the results and strategies used 

Blogging facilitates a number of metacognitive strategies including the fostering of self-reflection, self-questioning, access to mentors, self-explanations while offering an authentic audience to which we can ask questions and gain feedback. 
Studies have shown that learners often show an increase in self-confidence when they build metacognitive skills (Hacker, 2009) which leads to improved self-efficacy, motivation and learning success which is exactly what we, as educators, require in this forever changing educational paradigm. Whether it’s educators blogging about their professional growth or students blogging their learning journeys, the intention is the same – reflection and growth. When we curate artefacts and reflect on ourselves as learners, making connections from year-to-year, we develop our metacognitive ability. Our blogs provide a space to build a collection of reflective pieces that richly represents us, as learners, and provides authentic evidence of learning. 
Skill Development & Collaboration
Alongside our development as reflective learners, we are also developing 21st Century skills around web authoring and publishing, in the same way, we expect of our students. Within your blog, you can include text, images, videos and links to external sites as evidence to support your ideas. Considering the challenges associated with working in different divisions, the professional blogging network offers a place for us to connect as a professional learning community. The online community supports opportunities for collaborative learning that enriches learning performance, both for individual knowledge construction and group knowledge sharing (Shih-Hsien, 2009). By commenting on the posts of others, with feedback and questions, we spark further thinking and analysis to support critical reflection. 
So Why Blog?
Dewey (1933) insists that if we want to ensure our experience is educative, it is necessary to support ongoing growth as a process of continuing new inquiry. Blogging our professional learning journey encourages us to step back, reflect critically, and analyse our efforts while the community challenges us to be more thoughtful and mindful of our work. These processes prepare us to think reflectively and critically to foster continued professional growth. “To be a professional is not to have all the answers. Rather, a professional is someone who can reflect on tentative solutions, collaborate with others on the possible avenues available, and risk making mistakes because mistakes are an inevitable part of building new roads” (Lester & Mayher, 1987).
 
References

  • Dewey, J. (1933). How we think, New York: DC Heath
  • Hacker, Douglas J., John Dunlosky and Arthur C. Graesser (Eds.). Handbook of Metacognition in Education, 2009.
  • Harper, A. (2018). New approaches needed to prepare students for unknown careers. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.educationdive.com/news/new-approaches-needed- to-prepare-students-for-unknown-careers/529604/  
  • Institute For The Future. (n.d.). (2017) Retrieved from http://www.iftf.org/humanmachinepartnerships/
  • Lester, N. B., & Mayher, J. S. (1987). Critical professional inquiry. English Education, 19 (4), 198–210. 
  • Liu, K. (2015). Critical reflection as a framework for transformative learning in teacher education. Educational Review, 67(2), 135–157.
  • Shih-Hsien, Y. (2009). Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community of practice. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 11-1. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.proxy18.noblenet.org/docview/1287038236?accountid=43872
  • Vermont, J. D. (2014). Teacher Learning and Professional Development. In S. Krolak-Schwerdt, S. Glock, & M. Böhmer (Eds.), Teachers’ Professional Development: Assesment, Training, and Learning (pp. 79–95). Rotterdam, Boston, Taipei: Sense Publishers. 

My Ongoing, Messy, Roundabout Journey Toward Cultural Proficiency

Do you notice yourself remembering the names of the white kids more easily than the names of the Asian kids?” 
This was asked of me last year by a close friend and colleague. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. Because as I thought about which students I acknowledged by name in the hallway, who I would ask teachers about, who I took time to build rapport with I was unconsciously investing more time in the white kids. Research says that we do tend to have a natural affinity for  people that we see as like us. In fact, an article published by Phi Delta Kappan “recent studies have found that children as young as three months old can racially categorize people” (Hagerman, M.A., 2019). 
AND I am someone that sees myself as an advocate for marginalized groups. I speak out, often to the point where it makes my family shift in their seats, about injustices in the world. I recognize that as a white, heterosexual, cisgender, English speaking woman, I have a huge amount of privilege. I feel a duty to use my privilege to support others and dismantle systems of traditional power in the world. And yet, I still hold implicit bias and look for what’s familiar and comfortable. 
An article published this summer by actor N’Jameh Camara talks about why some names are more memorable than others. She speaks honestly about how when people don’t use her name and instead use a “generic substitute,” she notices. She challenges us to think that names are not “hard” or “difficult to say” but rather “unpracticed.” I love that. Perhaps my favorite quote is, “but as a person who was taught to respect and say Tchaikovsky, Brecht, Chekhov, Stanislavski, and Hammerstein, I know my name can be learned too. What matters most is that we see ourselves as people whose vulnerability and mistake-making hold the potential to bring us closer” (Camara, N., 2019).  
Fortunately, recognizing that we hold implicit bias is a crucial first step in doing something about it. Founder of the C6 Biliteracy Framework and honorary ISB Dragon, Dr. José Medina, shares the Cultural Proficiency Continuum in his trainings and I find myself referring to it constantly. It has supported me in recognizing when we are being culturally destructive. This continuum has given me the language and tools to reflect and speak up when I hear things that are not inclusive and supporting of our community. 

Original source of continuum: Lindsey, R.B., Robbins, K.N., and Terrell, R. D.  (2009). Cultural Proficiency A Manual for School Leaders. Examples and quotes original.  

As a coach at ISB, I get the honor to work with and learn from the incredible educators here. I am so fortunate to see the high-quality teaching and care teachers share with students. I am all in when it comes to helping others who I coach, I care deeply about them as people and care completely about nudging them to where they want to grow. But as coach, as Elena Aguilar says in her article, “I have to keep the faces of all the children who [teachers] are responsible for, whose lives [teachers] affect, in my symbolic peripheral vision, equally in focus and present and part of the conversation. I am accountable to those children” (Aguilar, E., 2014). Coaching or collaborating without a focus of creating equity and access for our students is a missed opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.  
My journey towards cultural proficiency is not over. I still slip up, or occasionally bite my lip when I hear something that marginalizes others. But I am also committed to improving. If you have books, research, ideas, people you follow, tips and suggestions, or just want to talk about this with someone, I would love to learn. 

References: 
Aguilar, E. (2014). Why we must all Be Coaches for Equity. Education Week. http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2014/12/why_we_must_all_be_coaches_for.html 
Camara, N. (2019). Names That Are Unfamiliar to you Aren’t “Hard,” They’re “Unpracticed”. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/names-that-are-unfamiliar-to-you-arent-hard-theyre-unpracticed?fbclid=IwAR0rwGC_Xxs59fUSKgBErE2vl9tA2ASVmmwHfqmNwdULnJm17cs0Qup3k_A 
Hagerman, M.A. (2019). Conversations with Kids about Race. Phi Delta Kappan. https://www.kappanonline.org/conversations-children-race-childhood-racism-hagerman/ 
Lindsey, R.B., Robbins, K.N., and Terrell, R. D.  (2009). Cultural Proficiency A Manual for School Leaders. 

Student Learning Data At a Glance

Last week I gathered my in-house focus group (yes, my daughters) to ask them what they hope that teachers will learn about them in the first few weeks of school. I was pleased when one answered, “I hope they understand my strengths and weaknesses, so they can help me and not get frustrated when I don’t understand.” 
“Wow!” I thought. “How great! I’ve just spent two years working on a tool to give to ISB teachers in order support them in doing just that.” 
The tool we’ve been working so hard on is a new data portal—a system that connects right into powerschool, that we can use to pull together all the disparate sources of academic data we have about each student and present that data to teachers at a glance. 
The data that’s entered into the data portal is customized by Elementary, Middle, and High school, but the basics are the same: we have two types of data: external assessments (like the MAP test and others), and internal common assessments (such as Writing, Math, and PE, as well as Science, Social Studies in middle and high school.) 
Want to know your students’ reading comprehension so you can check if they’ll be able to make sense of the text you’re handing them? 
We’ve got you covered.  
Want to see which students have similar strengths and growth areas, so you know which small group might benefit from a strategy lesson on a skill they learned last year? 
We can show you that!


 
Data like this will help us most if we keep in mind the strengths and limitations of the two types of data: 
External test data (like MAP data) 
Strengths: 

  • Reliable measure of students’ basic skills in reading, math, and language usage. 
  • Often you can look back at several years’ data to see the growth trends 

Limitation:  

  • Cannot measure very deep cognitive complexity, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation skills 

 
ISB Common Vertical Assessment data: 
Strength: Measures more cognitively complex tasks, such as 

  • Analyzing the strengths and limitations of a primary source in social studies 
  • Modeling a math problem or scientific phenomenon 
  • Writing a short narrative about their own life 
  • Assessing their own fitness and making a plan to improve it in Health and PE. 
  • Identifying relevant evidence to support an argument  

 
The data on whether the student can achieve these more cognitively complex goals provides a useful counterpoint to the sometimes-limiting external assessment data. It’s not hard to imagine an emergent bilingual student whose MAP scores looks low because she doesn’t have the language skills to comprehend the questions, but who is an excellent critical thinker who can analyze and model a scientific phenomenon 
Limitation 

  • Sometimes the common assessment data is confounded by things like the way the question was worded (so the student got confused and didn’t apply the skill they were meant to be measuring).  

 
Together, these two types of data aim to provide a balanced view of what each student’s learning journey has been.  
Our job as teachers is to learn deeply about our students, so we can meet them where they are, give them just the right amount of challenge to help them grow.  
How can we help our students work in the zone of proximal development, that sweet spot for optimal growth, if we don’t know where they’re starting? 

Image from Verbal to Visual

 
So, a practical suggestion: 
After you do your first pre-assessment, put it side by side with the student view of the portal.  (If you need help getting in, here is a step by step instruction manual!)

  • Does anything surprise you?   
  • What are this students’ areas of strength and where might they need extra support?  
  • Has this student been growing? 

Next, consider your actions based on the data.

  • Do you need to reteach an earlier skill? 
  • Create a small group?
  • Collaborate with a coteacher to target specific skills?
  • How might this data influence what you assign as homework (independent practice!)

How you follow up on the data is up to your professional judgement, requiring all the art and skill you have as a teacher.
I want to leave you with a caveat: a data portal will never tell you which student was the lead of the school play last year, or which one worked for ages perfecting his design for a robotic animal or which one loves reading graphic novels.  Listening to your students, making that connection, combined with providing just the right amount of challenge—there’s nothing that can improve your students’ learning more effectively than that. 

What Do We Value?

Welcome back, everyone!  It always feels like it takes forever for the kids to show up and it was so exciting to see them all with big smiles this morning as they arrived. I am nearing the end of week three back in Beijing. It has been a busy three weeks welcoming new teachers and getting ready for the start of school. There is always a bit of a lull for us at this time of year, we work hard to get things ready and support teaching and learning as you come back to school, but then once the kids are back…you are busy and we are always a bit at loose ends as we wait for things to settle down. 

As we welcomed new teachers back this year we made a shift in how we spoke about some of our work here at ISB. One thing that is always clear when we are working with new teachers is that ISB has a lot of systems and structures and acronyms…we love acronyms. This year in an effort to be less overwhelming, we thought…we have all these systems and structures to create alignment and consistency to our curriculum, but why? What are the core values that underpin the work we do in the Office of Learning to support student learning? Why do we have things like the curriculum review, common formative assessments, data meetings etc.  For us, it was easy to answer the question about why we have the systems and structures we do at ISB: equity, purpose and deep, relevant learning.  The goal is to bring clarity to what we do at ISB.
Equity is achieved by:

  • Consistent learning goals at grade-levels and in shared courses
  • Consistent level of challenge so that students have consistent expectation across grades and courses
  • Students with varying needs are provided what they need to succeed 
  • Experiences will vary from classroom to classroom, that is the art and craft of teaching and what you were hired for, and the quality fo the education you receive at ISB should not depend on who your teacher is.

Purpose: 

  • Although we’re a highly mobile community, we don’t change our curriculum just because a particular teacher happened to leave—we make purposeful decisions about curricular change. 
  • We aim for purposeful increases in challenge from grade level to grade level. 
  • Our decisions are researched-based and intentional.  If we cannot answer why and back it up, we should not be doing it.

Deep, Relevant Learning:

  • Students should spend their time inquiring, solving problems, analyzing, and creating, not only memorizing. 
  • Students have voice and choice in their learning as we seek to deepen our work and understanding around personalized learning.
  • We are working on integration because the world we live in does not present us problems in silos. They are complex and sticky, requiring a multi-disciplinary approach to understand them and think about solutions.
  • We have a focus on design because we feel this is a vehicle by which we can engage our students in these deeply relevant learning experiences

 As we work together this year, these values around our work and learning together will come up again and again.  We are excited for another year of collaboration and support and looking forward to seeing and learning form you as you deliver amazing learning experiences to your students. 
Let the year begin!

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