Screen Time from Head to Toe 

By Caleb Hill and Randen Morisako 
In our high speed, high tech and highly global word, we may find ourselves doing more of what you are doing right this second – looking at screen. Like me, you are probably longing for the offline world to resume what is so important for developing children. An analog world of using your hands to create art with a paint brush, gain insight from a newly opened book or give a task-affirming high five just cannot be recreated through eLearning 
Teachers, parents and students alike need to manage this carefully in order to avoid overuse, stress and yes, injury.  
EYES 
If we aren’t mindful of screen time many of us are at risk to develop what ophthalmologists call “digital eyestrainFor children and adults this can lead to dry eye, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision. While some symptoms may be temporary; they can persist if breaks are not taken. These symptoms do not mean special glasses are required or that an eye condition if forming; instead it could mean they aren’t taking enough breaks.   
Most doctors recommend what’s called the “20-20-20 rule” – Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something that is 20 feet away (about 6 meters).  

source: https://www.carillonvisioncare.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/digital-eye-strain.jpg

If you find you oyour child’s eyes are drying out quickly you may need to place a humidifier close to your eLearning space, use eye drops, and drink more water. The level of lighting in a room when using a computer or iPad should be roughly half as bright as other activities such as writing on paper. Decrease the brightness on your screens and try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures aren’t shining directly on them.  
If you find dry eyes persist it could also be an issue as simple as not blinking enough. Blink!  
MIND-BODY CONNECTION 
Adults and children need to be moving. School has changed over the years and rarely at ISB will you find a group of students all sitting at desks for long periods at a time (exam time excluded). Students are missing that up and down interaction with their classmates and teachers and it adds a lot of extra pressure on parents. That’s why its so important to TAKE BREAKS. 
There are zero negative side effects to taking a physical activity break when you are working. It will help you work smarter and more efficiently after getting your heart rate up. As mentioned by Lissa in Strategies to Survive Working at Home its important to move your body. Students should take AT LEAST ten-minute break once every hour to rest their eyes and move their bodies. Set a timer to limit yourself and take breaks.  
source: https://www.pngfind.com/pngs/m/468-4680505_the-benefits-of-working-out-extend-beyond-just.png

PE teachers are providing workout videos or activity suggestions multiple times a week and encouraging students to get at least 60 minutes of activity every day with 30 minutes of vigorous activity. This means that they are raising their HR and potentially getting hot and sweaty too.  
If you can safely do it, getting outside and taking a walk is more than enough to get your blood pumping. Get out for a morning walk before you start your eLearning, breathe some fresh air and look out the window to give your eyes a break. 
NECK AND SPINE 
Do you find yourself bending your head down to look at your screen? This is called “text neck.” For every 15 degrees of downward gaze your spine experiences an additional increase in stressYou can limit the risk of text neck by monitoring the amount of time, you spend staring down at your phone.   
Another strategy is to ensure that your laptop or computer monitor is set up at the right height. Your monitor should be set up so that the top of your monitor is perpendicular with your gaze. This ensures that you should be able to see the bottom of the screen with no more than 15-degree downward gaze. 
source: https://notsitting.com/proper-height/

WRISTS 
When using a keyboard and mouse we are at extended risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is an overdevelopment of the wrist/forearm muscles and causes irritation the nerves in the lower arm causing pain, numbness, and even tingling. Making sure that your hands and wrist are in the right position while working may prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Periodically massaging or stretching your forearm muscles may also prevent muscle tightness in the forearm.  
 
source: https://inside.ewu.edu/ehs/occupational-health-safety/ergonomics/

 
A simple forearm stretch is to straighten one arm out in front of you with your palm facing out and fingers pointed to the sky. Using your other hand, apply light backward pressure to the tips of your straightened hands finger. You can repeat this stretch with your fingers pointed down for a different muscle group. 
LOWER BACK 
Long bouts of sitting may cause back pain especially in the lower back. Be sure to sit properly with a straight spine. Using a lumbar support chair or small pillow on your lower back may support muscles there and keep your back from slouching.  
Source: http://www.chairsadvisor.com/maintain-good-posture-when-sitting-at-a-desk-all-day/

During this time, one technique may be to try using a standing table. If you decide to do so make sure that the desk is high enough so that you don’t have to look down at your monitor and develop text neck. 
Sciatica is characterized by pain, numbness, or tingling that runs through the lower back, through the buttocks, and sometimes down the lower leg.  
By using a well cushioned chair and making sure that each buttock is evenly on your chair are some strategies to prevent sciatica. Other strategies include taking periodic breaks and including stretching or foam rolling of the glute muscles to make sure they do not get overdeveloped from prolonged sitting. 
Staying physically active during this time is extremely important. With a regular dose of physical activity, we can help limit the effects of prolonged sitting and screen time. Your eyes, brain and body will all thank you. Now… take a break! 
 

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.

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.

 

Translanguaging: One Monolingual Teacher’s Transfer of Power

It’s my first-year teaching third grade at ISB, and two kids are hunched over a math problem talking excitedly in Chinese. Still adjusting to teaching in a classroom where I can’t always easily jump into my bilingual students’ conversations, I ask, “Is this conversation helping your learning?” One child looks at me with sideways eyes and assures me that, yes, it is deepening their thinking around mathematics. The other child shimmies up to me a few minutes later to confess with all seriousness that they were actually talking about recess. I compliment him on his ability to notice how his conversation is supporting his learning (or not, as the case may be), and have a realization: my ineptitude to participate in my bilingual students’ talk actually empowers them to take a greater role in monitoring their discourse. Rather than taking on the role of the chatter-police, I can instead facilitate reflection on how conversations with peers support learning. As a monolingual teacher, I need to let go of control and acknowledge that my multilingual students bring a skill-set to their learning that I can actively encourage from the sidelines.
“Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the twenty-first century” according to Gregg Roberts from the American Councils for International Education. The linguistic capacity of our ISB students is a force that we teachers can harness no matter where we fall on the continuum of emergent bilingualism. While many ISB educators actually speak multiple languages, it is by no means a prerequisite for supporting our multilingual students. By seeking out opportunities for translanguaging, or “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire,” (Otheguy, 2015), we create conditions where children can bring their whole selves into the classroom for the betterment of their learning.
Translanguaging is a pedagogical tool that can be used to both scaffold and enhance. Erin Kent, literacy consultant, identifies a process for the intentional planning of translanguaging opportunities.
Begin by asking:
Is there anything about this content that might be inaccessible for some learners or might cause them to underperform because of limited target language ability?
If yes:
How might we have learners harness their linguistic repertoires to ensure that they’re working to their full cognitive abilities, not just their target language levels?
Consider the following as tools for scaffolding content through language:

  • Multilingual charts
  • Preview vocabulary
  • Strategic same-language partnerships
  • Multilingual texts
  • Family & community as resources
  • Multilingual turn-and-talks or discussions
  • Multilingual planning or journaling

If no…
 Are there any aspects of this topic/unit/lesson that make sense for learners to approach in their other languages? How might harnessing their linguistic repertoires enhance or enrich their learning?

  • Consider audience: How can we create for a multilingual world?
  • Choose topics related to identity
  • Compose bilingual texts
  • Metalinguistic word study
  • Cross language projects
  • Access primary sources

 
These days I know that I am faced with a choice. I can require my students to interact within the limitations of my own linguistic illiteracy, or I can put fresh eyes on my curriculum to identify small changes I can make to promote multilingualism. I can plan for children to use their language as a tool for their own learning, and when they make mistakes I can celebrate those instances as opportunities for reflection. I can give up a bit of control and expect that children will be whispering about recess instead of math from time to time. Because let’s face it, they’re eight, and they are going to be doing that regardless of the language.
 
Have a look at these resources from Erin Kent Consulting:
Planned Translanguaging Process
Honoring All Languages in Literacy
Amplifying Metalinguistic Awareness
 
References:
Kent, Erin (2019) Infographic: Planned Translanguaging Process adapted from Eowyn Cresfield. Retrieved October 28., 2019
 
Otheguy, Ricardo, García, Ofelia & Reid, Wallis (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review, 6(3), 281-307

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. 
 
 

Two Nice Language Moves to Promote a Culture of Learning – and One Overwhelmingly Average Move

As someone who’s been to more than a few international job fairs, I’ve learned to pay close attention to the pronouns used by the interviewer. When principals use the term “my teachers,” a little red flag goes up, and I can’t help but think, “Well, jeez, I don’t want to work for any boss who thinks I belong to them.”
How different does it sound to hear principals use the term “we?” All of a sudden, the context shifts to one of a shared community. Just one little pronoun has the potential to communicate a set of values held by the speaker. The same can be said by the pronouns we use in our classroom. By paying close attention to the language we use with children, we have the opportunity to share our beliefs about learning with the students we serve.
Move  #1 – Pay Attention to Pronouns
Whenever possible, take “I” out of the equation

  • I like how you worked to be so precise”

Translation: Your job as a student is to earn my admiration.
 

  • I notice how you worked to be so precise.”

Translation: Your work is for my eyes.
 

  • You’re the type of student who attends to precision”

Translation: I am making the positive presupposition that you’ve made decisions about your learning and have cultivated the disposition to put those decisions into action.
* Note: Sometimes we really do like things; it’s nice to say we like things if they truly delight us. It’s less nice to use this language to manipulate behavior.
 
When it makes sense, change “you” to “we” and “your” to “our.”

  • You are going to work to revise your writing today.

Translation: You are working on your own to do this learning.
 

  •  We are going to work to revise our writing today.

Translation: You belong to a learning community where we work collectively -me included -towards similar goals.
 
Move #2: The Prompting Funnel
 Author and literacy expert, Kim Yaris, conceptualizes scaffolding prompts as a funnel. The first and most abundant types of prompts provide the least amount of scaffolding. Her prompting funnel bookmark is designed for reading, but it is not difficult to imagine how it could easily be translated to art, math, design, language learning, etc.

Use these prompts:

(prompts that encourage the child to rely on herself)

What can you try?

What do you know?

How do you know?

How did you do that?

What else can you try?

How else can you check?

 

Before these prompts:

(prompts that encourage the child to rely on the environment):

Where is the tricky part?

Where can you look for help?

What charts/tools/documents can support you in figuring this out?

 

Before these prompts:

(prompts that encourage the child to rely on the teacher):

 Sound it out.

Where can you add more shading?

Draw a model to help you.

Use what we learned about cognates.

How many of us find ourselves working harder than the child we are teaching? By mindfully attending to our prompts, we support children in carrying a heavier cognitive load.
Move #3- “Beats Me”  (the overwhelmingly average move)
This move sure isn’t going to earn me any Teacher-of-the-Year Awards, but it has served me well on more than one occasion. Occasionally a child asks me a question, and I really have no idea. Looking at them with wide eyes, a shrug of the shoulders and a very sincere, “Beats me,” lets them know that I am not keeper of all knowledge.
True, this feedback doesn’t offer them even an ounce of support in figuring out their puzzle, so I don’t use it often. Still, every once in a while, it’s just the thing to support them in developing the habit of asking themselves before looking for a quick fix from the teacher.
 

“The brain that does the work is the brain that does the learning.”

– David Sousa (consultant in educational neuroscience)

Ultimately our classroom culture is developed by a million large, small, and sometimes hidden messages imparted through our words, our environment, and our routines. Switching an “I” to a “we” will not a culture of learning make. At the same time, these tiny shifts can serve to reinforce powerful ideas around thinking and learning.
 

How Sustainability Lifts the Learning Foundation

Sustainability is one of the most flexible yet ambiguous terms out there. The boundary of its scope and focus can shift to fit the needs of its community. The resulting lack of clarity often results in one of two responses:

  1. You are talking about the environment, right?
  2. Yes, that sounds nice, but I do not think it relates to what I do as a [fill in blank profession].

There are a host of reasons for this, but the effect is the same – seeing sustainability as an add-on initiative rather than a foundational component. By the end of this post, my hope is you will begin to see the value in the latter.
Research is growing around the connection between learning capabilities/wellness and biophilic building/space design. The scientific consensus thus far shows that how you build spaces has a significant impact on learning. The research findings center on five design choices rooted in sustainable building thinking:

  • Natural light
  • Noise – specifically the minimization of outside sources and reverberation within the space
  • Inclusion of natural elements
  • What colors and how they are used
  • Indoor air quality

Here are a few examples underscoring the magnitude of the impact:

  • study in the Journal of Environment and Behaviour found the group of children exposed to chronic low-level noise had significantly worse memory recognition scores than their control group. [1]
  • The report Learning Spaces cites a year-long study of 2,000 classrooms by the Heschong Mahone Group, which found that: “Students in classrooms with daylight improved 20 percent faster in math scores and 26 percent in reading scores.”
  • The Heschong study estimates that the strategies of biophilia have statistically increased test scores by 5-18% and can continue to do so in schools across the country. [2]
  • report by Human Spaces states: “Research shows that optimising exposure to daylight alone can improve school attendance by an average of 3.5days/year and test scores by 5-14% whilst increasing the speed of learning by 20-26%. Trials have found that plants in classrooms can lead to improved performance in spelling, mathematics and science of 10-14%.”
  • A 2016 study in the Journal of Indoor Environment and Health on carbon dioxide and cognitive performance found that moderate amounts of stale air were linked with participants being drowsy and giving slower and fewer correct answers in cognitive tests.
  • A report by Human Spaces states: “Natural light was a crucial determinant of all three employee outcomes – well-being, productivity and creativity…Most commonly, it was views of greenery, water and wildlife that had the strongest impact upon these factors…Having no window view was frequently predictive of lower levels of creativity…Office color schemes that incorporated accents of green, blue and brown were more predictive of employee happiness, productivity and creativity than blank white walls.” [3]

The best part about these findings is they work at every grade level, every subject, every curriculum. With this perspective, sustainability is not an initiative; rather it just becomes embedded into the foundation on how we design spaces. For ISB and centers of learning around the world, sustainability is not just a nice to have, but a base expectation to provide the best learning environment for our students. Looking to the future, the ISB Sustainability Roadmap 2025 has identified biophilia design and its impact on students as an area for focus.
Curious to learn more?

  • Interface (a company focused on related building products) has posted a series of blog posts focusing on why school design matters at https://blog.interface.com/tag/education/
  • Check out any of the sources linked above and those below:
  1. Euronoise 2018 – Conference Proceedings. Acoustic impact on effective teaching and learning activities in open learning spaces [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.euronoise2018.eu/docs/papers/293_Euronoise2018.pdf
  2. Terrapinbrightgreen.com. (2019). The Economics of Biophilia. [online] Available at: https://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/reports/the-economics-of-biophilia/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].
  3. HUMAN SPACES. The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://greenplantsforgreenbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Human-Spaces-Report-Biophilic-Global_Impact_Biophilic_Design.pdf

How Sustainability Lifts the Learning Foundation

Sustainability is one of the most flexible yet ambiguous terms out there. The boundary of its scope and focus can shift to fit the needs of its community. The resulting lack of clarity often results in one of two responses:

  1. You are talking about the environment, right?
  2. Yes, that sounds nice, but I do not think it relates to what I do as a [fill in blank profession].

There are a host of reasons for this, but the effect is the same – seeing sustainability as an add-on initiative rather than a foundational component. By the end of this post, my hope is you will begin to see the value in the latter.
Research is growing around the connection between learning capabilities/wellness and biophilic building/space design. The scientific consensus thus far shows that how you build spaces has a significant impact on learning. The research findings center on five design choices rooted in sustainable building thinking:

  • Natural light
  • Noise – specifically the minimization of outside sources and reverberation within the space
  • Inclusion of natural elements
  • What colors and how they are used
  • Indoor air quality

Here are a few examples underscoring the magnitude of the impact:

  • study in the Journal of Environment and Behaviour found the group of children exposed to chronic low-level noise had significantly worse memory recognition scores than their control group. [1]
  • The report Learning Spaces cites a year-long study of 2,000 classrooms by the Heschong Mahone Group, which found that: “Students in classrooms with daylight improved 20 percent faster in math scores and 26 percent in reading scores.”
  • The Heschong study estimates that the strategies of biophilia have statistically increased test scores by 5-18% and can continue to do so in schools across the country. [2]
  • report by Human Spaces states: “Research shows that optimising exposure to daylight alone can improve school attendance by an average of 3.5days/year and test scores by 5-14% whilst increasing the speed of learning by 20-26%. Trials have found that plants in classrooms can lead to improved performance in spelling, mathematics and science of 10-14%.”
  • A 2016 study in the Journal of Indoor Environment and Health on carbon dioxide and cognitive performance found that moderate amounts of stale air were linked with participants being drowsy and giving slower and fewer correct answers in cognitive tests.
  • A report by Human Spaces states: “Natural light was a crucial determinant of all three employee outcomes – well-being, productivity and creativity…Most commonly, it was views of greenery, water and wildlife that had the strongest impact upon these factors…Having no window view was frequently predictive of lower levels of creativity…Office color schemes that incorporated accents of green, blue and brown were more predictive of employee happiness, productivity and creativity than blank white walls.” [3]

The best part about these findings is they work at every grade level, every subject, every curriculum. With this perspective, sustainability is not an initiative; rather it just becomes embedded into the foundation on how we design spaces. For ISB and centers of learning around the world, sustainability is not just a nice to have, but a base expectation to provide the best learning environment for our students. Looking to the future, the ISB Sustainability Roadmap 2025 has identified biophilia design and its impact on students as an area for focus.
Curious to learn more?

  • Interface (a company focused on related building products) has posted a series of blog posts focusing on why school design matters at https://blog.interface.com/tag/education/
  • Check out any of the sources linked above and those below:
  1. Euronoise 2018 – Conference Proceedings. Acoustic impact on effective teaching and learning activities in open learning spaces [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.euronoise2018.eu/docs/papers/293_Euronoise2018.pdf
  2. Terrapinbrightgreen.com. (2019). The Economics of Biophilia. [online] Available at: https://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/reports/the-economics-of-biophilia/ [Accessed 5 Mar. 2019].
  3. HUMAN SPACES. The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://greenplantsforgreenbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Human-Spaces-Report-Biophilic-Global_Impact_Biophilic_Design.pdf

Evaluating the Inclusivity of our Resources

To order Captain Awesome or to not order Captain Awesome?
Anyone who has merely brushed by me in the past two weeks can’t help but hear me obsess over the book order that the elementary school is submitting to support the adoption of reading workshop next year. We are committed to finding high-interest literature written at an accessible level. In short, we want books that kids can’t bear to put down.

Captain Awesome initially ticks all the boxes: an easy to read, action packed series with enough lowbrow humor to make the average 8-year-old pretty happy. It seems like an obvious choice. At the same time, I keep coming back to the fact that the front cover depicts a white superhero with a black sidekick. I can’t help but ask myself, “How many books have we ordered with person of color as the main character accompanied by a white sidekick?”
As a school blessed with resources, I wonder what messages our resources give about global citizenship, an equitable world, and the roles assigned to different demographic groups?
This question requires our book ordering criteria to narrow. Can we find accessible, high-interest literature that reflects our student population? Can our students see themselves in the books they encounter at ISB? Do our resources reinforce or challenge racial, cultural or gender stereotypes?
My partner in crime, Paul Wong, recently discovered that a popular series of sports fiction pitched the books differently depending on the gender of the protagonist. Titles featuring males reflected victory and domination: Touch Down Triumph or Quarterback Comeback, where titles featuring female protagonists centered around feelings: Gymnastic Jitters or Panic in the Pool. Sorry boys, if you have a case of the jitters – you won’t find male characters to help you explore those feelings.
Without Paul’s eyes for the discrepancy between male and female sports fiction, I never would have picked up on these themes. Often, we are so accustomed to seeing white superheroes or female damsels in distress that we might not even notice the messages subtly being imparted to our students.
Two years back, I was surprised to realize that every read-aloud novel I shared with my students – Because of Winn DixieClementine, and Gooney Bird Greene– featured a white female protagonist and was written by a white female author. As a white female, I didn’t specifically choose these books for their whiteness or their femaleness – but I identified with them and could relate to the characters presented. Could the same be said by all my students? How does it feel when the person in power – the teacher – presents resources that exclude a large portion of the student body? What message does it send to kids about who we care about? What message does it send about who writes books? Am I propagating systemic racism in my choice of texts?
Once we start to notice that which was previously invisible, we become newly accountable. A first step for me as an educator is to evaluate the resources that kids encounter every day. Do my students see themselves in the literature that they read? Do they encounter authors with similar cultural or ethnic backgrounds? What story do the pictures on the walls and in the halls tell them about what it means to be female, male, gay, a person of color, a person of a certain faith, a mathematician, or a scientist?
A classroom resource audit can help make the invisible more visible. Who do our books represent? What messages can be gleaned from what hangs on the walls? Nothing engages students more than asking them to take an evaluative role on the inclusiveness of the classroom environment.
The good news is that there is a lot of great literature out there. From the Yasmin series, where a Pakistani American second grade student gets into scraps like any other seven-year-old, to Alvin Ho, a Chinese American boy who struggles with anxiety, there exists a treasure trove of literature that matches the messages we say every day: You can be anything. You can feel anything. You are important. You belong.
And no, I decided not to order Captain Awesome.
For more reading, check out Tricia Ebarvia’s blog, “How Inclusive is Your Literacy Classroom Really?

Differentiation: Back to the Basics

“In differentiated classrooms, teachers ensure that students compete against themselves as they grow and develop more then they compete against one another, always moving toward-and often beyond- designated content goals”
– Carol Ann Tomlinson “The Differentiated Classroom”
 
The word differentiation can be heard in schools and educational conferences around the world. It sounds like a big, new concept, but think back to all of those one room school houses that used to and, in some places, still exist. Tomlinson states, “Today’s teachers still contend with the essential challenge of the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse: how to reach out effectively to students who span the spectrum of learning readiness, personal interests, and culturally shaped ways of seeing and speaking about experiencing the world.” Differentiation does not look the same between classes and there is no single strategy that works with all students. As the idea of differentiation can vary dramatically from person to person, it is important to examine the essential pieces of differentiation to know where to start or how to get back on track.
Both the school’s curriculum and the students themselves play integral roles when attempting to differentiate in the classroom. Tomlinson notes two main considerations when differentiating curriculum: clarity and the relationship of assessment and instruction. In order for differentiation to be effective in a classroom, the teacher needs to have a clear understanding and picture of the essential knowledge, understanding, and skills required and knowledge of how those pieces connect to the grades above and below. This clarity supports making sure the students know the expectations and allows for flexibility in moving students up and down a continuum based on understanding and skill development.
Knowing where students are in their learning journeys and monitoring to determine whether they are progressing within the curriculum is a crucial aspect of differentiation. Assessment is not a way to give a final grade in a differentiated classroom, but a tool to guide instruction and evaluate the efficacy of an approach. Assessment and instruction should occur dynamically in the classroom and can take many forms such as an exit ticket, mid-module test, or a quick survey in which students self-evaluate their understanding.

There are four main things that can be differentiated in the classroom: content, process, product, and affect/environment. The student’s level of readiness, learning profile, and interests should all be taken into consideration when developing differentiation strategies. The first step is getting to know the students, which is typically a part of the beginning of the year routine; however, there may be ways to expand your get-to-know-you surveys, activities, and discussions with the goal of learning more about how students learn and what they enjoy learning about.

When embarking on this journey, focus on one area at a time. How can you change the environment for whole class lessons? Group work? Individual work time? What are the different ways to present information to students (videos, articles, different leveled text, audio, visuals, etc.)?
Differentiation has existed for a long time and differentiation can be seen in all classrooms; however, as educators, we constantly strive to expand and enhance our teaching repertoires throughout our careers. In terms of differentiation, this type of growth requires a focused effort to re-evaluate our practices and experiment with new techniques in creating more efficient, effective, and supportive learning environments.

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