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? 

Beginning of the School Year Dreams: Teaching Leaders of the Future

Image Credit: Creative Commons from Pixabay

As teachers, we always look out on those first promising days thinking “we are teaching the leaders of the world”.
For some of us, it’s a promise, it’s a responsibility, it’s hope, or inspiration that gets us excited to start a new year, and sometimes it just gets us through a tough day, class or year. But it’s true. We are lucky. We can have that impact. We do influence future leaders, followers and everything in between.
Frequently, our students will inherit a family business or walk into leadership roles with little to no work experience.  They already have money, power, and influence regardless of their education.
But do they have the skills and experience to be a positive influence in their business, community and to their co-workers? How can we help guide our students to be more responsible, kind, strong leaders of businesses, industries, and even countries?
Most international teachers I’ve worked with have come from a middle-class upbringing which is very different from what our students and even our own children are experiencing.  Some of us started earning our own money and had to be independent and made our own decisions at a young age.  Most of us learned so much at our first or tenth job, and most of our students never will have these experiences and environments to learn, fail and grow. Often times, standard curriculums don’t provide this knowledge or skills sets to collaborate, lead, learn and be responsible citizens of the future.
So what are we doing to provide these students with leadership skills and opportunities to fail and grow? How are we fostering responsible consumers and producers?
While we don’t have all the answers, I think ISB is moving in the right direction to help our students be more prepared for being compassionate, responsible citizens or leaders in any field.  We are putting a stronger focus on social and emotional learning while providing more interdisciplinary experiences to engage in deep, relevant learning.  We are fostering cross-curricular skills by giving our students authentic tasks to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.  We are reviewing our experiential learning programs and we provide dynamic robust professional learning for our community. It is definitely work that has started, it’s not happening everywhere, we are growing as educators and these hopefully more deep, relevant hands-on learning experiences at school will become more prevalent over the next few years.

Image Credit: Creative Commons via PixaBay

We are very lucky to have bright, engaged students who do well in school, but what traditional schools have done for the past hundred years aren’t preparing our students for their future jobs or to be responsible, compassionate transformational leaders.

What I wonder is what happens when the qualified teachers, coaches & tutors are gone.  How do our students continue to learn and grow? I think then we will truly know how prepared our students are for their futures.

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!

The power of integration

The power of integration

We often hear about the changing demands of work and life in the 21st century due to rapid technological, economic and social changes, placing pressure on education to better prepare students for an uncertain future. One well-documented example of this is the impact of automation on employment, with workers in many different industries around the world being displaced by technology. While new opportunities are being created – often in congruence with those same emerging technologies –  we must prepare our students for the uncertainty and opportunity of a rapidly changing world.

In short, we must ensure our students’ skills remain relevant.

In response to the shifting demands on education, ISB developed the L21 Skills of; Communication & Collaboration, Creativity & Innovation, Leadership & Responsibility, Global Thinking, and; Inquiry, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Our school is expanding the way we integrate discrete disciplines and skills into our teaching and learning, from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Integrated Learning is an approach that models real-world working conditions by connecting different disciplines within learning engagements, occurring within a lesson, a unit, or an entire course. Integrated learning is most effective when aligned with project or inquiry learning models as students experience the collaborative and interdisciplinary environments they will likely encounter in their future careers.

 

STEAM

“Rather than a nice add-on to our current formal education system, (STEAM) should be the concept around which the entire system is understood and organized” – Hans Vestberg, World Economic Forum, Sept 2018.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Maths) has become a popular system for addressing the educational needs of the future. At ISB, STEAM is gaining traction as a means for ensuring hands-on design and engineering projects effectively address our Science Standards while facilitating creative, authentic problem solving and personalisation in the Arts and Humanities. STEAM learning is often characterised by technology-rich activities such as robotics or coding, but in essence it needn’t be about specific technical skills. Yes, technology should be ubiquitous in STEAM lessons, but, as long as there is a conscious integration of the STEAM disciplines, technology needn’t be the main emphasis. STEAM can be a vehicle for building engagement in a single activity or entire unit, it should be intentional and offer students opportunities to consolidate and synthesise their learning.

THE META CURRICULUM

“(what’s needed is) …a personalised learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others” OECD Learning Framework 2020

Metacognitive skills such as collaboration, communication, organization and reflective practice are each integral for effective problem solving in integrated curricula. In fact, these skills can actually be the focus of integrated curricula, particularly at times when more domain-specific topics aren’t relevant to an entire unit. Further, integrated learning requires teachers to apply a similar set of meta skills toward planning, delivery, assessment and reflection, presenting opportunities for modeling of effective metacognitive skills.

ES Strategy
This year, Each ES grade has embarked on a process of designing integrated units of inquiry, and, while this process is still in the early stages, we hope to create a model for successful integration of a wide range of units. While further refinement is always required, a number of ES teams have planned and completed a round of integrated units in 2018-19:

Grade 2: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This integration point for this unit was around the topic of sustainable use of the earth’s resources. Students worked on personalized design projects that focused on campaigning the school for improved sustainability.

Grade 3: Forces & Motion

How can we, as designers, use what we know about magnetism to address a problem within our environment? This unit allows students to apply what they know about magnetism to design everyday products that help people they know.


Grade 4: Engineering Design

How can we, as engineers, use what we know about design to address a real-world problem? This unit is integrated through the theme “making good better” – using feedback, refinement and reflection as a common theme through which a number of different subjects are linked.

Grade 5: Global Citizenship

Foundations of a global citizen – what we believe = what we do = who we are. This unit is integrated around the theme of identity – that our values as people, learners, mathematicians, writers, scientists, engineers and artists are defined by what we believe and what we do.

 

See you next year in the HS!

As I prepare to move to the High School next year, I look forward to further opportunities for integration at ISB. In the meantime, I’d like to offer my thanks to the ES teachers, admin, support staff, students and parents for your support and enthusiasm during these two excellent years in the elementary school!

Sam

The Joy of Standards

After a long day of sun on a Thai beach recently, my family came back to our hotel room happily exhausted, looking forward to watching our favorite Netflix shows on our laptops.
But it was not to be.
Our laptops, drained to nearly no battery life, couldn’t charge because their cords only had the Chinese three-pronged plug, and our hotel room only had the Thai two-pronged outlet.  
Yes, I know, talk about “first world problems.” Hardly a crisis.
But the disappointment of not being able to watch our shows got me thinking about an article I read recently called The Joy of Standards by Russel and Vinsel. If only the plugs were standardized internationally, none of us would have this problem. It’s astonishing just how much of our daily life depends on the products we use conforming to technical standards that we usually never give a thought to. 
There’s an interesting analogy herebetween technical standards and educational standards.
I spend much of my workday talking about the various sets of standards that we have aligned to as a school, from the Next Generation Science Standards, to the Common Core, to the National Core Arts Standards. As an independent school, we have the freedom to choose our standards here at ISB. Then we prioritize them, sequence them, unpack them into rubrics, assess them, and report on them—they form the backbone of our curriculum, helping us answer that all-important question: “What DO we want students to learn?” 
Unfortunately, as Russel and Vinsel put it, Standards have always struggled with an image problem. Critics worry that a standardized world is dull and mediocre, a nightmare of conformity and Kafkaesque bureaucracy.”
I can definitely relate. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with teachers who feel that aligning to standards is just bureaucratic hoop-jumping, something to get through as fast as possible to get to the good parts of teaching.
None of us like unnecessary hoops. All of us want the freedom to use our own creative spark in the classroom.  
However, think back to the electrical outlets. Various countries don’t want to collaborate on technical standards, so we who travel between them have to figure out how to make our electronics work. The lack of standardization creates unnecessary friction that slows us down, just a little.  
Similarly, our students move year by year from one classroom to the next. Of course, they should expect to encounter differences in style from one teacher to the next. However, our school-wide alignment to standards ensures that 3rd grade prepares them for 4th grade, that 8th grade prepares them for 9th grade, and so on.
Standards help us ensure that there is a purposeful increase in rigor from year to year.  
Now standards are not enough—they can form the backbone of your curriculum, but they need you and your team to build out from a statement on a paper to a dynamic lesson plan.  The art and craft of teaching is so much more than just choosing standards. Your work is to decide just the right questions to pique your students’ interest; to plan the learning engagements to help them construct their understanding; to make dozens of moment-by-moment decisions on how to connect with your students.  
So, next time you open your rubric or your unit planner, see your list of standards, and feel a little exasperated, think back to the last time you didn’t have the right shape electrical outlet, and how frustrating that was.
Yes, standards might feel mundane sometimes, and they may be the least interesting part of what you do. But your choice to align to standards reduces frustration for students as they progress on their learning journey. 

Source: rawpixel on pexels.com

Getting real about Learning Objectives

I feel the need to be honest with you, ISB. I am a content and language objective convert.  I will admit that when I was first told that we would write daily content and language objectives for math I was compliant but skeptical and quietly resistant.  I looked for shortcuts, kept the same generic objectives up for days, hardly shared them with students, and kept them designated to a hard to see corner in my room. I was beginning the journey, but hardly moving.    
And, since we’re being completely honest with each other, even after my initial training with the brilliant Dr. José Medina, I still wasn’t convinced. I was inspired and enthusiastic about supporting emergent bilinguals in my classroom, but I did not see how being more intentional about objectives would positively impact student learning.  I know I am not alone in my struggle with objectives. How do we manage the seeming polarity between inquiry and creativity with COLOs? How do we balance wonder and curiosity with routines?  
My short answer? Write better objectives.  
Recently, I read this article from Lustre Education that reminded me of my initial feelings about objectives. The author posits that objectives, or learning targets, rob students of the opportunity to explore concepts and inhibit deeper learning. As the SIOP instructional coach here, I have heard the same argument made among our faculty. But I will assert that if we are not writing, posting, and reviewing our content and language objectives, we are doing our students a disservice.   

  • COLOs are proven to have a positive impact on student learning. Let’s get down to the numbers. For reference anything above an effect size of 0.40 is considered significant.*
    • COLOs enhance teacher’s clarity.  Teacher clarity has a 0.75 effect size.   
    • COLOs promote classroom discussion. Classroom discussion has a 0.82 effect size.
    • COLOs encourage self-verbalization and self-questioning. Self-verbalization and self-questions has a 0.64 effect size.  
    • COLOs are an example of student-centered teaching. Student-centered teaching has a 0.54 effect size.  
    • COLOs provide goals and outcomes for students. Goals has a 0.50 effect size.  
    • COLOs communicate learning and language expectations. Expectations has a 0.43 effect size.  
    • By contrast, teacher subject matter knowledge has an effect size of 0.09. 
  • COLOs are a differentiation tool. In posting accurate content and language objectives they give language learners and student who receive learning support the permission to focus and excel at one thing at a time.  
  • COLOs allow teachers to be more student-driven and student-focused. Because COLOs are written for the student, a teacher is thinking through what students need to learn and how they will show they learned it. It is not about what the teacher will do, but what evidence the teacher will gain from student performance.   
  • COLOs build community. Specifically, language objectives highlight the opportunity for students to communicate and intentionally listen to one another. They foster an environment where students learn from each other and from the teacher as well as promote risk-taking, learning from mistakes, patience, and empathy.  
  • COLOs promote authentic interaction. When students are communicating during a lesson with specific COLOs they already have a frame of how to interact. They know the skill they will be communicating about (content) and the aspect of language acquisition they will be practicing. 
  • COLOS provide a springboard to new thinking. For our students that are fluent English speakers or already have a solid understanding of the content, COLOs can be the jumping off point to ask themselves “and what else can I pursue within this topic?” For example, if the content objective is “I am learning to multiply fractions less than 1 whole,” curiosity might be peaked to explore areas like how patterns apply to numbers greater than 1 whole, how patterns connect to decimals, negative numbers.   
  • COLOs can help manage off task behavior. COLOs bring our students (and us) back to the intention of the lesson when we’ve gotten too far off track. We’ve all been in the situation where one student has a connection and it opens a whole parade of stories. Being able to say, “How does your connection support our study of point of view?” or “I’d love to hear about roller coasters when we’re walking to lunch, but for now let’s get back to learning about blends” validates the students while refocusing the group.

How to craft better content and language objectives  

  • Create them with your students. I saw a beautiful example in a grade 1 classroom. The teacher began by saying “Today we’re going to keep thinking about adding numbers and showing our thinking. What might our content objective be?” After listening to students, he paraphrased and wrote on the board. Students immediately saw their thinking validated. Then he asked, “How will we show we can add using more than one strategy?” which led students to suggest they could write their thinking clearly or they could talk to the teacher about what they did. COLOs done.  
  • Replace the word ‘learning’ to ‘inquiring’ or ‘exploring’. Feeling locked in or uninspired by “I am learning to…”? Perhaps try “I am inquiring into…”, “I am exploring…”, or “I am puzzling about…” as a way to open up thinking.  
  • Commit to introducing  them with students. One of the most powerful ways I grew in crafting purposeful objectives was when I became intentional about sharing them with students. I knew that if I shared the objective at the beginning of the lesson and saw puzzled looks, scratched heads, heard “huh?”, or had to further explain what they meant, then I had not crafted a student-centered objective.   
  • Commit to reviewing them with students. Sometimes our lessons go in different directions than we anticipate. Sometimes this is awesome, exciting, and enriching, but sometimes it is unproductive learning and thinking. In reviewing the objectives it reminds us and our students of the goals that still need to be achieved.  
  • Use action verbs from Blooms Taxonomy to specify what students are doing. The more intentional we can be about our language the more likely students are to reach the desired learning outcome. Do you want them to measure? Design? Generalize? Tell them in the objective.  
  • Use specific action words to specify reading, writing, listening, and speaking objectives.
    • Reading: locate, skim, find, discover, distinguish 
    • Writing: question, explain, list, revise, justify, summarize, record  
    • Listening: distinguish, categorize, follow directions, choose  
    • Speaking: debate, define, express, predict, restate, share, tell 
  • Use cultural objectives to connect skills to the real world and the hidden curriculum. Ultimately, we want our students to be kind, good hearted, accepting people. This goes beyond the discrete skills and knowledge that are emphasized through content and language objectives. Cultural objectives provide the opportunity for students to make connections to their community, their lives, and the world around them. Cultural objectives are golden opportunities to touch on learning dispositions such as curiosity, problem solving, and critical thinking. Something like “I can be curious about patterns in numbers” or “I can recognize patterns to help me solve problems in the real world.” 

To end with one more bit of honesty, I can confidently say that Content and Language Objectives, when utilized correctly can positively impact all the students in your classroom. 
*All data is taken from John Hattie et al.’s book Visible Learning for Mathematics (2017)  
 

Curriculum Change and Vertical Alignment

“My daughter has written memoirs every year for the past 7 years!” Matt Glover exclaimed to teachers the other day. “She’s so sick of this genre! And that’s not even the worst part! The worst part is, there isn’t a single adult in her school who knows this fact. There were no intentional decisions that this was such a valuable genre that it should be taught to the exclusion of other genres. It just happened, because the teachers aren’t talking vertically about what they’re teaching.” 
I’m sure you have heard of, or experienced similar stories in your years as an educator. The elementary kids who have studied dinosaurs every year for three years, but never studied space. The secondary students who have only read books by white authors for the past five years. With teachers laser focused on their own content, it’s easy for the vertical alignment to go askew. Clearly, no educators meant for their programs to end up repetitive and reductive. 
As teachers we tend to focus on those activities with more immediate impact for the students. But sometimes, serving our students means taking the time to collaborate with our fellow educators, to make sure our program will continue to serve our students’ learning as they progress beyond the doors of our own classroom.
To this end, the Office of Learning has come up with this handy graphic to let you check if a change you’d like to make to your curriculum is one that your team can make or one that should have a vertical review.  

If you would like to see the vertical view of our curriculum, we have made unit titles, essential questions, and enduring understandings public on our website, here!
https://www.isb.bj.edu.cn/page.cfm?p=515

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