ISB Parents: Jiāyóu!

Image Credit: Pixabay

If you are a parent in Beijing right now, you are being challenged (and here’s a virtual hug).   A mere two weeks ago, life was fairly normal – we were finishing up a short stent of school and work between Winter Break and Chinese New Year and we were excited thinking about our Chinese New Year plans – being with family, eating delicious foods, and some more relaxation time.  Then, we started hearing more about the coronavirus…  As an international school, we were told that schools would not reopen until we receive further guidance from the Beijing authorities.  And since then, we have gone through the gamut of emotions, decisions on whether to stay or go and watching media from sources within China all over the world.  We are trying our best, with no clear end in sight. It has been hard.
Now, many of these emotions are still very much alive and we are feeling up, down and all around on a regular basis.  And now, our kids are at home with us and started “eLearning” while we are trying to work AND keep it all together. This is definitely not easy.  With two working parents and two kids at our house, Monday was exhausting.  We were trying to figure out our “new normal” and when everything is dependent on technology and there is information coming from multiple sources, it was a lot.  I’m sure you felt it too.
As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  What can we do? And, what can we do to support them and stay sane and healthy ourselves?
Here are some ideas:

  1. Talk to your kids!  They are stressed. Many of them are hearing us talk about what’s going on and are scared about the virus and being locked in.  They are sad that they missed their last basketball games, APAC tournaments, recitals, concerts and maybe thinking about what more they potentially may still miss in the coming weeks.  They miss their friends.  They miss the autonomy they have when they walk out the door every morning as they exert their growing independence as teenagers.  Let them vent a bit.  Ask them what they are happy about or what they are worried about and let them know it’s okay.
  2. Give them space!  Many of us are spending most of our days in one location –  houses, apartments or even hotel rooms, some of which are only temporary, and that is really challenging.  While it’s good to check in on your kids, give them breaks.  Let them go listen to music and tune out in their rooms.  Don’t make them sit and work behind their computers all day.  Make sure they are taking breaks and give them some room.
  3. Give them some new responsibilities!  Use this opportunity to have them contribute more at home.  I know my children have learned to do their own laundry the past week.  They’ve learned to make new foods and they have more chore expectations than usual.  It’s good for them to learn more life skills and also contribute to the family.
  4. Keep them social! Make sure your children are chatting with friends.  Most of our children are communicating with their friends via school tasks through Seesaw, Dragon’s Exchange, email, Flipgrid or the hundreds of other amazing tools teachers are using to promote social, engaging learning.  Face to Face contact is important too – not just WeChat or Instagram messaging – make sure they are making face to face contact with friends and family, so they are chatting with people outside of your house too.
  5. Encourage exercise!  This is challenging.  Most of us are self-quarantining, but when the weather is nice, get out for a family walk.  Do the PE personal fitness activities sent by their teachers as a family.  Do a yoga or HIIT workout together. It’s amazing what a little exercise can do for the mind and soul.
  6. Keep to a schedule! While most of us can do school and work in our pajamas, try to keep to a schedule.  Keep a reasonable bedtime for your family.  Eat meals together.  Make sure everyone isn’t connected to their devices all day.

As for us parents, these are all important points too.  Make sure you are talking to people to validate your feelings and relieve stress.  Ask for help!  We are a part of an amazing community.  We are all together in this and all we want is what’s best for our kids.  If you need help, there are so many people that are here willing to help – our Leadership Team, Teachers, Counselors, Support members, and fellow parents.
If you have ideas or successful activities plans that are working for your family, share them in the comments or with your parent communities.  We are in this together!
Jiāyóu
加油

Written by:
Julie Lemley
jlemley@isb.bj.edu.cn @JulieLemley
Innovative Programs Leader
ISB ES & MS Parent

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? 

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. 

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.

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)  
 

Sustainable Design in Schools


When I first started working as a Design teacher, I was so excited by all the projects and opportunities I was going to have making with my students. I started to thinking about SUSTAINABILITY without even really thinking about the term in two ways:

  1. How will we manage materials and waste responsibly?
  2. How can I give students’ opportunities for open-ended client based projects when I only saw them for a year or a semester, but manage the sustainability of good projects?

 
And even after ten years, still don’t have answers, but it still something I continue to think about and work on as an educator and facilitator. No matter what school you are at, this is usually an issue, but it’s not something that is frequently discussed or solved easily.

First, let’s think about the question with the clearest answer:
How can we manage materials and waste responsibly?
Originally, I thought maybe I could use primarily recycled or upcycled materials.  I think this can be done with balance.  It is hard to create high quality products with old cardboard boxes and old food containers. School communities are great at collecting materials, but then Design/Maker labs quickly turned into a trash heap on one side. We also created more trash with the trash in some instances.  Some of the products would definitely not be used.
As international teachers, we move around frequently, and often do not have the language acquisition for procuring materials.  Or the budgets nor time to be really picky.  I would love to know the source of all my materials and be able to use high quality, sustainable, ethically and realistic for my budget.
As many of us have realized… there is no answer.  It is a balance of upcycling/recycling, and ordering ethical and sustainable materials.  We have started recycling our own plastics at ISB, using the Precious Plastic model, which has been a great asset to our design program. I do wonder how I can find out more about the origins of my products and educate our community more on local sustainable products.
Now, on to the second part of sustainability in school projects:
How can we give students’ opportunities for open-ended, authentic, client based projects and manage the sustainability of those projects and products?
This is more difficult to answer.  I am constantly trying to figure out this one.  Frequently, students come up with great ideas for projects that could truly solve an authentic problem in our community, but once that student leaves the class or the school, that project is often dropped.  Sometimes I’ll try to suggest to the student that he/she should create a “sustainability plan” for example: create a club to continue the work that’s needed…
Sometimes a younger student will pick up the project…
And sometimes, I’ve just got to let it go, no matter how great it is.
In Design, a high quality product is desirable and we want kids to achieve that, but the reality is the process and the learning that goes into design thinking is most important.  Maybe those students continue the work at a new school, new community, or even at university.  I will never know, but there’s hope.  If nothing else, I hope that our students continue to use design thinking to address issues, identify problems and seek opportunities in all areas of their lives.
In many design thinking frameworks and processes, there is a part of the reflection piece where students need to consider the impact of the project/product on themselves, others, the environment and be reflective on their social, emotional and economic impact of their project, especially for them to imagine their product going to mass market.  This is essential in our teaching and our Design classrooms, no matter the project.
As international teachers, our students are the future leaders, businessmen/businesswomen, and parents of the next generation.  I hope they always consider their impact as they design and create new businesses, products and solutions to problems that may not even exist yet.
So is this something we need to put more at the forefront of our teaching as Design Teachers?  If we are not teaching it, who is, especially in such a hands-on way?
Should we always be looking at the sustainability and impact of the project, even as young as elementary school?
I think, yes.
 

Building Empathy with our Students

I recently read an article published by Jay McTighe entitled Three Lessons for Teachers from Grant Wiggins. Several of us know the late Grant Wiggins for his work around Understanding by Design, feedback for students, and his cheerful and thought provoking dispositions.
For me the most notable lesson Wiggins had to share in the article was “Empathize with the learner.” I have always been a classroom teacher. I feel fairly confident that I know what the experience is like as an elementary schooler; I see them on the playground, I acknowledge the pressures they feel from parents, and I value their diverse interests and needs. However, there is so much more to their day-to-day experience than the opportunities we explicitly provide them.
With this in mind I decided to heed one suggestion to help me build empathy with students-shadowing a student for a day. I looked at my schedule, contacted a lower elementary teacher, was given a buddy, and spent an entire afternoon in that classroom. Fortunately, the homeroom and Chinese teacher welcomed me and the idea and agreed to let me come in on the fourth day of school. I am very grateful and appreciative to the teachers for letting me come in and learn.
Before I walked into the classroom room Thursday afternoon I set some agreements for myself:

  • I would follow the daily schedule, including specials.
  • I would sit with my buddy wherever she sat (carpet, table, couch, etc).
  • I would follow the classroom rules and procedures (rules for bathroom, water, electronics).
  • I would take my teacher hat off but be observant of my behaviors in order to reflect on the experience.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  1. Our teachers cultivate incredible communities within the first week of school.

Seeing as it was the fourth day of school, I was not surprised when the teacher told me beforehand that she was spending a lot of time on routines. However, while there were procedures and routines being learned it was done in such a thoughtful, kind, and caring way. The classroom rules were in positive language, children were encouraged to think and discuss why we have rules, and the classroom had thought provoking questions all around the room. When a student needed a reminder or redirection it was done seamlessly and with a smile and it was focused exclusively on the behavior, not the student. I found myself smiling and laughing along with the teacher and other students because there was such a warm feeling in the room. The read aloud and community building game at the end of the day was such a beautiful example of how our teachers consciously make decisions to develop the whole child and nurture the needs of the students in the room.

  1. Our students show more empathy to one another than we realize.

When I was on the carpet during math time and working at a student table there were frequent opportunities for interaction. I was amazed at the way the students spoke and interacted with one another without much direction from the teacher. They were inclusive, working together, sharing, showing self-awareness, encouraging others to share ideas, and making space for one another. This was all done not because the teacher reminded students but because of who they naturally are as individuals. It was really heart-warming. During the short game at the end of the day I observed how well the students were including everyone and supporting one another.

  1. As engaging, brilliant, and planned as we are, our students will not hear everything we say.

We ask our students to listen a lot. We are frequently asking questions, giving directions, restating directions, modeling, giving examples, giving non examples, making students laugh, and a myriad of other things. It’s a lot to listen to as a student! After some time on the carpet my eyes were starting to wander around the room. I was taking in the classroom set up, glanced at the clock, looked at the math center, noticed what other students were doing. All the while, I thought I was listening but when the directions came of what to do with the math manipulatives I realized I had completely missed the instructions. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them! If this happens to us as adults, it is definitely happening for our students.

  1. I failed at taking off my teacher hat.

If I was really doing this right, I would have spent more time focusing on being a student. But in truth I was always thinking through the lens of a teacher. I was adding management strategies to my tool box, when the small group I was working with was stuck I was scaffolding my questions to help students, and when I saw a student in the hallway hit another student I immediately walked over and spoke with the child to have him apologize. But I’m going to give myself a pass on this one.

  1. Teaching is hard, but being a student is harder.

There is no doubt that ISB is full of hard-working, talented, and amazing educators. Our job is not easy. But, we at least have the benefit of knowing the content, we have the benefit of understanding how the activity should go, how long the lesson will take, what will be covered when. We have the power to change something when it’s not working, speed up or slow down when we need to, and ask questions to help our students get there. Our students don’t usually have this power. They are learning new content, reflecting on something new, learning to work with other people, and are reliant on the adults to (generally) dictate the time and the content. Add in the additional challenges of being a new student, learning in your non-native language, or mastering difficult content and we realize just how tough a student’s job is.
The experience of shadowing a student was incredible, and one I highly recommend even if only for a short duration. Have you experienced a Chinese class at ISB? Have you attended Art or PE? Sat with your children through lunch? Completed the homework they have night after night for a week? It just might help us build empathy with our students, and with each other.

Personalized Learning through the Passion Project

Image Credit: I can still be a kid sometimes  by Austin, a Fall 2017 Passion Project student

ISB has made a commitment to personalized learning as one of our Strategic Initiatives.

Personalized Learning is offering a variety of student opportunities and resources that fosters students’ learning, allowing them to design learning experiences based on their own interests, curiosities and competencies. In our high school, there are many different pathways and course selections for students to gain knowledge, skills and foster L21 skills.  The Passion Project course is an opportunity for students to design their own learning for a semester.
This course description is as follows:

The Passion Project is a dynamic approach to learning in which students explore passions, problems and opportunities and follow the ISB Design Process in a hands-on approach to create a product, event or system.
In this innovative course, students design and complete an individual project that is geared to their particular interests, aptitude, needs, and desired outcomes. This self-directed study could take many forms. The Passion Project aims to provide students with the opportunity to find, develop, and experience a passionate endeavor.

This is an amazing opportunity for students to follow their passions with the guidance and mentoring of a teacher.  This allows students time in their schedule to work on their Passion Project, reflect, and conference with the facilitator.
Students use a design thinking mindset, guided by the ISB Design Process to over the course of a semester to achieve their goal. Using the scaffolding of the ISB Design Process students inquire, develop their ideas, plan, create and seek feedback to improve their process and product.

At the end of the semester, students will choose their own way to share their products and learning.  This can be as simple as meeting with a few teachers or their parents to share their work.  This could also be much bigger where students could present at an assembly or for another audience in our community.
Students post their weekly progress on their blogs and are always seeking feedback, inspiration and ideas from our larger community.  Please be a part of our students’ learning journey as they document their Passion Project through process journals. We encourage you to comment on their blog posts through: questioning, advice, suggestions, and any other constructive feedback.
Here are our semester 1 Passion Project students this year:
Austin’s Passion Project process journal   – His goal is to publish a book of his comics
Maggie’s Passion Project process journal   – Her goal is to create a portfolio of her illustrations for stage design
Tiger’s Passion Project process journal   – His goal is to raise and potential breed bearded dragons
Sarah’s Passion Project process journal   – Her goal is to design and publish a graphic novel based on mental health for teens
Jane’s Passion Project process journal  – Her goal is to write and publish a novel

The Power of Feedback; Reflections from a Paddle Board Yogi

By Kristine Tesoriero
Middle School/High School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator
Like most teachers, I consider myself a life-long learner.  Typically, my learning and growth centers around the field of education, so when an opportunity presents itself to learn

HS PE Teacher, Casey Mizzone, masters the paddle board headstand

something new and challenging outside of my profession, I usually embrace it.  My mastery levels with these endeavors have varied.  For example, learning how to make soup dumplings…not even close to mastering this skill.  Re-learning how to ride a bicycle after over 20 years of not riding…partially proficient.  Doing a headstand on a paddle board…now that, I have mastered!
If it was not about earning a “grade” or taking formal assessments on the aforementioned activities, then what factors contributed to my success?
At some point during those glorious three seconds that I was precariously balanced upside down on my head, it came to me. The secret to my success had everything to do with the feedback that I received throughout the learning process.
Educational researchers, John Hattie and Helen Timperley say that, “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative” (See link below for their article, The Power of Feedback).  The research is clear.  The type of feedback (and way it is given) has a direct impact on learning.  So, how can we provide useful feedback to our students?
Grant Wiggins wrote about 7 key characteristics of better feedback.  In his article, he says, “Feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval.  That’s what evaluation is–placing value.  Feedback is value-neutral.  It describes what you did and did not do.” (See link below for full article by Wiggins).
7 Characteristics of Better Feedback: (Grant Wiggins)

  1. Goal-referenced
  2. Transparent
  3. Actionable
  4. User-friendly
  5. Timely
  6. Ongoing
  7. Consistent

Let’s examine these characteristics through my reflections from Paddle Board Yoga:

  1. Goal-Referenced: Paddle Board Yoga started with the instructor defining the desired goal of the class.  She said that by the end of the session, I would be able to stand on my head while balancing on the paddle board.  She provided clarity of the learning goal as well as clarity of the mastery objectives. She demonstrated the desired goal several times for me to observe.  She then explained that in order to achieve the desired goal of standing on my head on a paddle board, I would first have to master some basic skills.  Throughout the lesson she would reference the goal and explain the connection between what we were doing and the ultimate goal.  For example, I practiced balancing on my knees because it would help me learn the importance of weight distribution on the board.  I practiced different hand placements so that I would eventually be able to use my hands to create the foundation of the headstand.  Everything that I was practicing had a purpose that would lead to the overall goal, and the feedback I was receiving was always goal-referenced.
  1. Transparent: Once I was clear on the goal, I needed transparent and tangible results related to that goal. Throughout the lesson, it was the feedback from the instructor that told me to either continue with what I was doing, or change my strategy.  Each time the board would flip over, the instructor would point out the reason.  She would say things like, “You put too much weight on the right knee, so the board flipped to the right.”  I used that feedback to adjust my weight accordingly the next time I got up
    MS PE Teacher, Mel Hamada recently tweeted this photo “Differentiated #aquatics learning based on Ss #choice from #formative Ts+Ss #feedback on #standards”

    on the board.  I quickly began to learn that every action I took had a tangible effect on my ability to master the goal and I was soon self-regulating and adjusting.

  1. Actionable: The information I was getting about what I was doing “right” was just as important as the information she provided about what was “going wrong.” As I began to lift off into a headstand she would say, “notice how you are pulling your elbows tightly in toward your head? That will help you to stay steady once you lift your legs.”  Her coaching was so concrete and specific that I was able to act on it.  It made me wonder about all those times I would say to a student, “Great job!” when he/she answered a question correctly in class.  How did my students know what was so great about their response so that they could continue to be successful? Or when I would say, “No, sorry, try again,” I was not providing any useful feedback so that my students could learn from their incorrect responses and act on it.  Actionable information provides a roadmap for learners.
  1. User-friendly: I have been in yoga classes where the instructor has used highly technical terms that were difficult to decipher as a novice yogi. Feedback such as, “When you are in Vrksasana pose, the most important thing is drishti,” was completely useless to me.  This feedback would have been more useful to me if the
    ES teacher, Mary-Anne Muhl, posted this photo of Design-Tech teacher, Julie Lemley, giving timely and actionable feedback on a student’s design.

    teacher had said, “when we move into tree pose, find a point of focus to rest your gaze.  It will improve your concentration and balance.”  I attribute my success on the paddle board to the fact that the feedback provided by my instructor was user-friendly.

  1. Timely: How useful would it have been if the instructor saved all of the feedback for the end of class? At that point, I would have lost the context for the feedback. I also would not have had time to adjust my techniques and try again.  Research shows that feedback is best when provided immediately or soon after the student has demonstrated their level of progress toward the goal.  How can we help students close the gap between the goal and the current level of mastery? In an article called, “Feedback for Learning: Make time to save time,” Dylan Wiliam says that, “If you’re going to use your precious time to give feedback, plan classroom activities so students can respond and act on it.” (See link below for full article)
  1. Ongoing: Unfortunately, Beijing does not lend itself to the practice of Paddle Board Yoga, but ideally, with ongoing practice and the ongoing feedback that goes with it, my overall performance and the quality of my headstand would improve.  Wiggins makes the following important point about this:

“All adjustment en route depends upon feedback and multiple opportunities to use it. This is really what makes any assessment truly “formative” in education. The feedback is “formative” not merely because it precedes “summative” assessments but because the performer has many opportunities – if results are less than optimal – to adjust the performance to better achieve the goal.”

  1. Consistent: This last characteristic of effective feedback highlights the importance of teachers working together to define levels of proficiency and moderate student work against common criteria. This collaborative effort brings about consistency in expectations, the collection of exemplars to share with students, and the creation of quality rubrics to describe levels of performance.  It also benefits our students if we come together to plan interventions for learners who are not yet meeting the goals/standards and to create ways for students to extend their learning when they are meeting them.

I ultimately met the intended goal of performing a headstand on a paddle board, not because I was a “natural”, or because I was motivated by a grade.  I learned because I had an excellent coach who knew that the key to my success was dependent upon the type of feedback she gave me throughout the learning process.  I like to think that had I received effective feedback from my cooking teacher, I would have mastered the skill of making soup dumplings as well!

Resources:

Click here for the full article by Wiggins

Click here to read The Power of Feedback by Hattie and Timperley

Click here to read Dylan Wiliam’s article

20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback

Assessment expert, Susan Brookhart’s book on this topic is a great resource

 

Design@ISB

 Why is design an essential part of a school’s curriculum?

The most important benefits of Design classes and/or units in the curriculum are: complex thinking, development of technical skills, analysis of media and products around them and hands-on creating.
Design courses or projects have two specific purposes:

  1. To learn skills to become highly proficient in different technical skills
  2. To learn to use the process of designing for problem solving and to create authentic products for a specific client or audience.

What does this all mean?
First, students need to develop a variety of skill sets.  In order for students to create high quality products, they need to develop their skills.  In Design courses or projects, students can learn how to use tools and learn techniques in different areas such as:
Creating with resistant materials: Wood, Plastics, Metals and Composites
Programming
Circuitry
Graphic Design
2D & 3D Drawing for Laser Cutting and 3D Printing
Textiles
Food Preparation Techniques

The second important component of Design in education is design thinking.
Students follow a process to create a product – this could be a materials-based product, a digital product or even a system.
isb-designcycle-graphic2-1

Prototype of ISB Design Cycle

STAGE ONE: DEFINE & EMPATHIZE
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Student analyzing children’s Chinese storybooks to identify components to create their own.

First, students are given a guiding question or a problem to solve. Then they begin to inquire and do research. They define their goal and find an audience, empathize with their potential clients to gather a better understanding of what is needed. They then analyze existing products and do further inquiry and research.
STAGE TWO: DEVELOP & PLAN
In this stage of the design cycle, students create success criteria (design specifications) so they know what their product must have in order to be successful.  They develop a few design ideas and then justify the design they will try to develop.  Students then create annotated sketches to show their ideas on paper.  Finally, before creating, they  make a plan to organize their time, materials, tools and locations where they will work.
STAGE THREE: CREATE & IMPROVE
In this stage of the Design cycle, students first start by making a prototype of their design.  They reflect, gather feedback and test their product to see if it meets the success criteria.  They continually create and iterate to improve their product.
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Students testing their polymers in a chemical engineering design project

Students, like all designers, reflect throughout the design process.  Students are expected to self reflect and have confidence to give and receive feedback from their peers to help guide them through their design process.
We also want students to share their process and final products with an extended community to make an impact and to have a larger audience to further their learning.
There are a lot of great design projects and design thinking happening at ISB and our design program is growing through the engineering strand of the Science curriculum, through middle school Design class, enrichments and other design integrated projects.  Later on in the year, we’ll be sharing more student design projects throughout the school.

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