Appreciation & Giving Thanks

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CA Projects developed at Beyond Laptops

Blogging at CA as part of a vibrant learning community:

Tapping into the expertise of our vibrant learning community:

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CA Blogging: Alive and Kicking

I really feel like I have been able to consolidate my thoughts around blogging over the course of the last day or two at Beyond Laptops at Yokohama International School.  I would like to shout out to those who I have sat with and collaborated with, but also the great workshop leaders from YIS.

My initial thoughts centered around the concern that student blogs don’t have an authentic audience, blogs can feel like an online worksheet and feel like “work” rather than “learning” for students.

So how do we:

  • help kids see the value of blogging;
  • find that authentic audience for students;
  • make sure that the blog is not just an online worksheet?

Probably my strongest current mantra around learning and student tasks is “give students choice”.  This could be in terms of the platform (are blogs the only way?) but can definitely be in terms of prompt. Can students choose their unit reflection prompt from a menu, such as:

  • In what ways was this unit like Star Wars?
  • What I really liked about this unit was …
  • This unit really bugged me because …
  • I was most surprised by …
  • I realised there is a strong connection between …
  • Choose a colour, symbol and an image that represents this unit…
  • Other visible thinking routines

Students in the class can then read a random selection of other students’ blogs, and can be taught how to comment.  The desired outcome would be that the readers would gain something different from the blog writer’s insights.  A key component of blogging is to build up the community, and the sense of students sharing their thinking.

My conclusion is that blogging is definitely worthwhile.  We are giving students exposure to a platform that they may or may not use in the future, but they have it in their tool belt.  Blog writing is a genre, and as language teachers we all have the responsibility to teach a range of writing genres.

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Making sure that CA Inspires

Today was Saturday.  Yet, today was one of the best days ever at school for me.  Yes, it was the weekend.

The school was abuzz with a range of activities,  One was an end of year softball tournament for middle school girls.  Great weather, lots of fun, a wonderful outdoor community event.   #community #WJAA

What struck me most though, was the source of two other events that took place today.  Both of these were original, filling a need that no other event does, and were being held for the first time.

IMG_2287We hosted Creative Connections for the first time.  This event was proposed by one of the school’s visual art teachers together with one of the design teachers.  This professional development experience included a visit to #Kyotographie, variIMG_2228ous design challenges and sharing of ideas in art and design. #design #CreativeConnections



IMG_2260The other major event was student generated. Through an open-ended design course, one grade 10 girl has been exploring issues facing children of multicultural backgrounds in Japan.  Today’s event brought in various members of our community, students, and others from beyond the community, such as Mixed Roots Japan, and involved a    discussion about growing up in Japan, musical entertainment, and a shoIMG_2279wing of the movie Hafu.  I was really excited by the relevance of this event, the energy it created, and the autonomy it provided to the student involved.  She also was able to bring in other students who collaborated with her and supported her.  It became a unifying event. #mixedrootsjapan #hafu


My learning from today:

We need to make sure we empower students and teachers to let their ideas flourish, and sometimes we just need to get the heck out of the way.



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Finding flexibility in our schedule

Whether waiting in lines at Disney, or enjoying travel on the Shinkansen, October break is a great time to catch up on reading all those extra articles saved to Pocket.

Want High Schoolers to Succeed? Stop giving them fifth grade schedules“, on “The Hechinger Report”  really piqued my interest.  The school only has structured lesson times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the students’ learning is self-directed: they study the subjects they need to work on the most, on a drop-in basis.

I can see something like this working well at my current school where we need to find time for students to have alternative learning experiences, such as PBL, internships and mentorships; we also want to allow for differentiation: students spending time on disciplines where they need to improve most.  Surely such a strategy would also significantly help to develop every student’s self-management skills.

In practical terms, we currently have a 10-day schedule, where each Friday either has periods 1-4 or periods 5-8.  So each period would lose one hour per fortnight if we kept Fridays unscheduled.  Our school a small, but very active student population, and many students are frequently absent on Fridays due to extra curricular events.  If we changed Fridays to be a non-scheduled day, the often high rate of absentees would not impact lessons as it does now.

Obviously students would need to be held accountable for how they spend that one day per week.  Actually, this provides another opportunity within our school.  We are looking for ways to make the homeroom teacher’s relationship and interactions with students more meaningful, and using the week’s homeroom sessions to plan and document with students how they use their Friday would be an ideal vehicle.   I am sure we could arrange for one of our school’s coding gurus to create an app that students used to enter their schedule and goals for the day, that then could be relayed to teachers so they know which students to expect at what time.  Some kind of reflection, celebrating the day’s achievements regarding goals set, and outlining next steps, would also be included in the structure.

What do you think?  Is a move such as this too risky, or is it a much-needed respite from our timetabled education system?

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The Perfect Unit Planner

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 18.51.14When I recently attended the PTC “Curriculum Leadership in the International School” my burning question was “How can we get teachers to enjoy and see the value in unit planning?”

IMG_6748Whilst unit planning is a necessity, often teachers don’t see the value of the unit planner in relation to daily classroom lesson planning.  However this is counter to experts’ current thinking, as illustrated in the recent ASCD Education Update (April 2015) article by Laura Varlas, titled “Writing a Master Plan”.



I had an epiphany at PTC one day, when my burning question was answered.  I was in a small group charged with designing “the perfect unit planner”.  We had group members from a range of backgrounds, including some IB PYP teachers.  So our ideal planner was modelled on the PYP.  I think this approach would help IBMYP and IBDP teachers.  Whilst IBMYP planners translate into excellent classroom practices, they can turn teachers off, with their complex web of layers, from global contexts, to key and related concepts, ATLs, statements of inquiry, and more.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 21.02.34Here is my version of the perfect unit planner, based on what I learned at PTC, particularly in the session mentioned above and illustrated in the image.  I like the collaborative approach suggested by the use of the first person plural pronoun.  I also am hopeful that teachers would see the value in planning with these prompts.

I don’t know if it is “perfect”, but it definitely resonates with me.  What does your perfect unit planner look like?





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I read an interesting article this week through ASCD that looked at teacher leadership models, and how to create time for teacher leaders, without impacting FTE and budget.  The article was titled “The Little Engine that Could: A PA Leadership Team Casts an Ambitious Vision” and described the journey of a district that needed to provide time for its teacher leaders but did not have the financial support required.

Working at a school where expanding FTE without the accompanying expanding enrollment is not an option, the ideas presented in this article really appealed.  The practical solution of bringing leadership in to teach, in order to release teacher leaders got me thinking.

In the Secondary School at Canadian Academy we have high expectations of our HoDs to be curriculum leaders, facilitators of collaboration, plus managers of budget, ordering and other practical tasks.  The stipend is not great, nor do teachers receive any release time for this role.  Hence the appeal of giving time to HoDs through leadership team members stepping into the classroom.

The challenges would be:

  • ensuring the quality of teaching and learning is not impacted by such substitution;
  • deciding how often this strategy would be needed;
  • ensuring that this would not entail more work for the teacher in working with the substituting administrator.

There are probably more questions I should be considering, too, but the idea is probably worth mulling over some more.


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