Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Voices of China, E02: (Brain)Storming the Future

2) What is something I/we did that you did not like this semester? 

NothingWithin Chinese culture, it is rare to hear or see a student talking back to a teacher or making a suggestion. That's not how the totem from Confucius rolls. In recent years, the younger generation of China has been wanting this to change. How? That will potentially take a few more generations, I believe, since there are still many educators who let tradition and culture dictate how they should teach and lead. But I have seen a growing number of Chinese students courageously stand up to their teachers for justice. Therefore, when most of my students say "nothing" to answer this question, I don't think they're hiding anything. They sincerely mean it. Even after a second prompting, they stick with the answer. Their faces tell me they're not pulling my leg.

I've been blessed with so much honesty from my students, especially in the midst of lessons, that I don't second guess the trust I have with them.

Tests: Interesting. Just plain awesome. I didn't mean for that to happen.

#ICYMI - In the interview I held with Cicy at the end of last semester, she said something I hope all educators will never forget. "[Some teachers] teach for tests, and it's boring. It makes us not want to learn.
I have given paper tests ever since year one of #TEFL in China because that's what I was told to do. I didn't question the method of assessment. I simply asked how to do it because that's what the school wanted. Essentially, I was really asking the school how I could comply. Not all compliance is bad, but being wrapped up in it had me not thinking nor considering the side effects of this assessment I've been told year after year to use on students in my setting. Those ways have and will continue to be revamped. The students want it to change, and I want what is best for them. 

Was I surprised then when "tests" came in a close second place? Not one bit. In fact, I've already cut out midterms and finals from my class since the students receive enough pressure, paper, and persecution with their mistakes and scores. (Side note: A few students mentioned "worksheets" while all of the others sighed in frustration every time I handed out "workbook pages" last semester.) I give tests after every unit, but this is an area I'm going to ask my #stuvoice to assist me with this semester. I'm looking forward to seeing how we can (brain)storm through this process together!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Voices of China, E01.5: What Makes Students Not Want to Learn

If you remember, the first question I asked my students at the end of last semester was...

1) What is something I/we did this semester that you liked? 

Now, I was planning to move on to the second question's answers, but I can't let what a particular student said to me go unspoken. For the student's sake, I'll name her Cicy. I've known Cicy to be a student in class that's hilarious, random, smart, cunning, and able to lead the class in discussions. So when it was time for us to meet, I was excited to hear her 100% honest opinions.

As the bell was ringing to officially start class on that day, the Chinese teacher popped her head in and reminded the class that, if I as the foreign teacher was going to show a movie or TV show, they needed to fix their mistakes and let her check them. Mind you...the last couple weeks for our students leading up the midterms and finals, starting in 2nd grade and on through high school, are hours full of lectures, worksheets, fixing mistakes, homework, fixing mistakes for homework, passing periods spent on homework or fixing it, taking practice tests, fixing get the drift.

I called Cicy back, and I first wanted to check on what the teacher said when the bell rang. I asked Cicy if it was right for the other teacher to do that. "No, because we have time to work, and we have time to play. It's not right that the Chinese teacher said to work during your class." How could she know what research has stated time and time again about work and play? She knows what she needs in order to succeed. She is growing and learning how to think, not how to listen. She is intrinsically motivated to learn English (while I'm not sure about her other classes) and has a priority to improve her ability with no carrots necessary. Shoot! She even keeps another notebook, other then the one for my class, for new words in and outside of class as well as for work on application of those words in various forms. I'll let her roll with that any day.

I acknowledged her brilliant thoughts, smiled, and moved on to the first question. I had no idea what she was going to say because, to be honest, Cicy was at times hard to read. Little did I know. "I like that when you teach, you make learning fun." Interested, I prodded for something more substantial. She replied, "You make learning fun. We play games and learn. You're not like other teachers who are boring." Okay...what makes them boring, I wondered. "They teach for tests, and it's boring. It makes us not want to learn."

Whoa! With the majority of the end-of-semester meeting left, Cicy already delivered the mic drop. I went speechless. What could I say? I was planning to only listen, but I really wanted to jump for joy and continue chatting. Instead, I typed her words onto Evernote because I had to get this. I had (and have) to tell the world, educators, and people like you. What makes students (let's be honest, anybody) not want to learn? Teaching to tests. That's what. The students know. In elementary, they know. If it is for the test, less motivation and even thoughts as far as Cicy's for some. I say "some" because Cicy is one girl from a grade of over sixty fifth graders, but she's brave enough to speak her mind and give teachers in China and the world a glimpse of what students think and what the future of education should (with)hold.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Voices of China, E01: What Did the Students Like From This Semester?

At the end of the last school calendar year, I met with all of my fifth graders one-on-one to ask them questions concerning class, my teaching, and how both could improve from their perspective. That was only done at the end of the year since it was my first time doing it. Therefore, since our first semester was going to end for Chinese New Year a few weeks ago, I thought it would be suitable now also. More opportunities for students to speak up individually and collectively give them deeper purpose for their critical thinking.

What I have found so funny and unsurprising is that students' thoughts usually agree with current research and methods on teaching as well as parenting. My prime example for both of these would be from last year. I asked every student if they felt respected by an adult who yelled and said bad things to them. Not one of them said yes. It's love they desperately want, but how we give it to them needs to be considered firstly. (I would list all the research and articles normally here, but the list would be too long.)

On to this year where I prompted my batch beforehand:
1) What is something I/we did this semester that you liked?
2) What is something that you did not like?
3) Do you think you did well in my class? Why or why not?
4) Do you have any questions for me or about the class? 

With the range and depth of answers given by the students, I thought what better way to detail the students' wonderful voices than with a series? Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Episode 1 of "The Voices of China"! (Side note: The series' name derives from The Voice of China, a TV show in...umm...China.) On to question 1 (cough cough), Episode 1...

1) What is something I/we did this semester that you liked?

Games: A high percentage all three of my fifth grade classes mentioned this without hesitation. I wasn't at all baffled because of the fun and learning that took place simultaneously numerous times over the semester. I asked for individual favorites. I went deeper with the question and sought advice for myself and how to deal with students who get upset when they lose. "Comfort the losing team. Tell them don't be sad. It's just a game. It's not that important. Losing is okay." This came from my most competitive student. 

Group PowerPoints: In groups, students chose an endangered animal to research and make a PowerPoint about to present to the class. The students took advantage of their time: in the computer lab researching and creating the PPTs, in the classroom to prepare what they would say, and in their various methods of communicating. I trusted the students, and they gave me more reasons to do so. Almost the whole time, I saw them come alive since they were able to use the internet in lieu of the one book we have for class, which ashamedly focuses only on the sea otter.

TV Show/Movies: I'm not afraid to admit it. After every unit test, I give the fifth grades choices 1) go outside to play games of their choice or 2) stay inside and watch a movie or TV show. Every time, option 2. Why? They have a plethora of worksheets from Chinese, Math, and their Chinese-English class to last the 40 minutes in mine. So they relax, (choose if they want to) work in a more relaxed environment, laugh, and chat with each other. It didn't bother me. In fact, it made me wonder. Could students make movies? Yes, they said. Did they know how? No. Do they want to? Yes. This conversation led to blogs, videos, other ways to use computers, and on the list went. I had to type everything in my Evernote before I forgot any of their brilliant ideas!


Now, here's the kicker in all these discussions. I didn't push students to understand me. I listened to them, asked questions, and showed them sincerity with my nonverbals. I wanted to let them know, "I want to hear your voice. Your opinion matters. You matter. So talk. I'm here for you." I believe it has been working because I have received so much honest feedback. So much that there are going to be four or more episodes about it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

5 out of 5 Stars to Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson

Everybody needs to read this book. Why? Because there are people who are: doing things they actually aren't good at, pushing through the daily grind without any passion for what they do, or regretting at the end of their lives that they should have done what they truly loved. As a teacher, I believe this can be prevented in future generations by educators who are willing to push the envelope with their students, colleagues and community.

Utilizing one's talents and passions for something bigger than yourself will certainly transform your life; there's no doubt about that. In order to discover those, you need to examine yourself deeper and in ways never done before. With Sir Ken Robinson's Finding Your Element, you can do just that. Every chapter has stories, exercises and questions that will make you see the bigger picture of your life as well as the details concerning your past experiences, current situations and future opportunities.

The main focus of your Element is that it benefit the world we live in and that it be done by you. No one else. Why? There's only one you with your heart and your mind. Therefore, unearth your Element(s).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Assessment 3.0 is here, but what is it?

I can just hear Tom Cruise saying, "Jim, the package is in the open."

I think many would agree, and this mission isn't impossible either.

Without spoiling too much of today's release, Assessment 3.0, I'll let the picture (below) speak for itself. For the start of more concrete applications and detailed accounts of this authentic assessment, check out the third chapter. But read chapters one and two beforehand because they begin with the history of traditional assessment and why SE2R should replace it.
Anyone else reading this book that would like to discuss it via blog or chat? Let me know.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why I Reopened My Facebook Account

When my wife and I moved to China in 2010, we were informed that several popular websites of the west were blocked by the Great Firewall. What's interesting is that some of the foreign teachers that year remembered the day Facebook was blocked and where they were when they were informed. That's a little disturbing since the first event that came to mind when they mentioned this was 9/11. Back to my point...since Facebook was blocked, I decided to deactivate my account, focus on relationships in our local setting, and stay in contact with those I felt closest with via email or calls on our magicJack.

Fast forward four and a half years, and we've returned to China. We went back to Indiana for the 2012-2013 school year, but I still didn't activate my account then. Why not? I don't know. It just wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Upon return to the East in 2013, Facebook was (and still is) blocked along with Twitter and anything Google. It wasn't until a month or so ago that I saw an education writer consistently make suggestions on Twitter to join Facebook discussions regarding education issues I believed to be ├╝ber-important. I clicked on the link, but no dice. This one needed a log-in. After this happened a few more times, I decided it was best to reopen my Facebook account. Conversations were taking place, and I was missing out on good chunks of them even though I was already chatting with many educators on Twitter. Not to mention I could keep in contact with family and close friends once again.

Not a lot of time passed before I joined a group that focuses on Teachers Throwing Out Grades (#TTOG) and saw how sharing and collaboration were daily occurrences. By this point in time, I also had a professional blog (such as the one you're reading) up and running. Now I'm not one to check stats on my blog because they aren't the priority of my reflections, but I would be lying if I didn't say I was interested to see if Facebook was assisting in this way. Sure enough, it's topping the list (see below).

Do you think I made the right choice in reopening my Facebook account? 

What other pros (and cons) do you see in using it professionally? 

Do you use Facebook or Twitter more? Why?

P.S. - If you'd like to connect on Facebook, visit: