Creating a Positive Classroom Climate

I have never taught in a classroom in which I am the same race as the students. I have only ever taught in Vietnam at Vietnamese and Korean public schools. So I’ve always been the “odd one out.” Up to this point, fostering diversity has meant making students comfortable with me: the ethnic American teacher that has suddenly landed in front of them, speaking a foreign language, and trying to get them to learn.

Seeing the mixed reactions to me, the foreign teacher, it’s easy to see the importance of developing a safe and open atmosphere to make learning happen. Creating a positive classroom environment can reduce conflict, stave off bullying, and provide an atmosphere where deeper learning can be achieved. Not to mention, schools have seen improvement in academic achievement from students who have been taught social and emotional learning, and a huge part of that is empathy for one another. So how do we create that environment?

In my experience, the best way to make students feel comfortable is through developing a fun culture in the classroom, and making the students feel like we are in a community where everyone is open to express their ideas. How one creates that environment can be tricky, but it’s all about starting at the beginning, specifically, in the first few weeks of school.

First, it’s important that students know how to treat one another. Below are the key points that I think should be taught on the very first day. These ideas are taken directly from Teaching Tolerance’s brief entitled “Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education.”

  • Listen to each other. Deeply listen to what others say and to the feelings, experiences and wisdom behind what they say.
  • Be humble. Recognize that, however passionately we hold ideas and opinions, other people may hold pieces of the puzzle that we don’t.
  • Respect. Trust the integrity of others, believe they have the right to their opinions (even when different from your own) and value others enough to risk sharing ideas.
  • Trust. Build a safe space to explore new ideas and work through conflicts, controversy and painful moments that may arise when talking about issues of injustice and oppression.
  • Voice. Speak the truth as we see it and ask questions about things we don’t know or understand, particularly on topics related to identity, power and justice.

A lot rides on those ideas and it’s important to discuss them with the class. How does it make them feel? Are any of these words new to them? I think that first allowing individual students to reflect on these ideas, then speak with a group about their thoughts, and lastly making this a class discussion is key to fostering the welcome environment of your class in the first few days of school.

Following this activity: introductions! Who are you and who are they? As a class, you will be working together throughout the year, and you will get to know each other more and more as the year goes on.

I like to hand out a graphic organizer that asks students questions such as: How many brothers and sisters do you have? Where do you live? Where were you born? What is your favorite book? Who is someone that inspires you?

The organizer allows students to respond to each question with words, pictures, or both. At the center of the organizer: a picture of themselves.

The next activity – hang the organizers up around the room and let the students read about each other and ask each other questions so they get to know everyone in a warm, friendly, and open environment. In the words from Teaching Tolerance, “It is…important that students have opportunities to learn from one another’s varied experiences and perspectives” (Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education). I like to draw on those varied experiences and perspectives to build the classroom community at the very beginning of the year. The teacher should walk around the room and do the same. This will help the students identify the teacher as a facilitator for open dialogue.

This activity also sets a tone for the year. It illustrates a few key components of what we will be doing for the year:

  • Communication. We will be doing a lot of talking! Students will have to discuss content, issues, and interesting tidbits to connect more deeply with the material we’re learning. At the beginning of the year, the material is them.
  • Collaboration. We are all in this together. It won’t be one teacher and a lot of students. It won’t be every student for themselves. We will be one class, as a whole, learning and growing together.
  • Social and Cross-cultural Skills. It doesn’t matter where the other students are from, or where the teacher is from, you will need to discuss with at least five other students to find out more about them.

In these activities, the teacher’s role will be huge. For one, this gives an opportunity for the teacher to find out personal details about each of the students, learn how to pronounce each of their names, and find out more about their family or home life. Additionally, it allows the teacher to get a sense of the different cultures that are present in the classroom. This activity can help guide the teacher in selecting activities to be used throughout the year that can combine content learning with tolerance, cultural awareness, openness, and social and emotional learning.

For example, as students will be learning about different cultures throughout the year, why not investigate a little bit more about the cultures that exist in the classroom. In my last class, we had a mix of Korean and Korean-Vietnamese students, with me, as the American teacher. I developed a lesson that had students learn and teach each other about each others’ culture. They discussed popular foods, popular (and simple) phrases, and the countries flags, and condensed the information into posters and videos for the class to watch.

While watching the video, students noted down similarities and differences between the cultures, and discussed them as a class. Next, all students learned popular phrases in each language from the language “experts” (native speakers), then practiced them in class together. Finally, students were encouraged to praise each other in a new language and continue using those phrases throughout the year.

The students were very engaged and found it fun to learn more about culture in general. the more they saw one another say things like, “cool,” or “that’s awesome,” in different languages in response to differences in other countries, the more excited they became. They were amped up to continue learning about other countries throughout the year.

What’s the outcome of these exercises? Hopefully, for students to learn more about who they are and be proud of who they are. Also, to respect the diversity in the classroom and learn more from others differences and similarities, and to connect with experiences and perspectives of students from the same or other cultures.


Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education. (2014) Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from February 11, 2016 from

Fry, M. (December 16, 2015.)What? Retrieved from
Framework for 21st Century Learning – P21. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from


Mobile Learning: Let’s Do It!

I know a few key facts about each of my students that helps me realize that I need to integrate mobile learning in my classroom. For one, all of my students (100% of them) have mobile devices with internet access. Another fact, they use these devices for at least one hour every evening after school and a lot more frequently on the weekends. Roughly 75% of them chat with a friend or family member regularly using a messenger app and 100% of them play games.  

One other fact, I’ve never actually seen any of them use their phones in school, that is until I completed a Scavenger Hunt that required them to bring their phones to school to take pictures and videos, and upload them to a folder for the whole class to see. They loved the activity. They were so engaged with the content – answering questions, finding clues, and simply finishing the scavenger hunt – that they nearly forgot about the goal – to get the most points and win! And, of course, to review the math concepts we’ve studied this semester.

After seeing how much fun they had using devices in the classroom, I thought there has to be a way to do this more often to benefit the students. However, I need to figure out how to do this in a smart way. Here are some guiding principles I think I would need to address before using a mobile device in the classroom:

  • How much time will it take to integrate technology into this lesson? How much time can I set aside to introduce the activity and the technology needed? Is this time well spent?
  • How is a mobile device enhancing the lesson? Is it a means to achieve the learning objective? Am I using the phone to promote 21st century skills?
  • Have a I used the app I’m planning to use with my class before? Have I spent enough time fooling around with the app myself? Have the students used it before? Do I need to give a tutorial?
  • Have I made my plan for phone use clear? Was I specific in planning out how the students will use their phone? Is there room for creative use in a different way if a student knows of a different program/app to use? Have I clearly defined my expectations?
  • Have I assigned project leaders? Have I chosen students to be the experts of this app so I have more helping hands walking around to ensure the project goes well?
  • Do I have a backup plan? Do I have additional resources that can make the plan still work, if say, I lose internet access during the class? If everything goes haywire at the last minute, do I have another option I can use to supplement or replace my activity?
  • Do I have a system in place? Have I sent a permission slip home to parents about phone use in this activity? Have students signed a contract detailing that they are accountable for their phones? Is everyone’s phone labeled? Do the students have a special place to leave their phones to make sure they don’t get lost or damaged?

Once I have addressed these principles in creating activities that integrate phones into the classroom, I can begin to do just that.

Here are some explanations of why, and how, I would implement mobile devices into the classroom:

Navigation. Why not use some of the basic functions we use all the time to help students get used to GPS at a young age? Students can start tracking the location of objects and recording different features. For example, let’s say you’re studying plant life in your class. Students can walk around school or their community, find specific plant life, write down its location, then record observations about its size, leaf texture, and condition. If you wanted to complete a history project, you could explore a historical site in your area and have students break up into groups to record their findings of artifacts and document where they were located so the whole class could find other them. With this type of activity, you could also keep in touch throughout with the use of the mobile device (Ash 2010).

Collaboration. Another great way to integrate devices into the classroom is using chat programs to get discussion flowing and questions answered. A teacher could have live threads for questions as a way for students to post their questions without disrupting the flow of the class. That way, the teacher can finish their train of thought, and then address all questions at one time. Or, better yet, if another student knows the answer, they could post it and share their knowledge with the rest of the class. There are also those really engaging topics that students just don’t want to stop talking about. If they have a forum to continue discussing online, who’s to say they will stop? It allows for students to engage more thoroughly with the topic and they could continue discussions into the evening hours if they choose.

Quick solutions to problems. Alternatively, some of the questions that students have are simply understanding a word or needing a visual aid to help reference what a teacher is discussing in class. Why not let them quickly look it up? This is a great way to start getting learners to research their own questions online quickly and efficiently (Ormiston). For example, when teaching students about underwater landforms the other day, my students wanted to understand the actual depth of the Mariana Trench and one fact is that Mt. Everest could actually fit inside of the trench. This could be an opportunity for the students to look up the exact height of Mt. Everest and see for themselves how tall Mt. Everest is, and imagine the mountain fitting inside of the trench.

Photos and Videos. Using basic photo and video apps to create engaging presentations, documenting things they see, collaborating with another to make a cool project, are all easy and simple ways to see the future of mobile devices in the classroom. These types of projects also leave room for student innovation. They can pick their own apps that they know how to use well to create projects independently or with their peers.

Fun. Last, but certainly not least, how much fun do students have using their phones? Tons! It’s hard not to see how much they actually love using their mobile devices. It can transform a lesson from “watching paint dry” to actually painting a wall with friends, and there are so many ways that we can do this. If you can take one activity and make it more fun, why not? It will be more fun for the students and more fun for the teacher. You can take a math lesson and turn it into a scavenger hunt that uses various apps – for example, GPS, photos, and videos. You could have your students check in at locations when investigating their community for pollution and document what they see, or take videos of park features if they’re learning about urban spaces, etc. There are a myriad of ways to use mobile devices to make lessons more fun.

We can see all of the benefits mobile devices can contribute to a lesson, so why not include them in the classroom? We know that our students use them everyday and it’s high time that we harness their capabilities as a use for learning. They will need their mobile devices in order to develop 21st century skills that they will need in the workforce later on, so we should start using them as early as possible. As long as we do this in a well-planned and orchestrated way, I can see nothing but a positive outcome.


Ash, K. (2010, October 15). Educators Explore How to Use GPS for Teaching. Retrieved February 02, 2016, from

Hardison, J. (2013, January 07). 44 Smart Ways to Use Smartphones in Class (Part 1) – Getting Smart by @JohnHardison1 -. Retrieved February 02, 2016, from

Ormiston, M. (n.d.). How to Use Cell Phones as Learning Tools. Retrieved February 02, 2016, from

Sinha, R. (2013, May 15). Integrating Mobile Technology into the Classroom. Retrieved February 02, 2016, from

Teaching English Language Learners in the Classroom

The English as a Second Language (ESL) guidelines don’t fit exactly with the students that I teach. As in many classrooms, there is a range of students at different levels and a lot of these students have been exposed to English to varying degrees before entering my class. There are some that have been exposed to English for two or three years but are still in pre-production. There are also students that have been exposed for only three years that have already achieved intermediate fluency. One of the keys in my classroom is that all students speak Korean, so there are a lot of instances for peer work to help interpret what we are discussing in class.

With that in mind, next semester I will teach a unit on the basic concepts of Economics to a fourth grade class. The key objectives are: 1) To understand the difference between goods and services, 2) to understand the difference between needs and wants, and 3) to understand the difference between consumers, producers, and service providers.

To introduce all lessons, I will write the core vocabulary on the board and continue to add key academic vocabulary as we build upon previous lessons. I will also use visuals such as the supermarket, a famous Vietnamese market in Ho Chi Minh City, a toy store, a Vinasun taxi, and a massage salon. These references will cover the core vocabulary as well as call on the world around them. This will introduce the concept to the whole class and allow them to draw from their own pre-existing knowledge of what they know from each visual.

Pre-production: Jae Yong
Jae Yong is a new student to the school that has been introduced to English academic subjects for 3 months. He has limited vocabulary and is still in “the silent period.”

While working with the visuals, I will have the students talk to a partner about the words they already know. As Jae Yong does not have the vocabulary to discuss in English, I will allow him and his partner to speak in Korean, drawing on his personal experiences and helping him to interpret what we’re discussing in class. My seating plan pairs pre-production students with students that are a range from speech emergent to advanced fluency.

The power point to follow will have each word shown with a visual and as we go through, as well as basic definitions. I will ask students to read aloud the text from the power point, and then, speaking slowly, have the whole class repeat the words and definitions after me. I will continue the same process when explaining services.

When I work with Jae Yong one-on-one, I will allow him to point to pictures/images in the textbook or power point to show that he understands the key words. I will also allow him to draw answers instead of writing in English. I will leave visuals up on the power point with an example of goods and services with the word underneath the visual to help him use what we just learned from class. He will struggle with all objectives when calling on his own experiences, but should be able to identify key vocabulary through pointing at pictures or drawing.

Early Production: Yeo Min
Yeo Min came to our school last year and has been learning academic subjects for one year and three months. He has limited vocabulary but is now able to express answers to yes/no questions and can say simple sentences with grammatical errors.

With Yeo Min, I will point to pictures and elicit key vocabulary for objectives 1 and 2. I will also ask yes/no questions using visuals in the book or power point as an aid. I will also ensure that he is repeating core definitions but will not correct grammatical or syntax mistakes. He will aslo be able to identify goods and services through graphic organizers that separate the two, as well as create his own through drawing. For objective 3, he should be able to identify the difference between a consumer, producer, or service provider through pictures but may not be able to explain the differences using English.

Speech Emergent and Beginning Fluency: Eun He
Eun He is on the border between speech emergent and beginning fluency. She has been taking English academic subjects for two years and has excellent conversational skills. She still struggles with putting complex answers into full sentences, but can generally explain her overall meaning.

During each of these lessons, Eun He has been given the opportunity to speak more freely through “Think, pair, shares” with her partner or small group. She has also now used more academic vocabulary to describe her own personal experiences with examples of goods and services, or when she has been a consumer, meeting all objectives.

I will ask her to complete fill-in-the-blank activities, ask questions that require her to call on her own personal experience and give her the opportunity to process the language and concept, and I will only correct errors that interfere with the meaning of key concepts and vocabulary.

Intermediate Fluency: Sung Joo
Sung Joo is a strong intermediate fluency speaker, listener, reader, and writer. He has been taking academic English classes for two years and has taken additional English classes after school.

Similar to Eun He, Sung Joo has been been given the opportunity to reflect on each visual, key vocabulary through “Think, pair, shares,” and has been answering questions throughout each lesson. I will also ask him to present his findings after “Think, pair, shares,” with his small group to the class.

After completing worksheets or textbook activities, I will ask him to walk around and help other students that are struggling with some of the concepts by re-explaining what we have covered. He will also use Korean for students that are still in pre-production or early stages to help interpret the more difficult topics that we have covered. As Sung Joo generally finishes activities more quickly than other students, I will provide him with additional activities such as creating a mind map to categorize the information we have learned in class.

For All
At the end of the unit, mixed ESL level groups will create role plays of going shopping and present them to the class. They will be allowed to use both English and Korean to interpret all objectives. Not all students must have a speaking role, but all students will participate in the role play in front of the class.


Haynes, J. (2014, June 5). Six Strategies for Teaching ELLs Across the Content Areas | TESOL Blog. Retrieved from

Robertson, K., & Ford, K. (n.d.). Language Acquisition: An Overview. Retrieved from

Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners. (2005, December 1). Retrieved from

Special Education: Where we are and where we need to be.

To learn more about the special education system, and more specifically the referral process, I interviewed three colleagues who shared their insight into the proceedings. There are a few things to keep in mind.

I work at a Korean public school in Vietnam, so there are different national laws at play and how they fit together can be, well, interesting.

Additionally, their perspectives towards special education for certain difficulties and/or disabilities is not aligned. For example, ADHD is recognized in Korea as a learning difficulty. In Vietnam it is accepted as normal behavior among primary school children.

Keeping this in mind, here is the account of a grade one Korean teacher in Vietnam.


Her Story

Imagine you’re teaching in class and all of a sudden, you hear crying. You immediately run over to the student and ask what is wrong. She tells you that her partner, the boy that sits next to her, has just punched her. Not only as he punched her, but he has punched her so hard that her front tooth is broken. You send her to the nurse to make sure she’s OK and now you have to address the boy. Yet, where is the boy? He has already begun playing with someone else. Unfortunately, you’re not surprised because it is a student that has consistently caused disruptions in class and you’re wondering what you need to do next.

This was phase one for Ms. Lee, recognition that there is a problem. Ms. Lee recounted similar stories of one her students. A lot of her stories happened within the first week of school. She quickly learned that her student had difficulties and so she began the process of assessing what was happening, and how to work with the student to improve his behavior and learning abilities (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015).

How did she identify that her student needed special attention and what were the signs of this student struggling?

In this case, Ms. Lee could see that this student’s behavior was different than others. In first grade, students have a lot of energy and spend a lot of time “fooling around” or off task, but this student showed extreme signs of disobedience. He spat on the bus and in the classroom. He would play in the toilet for 15 minutes and not return to class. He would hit other students, and even, jump out of the bus window.

When it came time to learn, he seemed to shut down, especially during his English classes. He would regularly refer to being too cold and asked to be moved, only to play around wherever he was put. She asked the student to read and he didn’t know how. She asked him to complete math problems, and again, he didn’t know how. The information she was teaching was going in and seemed to get lost, while the rest of her class performed well.

When he went to extra language classes in English and Vietnamese, he acted out even more.  He would simply refuse to sit and learn. He threw things around the room, and again, hit other students. And this behavior happened daily.

Ms. Lee quickly acknowledged that this was a recurrent problem and needed to meet with the students parents to address his behavior. However, within our school system, there is a specific process that we need to go through. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

So, I asked, can you send a student to the counselor without parent’s consent?

Ms. Lee explained that at our school, we cannot send a student to the school counselor without the consent of the parents. So, in the beginning of the year, all of the teachers send out a consent slip for the parents to fill out. In her class, all of the parents sent the contract back signed, except the parents of the student that was having difficulties.

This seemed really odd to her from the beginning, but it all seem to click when she saw the student’s behavior within those first few days of school. The parents were not acknowledging their child’s behavior, at least not with her.

She was in a predicament. She needed immediate help but she didn’t have the “right” to send her student to get the attention and help they both needed. She eventually decided that it was in the student’s best interest to go to the counselor. That way the student could have someone to talk to, and she could have a better idea of what was happening. She also then called the parents and set up a meeting with her and the school counselor to discuss the student’s behavior and ask if this hyperactivity was typical at home. She was trying to gain a better sense of her students needs and also, what she could do at school to help him.

And so began our school’s version of a response to intervention (RTI). (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

Meeting with the parents, what did you find out?

She found out a lot.

When Ms. Lee met with the parents, she learned the student goes to a private education center where he works on his behavior three times a week.

She also learned that his parents have heard of his in-class behavior before. The student attended a private English international school previously and was punished regularly by being left in the gymnasium on his own. The teacher said he was unable to control the student.

So, it all came together. The parents sent their child to our school without mentioning any of this, though they knew these behavioral issues were present. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

After meeting the parents, what did she decide to do?

Ms. Lee and the counselor suggested that her student should take a special education assessment but the parents refused. They felt that their child did not have a behavior issue. Instead, they thought that he was a late bloomer and just needed time to develop.

This put Ms. Lee in a difficult situation. She still has thirty-odd kids to teach in class while trying to take care of the needs of her student. So, she and the counselor came up with an alternative plan. The plan wouldn’t be called an individualized education plan (IEP) as it did not contain annual goals for the child, any special education related services, or a program of modifications (2). Remember, the parents did not acknowledge that their child has a disability. So, they recommended that the student see the counselor twice a week and a parent come to school during the class times when he is most disruptive – English and Vietnamese classes.

The parents were not thrilled with this idea BUT they eventually accepted.

Now the student’s mom comes to school every day, but only specifically for English and Vietnamese classes. She waits outside the classroom until there is a problem. When there is a problem, she goes into the classroom and helps resolve any issues. That way, she can give him some time to be in the classroom on his own, but also be there to help supervise when needed. Additionally, the student now only comes to school for half a day and leaves after lunch, to spend time with his family or go to the private education center. (J.S. Lee, personal communication, December 8, 2015)

In the end

The whole process essentially stopped at phase three, a referral to special education (1). That is, for now. After speaking with the counselor, I learned that the student will most likely enter the school’s special education program once he reaches grade three, as he will not be ready for a homeroom setting.

There are positives and negatives to draw from this situation. This student is getting a lot of the least restrictive environment (LRE) experience, which results in a lot of interaction with peers and teachers. However, is this time really beneficial for him? From the description of his behavior, I feel (as did Ms.Lee) that the student would benefit from time with a special education teacher and in a special education classroom.

We know that he is attending a private education center, but we don’t have a clear idea of what he is doing there. That’s because all of the information related to those classes is confidential. And, the private education center cannot release information about the student.

The parents have chosen to send their child to the private education center to keep it that way. Again, they are reluctant to admit that their child even has learning difficulties.

Where we are based, in Vietnam, the school can’t do anything more than suggest that this student needs additional help. In speaking with the Special Education teacher, Ms. Park, I found out more about the process.

At the moment, she works with two full time students and one part time student. All of these students have significant cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Two are unable to spend time in their homerooms but the part time student spends most of his time in homeroom, and only works with her twice a day.They are all unable to speak beyond sounds but can understand language.

I asked her how student is identified for a special education referral in Vietnam and in Korea?

Ms. Park said that it is different in Korea than it is in Vietnam. In Vietnam, a student needs a note from the doctor that details that a student must have special education. A school assessment means nothing. Only a doctor’s note does the trick.

In Korea, a student needs either a doctor’s diagnosis, special education certificate, or a Special Education assessment from the school. In both Vietnam and Korea, it is up to the parents whether the student does any of these. At our school, a student can enter the Special Education program if a student has a disabilities certificate or if they have a doctor’s diagnosis. (Ms. Park, personal communication, December 7, 2015)

How is the significance of a difficulty and/or disability a factor?

I’ve found from speaking with Ms.Lee – the grade one teacher – that most parents that send their students to our school are hesitant to label their students with a learning difficulty and/or disability. Most parents will privately help the student while sending them to public school to be with the rest of the class, even if the difficulty or disability is apparent. For example, aside from the student discussed here, she has two other students who also attend the private education center for emotional and behavioral aid. She only found this out after her meeting with the parents of the student with ADHD.

We also have one student in attendance who is physically disabled. He is unable to climb stairs, carry anything heavy, or play sports with the children. His parents have also refused to send him to the special education program as they want him to spend his time in homeroom classes only. It’s great that he spends time in homeroom, but we don’t have the staff to provide aids or helpers for those types of students in need.

It ends up putting a huge strain on the homeroom teacher as he has to ensure everything is available to the student through the help of other students. It also takes a lot of his attention away from other students as he needs to be by the side of the physically disabled child regularly.

What needs to change?

For one, the stigma needs to be removed from the culture here. With the proper guidance and help. these students could feel just like every student that doesn’t have a difficulty and/or disability. They just need an individualized plan that works for them.

Technology could be a great resource for both of these students. In the case of Ms. Lee’s student, who is ADHD, there are programs out there that could be great for him and help him stay focused on a task for a longer amount of time. For example, Kurzweil Education, ( where students can complete reading activities that are designed with ADHD students in mind online.

Now imagine if we just integrated that technology into every classroom. Students with learning difficulties aren’t the only ones who learn better one way or another. Student A may be a visual learner while Student B may be a kinesthetic learner. Student C is an auditory learner! Every student has their niche. The use of technology could level the playing field and help remove that stigma of learning difficulties and/or disabilities. If everyone is using the same technology to help them learn, then one student is no different from the next.

We have learned this through countries like Finland, one of the top achieving countries in education. Finland has taken away the stigma of being a student with learning difficulties and/or disabilities by treating all students as students that need extra care. Each student essentially has their own IEP. The teachers and staff use an early intervention strategy then collaborate with colleagues to come up with the best strategy to approach teaching every individual student. Not just those that might be labeled as having a learning difficulty or disability elsewhere, but all students.

If we combined the use of technology in every classroom and IEPs for everyone, it would lay the groundwork for every student excelling in their own way.


Links to Interview Recordings and Summaries

Interview with Ms. Lee, Grade 1 teacher

Summary of Interview


Interview with Ms. Park, Special Education teacher:

Summary of Interview


Interview with Ms. Lee, Primary School Counselor

*Link to recording will be posted as soon as received

Summary of Interview



(1)  Special Education Referral Process – Project IDEAL. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

(2) Contents of the IEP – Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2010, September) Retrieved from:

(3) Finland’s Formula for School Success (Education Everywhere Series). (2012, January 25). Retrieved from


Related Sources

Kaloi, L. (2012, August 30). What is an IEP? Retrieved from

Khan Academy. (2012, October 30). Sal Khan on CNN Starting Point. Retrieved from

Saxena, S. (2014, January 5). Integrating Technology in a Special Education Classroom. Retrieved from

UNESCO Global Report Opening New Avenues for Empowerment ICTs to Access Information and Knowledge for Persons with Disabilities. (2013, February). Retrieved from

A Few Thoughts on Educational Websites

In looking around at Education Websites, I’ve found some cool websites and twitter accounts to follow, but also just some interesting articles about innovation in Education.

Here are just a few findings:

Education for All

Education for All is movement led by UNESCO. It has branched out into the GPE (Global Partnership for Education) which is pushing to get primary education UNIVERSALLY by 2015. This means working with international organizations and governments, non-for profits and all of the alike, to get primary education for all children.

On their website you can find out a ton of cool – and unfortunately, a lot of sad – things about the Education in the world both close and far.

For example, even though UNESCO and EFA launched GPE, there are still a growing number of children NOT in school. These groups are trying to rally more support from policy makers and even more so, from additional funds from major governments, but funding can only go so far. They need the help of Major players in governments where education is not already considered a priority:

To get involved check out the statistics here:

UNESCO World Report on the growing number of children out of school:

And the Facebook group here:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD is all about promoting social and economic policies internationally to help of the future of the world. They hold conferences for government leaders to come and discuss the future of their countries and how they can work with other international organizations and governments to make a better world.

These conferences are a great outlet for governments to find a way to work together and use shared experiences to figure out ways to solve problems they’re having individually.

They are also the organisation behind The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is an assessment that measures scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. Students representing more than 70 economies have participated in the assessment so far.(1)

Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI)

CERI is an organisation that completes research on education, and they have a strong focus on innovation and the future of schools. This is most likely why I used their website and suggested sites from them in my search for information on Brain Based Learning, as this is a “newer” strategy that is being implemented in the classroom.

CERI tries to inform policy makers of innovation in teaching from all different angles. They conduct studies and share results of what innovative skills will be needed in a country’s society in the future, they have completed studies on what skills should be addressed in the classroom and how we address those skills, and they have recommended ways to assess if these skills are being taught (as well as a multitude of other studies).

For interesting articles of what they have found, check it out here:

One study that I think is interesting is a progression of creativity in schools and what we need to do to get there. The article talks about the five elements of creative skills that need to be fostered to develop and creative and critical thinker, which the article argues are important skills in the 21st century. The five elements include being inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, collaborative, and disciplined.(2) I couldn’t agree more.

Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE)

The AAIE is an international community that offers professional development for educators and administrators working in International Schools. They have a large range of classes on everything.

From what I’m gathering, it’s a good way to better get to know the International Community, learn how policy makers and leaders in the International Education Community effect the everyday environment in an International School, and also take classes to help better understand how to work with others within the community.

Plus, there are also classes for educators to continue their professional development.


(1) About PISA – OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved from

(2) Lucas, B., G. Claxton and E. Spencer (2013), “Progression in Student Creativity in School: First Steps Towards New Forms of Formative Assessments”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 86, OECD Publishing.

(3) Association for the Advancement of International Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from


It’s hard to believe how lucky you are if you can go to school and just learn when you read about these horrible atrocities happening around the world.

I can’t believe I’m going to quote that this is actually happening in South Sudan: “In a recent review of 40 low- and middle-income countries by UNICEF, up to 10% of adolescent girls aged 15–19 reported incidences of forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts in the previous year and a Plan International report estimates 246 million girls and boys are harassed and abused in and around school every year.”

Please read more here:

And here:

How do we even address and then put an end to this?


Brain Based Learning – Making a classroom efficient and fun!

As a teacher for five years, but one new to a teacher prep program, I’ve been learning a lot… quickly! It’s been great to explore a lot of different topics. One that really spoke to me was “brain based learning.” This came from watching a lot of videos on education, and one in particular on Neuroplasticity. I wish I could reference it now, but I can’t seem to remember it!

That’s neither here nor there. The whole idea of using the way our brain works in order to really get information is plain cool. Exactly what does that mean? How do we do it?

Brain Based Learning – What does it mean?

Brain based education/learning/teaching all have to do with how our brains work. It refers:

“to teaching methods, lesson designs, and school programs that are based on the latest scientific research about how the brain learns, including such factors as cognitive development—how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively.”(1)

This doesn’t mean focusing on the left side of the brain when you’re teaching math because it is better with logic and analysis, and it doesn’t mean, “Well, it’s time for art so everyone take out your right side of the brain, please.” It means that we acknowledge that the whole (yes, the WHOLE) brain is involved in the decision making and the learning experience,(2) and we need to figure out ways to make activities more palatable for the whole class in different ways.

Question: How do the brain processes affect learning?

Let’s look at this through an example with a few widely held beliefs in mind. First, students are most often learning visually. Second, all students learn at different paces. Third, students learn when they feel good about themselves in a safe environment.

So, let’s say a new student comes into your classroom and after a few days, they become a bit “troublesome.” They’re whining and acting out. Maybe they’re disrupting the whole class and so you assume, “That kid is a troublemaker.” Can another teacher blame you? Or better yet, does another teacher want to? Probably not. But what Dr. Glynda Lee Hoffman posed in her TEDx talk was that we’re not really addressing the whole story.(4)

She looked at those troublemakers and saw that they seemed to have adequate intelligence outside of the classroom.(4) They engaged with friends, they talked about their lives, they walked around like all of the other students and seemed fine, so there must be a different problem. What was it about those students in the classroom that seemed to make things so difficult inside the classroom?

Hoffman felt that the difficulty was the gap between the student’s ability to process concrete information and their ability to process abstract information.(4) If you’re talking about a high school student, you could be using anything from, “I hate getting out of bed,” to, “I LOVE my phone,” as concrete information, but let’s make Hoffman’s example clearer.

In her case, Hoffman used the picture of a cat to represent concrete information. If the student could see the picture of the cat, well, they knew it was a cat. But what if she put the word “c-a-t” on the screen? For some learners, those letters could just turn into squigglys, or a number of un-concrete looking structures.(4) So, she figured out a way to fix that gap.

Hoffman developed a three part test that wasn’t content based, or similar to standardized testing, to give to students that were having difficulty in class. She instead gave students “The Bender Test.”(5) The Bender Test is:

The Bender Gestalt Test, or the Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test, is a psychological assessment instrument used to evaluate visual-motor functioning and visual perception skills in both children and adults.

The results of this test showed her that a lot of these difficult students had difficulty taking visually taking in information and then processing that information in their brain, and being able to replicate it again.(4)

This shows that the students weren’t having difficulty taking in new information necessarily, but they were possibly just having a hard time processing it and understanding exactly what it meant.

What did she do next?

Hoffman then developed a test to help these students. These tests were based on strengthening visual, auditory, and motor pathways in the brain. For example, she would give the students a picture and have them replicate the picture, giving them as much time as they needed. Once they were able to complete this task, she would give them a more complex picture to copy, and so forth.(4)

For an auditory test, she might have the students listen to a sentence and then repeat that sentence. She would then make the test more complex by adding in distractions such as walking around or other noise elements while having the student listen then repeating what she had said or a part of  sentence she had said, etc.(4)

All of these tests were to help the students strengthen or build new neuro pathways that would help them make new ways to process information as it was coming in.

For example, as the auditory test gets more complex, it is better simulating the classroom environment. We all know that a little chattering happens in the classroom, whether it is scaffolding, group work, or whatever, and this test is helping the student prepare to deal with these distractions.

Hoffman completed these tests on multiple grade levels and found astounding results. She found those students’ reading scores and test scores AND behavior all began improving significantly.

Over time, she got calls from parents saying their child was doing homework without them having to stand over their shoulder and that they were reading books for fun.

Granted, these specific results are based on one person’s findings, they are pretty astounding. Please check out ( to learn more.

So now: How do we use this knowledge in the classroom?

Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, in one way it is. If you already fancy yourself as an innovative teacher, then I would guess that you’re already hitting the nail on the head in a lot of ways and yet you’re not sure how. The goal is to create a dynamic classroom that links different subjects with one another and to use pre-existing knowledge to keep building on a foundation that is already there.(3)

This doesn’t mean we have to change our strategies radically. I think this means we just have to look at what we’re doing in a new way, and introduce some new techniques or new activities into the classroom that can make learning more fun. We could even start introducing some of these tests as activities to help strengthen all of our students’ neurons. It certainly can’t hurt!

We all learn at different paces and we all learn in different ways, so as educators, we’re looking for ways we can reach all of those learners by lessons with a lot of different elements going at one time, to connect to each of our students through the best means possible.

We don’t have to throw away the textbook, but we can use it in more fun ways. For example, photocopying a page of the textbook for small groups, cutting it up, and having the students piece it together then read it together then try to understand what they’ve read together, on their own. Then make the class a discussion point about the reading. That way, each group is getting the time they need to process something and they’re getting the help of peers around them.  

This also means that we have to make sure that we’re creating a fun and relaxed environment in the classroom because feeling comfortable to fail and try again is a big part of the learning process. A student needs to experiment and imagine ideas and form bridges for understanding on their own… and of course, with a little guidance.

Now I know that I am not giving examples that hit all of these points, BUT I think this a great opportunity to go out and explore on your own.

How is brain based learning being addressed around the world?

Two words: PROFESSIONAL. DEVELOPMENT. The biggest way that brain based learning strategies are entering the classroom is through conferences and additional courses for teachers to discuss ways of getting it there.

I would also say that the whole “innovative teacher” wave is linked to the brain based idea. Involving all of these different methods (i.e. singing in math class, dancing your way through English, or getting outside to learn science in a real world environment) is a part of this brain based strategy. It’s linking learning to our sensory neurons in all new ways.

What does this mean to me?

Besides thinking that the idea of Brain Based Learning is really cool, watching these studies made me think of some of my own students. Obviously, every student is different in their own way. Some are really talkative in class and love to get involved in class discussion, but they may struggle with classwork. Some really love doing a worksheet on their own but would be mortified to get called on in class! (I know that I was that kid once myself!) 

I think these Brain Based strategies are a really great strategy to build different skills in all students. Building neuropathways to help with understanding of new material but also to build confidence in completing activities that at one time seemed difficult and then finally seems EASY!!

I know that I have one student that really loves to chat away. He just can’t seem to stop when someone else has something to say. Before reading into these Brian Based strategies (and of course other information), I hate to say it, but I got angry. After reading more and especially watching Hoffman’s video, I started thinking.. wait, maybe this is a different type of learner. Maybe there are activities I can do with him when there is extra time in class to help him sit through writing activities just that much longer.

I will report back with the results!

Want more info?

For more information and practical examples of how to bring brain based learning into the classroom check out Brain-Based Learning: Resource Roundup on

It was a great resource for me!


(1)Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved from

(2)Amy Erin Borovoy (January 22, 2014). 7 “Facts” About the Brain That Are Not True. Retrieved from

(3)Caine, Renate Nummela et. Caine, Geoffrey (1995). Reinventing Schools Through Brain-Based Learning. Educational Leadership. April 1995 (52). Retrieved from

(4)Hoffman, G. (2012, November 17). Brain Based Learning: Glynda Lee Hoffman at TEDxChico. Retrieved November 25, 2015, Retrieved from

(5)Bender Gestalt Test. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2015, from

(6)Brain-Based Learning: Resource Roundup. (2011, October 25).
November 23, 2015, from

Related sources:

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) – Brain and Learning– OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2015, from

Service Training. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2015, from

Understanding the Brain: the Birth of a Learning Science. (2008)

(1st ed.). Retrieved from:

William, Daniel T. (2006). “Brain-Based” Learning: More Fiction Than Fact. American Educator, Fall 2006. Retrieved from