What catches students’ attention?

If I knew the universal answer to this question, I would surely post it here, but alas, there are many things to catch students’ attention …. and many ways not to.

However, yesterday I covered in grade 3.a all day long and as their science/social studies teacher, I took the opportunity to start on our unit on experiments and the scientific method.

A simple provocation: A question!

What is an experiment?

I didn’t even expect the class to be as engaged as they were… they shared ideas, thoughts and wonderings. They talked about experiments they had seen, heard of or even tried themselves.

After the first session, I expected them to be eager to continue today but I was amazed by the enthusiasm displayed: Some students talked to adults and consulted books about experiments, took notes and collected questions at home.

I’m thrilled and I hope that many of my approaches will keep them engaged! I will keep you posted!

A quick note: I work at a special needs school for speech disabilities. The students are often delayed in their linguistic development, and display a lot of problems with reading, writing and often speaking as such. 


Assessment and lack thereof

Assessment for learning has always been seen as one of the most important tasks of my job by me. Without knowing what my students already know and can do, I can’t plan anything. No meaningful learning activities,… and I can’t provide support and opportunities for learning if I don’t know where my students are.

The levels of assessment are huge…. assessment of knowledge, social skills, skills in general, and much more is important for any teacher.

But as I’m completing a module on assessment, I’m doubtful about how much assessment is really taking place in schools. How do we ENSURE that assessment happens in the classrooms and for every student? What do your schools do? What is assessment to you?

Where do we learn?

The classroom is traditionally the place where learning takes place. This is, of course, not true anymore. But where does learning take place in this days and age, for the children at my school, ….

  • at home?
  • outside?
  • everywhere?
  • worldwide?

The answer would have been easier for me when I was still a PYP teacher. And even as a class teacher in Germany this wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I’m wondering where my students really think their learning takes place. I often hear them say something along these lines:

  • learning is stupid
  • i don’t want to learn
  • I hate school

Which is not what I want to hear. For them, learning means school, and school means many challenges. But what about their learning outside these four walls they call the classroom? What about the experiences that we don’t officially count as learning? Why don’t we make them more aware of this?

Learning is everywhere and can be anything: Something to take back to school and beyond next week!


Using a tablet in education

Teaching in the state system, I’m limited in what technology I can user with my students.

However, I’m planning on exchanging my planning book, note book and calendar with something else… I always thought that using my laptop would suffice, but I never started using it that way.

Now I’m planning on giving a tablet a try. I’m a flexible operating system user, using an Android phone,  a Mac laptop and a Linux desktop. What I’m really curious about is what other educators use in their classrooms.

I can see myself using the tablet for :

– lesson planning
– note taking
– taking photos as evidence
– calendar
– presentations etc

So, what do you use or would you use and why?

Changes… but are we prepared?

I’m all in favour for change. Really, it is the one thing that helps us to move on, develop and better ourselves. But sometimes I wonder whether we are ready for the changes that are being implemented or thought to be implemented in the German education system.

Currently, students with special needs can be taught in the mainstream classroom or go to a special needs school. But we are now thinking INCLUSION, the term going through every German educators mind right now (if it is not going through yours…. why not?). The aim is to teach all students inclusively.

I’m all for it. Definitely. But HELLO? Are we really READY for something big as this? Here are a few questions I wish to raise… and I wonder how other countries/systems deal with this!

  • How do we staff our classrooms? Are we still thinking that one teacher is enough to deal with a class of 20-25 primaries which include possibly 4-5 or more special educational needs (more likely 20-25 😉 )
  • What about grades? Are we planning to grade all students as we are doing now? Are we not grading the “special kids” and thus make them “special” again?
  • Curriculum? Who does it apply to? Are we sticking to age/grade specific curricula? Are we not even going to consider phase-based/individual development plans for all students?
  • How aware are the teachers who will soon cater to a variety of needs? Learning disabilities, social and emotional problems, etc etc. Are we asking too much maybe?
  • Where is the collaboration or at least cooperation between special needs teachers and mainstream school teachers going to start and end? What about social workers?

These are just a few questions. I don’t think we are ready. The reality is gruesome. We have teachers who are afraid of students with disabilities; not because they are not tolerant, but because they have so much on their hands they worry not be able to meet their needs! And because they lack experience!
We grade students and as a result make them stand out or disillusioned!

We are not ready. But change still has to happen…. just how?

Where is their curiosity?

I know I’m spoilt. I know that most of my previous schools where exceptional, esp. in the pedagogic approach (IB schools in particular). But I wasn’t prepared for this.

I’m at a high school in a very socially challenged area. The school form, a less academic secondary school, is threatened with closure, the school deals with being understaffed. The students come from a variety of backgrounds, but mainly families with little educational background (and interest), unemployment and more often than one would like see (not that we want to see this at all) major problems such as abuse, etc.

I teach grades 5, 7, 8 and 9. The upper grades were my main worry, but to be honest, they seem fine. What really shocked me is…. that grade 5 is full of kids with no natural curiosity… with a fully loaded hatred for school and everything that goes with it. A grade full of kids that think that learning is “stupid”.

Where do you go from there? How do you hook these kids? How do not end up in the “open your books on page 5”  dilema?

That’s another thing… all my other classes have been trained to “work by the book”,…. how do you open this up?


Relevance dilemma – what will become of it

The suggestions to my previous posts were great. I was able to take the half term break and take a step back. Now I feel slightly different and ready to start the new week tomorrow. With grade 10. With the boys.

What bugs me still is the fact that I have no lessons planned. I have an idea. I have objectives, but I haven’t (as I often don’t) go a mapped out plan. I will have to see where it goes and… go from there. Planning like this still makes me uneasy at times, esp. now that I’m working in a less “progressive” school.

Tomorrow we will embark on the so-called pre-assessment stage then. I already know my students’ level of English, but I don’t know there knowledge and interests about traveling. I have a PYP Unit Planner open to help me focus my planning, but I also know that it is not quite the right thing to use for my 10th grade, 2 lessons per week English planning.

Seeing as we are back from the first break of the year, I will use the opportunity to:

– see if students traveled anywhere and where
– use a map (online and offline) to map where we have all been in our lives
– introduce some relevant vocabulary
– find out where students would like to travel
– find out what students think is important about the places where they travel
– find out their travel “experience” level

I am so thankful that Maggie mentioned this idea. I have already looked into booking the computer room and using a whole range of sources there. I am curious to see if my students are willing to build their own repertoire of vocabulary by using websites, etc.

I aim to make them use their own “vocab log” where they will mark down important words to them. I aim to make them use travel blogs, experience websites, hotel and airline websites, maps, streetview to see places in detail and so on.

I’m excited about this. And hopefully this is the first step in a better direction!