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. 


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?

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!

Relevance of what we teach

I find myself in a dilemma. I firmly believe that teaching what is relevant to our students is important. Sometimes the relevance might be abstract and “far away”, like when we learn to problem-solve. But I have always tried to make everything as relevant to the group and individual I teach, as possible.

In an inquiry-based approach, students will lead inquiry if you let them, and they by taking control, it will be relevant to them. Basing the teaching/content/theme on a concept that has “global relevance”, it becomes meaningful to them, and to the overall aim of, well, probably international education. But then, all education is somehow international.

Let me get back to the point. My own class is not the problem here. With them, I still stay very close to my believes and my approach matches my educational philosophy. What I really struggle with is teaching English (EAL) in grades 8 and 10. I teach them for 90 (and some for 180) min a week.
I want to focus on grade 10. Their level of English is beginners, absolute beginners. In special schools, teaching English has only just become important and my school has not followed any curriculum, order or guidelines. While these would have to be individualized anyway, a general “overview” would be great.
Every week I am faced with a group that:

  • is partly working hard on being accepted in society (as a special school student) and on finding a job for less than a year from now
  • is partly not interested in anything, and only comes to school because it is a legal requirement
  • is partly planning on going on unemployment benefits as soon as they leave school (and most likely will stay there)
  • probably won’t require the use of English at one part in their life
  • has no interest in the typical beginners materials, which is either made for adults, or for children
  • has no basis of English to work with
  • are at the height of puberty (15/16)

I find this an incredibly hard list to work with. I have no idea where to start (though I started weeks ago, but reflecting on that, I feel I haven’t made a start). Where do I begin, where do I want to go with them? What can I do to make English slightly relevant to my students? Where do I start to find the relevance for them?


The Setting

Being in a new school is always exciting and challenging, and this year has been no different. I’m in a completely new terrain though, so I feel the need to update you on my new setting, so-to-speak.

My school is a special school for children with learning disabilities (severe ones, so that children usually “fail” in the regular system). The disability range is rather broad and fluid though.

I have taken over a year 5/6 class with another teacher and we currently have 14 students. We are only in the class together for 4 lessons a week, but it is good to know we are working together even if we are not. The way we have arranged this so far is that while we both cover all subjects in a manner of speaking, my focus is English, Math and Art and her focus is German and Social Studies/Science. I have taken over the idea of working on a “big idea” (quite like a central idea in the PYP) based around concepts for a certain amount of time. So far, it is rather “interdisciplinary” approach, but it is, in my opinion, already quite well established in the class.

On top of teaching my class, I also teach grades 8 and 10, in a number of combinations.  I have the grade 8 girls for sex ed, a mixed grade 8 class (there is grade 8a and 8b, and they are mixed up) for English and once I have grade 8a for English as well. Can you imagine how that is for planning? Yeah…

In grade 10 I have a boys and a girls group and I teach English in those groups.

So far, those classes have been my main challenge, as they are way out of my comfort zone. But, I have to admit that I love working with them as well. One of the perks of a special school is that I get to work across the age range. I am still unsure what I think of excluding some children from the state school system (but a post on this will inevitably follow), but the educational approach is SO MUCH BETTER. There is time for development, time for creativity and generally a lot less “have-to-do”s. The curriculum is barely a framework and the knowledge component is hard to define, as students are all capable of different things. I currently have students in my class that are working with numbers up to 20, some work up to 100 and others beyond 1000. It’s hard work, but seemingly I have sussed this out with Math.