A Broader Perspective Through Languages


“The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”  Steve Jobs


In his article, “Want to Change How Kids See the World? Teach Them A Second Language” author Rafi Schwartz writes about how students who have acquired or learned more than one language have a unique perspective on character traits. In essence, they are more open to peoples’ differences as compared to monolingual students or adults. Referenced in Schwartz’s article, researcher and psychologist Krista Byers-Heinlein of Concordia University in Canada states, “Certain bilingual kids are more likely to understand that it’s what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person’s psychological attributes”. This supports children’s openness to variations of people and their experiences, as compared with adults’ tendency to stereotype or prejudge. Children who learn a second or third language have a valuable perspective on how language learning affects perspective and knowledge.

A common idiom about education is that it broadens students’ horizons. I am very fortunate that the elementary school in which I teach is going to become what our district calls a “FLES” school beginning this September. FLES stands for Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, and Arlington County, Virginia describes the Spanish language program in full detail in the linked webpage. As an ESOL teacher, I am very excited for the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, as well as to practice my own Spanish. I anticipate that my students’ participation in our FLES program will offer them experiences that will support their self-confidence, practical language skills, and academic language applicable to all content areas. I believe that the FLES program will broaden all students’ perspectives in the obvious ways, as well as what researcher Byers-Heinlein has revealed. These are life-long skills and benefits – how fantastic!




Image: http://mkenyaujerumani.de/2013/09/21/multilingualism-for-the-first-generation-diasporan/


Changing Students’ Worlds


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  ~ Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela





The second definition given in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary to weapon is “something (such as a skill, idea, or tool) that is used to win a contest or achieve something”.  Rarely does the word weapon conjure up positive images, but the above quote by Mr. Mandela gives pause to this very important version of the term. For many students who live in underprivileged communities and families, weapons – the typical definition – are frequently the source of pain and grief. These are the very same students for whom access to the Internet or digital tools is unavailable or severely limited. This current article about the digital limitations for even doing homework is from the Pew Research Center.

As educators, we are the second most important people in the lives of our students. Let’s exemplify the 4C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, so as to help all students have the right to fair access to the Internet and digital tools.

What can we as teachers do? First, don’t assume students have access to the Internet. Be aware that some students may be reluctant to reveal their situation, so talk with them and get to know them. Make available alternate times for students to complete research, such as lunch, study halls, or before and after-school (perhaps coordinated by grade-level or department.) For flipped lessons, podcasts, or research, encourage the use of cell phones to access Wi-Fi as an alternate to a computer. Elicit help from the broader community to secure unused cell phones for students whose families cannot provide them. This may mean asking wealthier neighbors for assistance. Educate parents about how and why we use technology in education; the more they understand, the more willing they will be to support their children, friends and neighbors. If iPads are available for homework, focus on non-Internet based assignments.

Collaborate with the ELA or Social Studies departments in your school to create an authentic writing experience; students could write to local companies or legislators for financial or technological assistance. Enlist and engage secondary students to help solve the challenges as ‘nearly-adult’ members of the community. An example of corporate collaboration is Comcast’s efforts to reduce the barriers of internet service by providing Internet Essentials to students in communities in need of broadband access.

Besides the physical, technical challenges, let us make every attempt to emotionally support and encourage our students to pursue college educations and careers in STEM fields. Our positive attitudes and belief in them are critical. Create an educational environment of high expectations and demonstrate overcoming as many barriers or obstacles as possible. We may not be able to solve everything, but the problem-solving, collaborative process our students experience will resonate with them for many years.


Nelson Mandela International Day is July 18, 2015. http://www.mandeladay.com

photo credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/apple-nelson-mandela-home-page-2013-12


Speak Up for Digital Learning

Let me begin by sharing my thoughts on the generic phrase “technology in the classroom”. I love technology in and out of the classroom! I love it for me and for my students! From my (the teacher’s) perspective, technology offers us: connections to lots and lots of other professionals with amazing ideas; an endless source of primary and secondary documents; nearly guaranteed engagement for our students; and endless flexibility for differentiated instruction and assessment. I could go on and on espousing positive support. From our students’ perspectives, technology offers them: more personal choice which drives engagement and learning; ease (or at least a variety) of showing what they know to their teachers; lots of cool stuff that extends way beyond the walls and hours of the school day; and the ability for them to have some control or autonomy in their learning – especially as they go through school. Admittedly there are some negatives, but that’s true for nearly everything in life. However, these are my beliefs based on personal and professional experiences over a (rather long) lifetime of using technology.

With regards to the assigned reading from www.tomorrow.org, the Speak Up Digital Learning 24/7 survey results, I have some critical thoughts to share. I remember taking this survey at my school; it was at the beginning of the year. I’m not too happy with how my responses, along with many others’, were shared. As I read the study, my first impression was, “Hmm, twelve years of research paid by whom?” which led me to the sponsor’s page on the main website. My questions answered; and no surprise about the accompanying lobbying efforts from across the Potomac River. My second question as I read was, “Who is the intended audience? It couldn’t be teachers. Or maybe? Is it school board members, voters, or policy makers?” My final point is that I truly objected to the religious analogy in the Ending Thoughts section, where the reference to the “holy trinity” of student visions for their learning experiences. Did the authors really need to include a sacred religious reference to make the point that technology is critical to students’ learning? No. I am sure there were a myriad of other words, references, or images to demonstrate their evocative stance.

Wondering While Wandering Through Online Talks

Miss Piggy CAKE
“Never eat more than you can lift.” Miss Piggy 

Over the past few days I watched and listened to several online talks. Each presenter offered different focus points, topics, or perspectives for the viewer to consider, and as with written text, each of us interpret the information within the context of our own lives. In other words, the presenters engaged the audience through video, but used a variety of methods – humor, facts and data, graphics, music, etc. In their own way, they modeled Universal Design for Learning. It’s an effective strategy to engage adults as well as children.

Because of my experiences as an ESL teacher, I had a strong connection to John Medina’s Brain Rules description of learning through our senses, in particular our sight. According to Medina, “Various studies show that recognition doubles for a picture compared with text.” http://www.brainrules.net/vision This is so important for teachers instructing students in a new language, so that we remember to pair words with pictures as often as possible for student engagement and memory. Through these visual tools, we help our students build schema, background knowledge, and vocabulary that are all critical for reading comprehension.

The talk What is the Internet, really? by Andrew Blum was fascinating. He used a combination of visuals, humor, humility, and realia to help the audience understand the physical nature of our most intangible, abstract tool in contemporary society. Having spent considerable time on the coast of Maine, I immediately recognized the northern coast of North America that connects to Europe. I have seen those large, round storm-drain like things and always wondered what an odd place for a storm drain to be! But alas, it’s the housing for physical cable which allows millions of people to connect in a very unphysical manner. Now I know, and now I have a much greater appreciation for the port cities, and people who physically enable us to learn and share with people all over our planet. The Internet is no longer so abstract for me. Thank you Mr. Blum.

I began to watch BRAIN POWER: From Neurons to Networks. I had to stop after a few minutes because the flashy images made my eyes cross. I do not enjoy those types of visuals and tuned out pretty quickly. However, the silver lining is that this site led me a link of a talk very recently produced by Suki Kim, entitled This is what it’s like to teach in North Korea. What a gem – the presenter, her talk, and her content. I highly recommend you watch her TED video. What Ms. Kim demonstrates so eloquently is the highest level of multicultural awareness, understanding, and respect for her students. She epitomizes the respect and honor that we as teachers should have for our students. Her unique experiences and personal ability to share her students’ perspectives with an audience who will likely never encounter students quite like them, is enriching and enlightening.

Podcasts for Professional Develoment


“Do a little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ~ Desmond Tutu



Podcast graphic


Image Credit: http://podcastingunleashedthebook.com/


Podcasts are an excellent addition to the typical array of professional development opportunities for teachers. Podcasts offer highly relevant, current information for educators through interview-style audio recordings. This is the epitome of differentiated learning for all lifelong students that is technically easy to use, free to everyone, has no time constraints, and offers endless subjects to expand or deepen our practice. The podcast I discuss in this entry is an example of one that is relevant to a broad range of teachers and students. Yes, podcasts should be included in continued learning for educators.

On the BAM! Radio Channels network, I listened to several podcasts, including Larry Ferlazzo’s interview of Katie Brown and Marilee Sprenger entitled The Ten Best Strategies for Teaching Vocabulary in the Classroom. The podcast format generally begins with an introduction of the guest(s), the guest telling about the Big Idea that they will share, questions from the interviewer for a description of students’ benefits, more details, a description of teachers’ benefits, practical tips, and finally additional resources – then Thank You.

Ms. Brown and Ms. Sprenger share their thoughts, opinions and practical advice to help teachers explicitly teach essential vocabulary during content lessons. Their top three ideas are: students learn vocabulary more easily and with better comprehension through playing games in pairs or whole class; new vocabulary is authenticated when it’s introduced in-context, rather than by a seemingly arbitrary list; engage students in creating word walls so that the visual reminders offer support for students while practicing using the new terminology in academic classroom discourse. Their suggestions are useful in all grade levels when modified with appropriate differentiation or scaffolding, all types of learning styles, and all content areas. Ms. Brown and Ms. Sprenger’s ideas are examples of best practices applicable to a wide educator and student audience.

BAM! Radio Network categorizes the podcasts by author and/or topic, so searching for additional opinions and ideas is extremely easy. Furthermore, links to professionals’ blogs and other digital resources is available. Podcasts are flexible, free, and as focused as you need for professional learning. If you haven’t yet listened to one, click the above link and enjoy!

Having fun with Wordle.net!

Having some fun with Wordle.net!
Having some fun with Wordle.net!

While working on this week’s assignment, I thought about my life’s experiences and the wide variety of technology that I have used. The article Copyright Law and Technology used the tape recorder as an early example of questionable copyrighted material. As I chuckled at the thought, “How quaint”, I realized that I too used the tape recorder way-back-when, and it inspired me to create a list of electronic devices I’ve used personally and professionally over the years. Wow, I’m old! I didn’t even include everything because it was the list was growing too long.

When I was in junior high, we had typing class with a classroom equipped with IBM Selectric typewriters; they were the top-of-the-line typewriters that our school board proudly supplied for the students. (I loved those typewriters!) Has anyone ever heard of Wang? They were these HUGE word processors that dominated the surface of any desk. I wish I had a picture of my desk from that time to share! I was in corporate sales at the time when Motorola was at the forefront of mobile cellular technology. I had a car phone installed (yes, hard wired) into my car; believe it or not, the reception was excellent! My car phone afforded me the luxury of calling clients from the comfort of my car, as opposed to road-side, pull-up pay phones. I truly don’t take my sleek and powerful iPhone for granted because I’ve lived through and survived the dark ages. In fact, my iPhone is a gazillion times more powerful than that old Wang Word Processor!

As I created my Wordle, I felt a sense of accomplishment at having the flexibility and good humor to change along with the rest of the world. I’ve also had a lot of support from teachers, colleagues and family (specifically my children!). Now that I’ve patted myself on the back, do I admit how long it took me to create and upload my Wordle? Hmm . . .

Empowerment yes/Fear no

“Virtual reality has nothing on Calvin.” – Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Arlington National Cemetery with Karen Here’s my daughter, viewing DC as seen from Arlington National Cemetery.

I wrote in an earlier post that I strive for a balanced approach to most things in life, and that most certainly includes the topic of education. As part of our assignment this week our class watched Extracurricular Empowerment by Scott McLeod.  I noticed the very tiny print on the opening slide read, “Embrace disruption and move past yesterday’s perception.” Great food for thought – pun intended!

Mr. McLeod’s humorous approach to a very serious subject tried to soften the harshness of his message; schools are antiquated and ineffective. The eight minute TedX Talk focused on how school systems must view technology in education as a necessary avenue for creativity and critical thinking, while anything less than this ideal is fodder for mockery and criticism. His subject matter for his platform – the school lunch – is a ridiculously easy target. So we might think . . .

To diverge for a moment, on the matter of school lunches, I have an interesting perspective to share. Our district’s ESL department has a county-wide writing prompt administered in the fall. One year, the prompt’s question asked our ELLs to write about the person or persons whom they viewed to be the most important members in the school community. The prompt included pictures as scaffolding (teachers, counselors, principals, bus drivers, custodians, nurses, etc.) to help our elementary students formulate their opinions and ideas, in order to write their best possible essay. Weeks after the essays were written and submitted, I participated in the county-wide holistic scoring event for several thousand essays from students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Overwhelmingly, the most important person in the school communities were the lunch ladies. They were personally responsible for saving the children from “starving”, or “dying of hunger”. Needless to say, the scoring event was punctuated with bursts of laughter and general awe and wonderment of children’s perceptions. We never stop learning from them! I shared some of the responses with our cafeteria staff, because I wanted them to know how much the students appreciated them, even when the general public doesn’t. These hard working ladies (and men) deserved to feel personally appreciated.

Back to the TedX Talk. Yes, Martha is amazingly precocious, as were the other children Scott McLeod featured. So were Mozart and Shakespeare! Every society has it’s geniuses, or in the very least, stand-outs. I believe that most teachers and school districts in the United States are mostly doing their best to keep up with technological changes insofar as adopting and integrating curriculum and informational technology with instruction. We care very much about students’ futures and their ability to be flexible, knowledgeable, and problem solve the unknown variables of our future.

Juxtaposition of the Old and the New

In his video, Visitors and Residents: Credibility, David White presents a balanced perspective on technology’s influence in education as being both empowering and restricting, and questions what it means for students to learn and/or to truly know something. Mr. White begins the video using paper money to offer a visual correlation of both points of view, that both the process of learning and the process of formal education have value. Mr. White begins the video using realia, paper money to offer tangible evidence of both points of view that both traditional education and have value. The setting changes to a grand old library where one imagines hushed voices and the musty smell of ancient volumes.

Students are empowered by the ability to easily, quickly, and inexpensively share their thoughts and ideas, sans any prerequisite of attaining the highest degree of education to prove their authority with a subject matter. On the other hand, students are equally likely to be intellectually restricted by technology and society that rewards speed and convenience over accuracy and legitimacy. In short, technology offers us unlimited freedom from excellence, and mediocrity.

As teachers, our mission is to engage students in the process of learning, so that they can leave us and continue to learn on their own throughout their lives. We must explicitly model and teach purposeful learning processes with reverence for the credibility, legitimacy, and accuracy of the sources, whether they originate on paper or from the Internet.






Generation Like: focus groups are history!

The profound and global advances in the industrial and technological businesses have brought to all of us a Social Web that extends from anyplace and anytime to everywhere and all of the time. How do we as teachers incorporate our understanding of how our students use Social Webs to instruct them in the traditional academic content by which we are judged? How do we remain true to the highest pedagogical standards in education, while keeping our students engaged when not all of the content is going to be as entertaining as YouTube? As with so many things in life, finding one’s own personal and professional balance is the answer.

Before we can find balance, we have to be educated about the situation. While watching the Frontline program, Generation Like, I couldn’t help but cringing at the prolific exploitation of youth by marketing companies. The kids are completely ignorant, yet (some) blissfully happy pawns in a highly sophisticated and choreographed pyramid scheme. Tyler Oakley is one such big kid who has managed to turn the tables while playing the marketing game. He effectively orchestrates and most importantly controls, his own brand. He is one very savvy young man. One of the most disturbing profiles was that of a young girl, who was blatantly being physically and emotionally exploited by her own mother. Shame on her. Any mother of middle school children will attest to the fluctuating state (and sometimes frailty) of their self-esteem and self-worth. And the profile of the young girl completely obsessed with The Hunger Games was just painful for me to watch. I hope she gets tired of working for free . . . soon!

Businesses are in business to make as much money as possible to satisfy shareholders, and money is made by selling products or services. I know this because – besides being obvious – my undergraduate degree is in Business Administration with a Marketing concentration. I love marketing! I frequently think of my students as my customers. The service I am ‘selling’ is developing independent, critical thinking skills for lifelong learning. Critical thinking skills are practiced and honed with others through collaboration and communication. This should happen daily in all types of classrooms. Students who are able to practice these skills in the safety of the classroom have the confidence and experience to use these skills in the ‘real’ world, including on Social Webs. Since I teach in a K through 5 elementary school, the majority of my students are not frequent users of social media to the extent that Frontline examined, but certainly have exposure from siblings, parents, classmates, teachers, and advertisers.

Knowledge is power, or at a minimum, something to thoughtfully consider in reflective practice. How I use Social Webs is not identical to those portrayed, but my having a broader, global perspective offers me a more thorough understanding of my students’ very near future. This is one aspect of my personal and professional balance as an educator.





Digital Media* video and the 4Cs

My learning style is to take notes as I listen or watch new information, and the notes I took as I watched the Digital Media* New Learners of the 21st Century, revealed something very interesting to me. The learning programs featured in this video offer the viewer not only an idilic variety of diversity, but rather an urgent, necessary perspective on diversity in every context imaginable. The presenters being interviewed represented a wide cross-section of our educational population, in terms of gender, age, race, employment background, instructional role, and pedagogical philosophies. The students were diverse in gender, age, race, grade level, geographic regions, school settings (urban and suburban), focus of instruction, and number of students in the population. The producers wanted to convey the message that Learners of the 21st Century include everyone! I thought the video was very powerful.

Each learning program weaved the 4Cs together, but in some examples, one skill in particular was identifiable. This concept parallels the four domains of language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Frequently all are practiced in a lesson, but the language goal can and should be specifically measurable. The learning program that resonated with me was the Philadelphia program at the Science Leadership Academy. The students were intrinsically motivated to take advantage of the use of computers (Larry Ferlazzo questions students external vs. intrinsic motivation in his blog.), and that the historical model of standard education is out-of-date and no longer serves the needs of students. One scene showed the initials “IWBAT” on a board, which means “I Will Be Able To”. This expression is an example of a SIOP (Sheltered Instructional Observational Protocol) component, implemented so that a student clearly understand a lesson’s learning objectives before the lesson begins. The “I” in this statement is very empowering to a student, as this statement gives ownership of the learning goal to him/her, therefore fostering independent thinking. Teachers who instruct students at this Academy activate Blooms’ verbs through the SIOP model, encouraging in-depth knowledge. The Academy highlighted a very clear example of offering critical thinking opportunities to students within the context of leadership instruction. That being stated, communication, collaboration, and creativity are also folded into the learning program.