A New Start: Learning an International Approach to Education

PYP-EngWhen my husband and I made the decision to move abroad, we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to learn a new language and culture, meet new people, travel, and see the world from a different perspective.

For me, it also meant beginning a new stage in my teaching career, as an international educator. I was so curious: how would international schools in Switzerland differ from public schools in the United States? What would the International Baccalaureate (IB) be like? How would becoming an international school teacher change me and my teaching?

It has been two months now since I returned to teaching, and I’ve begun to answer these questions. Over the past four weeks, I’ve also been taking a class about implementing the IB’s program for primary school students (called the Primary Years Program, or PYP). This post is a way to synthesize what I’ve learned so far.

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Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

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Effective Effort and Eastern Approaches to Education

If you missed it this morning, you must listen to Alix Spiegel’s report on NPR about how Eastern and Western cultures approach learning. Listening to the radio this morning, I was cheering in my kitchen. It’s all about how Asian families and educators teach children that success comes from — wait for it — their own effort and time. Yes! Attribution theory! And Asian educators design tasks that are intentionally a little too hard for students. Yes! Zone of proximal development! And rather than giving up on kids, they make kids struggle with a task until they get it. Yes! I don’t know what that theory of learning that is, but we sure do it in my classroom.

What a pleasure to listen to a news report about something that really would improve American education… and not another report on testing, teacher unions, or textbooks. And make sure to listen through to the end, where Stiegel praises American strengths: teaching students to become creative and independent thinkers.

Summer Reading!

Because I just finished reading the vampire novel The Passage by Justin Cronin for the second time (don’t you judge me), and because it’s August, when I get back to thinking about school, I’ve begun an excellent new book called Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard.

You should stop reading now and order it.  I’ll wait.

All set?  You will love this book.  It aims to fill a huge gap in education literature.  We focus a lot on helping children with special needs in reading, but what about math?  How do we help kids who – whether they have ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, or no label at all – struggle to make sense of word problems?  The kids who get so lost in their steps they can’t finish their work?  The kids who have difficulty using language to express mathematical ideas?  And so on. Continue reading