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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Homework That Changes Lives

love homework.  But I didn’t always.  I used to hate homework.  I hated it as a student, and I hated it as a teacher.  I hated it for all the reasons it is now questioned by education researchers.  Homework at the elementary level is usually:

  • Busywork (for teachers and students)
  • If un-differentiated: too easy for some students, too hard for others
  • If differentiated: unbearably complicated and time-consuming for teachers
  • Stressful for families
  • Graded too slowly or infrequently to give students valuable feedback
  • A poor form of assessment
  • Something we (and I mean all of us: teachers and students and families) do only because we have to, or because we think we should, or because other people think we should.

I am also really skeptical of the idea that homework at the elementary level teaches study skills in and of itself.  Now, if you put into place a real system for programmatically teaching children to study at home and at school and use homework strategically to reinforce that system, well, ok then.  But usually, people expect that just by giving kids homework, they will learn study skills.  Instead, I think kids learn how to procrastinate, how to put up a good fight with their parents, and how to put as little effort into their work as possible in order to get it done quickly.

I tried all kinds of traditional homework systems: weekly packets, daily assignments, even differentiated homework that involved making different packets for several different groups of students (which, by the way, is insane).  And then I went to the Skillful Teacher, learned about effective effort, and decided there had to be a better way.

I asked myself, what if homework was really valuable?  Better yet, what if homework was life-changing?  What if it could teach students — prove to students — that with effective effort and time, they could achieve anything? Continue reading

What’s Worth Rewarding?

What kinds of incentives you use to motivate kids in your classroom is a big question.  All the time, we use incentives that range from positive feedback and encouragement to stickers and prizes to extra recess and parties.  But what’s the most effective way to reward students?  How do incentive systems align with our ethics?  How do they align with our desire for students to become intrinsically self-motivated?  And how do we use incentives to encourage students to work for longterm rewards and not just short-term gains?

This week’s Marshall Memo summarizes an Education Week article titled, “Study Suggests Timing is Key in Rewarding Students.”  When they reviewed incentive programs, the authors of the study found: Continue reading

The Power of Professional Learning Communities

I think there’s a 99% chance that I’m the only one who wants to read this post. And if that’s true, I’m cool with it. I’ve been at a really exciting conference for two days, and I need to sort out everything I’ve learned.

On the other hand, I think there’s at least a 1% chance that you might want to read this post. Perhaps you went to the conference and want to reflect together. Or, maybe you’ll find what’s here interesting enough that you want to learn more. If either is true, please leave a comment! I’d be happy to hear from you.

PLC CoverSo, this week, I attended the Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute.

I did this because my district just hired me as one of the two Elementary Instructional Leaders for third grade.

Once upon a time, professional development in our district was organized top-down, and teachers in different elementary schools often did very different kinds of learning. Continue reading