Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Mythology Drama Performances & Goodbye!

Dear Parents,

You can be proud of your sons and daughters after they gave brilliant performances in our Greek mythology plays this morning.

This was the end of their learning journey through the world of mythology - a journey they will continue in Grade 7 as they widen their exploration of world myths.

Due to space constraints, we could not extend the audience invitation to parents this time, but I am sure you are keen to watch the performances to see what a great job they did. You can access each of the plays here:
It has been an eventful year with many special events and memories that I and the students will take away. As I move on to my next post back in Europe, I just want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support this year.

Sometimes it has been a challenge, but more often a joy to work with your children this year. I see them all blossoming into maturing teens and wish them all the happiness and success in the world as they continue to grow.

Have a wonderful and safe long break and I will be thinking of my time in Vietnam as a truly transformative experience.

For those who are joining me in moving on to new horizons, I wish you all the best of luck. For those of you who remain, continue your engagement and enjoyment of life as part of the SSIS community.
Warm regards to all,
Abena Bailey

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Teaching & Learning

As our first semester draws to a close, we have much to celebrate in terms of our achievements. Students have demonstrated their learning in many ways from the development of their discussion techniques to deeper reading and the refinement of their writing skills.
A recent comment made me reflect on how all these achievements relate to teaching. In an ideal world, everything that is taught would be learned, but in reality this is not the case. Many factors influence learning including readiness, maturity and repeated practice to name but a few. If teaching were a mathematical formula such as teaching = learning, our lives would be a lot easier but - alas - it is not so.
An aspect of effective teaching is that we seek to continuously improve. If students tell me that previous learning experiences worked for them, we will tap into this to maximise achievement. If the same learning experience didn't work for others, we explore alternatives that work for those individuals.
For sure this semester has brought up some surprises as students forget previous learning, but we also recognise that as students mature they are cognitively ready for different learning opportunities. This is good news as it means we can expand our approaches and techniques to explore even more ways learning can happen.
No two students are the same, and some students will benefit more from a particular approach than another, which is why it is important to include a variety of learning options (without compromising on the learning itself). In our classroom this variety can include teacher explanations, EdPuzzle videos, lesson slides (and other materials) being available via Google Classroom and one-to-one sessions after school on Mondays and Tuesdays.
If - on an initial assessment - students do not 'know' something, it does not mean they have never been taught it, but it does mean that they didn't learn it deeply enough to 'stick' over time, or that perhaps they understood it for a period of time and then forgot. That is why we have a curriculum that is progressive and builds on what has gone before.
There is also the fact that by a certain age, and by living in the world, we make assumptions that students have noticed particular things. An example that comes to mind from earlier this semester is when the majority of students told me they did not know what the abbreviation i.e. meant. I expressed my surprise as I find it often in texts, and expected they would have encountered it too. It turns out this wasn't the case, but we cannot then conclude that there was something missing in their education - not everything comes from the classroom.
I am confident that the learning that happens in previous grades at this school is excellent preparation for the middle years program. That students have knowledge gaps is to be expected - they are not robots that we program, but individuals that we guide and coach. In a school such as this, outside assessments prove we do this better than most, but even we are not immune to regression or forgetfulness in our students, who are only human after all. And let's not forget the cognitive impact of moving from elementary to middle school. Students have so many new things to manage and learn - the classroom input can become secondary to negotiating relationships, finding their way around and the increase in workload. It is our job as teachers to not only inspire but guide them toward motivation, autonomy and - ultimately - learning.

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Grade or Learning or Both?

It has now been almost 2 weeks since students submitted their final research papers. Our school has a policy of returning student work within 4 class meetings, so that should be about now.
Two students recently asked when they would get the grades for their paper: I can only hope they were looking forward to the constructive feedback that will carry them forward, rather than a number or letter to say how they compare with others.
Unapologetically, learning always comes first in our classroom and at this point we have much work still to do to ensure this writing learning goes deeper than it has previously.
As I sat down to grade the papers, I realised that - just as students had done before with their vlogs - they had not checked their writing against the rubric. This was despite recognising and reflecting on this omission in their blogs at the time, and having been given class time to do so. So we stop. We regroup. And we do it properly. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it is more challenging, but our students would not be here were they not equal to the task.
For sure, my unplanned absence - due to the rampant virus that has been circulating in our community - has slowed us down somewhat. However, if we want to learn from the past, we know that simply putting a grade on a paper and moving on is not enough. If it were, I would not now see research papers without thesis statements, topic sentences or conclusions.
Today, we started the process of reading the rubric in detail, and marking our papers to show how each of the criteria has been achieved....or noting where it has not. Where a feature has been omitted, students know this needs to be included before resubmission. In some cases, this will mean simply adding the aspect; for others, it will mean some more learning needs to take place. Thankfully, all our lessons are archived on Google Classroom, and there is a collection of videos on EdPuzzle so students can work on the writing skills most relevant to them. (This is one of the great benefits of being in a school where students have such open access to technology.)
Following these steps means that when the papers reach my eyes, they will absolutely be the best each student can do, rather than a collection of misreadings, misunderstandings and oversights. That will then allow me to give them valuable feedback to ensure growth and progress, rather than reminders to add in the obvious.
As a parent, I suggest any discussion around their research papers focuses on what students believe their goals are and the plan they have to reach them - hope is not enough. We need action, and we want to encourage students to find or ask for the support they need. If we can encourage them to be in the driving seat of their learning, they will be much more likely to feel accomplishment and motivation to challenge themselves further. Then, the grade they achieve really will be reflective of what they can do, rather than an inaccurate reflection of something rushed to meet a deadline. I know our students are going to rise to the challenge and end this process with something to be justifiably proud of.
As always, happy learning!

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Knowledge is Power

At the end of this week - Friday - students will have submitted their final informational research papers. They have been working on these since before the break, and Friday will see the product of all their hard work. These papers offer students the opportunity to delve deeper into a topic they are interested in, as well as develop essential academic writing and research skills. In the process, learners can see how it is possible to use online resources and critical thinking to learn anything they choose to. My hope is they can transfer these skills to any topic, and in this way become genuine life-long learners.

Of course, we can offer as much support and encouragement as we want, but it is up to students to accept that assistance. Today our lunchtime session was busy, but there are still some students who would benefit from joining us. Anyone who is struggling to make adequate progress is welcome to join us, and those who are behind our in-class checkpoints are obliged to join us. This is make sure nobody falls behind and then panics when they realise they cannot meet the deadline. It is not a punishment; it is a support.

Indeed, some students who are not struggling or behind join us at lunchtime or after school so they can have some extra time to work on their papers. This has the benefit of reducing homework so when they leave school, they can focus on other things.

Please let's support our teens in meeting Friday's deadline so we can spend the rest of the semester with a positive outlook, having celebrated all the hard work that has gone into these.

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Quarter 2 - Positive Educational Experiences Ahoy!

Quarter 1 saw most of our students finish the session with a grade that reflected their achievements, and one they were proud of. For sure, starting a new school, meeting many new teachers and systems, as well as learning to time manage is a big challenge. So, congratulations to all students for making it this far and still being able to smile! It was great to be able to share these positive notes with parents at the PTC so thanks to everyone who came along.
As we move into Quarter 2, there will now be a change to the grading policy. Whereas before, students were given a grace period of up to a week before assignments were marked as 'F', from now on, you may see some assignments graded much quicker. This is to avoid students getting the the end of the quarter and panicking as they realise they have multiple assignments to submit. For some reason, the allocation of an 'F' grade seems to get students' attention faster than a 'missing' or 'incomplete' icon. I do not know for sure why this is, but if it alerts students more than other methods, it makes sense to use it.
This new grading practice is in combination with the catch-up sessions at lunchtime and after school.
What else are we doing to support student success?
  • In Advisory, we will be guiding students to create a weekly schedule where they fill in every hour of their day with priorities, and then fit the rest of their activities in the remaining time. Of course, we need to remember our Core Value of Balance in Life, so students will be encouraged to designate time for family, friends and relaxation.
  • Homework will be reduced in Language Arts as far as possible. NoRedInk and Lit Circles will still be a regular feature, but we will try to do as much in class time as we can.
  • In class, we will talk about the Pomodoro technique, and I will encourage all students to try it out over the next week. (Check out the video below.)
  • Students will be asked to install apps to help them focus, the first few of which will be Stay FocusedForest and Pomodoro Time- feel free to try them yourself! 
  • I am asking all parents to consider the impact of 'academies' and other after-school tuition. Recently, I have had 2 students tell me they cannot complete homework because their academy or tutor gave them other work to do. This jeopardises students' chances of success in SSIS, so I would greatly encourage everyone to consider whether extra classes are needed. Please remember teachers are available by appointment (for free!) if students need extra help with particular subjects. It does not always make sense to employ another person who probably will not be familiar with the content of our lessons anyway.
My hope is the above steps will reduce pressure on our teens, and help them have happy, healthy and productive weeks ahead. Stress is OK in moderation as it can motivate us to avoid procrastination, but too much is unhealthy, leads to unhappiness and can cause feelings of being overwhelmed.
Let's work together to ensure our students enjoy their education and maximise their learning.

Remember, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below. You can ‘Subscribe’ to this blog by clicking on the button top right, which will enable you to receive notifications for new posts. Whatever you do – happy learning!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Supporting Student Success

This quarter has seen many students succeed with their learning goals. It has also seen some students struggling to manage deadlines, workload and communications. The build up of late or missing
assignments just leads to additional stress for students, and some conclude they are 'stupid' and / or it's impossible to catch up. I definitely do not want either of these situations to occur.
For this reason, when we return after the break, I am introducing a new policy. Where an assignment is overdue, students will be invited to a lunch-time catch-up session on the same (or next) day. Where this is not possible (due to other time commitments), they will be offered an after-school slot. This will enable them to carve out specific time for the specific task, and I will be nearby to support with any issues around understanding. These issues may be technology-related or content-related; either way I am here to help.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you see your son or daughter struggling even before a deadline - the sooner we identify obstacles to their achievement, the sooner we can get them back on the right path.
I hope everyone has an enjoyable and well-deserved break.
We will be heading back to the beautiful town of Hoi An. Whether you are staying home or travelling out of the city, I wish you safe travels and an enjoyable break.
Remember - whatever you do: happy learning!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Crystine and Teddy Stick With It!

This morning before school, Teddy and Crystine dropped by to ask questions about some concepts from NoRedInk. Both had been struggling with different language issues, but within 10 minutes, they were resolved and they were then able to complete the task successfully.
Their achievement is worth recognising because not all students ask for help when it's needed. Some give up at the first hurdle, or perhaps after trying just 1 solution. These 2 demonstrated the understanding that sometimes you have to go that little bit further, with a little extra effort if you really want to succeed. They were clear about what they didn't understand, and were able to use the time efficiently.
Congratulations to both these learners for showing us how it's done.
I hope they, along with everyone else, enjoy the long weekend.