Archive for November, 2015

Differentiating Lesson Plans to Meet Student Needs

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Mindmap updated

Click to enlarge

As indicated in the readings this week, it is imperative that teachers take into account learners’ interests, abilities, and learning preferences for the purpose of improving motivation, learning outcomes, as well as encourage teacher accountability in the area of ensuring that all students are making progress (Subban 1996, pp.939, 943). With the aforementioned in mind, it’s important to give students a sense of ownership in the classroom as well as create learner environments that not only cater to specific students individual needs but also enable the learner to thrive in the learning environment from his or her learning standpoint.

That said, the activities  and strategies that I have decided to utilize in the mind map above are designed to empower teachers to enlighten their students in a challenging but productive way. For example using the computers to do a brain pop activity makes achieving the learning objective more salubrious as the task appeals to different learning styles as brainpop contains a variety of activities such as writing, drawing, reading, listening and completing comprehension questions in a virtual environment. The activities cater to a variety of different learning styles. The use of brainpop also serves to help develop students’ basic 21st century skills at grade 1 level through browsing the web, using a mouse, and searching for key information. The use of drawing activities allow for differentiated learning outcomes and allow students with differing multiple intelligences express themselves in ways relevant to their interests.

Nonetheless, such learning might be all for nought if teachers have not conducted a needs analysis at the beginning of the term/semester/class to determine what the students interests, hobbies, strengths, weaknesses as well as learning preferences are. With this information, teachers are empowered with a rationale for making the decisions that they make that inform how they approach unpacking key objectives to be taught in the lesson.

In the future, I intend to make use of needs analysis to ensure that I am aware of my learners strengths and weaknesses as well as their learning styles and preferences. I believe that we must be ready to respond to the shifting of the learner’s goals, hopes, and aspirations as the social climate changes. I believe that educators should be willing to revise aspects of the curriculum that are no longer effective or viable in order for teaching and learning to remain relevant. If educators are unwilling to take the situation on the ground seriously, the result can be disastrous.

I recall having a conversation with a colleague many years ago in Japan about the state of English teaching and learning. We were talking about students in middle school during a professional development class. Many of these students were said to be shy and tended to have an aversion towards learning English. The professor shocked the class when she said, “Perhaps the best solution to the students’ lack of motivation would be to stop requiring them to learn English” (personal communication). In retrospect, her words made a lot of sense. Why should students be forced to learn English in the first place? English is taught as a foreign language in Japan. Students do not use the language outside of class and many will not use it extensively in the future. Their lack of interest probably extends from the fact that they don’t view learning English as useful. This speaks to the content of what they were learning and leads to critical question: How could the curriculum be revised to make learning more interesting, motivating and relevant to the needs of these learners?

A curriculum, even at its best, is incomplete as a teaching resource because we can never know if we are helping or hindering our learners. By designing our curriculum with a central concept in mind, we have merely created a framework on which to base our lessons. Successful implementation of the curriculum must be learner-centered however. I believe that we must take the learner’s personal experiences, competencies, and goals into consideration when teaching. Every learner is unique and has special needs. These needs are directly influenced by his or her desire to learn a subject and the goals that are achievable through learning the subject.

The aforementioned reminds me of my experiences teaching at a business language school many years ago. Some students wanted to conduct business meetings abroad while others wanted to learn English for traveling. In both cases, we provided detailed syllabi for the students to achieve their goals. The students knew what they wanted to achieve and thus they were motivated. We informed the students of their current abilities as well as how long it would take them to succeed. Throughout the course, students were tested on their abilities to speak fluently and accurately. Students were given feedback on their progress in relation to reaching the final goal.

Learners must have the opportunity to express themselves in an environment that is open and responsive to their needs. They must be able to determine which aspects of the curriculum are suitable for them and which aspects they feel uncomfortable with. Learners should find the content of a curriculum agreeable and should feel a sense of satisfaction while progressing through the curriculum.

I believe that the progression through the curriculum can be termed “learning.” Learning can be classified as good or bad. Good learning leads to understanding, retention, and application. Bad learning leads to confusion. When we are successful at implementing student-centered curricula, we will more than likely observe increased levels of motivation from our students and less confusion. Teachers should make use of this motivation to encourage the student to make learning a life long pursuit.

Students must know about their strong and weak points and how to maximize on their strong points. They must see how their performance is related to achieving an objective and how this is related to an overall concept. This means that accurate assessments and evaluations are necessary factors in curriculum design. In the case of the business language school that I mentioned earlier, we tended to rate students’ speaking and listening ability at first and asked the student to confirm their own strong and weak points. As the lesson progresses, we constantly gave the students feedback concerning areas where they were improving and areas where they were having difficulties, especially after the completion of unit tests. I tried to show how their areas of improvement would hinder them from achieving their personalized goal hence supporting the rationale for the study plan. I never criticized my students, but merely allowed them to think about their development critically throughout the course.

Finally, I believe that teachers must be encouraging and put the learner at ease as well as serve as a model for students to imitate. In every lesson, teachers must show, through demonstration, the essence of the ideals embodied in the curriculum. Teachers must be patient and understanding as well as determined to help students succeed. Good teachers quite naturally encourage good learning through lesson customization.

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Formative Assessment and the Common Core

November 20, 2015 Leave a comment

The following is the learning objective that I would like to focus on: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL1.4 which is to “Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.” Stated in my own words, this objective means that students will develop an understanding of language such as adjectives as well as simple similes and metaphors that are used in poetry to convey meaning.

Strategy 1  Key Questions about Similes and Metaphors

One type of formative assessment would be to have the students watch a brainpop jr video about similes and metaphors and then complete a quiz about the video which details how similes and metaphors are formed and why poets use them. The language in the video is graded and the content is appropriate for grade 1 learners. In fact, brainpop jr. was specifically designed for grade 1 and 2 students.  With each video are series of online key words, quizzes, activities, games and follow up activities which the students can engage with autonomously and return to review at their own pace.

Students could sit at computers and watch the video and then complete the quiz online. After completing the quiz, the teacher could then record the students’ scores and then suggest follow up activities on the website for students who struggled to understand the concept of simile and metaphor.

Rosen (2009) has provided evidence for the notion that online learning environments like brainpop are not only useful in terms of improving students’ performance on assessments but also serve as a source of motivation for students enabling them to feel that they have a more central role in the learning process.

Strategy 2  Draw It

In terms of assessing students understanding of simile and metaphor, I believe the “draw it” strategy would be ideal. This would take place after students have understood the concepts of similes and metaphors. This would be a quick way for a teacher to circulate around the classroom and determine if the students were able to grasp the concepts of similes and metaphors. For example, the teacher could read a poem, highlight the similes, adjectives or other key expressions and have students draw a picture based on what they hear. The teacher could then elicit ideas from students about their pictures in order to ascertain whether or not the students have understood the poem.

This type of formative assessment is useful for two reasons:

  1. It appeals to grade 1 students as it gives them tools to express themselves even if they do not have the necessary language skills to articulate ideas. The aforementioned is especially true for non-native speakers of English at primary level.
  2. This type of assessment appeals to students who may benefit from different learning styles in the classroom such as kinesthetic and visual learners.

Strategy 3 New Clothes (Write a simile or metaphor about your favorite weather)

This type of assessment could be implemented after students have demonstrated a passive understanding of language that demonstrates appeal to senses or feelings. Using the concept of “new clothes” would require students to demonstrate their knowledge of similes and metaphors through writing and creating their own simile or metaphor.

The idea is that the students would use their newly gained understanding of similes to write a simile based on a topic that hasn’t been discussed in class; namely, they would have to write a sentence in which they used a simile or metaphor to describe their favorite kind of weather (e.g. A sunny day is chocolate cake!) The students would have to let the teacher know if he or she wrote a simile or metaphor. This would allow the teacher to determine whether or not the student has understood the concept.

Allowing the students to write their own simile or metaphor also allows for differentiation by task in the lesson such that each student could work from his or her own ability and interests thus increasing learner motivation and the likelihood that the final product will be the best demonstration of the students’ ability.

Finally, I am a firm believer in developing learner autonomy and I believe the activities above enable students to develop autonomously.

Developing autonomy in a classroom setting implies that the learner will take the initiative to gain insight into the process of acquiring knowledge and being able to control him or herself throughout the process. Benson (2001) defines autonomy as “the capacity to take control over one’s learning” (p. 110).  To my mind, taking initiative is a prerequisite for controlling one’s learning. When learners decide that they want to actively direct their own learning, they are, in effect, on the path to becoming more autonomous. Thus, the decision to become autonomous largely rests with our students. However, we as teachers can create learning environments conducive to the development of learner autonomy.

Control in the classroom manifests itself in the learner’s “learning behavior, learning situation, and cognitive processes” when dealing with classroom tasks (p. 50). As a result, autonomy is a process that directly manifests itself at several levels of the human experience, ranging from the conscious and unconscious to the real as well as what is perceived to be real. Learners must take control of their mental (e.g. higher cognitive processes), emotional (e.g. preparedness to overcome setbacks and fatigue), and physical aspects (e.g. posture when studying) to gain a foothold over their learning.

In the case of the assessments above, they all require students to be in control of the rate of learning as well as control when the assessment starts and finishes thus enabling students to engage the tasks independently. For example, in the first formative assessment, students start the video, complete the supplementary activities and take the quiz when they are ready. In the second quiz, differentiation and creativity are provided for in that students have the freedom to draw a picture based on their interpretation of what was said. In the final activity, the learner uses his or her creativity to apply what they’ve learned to demonstrate their understanding of the key concepts of the lesson.



Benson, P. (2001). Autonomy in language learner. Pearson: Essex

Bynom, A. (2003). Empowering the learner and all that rubbish. Karen’s Lingusitic Issues, April

Retrieved December 27, 2006, from http’//             html. [Paper originally presented at the TESOL Arabia Conference 2003]

Csikszentmihayi, M. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and effective teaching: A flow analysis. In J.      Bess (Ed.), Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 72-89).          Baltimore MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Dam, L., & Little, D. (1998). Learner autonomy: what and why? TLT Online. Retrieved April 6th,            2008, from

Deci, E., Kasser, T., & Richard, M. R. (1996). Self-determined teaching: Opportunities and         obstacles. In J Bess, (Ed.), Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to reach           effectively (pp. 57-71).

Krishnamurti, J. (2000). Educating the educator. Parabola. 25, (3), 85-89.

Rosen, Y. (2009). The effects of an animation-based on-line learning environment on transfer of knowledge and on motivation for science and technology learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 40(4), 451-467.

Thanasoulas, D. (2002). What is learner autonomy and how can it be fostered? Karen’s     Linguistic Issues, December 2002. Retrieved April 6th, 2008, from

Senge, P. et al (2000). Schools that learn. NY: Doubleday. [Chap. 1,2,3 (pp. 5-22), I (pp. 59-        100), XII-I, 6 (pp. 411-417, 446-452), XVI, 5(pp. 552-553).]

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Reflection on unpacking standards

November 15, 2015 Leave a comment

At the beginning of this unit, we were asked to unpack standards, which essentially entailed restating the standards in our own words and then brainstorming ways to implement and assess these curricular aims in the classroom. While I have been teaching English for the past eleven years now, this first task was a great test. It made me think and question whether or not I had truly understood what it meant to unpack a standard and restate it in my own words.

It was necessary for me to read up on the Common Core standards to become familiar with them. So it was helpful to watch the following video which explained the common core prior to starting the assignment.

Understanding that the Common Core attempts to connect differing States, I immediately went to see if there were resources created by states that have been demonstrating how a standard could be taught in the classroom. To my surprise, there were many resources such as lesson plans, syllabi, and resources for teaching all of the standards. One such resource was from the Los Angeles Board of Education:

The aforementioned knowledge relieved a lot of tension that I had been feeling about potentially teaching in the US. The fact of the matter is that it is quite challenging to begin teaching within a new curricular context without a lot of support. Thus, the knowledge that there is a cornucopia of resources in support of the Common Core has been very comforting.

In addition to learning more about the Common Core, I was also helped greatly by Tantillo’s (2014) guidelines for interpreting, evaluating, implementing, and assessing state standards. This enabled me the opportunity to transition from planning to creating a framework that served as the foundation for my infographic where I analysed two grade 1, common core state standards. What I hadn’t realised in the first assignment was that utilising Tantillo’s (2014) guidelines were actually preparing me for the second and third assignments.

My rationale for the aforementioned is that I decided in assignment 1 to both unpack two standards in addition to drafting the proficiencies, assessments, and learning experiences that were the essence of the standard. It seemed to me that the process of unpacking standards is an iterative one that requires a teacher to analyse the multifaceted aspects of a standard through visualising the standard in its entirety from its conceptualisation to assessment in the classroom.

In in the final assignment, I was able to return to the objectives and lesson plan activities that I had created and reflect upon whether A) the objectives were realistic or SMART as well as B) if I had been correct in choosing the activities that I had chosen to meet the standard. Next week, I will share my findings with my colleagues and hopefully get my team involved with planning their schemes of work utilising a reflective, iterative process similar to the one that we’ve used this week to unpack standards.

Works Cited

Common core state standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Common Core Standards Initiative, 2012.

[DC Public Schools] (2012, Nov 2).”Three-Minute Video Explaining the Common Core State Standards.” Retrieved from:

Tantillo, S. (2014). “Tools  to unpack the ELA common core standards.” Retrieved from:

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Standards and Backwards Mapping

November 14, 2015 Leave a comment

I currently teach in an International School in Shanghai where the majority of students are non-native ELLs. For the past four years, I have been responsible for teaching grade 4 students. However, for the assignment this week, I intend to focus on grade one Common Core standards as I plan to teach at a school that follows an American based curriculum in the future. Subsequently, I will continue to teach in primary school in the future.

The standard that I will map out in this blog post is: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.1.1. I’ve restated this standard in my own words:

Students write a reflection on a book that they have read where they summarize and give their opinion about the book that they have read.

The following are 3 proficiencies that students will achieve within this standard:

  1. Students will understand how opinion writing is organized.
  2. Listen to other students give a speech in class and be able to articulate an opinion.
  3. Read an opinion piece and write their own opinions about a common topic: (e.g. Which place do you like better: the beach or the mountains?)

Several assessments that will ensure that students have met the standard are:

  1. Pre-assessment diagnostic: determine what are the students’ grammatical strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Feedback on student opinions given by the teacher after the class has listened the Discovery Quests.
  3. Assessment of student writing based on criteria of exceeds, meets, and working towards attainment targets.

Activities and learning experiences that students can engage in are:

  1. Discovery Quests where students present an object to the class and give their opinion about the object.
  2. Students learn how to use a graphic organizer to organize their ideas to prepare for writing.
  3. Journal Writing Topic: Which place do you like better: the beach or the mountains?

Ideas for unpacking and teaching to the standard above were adapted from Los Angeles teachers’ lessons plans which can be found here:

Furthermore, these proficiencies, assessments, and activities are also based on this infographic:

Untitled Infographic


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