EARCOS Teacher’s Conference 2017

I attended my first EARCOS conference last week and it was an incredible experience. I took a massive amount of notes during the week and this post is my attempt to bring it all together in one place. For me, this will serve as a means to remember my experience; for visitors to my blog, you can compare my experience to yours or use it to preview what you’re in for next year in Bangkok.

We arrived late on Monday and spent the first two days perusing the city and surrounding islands. After a day in the sun, it was Thursday morning and time to get things started. Most of the attendees enjoyed breakfast in the hotel and then walked down to the conference. That’s great, but they missed out on something. I arrived in this fine piece of craftsmanship. It had the most blue chrome on and around the dash that I’ve ever seen and sounded like it could, with the help of that spoiler, hurl me through time and space and drop me in the Pacific Sutera lobby. In reality, I’ve been on lawnmowers with more git up than this thing; it was fun, though.

The first keynote inspired and left the audience moved. Ms. Phan Thi Kim Phuc  shared her experiences before and after a napalm attack that changed her life forever. Her story of survival, peace, and forgiveness was a great way to start the conference as it encouraged the audience of educators to surmount the challenges they face, no matter how hard they seem.

Session 1

I attended Mary Ryan’s Session I presentation titled ‘Tools and Strategies for Differentiating Mathematics Instruction‘. As an ELL specialist at the conference, I had the freedom to pick and choose the presentations I wanted to watch. The strands this year were mostly Math, Science, Counseling, and IT; this gave me some freedom. I attended sessions I found interesting personally, or presentations that would help me help my sixth grade content teachers. In Mary’s presentation I took away some ideas to help differentiate Math. The first idea was a mathcentric definition of differentiation. I like the simplicity of this model. The teacher can differentiate content, process, and/or product according to readiness, interests, and learner profile; it doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Mary also mentioned textbook ceilings. Often, students in Asia are way beyond their grade level in Math. I’ve taught English to middle school students who were starting college math. What is a Math teacher to do in that situation? While this situation is common in Korea, it’s also not unheard for students to be way behind. The topic of textbook ceilings and floors is definitely salient and is something I will be discussing with my teachers in the near future. Throwing mixed levels of English proficiency into that mix makes for a challenging classroom. Mary recommended a system of tiered instruction that consistently provides the teachers with feedback so they can adjust the course as they work towards their destination. I was delighted to hear her talk about Bloom’s taxonomy – specifically, behaviors that can be elicited through effective questioning – as it overlaps with what I focus on in my own classes. A final takeaway is a class-quieting strategy. The teachers says ‘back to me’ and students reply ‘back to you’. I look forward to giving this a try next year.

Session 2

It’s me! Get my presentation materials here.

Session 3

The next presentation was Tina Quick’s ‘International Parenting: How Global Mobility Affects Children‘. There’s nothing like getting info straight from the source; Tina Quick is just that. She’s a Third Culture Kid (TcK) who has moved 29 times in her life – 17 times before sixth grade if I remember correctly. She’s also a great presenter who gets right to the point. I knew I would enjoy her presentation when she said ‘It’s 1:45 so I’m gonna get started; they don’t call me Quick for nothing!’

Tina took us through the coining and evolution of the term, third culture kid, and made some projections about its future. For me, I was thinking about my own kids and that they are not technically TcKs, but more cross-culture kids (CCRs) – who aren’t fortunate, and were not born on the bayou…ahem… As a group made up of mostly parent teachers and counselors, we brainstormed challenges and benefits of the TcK experience. What I found most interesting were the stages of transition (leaving — transition — entering — re-involvement) she took us through. I was connecting them to the stages of cultural shock that I’m more familiar with. Her personal examples brought each stage to life. A few things that stuck with me are the RAFT. I’m familiar with RAFT as a way to contextualize writing, but her RAFT is completely different; it’s a a way to leave somewhere on a positive, fulfilled note. RAFT stands for reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, and thank and talk. As an international teacher, this is great to know since students leave for life abroad constantly. A final thing that is still in my head is her comment about the transition stage. The transition stage begins as soon as you step foot in the new country. It’s the point where ‘nobody knows how cool you are’, as Tina says. All of her points really hit home personally and professionally – now it’s time to order her book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University TransitionMy son is 10 years away from high school graduation, but it’s never to early to start prepping.

The first day ended with a job-alike session and a welcome reception. We enjoyed the atmosphere, cultural performances, free food, adult beverages, and Dr. K’s wicked dance moves.

Day 2, Session 4

The day began with a stellar keynote by Christophe Galfard, author of The Universe in Your HandThe story and the visuals were fantastic. I remember him saying that scientists ‘find a black spot and zoom’ and that it all ends where it all begins. Needless to say, it was a lot to think about in the morning and I’m anxious to start his book. The next presentation was titled ‘My Brnasa-hs201427a-hubbleultradeepfield2014-20140603.jpgain, My Body, My Narrative: A Scientific Approach for Supporting Students in Healthy Relationships’ by Kate Dore and Rob Newberry. Kate described the approach she and her colleagues take when teaching about sex and healthy relationships. She expertly shared the processes, agreements, and routines that parents, students, and staff go through as they create a safe environment for students. A couple things that I thought were really interesting were students choosing teachers to teach them different things, student created advice/resource columns, and student/parent surveys. Kate came into teaching with a background in neuroscience so it was interesting to hear her describe some of the behaviors I see in my classes every day. Her description of the ‘invisible audience’ in adolescence struck a chord with me – and I was relieved to read that it is not only teens who have that experience. Her discussion also made me think of the role of culture in relationship education. In Korea, there is a thing called nunchi, which is described as a type of emotional intelligence, or a method of gauging the emotions of those around you, that affects your behavior. As an American married to a Korean, I’ve been told I have no nunchi hundreds of times – not better or worse, just different, is my response.  This presentation opened my eyes to the teenage brain quite a bit and highlighted the avenues I need to go do down as I strive to understand the engimatic sixth grade mind.

Session 5

Next up was Dan Long’s presentation titled ‘Cross Cultural Identity of Local Student Enrolled in Western International Schools‘. I learned a lot from this that pertains specifically to my school as it is dominated by host-country nationals, or local students. Dan’s work helped me look at the gates of my school as bridge between two worlds that is not completely Korean, or completely western. As Dan went through his work, I connected to the growth of a third ‘on-campus’ culture to the life cycle of pidgins and creoles. While parts of their own fascinating field of study, pidgins and creoles are types of languages that emerge as a result of cultural/linguistic interaction between groups of people. Pidgins are auxiliary languages made by combining pieces of both languages; creoles are the languages that the children of pidgin speakers speak as their native language. What is amazing is that the creole these children speak has its own grammar that is more closely related to other creoles than the languages the parents of the children speak. I can’t help but think that this describes the uniqueness of my school culture – not Korean, not western, something different. Perhaps, as creoles bear a stronger resemblance to other creoles than their parent languages, the culture of third culture schools resembles other third culture schools more so than the culture of students and teachers. So much to think about and so many questions after Dan’s presentation – glad I got his email.

Session 6

Next, I had to shake a leg to make it over to the Magellan in time for ‘First Steps Towards Transforming Your Classroom‘ with Kim Cofino. The presentation introduced several models used to understand the function of technology in the classroom. The first model introduced was SAMR, which stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. Reflecting on SAMR, I labelled most of my classroom tech as augmentation or modification. I haven’t reached the point yet where a tech tool allows me to create something that would be impossible to do without tech, but it is something I look forward to discovering. Actually, the use of SNS in the classroom (twitter in the classroom) would be difficult without tech. Is this redefinition? Kim’s slide helped me to visualize where I would like to be as an educator. I’d like tech to transform and redefine what my students do as much as possible, but substitution and augmentation will always be part of my class because they make the class more efficient and save paper. The TPACK visual helped me to gauge my own understanding and think about how it affects my decision making when lesson planning. Kim shared her blog during the presentation and I highly recommend visiting and bookmarking.

Day 3

I showed up to the Saturday morning keynote unsure of my plans for the day. After listening to Aaron and Kaitlin Tait’s ‘Edupreneurs: Changing the World from the Classroom’, I decided to follow them the rest of the day and attend all three of their presentations. I learned so much that it all belongs in its own post.

I’m still mentally unpacking all I’ve learned during the conference and already looking forward to next year.

Thanks for reading!

Flipboard Magazines with Google Docs

Two years ago, our language arts class tweeted photos explaining text-to-world connections while reading The Giver. That was an eighth grade class well versed in social media. This yescreenshot_2016-12-12-23-20-47ar I teach sixth grade and though Twitter doesn’t enforce their age requirement of 13, other social networking services like Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram do enforce theirs. As a result, social media is still a few years away from most of my sixth graders – I’m not complaining!

Creating a Flipboard magazine from the student tweets was simple. All I had to do was assign a unique hashtag for the assignment, search for the hashtag in Flipboard, and flip the results – simple.

It’s not so easy this time, but I’ve found a solution that I want to share.

  1. Clean up the Google doc: Things like paragraph spacing and picture placement can make the post look odd if it’s not done right. What I’ve found is that tabbiscreen-shot-2016-12-12-at-11-26-28-pmng the beginning of each paragraph and keeping pictures in line with text work best. Make sure the title of the document is the title of the article and that student last names are removed.
  2. Publish: Click ‘File’ and ‘Publish to web’. This will open a window that gives you a link to the published document. Copy and paste link to open the published document.
  3. Flip it!: To complete this step, you’ll need the Flipboard + Flip It Google Chrome extension – get it here. Once you’ve added the extension to Chrome, click the extension to add the published document to your Flipboard magazine.
  4. Enjoy: Now that your published Doc has been added to your Flipboard magazine, you can share it with your students and colleagues.

Our students wrote newspaper articles loosely based on research they had done to create a video for the worldof7billion.org student video contest. Since they submitted their articles in Schoology via Google Drive, I can make a copy of the original documents to ‘clean up’ and then publish.


Differentiated Writing Instruction with Google Docs (Schoology Workaround)

Quick post here – In the spring I wrote about how much I was enjoying writing instruction with Google Docs. I began this school year at a new school anxious to support my sixth graders during the writing process but hit a small hurdle when I learned that the LMS in middle school was Schoology. Schoology does have a Google Drive app that allows students to submit work from Drive. It does not, however, provide a way to collaborate on documents.

I manually went through the steps that Google Classroom automates and was happy with the results. Here are the instructions I gave students:


The document titles tell me the period, student name, and assignment name – as it would be in Google Classroom. I used five minutes in the beginning of class to get this set up. All of the files that students share with me are easy to copy and move from ‘shared with me’ to a specific folder for this assignment. This makes it simple to organize assignments by period or class and assignment.

At this point, all of the collaborative writing with synchronous feedback that I love so much is possible.


Differentiated Writing Instruction with Google Docs

Google Drive and its integration with Google Classroom has made a huge difference in my classroom. One of the biggest advantages I have seen so far is the opportunity to provide differentiated corrective feedback on student writing synchronously. This means I can give students (a whole class of students) comments and suggestions, and highlight errors as they write. The comments below show the range of support a teacher can provide based on the level of each student. Each comment asks the student to self-correct or clarify, though the effort required to make the correction varies in each comment, matching the ability of the student. As you look through comments, ask yourself what each comment requires the student to do to make the correction. In the past, differentiating writing feedback was a time consuming, ink-draining process that seemed to have little or no effect. Now, I feel like I can support the students appropriately while they are in the process of creating writing. Going through these processes with the teacher will help students retain what they learn.


First impressions of Google Classroom

classroom news 2014
2014 Classroom Search Results

I was really excited a few weeks ago when I first heard that my school had signed up for Google Apps for Education. I’d been waiting since the first half of 2014 to get my hands on Google Classroom. Back then, my social media outlets were abuzz with news of all that classroom was and is, and I ate it up. The snip on the left shows what I saw every time I turned on my PC or looked at my device. At the time, I was running classes with Google+ communities and Drive, so I was a bit bitter watching the GAFE train roll right on by; it was torture – until a few weeks ago. To learn more about Classroom, I joined a Google+ community and spent a few hours reading posts and watching videos. After that, I was ready.

In this post, I’ll share the things I like most about Classroom and some examples of how I started using it in my classes.

Coming from Drive, where managing assignments is a challenge, Classroom is a breath of fresh air. Setting up the class is simple. It begins with naming and editing the ‘about’ page of the class. On the about page, I’ve added a Youtube playlist, a doc of links to the class topic (deforestation), and a link to the class blog. All the resources are here and it is visually pleasing.

about page

After setting up the ‘about’ page, I went straight to the good stuff – assignments. What separates classroom from anything I’ve used in the past is the way that it manages student work. Before creating an assignment in Classroom, I write the directions in a Doc. Once the Doc is done, I can create the assignment in Classroom. In this example, I give students brief instructions and leave the rest of the page blank. When I create the assignment, I add the Doc.



The assignment shows up in the class stream where students can click on it and begin working. In the stream, the assignment serves as a jump off point for a few different things. Once the student submits the assignment, they can return here to see the grade or get back into the document should they need to edit and resubmit.


first assignment


As an EFL teacher, feedback on student writing has always been a challenge. For a good summary of the challenge and suggestions, click here. Classroom provides the teacher more feedback options for student writing. Over the last few days, I tried synchronous corrective feedback (SCF). SCF is immediate corrective feedback that happens online as students are writing. In some ways, it’s similar to oral recasts. This is a gamechanger, in my opinion. Here is an example.


editing example


Within Drive, the teacher can give comments on student writing. What Classroom adds to this is the ability to return the assignment to the student. The submission history below shows exactly what the student did. In this example, the student revised and resubmitted several times, getting more feedback from the teacher each time. This could happen over the course of one class period, or several days. This type of feedback is called asynchronous corrective feedback (ACF).

submission history


Another great thing about Classroom is the way that it organizes student work. Classroom creates a folder for every assignment a teacher creates and a doc for every student that completes the assignment (click ‘make a copy for each student’). Gone are the headaches that came with the moving, sharing, and saving in Drive.


assignment example


While I think there is still a lot to improve, Google Classroom does a lot to simplify the way teachers and students interact. As an ESL teacher, the ease of interaction with students outside of class makes this an extremely valuable tool.

For more information on computer-mediated corrective feedback, have a look at the following article.

Shintani, N. (2015). The effects of computer-mediated synchronous and asynchronous direct corrective feedback on writing: A case study. Computer Assisted Language Learning, Online first.



Online Literature Circles: Week 2

In my most recent post, I outlined the steps necessary to set up online literature circles using Edublogs. Since then, the literature circles have begun, and we’ve just finished the fourth week. In this post, I’ll share some samples to show what is actually happening in the circles, and discuss the challenges and issues that have come since they started.

As you read, keep in mind that the students are already maintaining their own personal Edublog and are familiar with all of the procedures and tools necessary to post on the class blog. As a precaution, I made a short tutorial (click here for video) and gave a short reading assignment (chapter one of The Giver) to practice posting and commenting. I didn’t spend the entire weekend reorganizing student posts, so I have to say they were successful.

Each student receives a schedule, like the one here, which tells them what they are responsible for each week. It includes their role and a checklist that describes the three things that need to happen every week.


Throughout the week, students read the text and develop the post for their specific role. Posts are due at the end of the week, and the summarizer in each group has up until the day of class to complete their assignment. This gives them a few days to read through all of their group’s post and summarize.


Literature Circle Instructions

Role Descriptions

The links here are to the documents that are embedded in the class blog. These documents describe the overall assignment and the specifics of each role.

Example #1: Discussion Director


This example shows the five questions that a discussion director asked their group. It also highlights one of the mistakes many discussion directors made in the first few weeks. While it looks like there are five questions here that cover the main points of the reading, the student failed to follow the specific instructions that come with being discussion director. Each question is supposed to serve a different purpose. For example, question one should be a closed question that makes sure everyone noticed an important plot detail. Question three should be a a question to the author, Lois Lowry. This question is supposed to spark discussion about something that would help readers better understand the text. In this example, the student is on the right track, but the way the question is formed is incorrect as the author would know who the old are.

In the future, I know I have to spend more time going through each type of question and provide more examples. Now that we’re in week five, most discussion directors are getting it right, but the confusion could have been prevented with clearer instructions. The response below shows that the questions did get the student to pull things together and draw some conclusions, but the product will be much better when the right questions are asked.


Example #2: Word Wizard


This is a good word wizard example. Each word comes with a sentence to contextualize it, a page number, the student’s own definition, and the dictionary definition. Many students comment on Word Wizard posts and say that they also didn’t know the selected words.

Example #3: Visualizer


Visualizer posts with Fotobabble are going really well. Students are using the sentence frames provided in the instructions and are getting creative with their drawings. Students that don’t feel comfortable drawing can use another image or group of objects to depict a piece of the text. Last week, a student used his younger brother’s Lego figures to set up a scene from the reading instead of drawing a picture; it was well done and the class enjoyed it.

Example #4: Connector


So far, the connector seems to be the most popular role as it receives the most comments. Students are doing a good job of making real world connections; however, in the future, text-to-text connections need to be a requirement. They are by far the least common connection that I’ve seen so far. Here are some comments to the above post.


Example #5: Reflector

reflectorThis example shows the reflector commenting on big ideas as they work their way though the text. Page numbers need to be included so that the group members can follow the reflector’s thoughts as they read specific parts of the text.

Example #6: Summarizer


The last student from each group to post each week is the summarizer. The summarizer’s job is not to summarize the reading, but to summarize the discussion that happened online. In this example, the students discusses the group’s response to the discussion director’s questions and the vocabulary selections. I would like to see more substance in the post and less listing. Students will often list all of the director’s questions and the vocab in a effort to lengthen the post, which is unnecessary. There is enough material in the posts and comments to write a good summary that highlights the most interesting material.

Though there are many small things that need tweaking before the next time this happens, the literature circles are making the reading that happens at home active and promoting a deeper understanding of the material through discussions and peer feedback. In our school, where many of the students need language support and lack the confidence to speak during classroom activities, the online literature circles are providing opportunities to request clarification, check comprehension, and to demonstrate understanding prior to class. This results in more participation and interaction and ultimately, more language development.

Online Literature Circles – Beginning Stages

Last year in our 8th grade Language Arts class, we used literature circles to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. We are using the book again this year, and to increase the amount of student talk that happens in the classroom, I am moving a lot of the discussion online. Since I have a large number of non-native speakers in the class, the online discussion serves as a primer for the discussion that will happen in class. If each student does their homework, they will be able to contribute to the group discussions in class. If you are unfamiliar with literature circles, here is a crash course.

To set this all up, I am using Edublogs (Pro). I put a lot of thought into finding the easiest way to get everything organized online in a way that is easy for students to navigate. This is what I’ve come up with. If you know a better way, please share ASAP!

First, I thought about what I needed to make available online.

  • Literature Circle Instructions
  • Role Instructions
  • Reading/Discussion Schedules
  • Groups
  • A place for students to post

I started by creating a page named ‘Literature Circle’. This is the main page for all of the work we’ll do in the unit.


I used a page and not a post so the content is always there, in the same place. Here, I will put up the general literature circle instructions.

Next, I created two more pages called resources and groups. These pages have the parent page Literature Circle. On the resources page, I will put up the role instructions; the groups page will have group lists and reading/posting schedules.


Now for the part that took the most thought. I’ve decided on categories as the way student posts will be organized. I chose this because selecting a category when you post is simple. Also, I can create the categories myself.


First, I created nine categories (Groups 1-9). Then, I added those categories to the menu below the groups page.

Now, here’s what I imagine happening when the assignments begin. Each group has one member that will start the discussion (summarizer). When the summarizer posts, they’ll have to click the category for their particular group. Once they do this, their group members will be able to find the post easily by clicking on their group from the drop-down menu. From there, the rest of the group can comment and add their own posts the same way.