Another read aloud favorite – the One and Only Ivan

with the fast of term fast approaching, I was in a hurry to get the latest class read aloud finished, the One and Only Ivan.

I read this book to my class last year as part of a Sharing the Planet unit and he made another appearance this term.

Ivan is a gorilla whose home is a dilapidated mall off a highway. The book is told entirely from Ivan’s perspective and chronicles his life at the zoo. The children got quite attached to Ivan and his animal friends Bob the dog as well as elephants Stella and Ruby. 

The book’s theme of friendship and cruelty provoked great discussions. There is also a nuanced view of good and evil in the book. We find our characters are neither saints nor sinners.

Overall this book is great for any units that look at social change and action. Some children may find descriptions of animal cruelty hard tans their are sections where you might need to have some tissues handy,

Nevertheless a great read aloud to round out Wonder and the adventures of Edward Tulane.

Is it time to get rid of the teacher’s desk?

An Ikea desk similar to the one in my classroom

 A few years ago I wrote about getting rid of half of the desks in my classroom. The result of the experience was a more agile learning space that constantly evolved to meet the needs of the learners.

I forgot to write about the most important classroom desk I got rid of in the process, the giant teachers desk.

My teachers desk lasted about seven weeks into my teaching career. I realised that I wasn’t using my desk to work on. It was more of a giant surface for clutter. It also took up a lot of valuable floor space in the classroom that could be used for learning.

To solve the problem I got rid of the desk and replaced it with a small set of drawers. The drawers can fit my laptop on top of it and that’s about it.

I have never really looked back.

Getting rid of the desk immediately opened up a lot more learning space. It forced me to be organised and remove anything that wasn’t related to student learning from the classroom.

The lack of a personal desk freed me up to move around the classroom. The nature of having a teachers desk is that you will sit at and have kids come to you rather than vice versa. How can you have child-centered learning if you require the kids to come to you?

No teachers desk made for a more equal classroom between myself and the children. No more was a large amount of classroom floor space off limits to children.

Everywhere is a learning space.

So with no teacher’s desk where do I work?

I work where the kids do!

I work at classroom tables and on sofas.

As a teacher from New Zealand I’m well accustomed to working on the floor with the children. When visitors come into my room, they often have to search me out when I’m teaching. To me that is the sign of learning as it should be.

The teacher is one part of the classroom learning community.

At my current school there is a large area between the classrooms. When the kids are away at specialists, I much prefer to work out there rather than in my classroom as there’s more chance of bumping into colleagues and having a chat about their day.

Getting rid of the classroom desk opens up the idea that teachers shouldn’t  be hidden in their classrooms when they are working. Bringing workspaces  together makes professional conversations with colleagues more regular and authentic. For PYP schools this is even more important given that we should be collaboratively planning our learning engagements.

Now that the era of desktop computers have passed us by, teachers don’t really need a huge individual work station. Most of our work is done in laptops and tablets. Much student learning isn’t found in books but rather on devices and in the cloud.

How much on a typical teachers desk is now redundant? Image by @dougbutchy via Flickr used under Creative Commons

The same is true of our resources.

As the daughter of a teacher I know of our capacity to hold onto resources for years, even decades, ‘just in case’ they come in handy some day. Is it time to move on? I subscribe to the if you haven’t touched it in a year, then lose it philosophy. But really don’t our students deserve better than learning that is recycled year on year?

Stackable storage and regular purges of clutter frees up classroom space both physical and psychologically for learning to happen.

Cross Post: Your applicants are Googling You – digital footprints aren’t one way @coetail #coetail


Image by Lanier67 used under creative commons license

One of the most common pieces of advice around the use of social media for job searches is that principals are using  facebook, google, twitter etc. as a way to check up on the pasts of would-be teachers.

Most advice is used as cautionary tale for applicants.

‘Stop embarrassing yourself.’

‘Beware of your digital footprint.’

‘Watch what you do and say online!’

The unintended consequence of this advice is that many teachers feel they need to lock down their online profiles and not share their content for fear of being judged negatively.

Image from Cam middle school sourced via Facebook

Image from Cam middle school sourced via Facebook

The risk is real. There are countless stories out there out there of how one stupid tweet can ruin a not only your job prospects but your life.

But there also largely unexamined risks of having no presence.

Rather than think about how candidates need to impress schools by being smart and savvy online I’m wondering how schools are ensuring their online presence impresses future teachers?

Of the four teaching postions I’ve secured during my career in education, all but one had a social media connection.

My second teaching position I was recurited due to the postings I made on an online teaching message board way back in 2003. I trusted the teacher who approached me, had met her a couple of times in real life so I was happy to make the move.

My third school I followed the principal on Twitter and read her blog. Because I read what my principal had read and shared, I knew she was someone that would bring out the best in me and I was happy to sign on.

In my current postion I knew a few of the teachers via Twitter who gave me a positive run down on the school. Never underestimate how important teachers recommendations are when you are asking candidates to move to another country.

So here’s something that any school who is looking for teachers might want to think about.

Prospective applicants are googling you.

They are interacting with your online content, following your social media accounts, reaching out to people in their social networks to find out more about you before signing contracts.

What does your school’s digital footprint say to prospective teachers?

Would they want to work for you?

I’ll be honest and say that during my last job search I judged a school negatively if its online presence was a looking a bit stale. Having a static website with school newsletters either regularly or haphazardly uploaded just doesn’t cut it in web 2.0. In a couple of cases, a poor online presence caused me to give the school a miss. I didn’t want to waste time and energy applying to places I thought would be a bad fit for me.

Could the same be true for students and their families?

Are they looking beyond static websites and relying on networks to find schools?

Although I’m happy in my current job, international teachers are a transient crowd and securing the next position is never far from our minds. The schools I really want to work for when I eventually move on are the ones where that have interesting things happening on their class blogs and whose teachers are sharing awesome things they are doing on Twitter.

Some schools are already using hashtags to keep their learning connected and for others to interact with. A few of my favorite school hashtags to follow are #Nistthink, #ishcmc, #Sisrocks and #msmcpd.

Viewing content and trying ideas that teachers in other schools share actively encourages me to start thinking of ways that I could compliment and contribute to the culture of their school. The schools who have an effective online teacher presence are already enticing me to apply long before I’ve even thought about updating my CV.

I am well aware that international schools often get hundreds of applications for a few postions. So anyone who who has had the pleasure of sorting through mountains of CVs feel free to shout ‘quiet back there in the cheap seats.’ But maybe the employment market won’t always be like it is now. What’s more every school wants to have great teachers on staff. Maybe connectivism might turn the expensive and  risky business of international teacher recuritment on its head.

No more expensive flights and hotel rooms for job fairs.

Maybe there is little need to advertise for jobs.

Schools that put their thinking out into the digital space for others to see, think about and interact with don’t have to do much to get other teachers excited about working for them. Their connected teachers are already doing that job for them long before they need to advertise postions.

Having connections might make sorting through those piles of CVs a little easier too.

A few years ago a Year 6 class at Point England School in Auckland was looking for a new teacher. Instead of going through just the advertisement and CV route the class put out a video advertisement on their class blog. My mentor teacher got the job because rather than just put in her CV, she was the only applicant who also answered the kids directly through a video. It was a quick way for the school to sort through which applicants really ‘got’ their school and who didn’t.

So yes teachers and students need to be mindful of their digital presence. What they put online is a reflection of them.

But the same is true of employers too.

Teachers and students can leverage those same strategies that employers use to weed out unsuitable applicants to make their own employment opportunities and avoid negative career choices.

I was reminded of the importance of creating opportunities when I told the class they were having an important visitor from the New Zealand High Commission visit their photography exhibition.

“Wow how did you get her to come?” My year 4s asked excitedly.

“I asked.” I replied. “You don’t get anything in life without first asking for it politely.”

But also one of the Mums in our class had a connection and helped me help you.

The days of applying for jobs and waiting for answer aren’t going to be reality my students will face when they enter the workforce in a decade. They will need to create their own opportunities and use their networks to stand out from the pack.

When it comes time for my students to find their career path, I hope they understand that digital footprints to help them find their way can be found on both sides of hiring street.

Image by author


from Teaching the Teacher

Forever Young

I first came to Hiroshima for a visa run when I was teaching English in the Republic of Korea.

Of all the things I remember about Japan, the visit to Peace Memorial Museum was perhaps the most vivid. Many of the victims of the August 6 visit were junior high students on work details. Their stained uniforms and charred lunches on permanent display. 

The fact that so many of the victims were same age as the kids I was start teaching meant something to me.

Now I’m 10 years older. 

The children I taught in Korea went to high school, military service, university and will be starting their first jobs.

But those lunches are still there in Hiroshima and the owners will forever be in junior high school.


Irrational fears, trust and control 

“Aren’t you nervous to be flying Malaysia Airlines?”

No more than usual…

Cheap flights to Japan made the choice a no-brainer for March holidays but truth be told I am a nervous flyer. 

Statistically flying is incredibly safe form of transportation. Far safer than cars and definitely a lot safer than hanging on the back of motos without a helmet.

Nevertheless, I’m never at ease in the air. 

There’s always that feeling of something bad being just one bang away. If it does, there’s not much I can do just go along for the ride.

I’ve been wondering if the same is true in education. 

How easy it can be for research to give way to fear and mistrust.

How giving over control of children learning for the bulk of the day requires that leap of faith. 

How small bumps can trigger huge emotional reactions and a lack of information to the unexpected can make a situation seem so much worse than it is.

The big difference, our families aren’t just along for the ride and the kids aren’t supposed to be sitting at the back of their plane.


Making inferences…

“Ms Stephanie, I think I’ve got a connection,” a little voice piped up. 

It was the last day of term, The class had just finished reading The One and Only Ivan. A fictional story of a real life gorilla who paints pictures to free his friend Ruby the elephant. I had just finished the last page.
Earlier in the week I had watched as this child had laboured over the inferencing questions in a PROBE reading assessment. The child had found the relevant bits of the story but just couldn’t make the link between the information on the assessment and the background knowledge to answer the questions correctly. Instead the child just kept reading out the relevant bits of text.
We would need to put effort into inferencing I thought.
“Well Ivan kind of reminds me of Mandela.”
My ears prick up. 
A few weeks ago the children had a Google Challenge featuring the South African leader. 
Like all great provocations there were more questions than the answers.
Why did Mandela go to jail?
How does a prisoner go to being president of a country? I thought only bad people went to prison.
People really weren’t allowed to go places because of their skin in South Africa?
“Tell us so more about that.” I wonder out loud.
“Well Ivan wanted to free Ruby the elephant just like Mandela wanted to help black people in South Africa to have a better life.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Ivan had to try really hard to tell people about Ruby drawing those pictures. People came and protested to free Ruby. They also freed him. Mandela wrote all those letters and people and protested to free him and people weren’t buying things made in South Africa so the government had to release him too.”
“Any more connections?” I hoped he’d make the link between Ivan’s domain and Robben Island prison, but quietly I was stunned.
I had never thought to make the connection. 
Another chimed in with that part of the puzzle and now the class are talking about Rosa Parks and inequality while I sit back and take it in.
I kept coming back to the Probe.
To be able to infer a child would need to use their own background knowledge as well as evidence from the text 
The book was selected as theme of collective action fitted nicely with the central idea of our Unit of Inquiry the Cultures ‘The opportunities in communities can be changed by the actions of others.’ Along with developing research and digital citizenship skills, the Google challenges were examples of people and events which demonstrated the central idea. Small little ideas were knitted together by the kids over a series of weeks.
On the other hand, the Probe was completely out of context. Standardized to ensure comparisons between children and used year on year. Yet if I hadn’t been watching other data, I would never thought of changing how to approach reading with this child.
I think my assessment maybe wrong,
I’m wondering if his fluency and decoding skills needed development in inferencing texts. Listening to the story enabled this child to think more deeply about the text. He had made several text to world connections backed up with evidence from the book. Was the mental effort of decoding and finding information what was holding reading back? 
Something to ponder next term…

Another term over…

The word for this term.


Lots going on. 

Plenty of distractions and disruptions but also good learning.

When I think I’m 3/4 of the way through the year with this particular class things get more real. 

10 weeks of learning.

Rather than be in countdown mode panic sets in.

I want to make each and every day count. 

Last day of term….

Morning roll call.

Teachers 5 minutes after the last kids leave school.

Teachers 7 minutes after the last kids leave school.

Teachers 10 minutes after the last kids leave school checking email.

Using iPads to make a paperless Words their Way

I am not a huge fan of Words their Way.

Mostly because of the vast amount of time and paper that goes into cutting up words for the kids to sort out latter .  The words got lost, could only be used by one group at a time.

Jennie Magiera sent me down the road of paperless sorts by having the kids use google draw to do the sorts. The result was far less stress in my classroom, less bits of paper flying around and t, but we were still firmly down in the substitution end of the SAMR model.

Enter the 3M post it note app.

Instead of making a traditional sort  A3 copy of the spelling words for each spelling group. The kids  then scan their sort using their app to manipulate the words around on the screen. The app isn’t as effective as post its but the kids can still tap around a word to make a post it of each box which suits our purpose.


They then use a ‘show what you know app’ to explain their choices. My class uses doodlecast but there are whole bunch of different apps such as Explain Everything, Educreations that do similar things.

When the kids are finished upload their video to a shared literacy folder on their Google Drive where I can mark it.

Gives me and the child data. I love that in this video I can hear the child self-correct a mistake on a sort. It’s something we notice and name later.

Would that have happened in a conventional sort?


Is there less paper?


Teaching under the influence of migraines

O image by r.nial.bradshaw used under creative commons license

I had been migraine-free for over a year.

That all came crashing to halt yesterday as the auras, throbbing head pain and nausea arrived in one big party.

I’ve tried to explain to people who don’t suffer from them that my experience of migraines is that is a combination of a searing headache, worst hangover and a dose food poisoning combined.

There really is only one cure for a migraine rest in quiet and dark places.

Unfortunately schools are the opposite of quiet and dark places.

The kids are usually really good when they know you aren’t 100%. The only way through a migraine is to prevent them.

Often migraines are the result of me taking on too much, trying to do too much and not getting nearly enough sleep.

Time to put on that hand break.


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