Friday, November 10, 2017

Writing workshop in a PYP Classroom

Moving on from personal narratives, the students of Grade 6 have started a new type of writing: Theinformation genre and their big topic is all about Teen Activism. This gives us the perfect opportunity to address one aspect of our unit on "Governance" which focuses on citizens and their complex often volatile relationship with the government!

The students started by looking at the structure of an essay. The big message here is that "structure sets you free".
If you are able to chisel out a clear message through structure, then writing an essay becomes simple.
Brainstorming sessions are  vital yet many students think they can get away with it.
And this is what happens when you try to...
One huge paragraph where the main ideas are submerged and left to the reader to figure out.

or ...

As you can see, there is no clear topic sentence here.

And so a 5 minute mini-lesson/mid-writing workshop...
Listening carefully and following instructions during the mini lessons also sets you free. This was evident in the work books of many students who set about creating a clear structure. Students quickly went back to their seats to highlight their topic sentences.
Those who brainstormed clearly had an easier time drafting their essay.

Once the skeleton structure was completed and out of the way, the students had to gather all their notes and try and add examples, anecdotes, quotes to support their ideas. Many students realised they should have deepened their research and cited more examples to support their ideas. So they set themselves homework, where they would find more articles in order to consolidate their main ideas.
Here are some examples of essays where the students managed to get a clear message across.

In the next one, her peer editor does a pretty good job with feedback!
At this point, students were asked to find a topic they were really interested in and to do this, they had to generate ideas following the Trail of Research strategy, which looks something like this:

Once they create a trail of research, they meet in their writing groups to talk about their ideas.

This Bullying Group gets too excited about their topic and their brainstorm looses focus; they eventually get back to the drawing board.

Once done...they create the content page after having seen some great samples from the library.
This is what one group comes up with after a lot of discussion and debate.

The students are all set to go deeper with their research and specialise in one area.
This blog will be updated the week after next so please stay tuned!

Monday, September 4, 2017

What does "culture" mean?

Our Central idea is

Understanding the beliefs and values of different cultures may promote global -mindedness.

The words "beliefs" and "values" are not really that easy to define. A quick glance at different definitions of these words does not give you a simple answer.

What strategy could best address this dilemma? How can the grade 6s begin to appreciate their beliefs and values?

So we started with the word "culture"  And their responses were, as I anticipated, pretty basic - Family, Flags, Food and Festivals.

I allowed them to place their post-its wherever they pleased.

Later, after everyone got a chance to express themselves, I moved most of them up to the tip of the iceberg, explaining that they were the outward expressions of culture.

...and asked them to think of other less obvious words related to culture.

And so we dove deeper ...

It was great to see them coming up with words such as "respect", "life style' and 'animals!"

I picked on the word "animals" and the next day, posted pictures of animals around the room:
The holy cow, the whale in the aquarium, the guide dog, roasted turkey...The intention was to give students a chance to tap into their beliefs and values when they thought of animals and how we use or abuse them.

After a great discussion one evening with our Librarian Ms Lea, we wondered how the students would react to the following statement:

Not only could we address the cultural beliefs and values of different groups of people behind this statement, we could also think about how we felt about it and we could introduce the language of debate: 

I respectfully agree or disagree...however, I would like to add...

Ms Lea pointed out that students could get the opportunity to change their minds about an idea; in other words, understand that beliefs and values can change!

On the way towards this understanding, our class faced a rather big hurdle.
We surfaced for a bit...

The quality of their responses towards the pictures did not reflect deep thinking. How could the students realise this without the teacher bringing it to their notice?

Harumi took on the lead role here and helped the class sort the students' responses into HOT and LOT questions (clink on link for more information on this).

This activity was a great way to see how we thought about things.

We have just began the year, and I hope with more probing activities, we can help encourage the students to think more deeply about issues and hopefully become great global citizens of this world.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unravelling the 6 PYP Transdisciplinary Themes

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.” 

If knowledge was an orange, then each of its juicy segments would ideally represent the transdisciplinary themes,

Who We Are
Where We are in Place and Time
How the World Works
Sharing the Planet
How We Organise Ourselves.

Just before the start of the exhibition, we decided to revise the descriptors of these 'segments', the TD themes,  in order to help our scholars recognise where their passions lay.

The challenge was to find a way to make the Grade 6's interested in these rather not so juicy descriptors.

And so this is how we went about it:


Scour through newspapers and identify as many articles that fit in with the six TD themes. Highlight the areas in the articles in order to justify your reasoning.

In groups of 6, collect articles related to a TD theme and create a collage with the articles. The collage needs to reflect some elements of the descriptor.


As the students flipped through the pages of newspapers, they realized that everything fit into the 6 themes!
By asking them to highlight areas, they had to repeatedly read the descriptors. This allowed them to easily recall and recognize the themes.
It was interesting to note how, at times, they were torn between two themes and finally decided to look at the purpose of the article in order to identify one dominant theme.

That busy hum.

Here is what some of the groups came up with. What I found interesting about the collages is that if you look closely enough, every article they are made up of, belong to that respective transdisciplinary theme.

How We Organize Ourselves

Where We Are in Place and Time

How the World Works

The last one was very metaphorical. You'll notice a kingfisher drawn in the front of the Shinkansen. The students attempted to show how technological advancements are made when humans closely observe how the natural world works.

The bullet train was a result of biomimicry.

I leave you with a short clip of a pretty little blue bird...



Was it designed?


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Snakes and Ladder and the 3 Way Learning Conference

Source :

As we were preparing for the 3 Way conference, some of the students realised they needed to deepen their thinking and practice using the unit vocabulary a little bit more.

I came across Peter Sanderson 's idea on twitter and loved it. And so did the kids.

Next time we will use the Wheel to bring variety to our tasks.

Watch the students  learn  through play!

Game board 1

Game board 2

Game board 3

Game board 4

Try it out. Click on this link and make a copy of it and let your student's come up with their own tasks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

5 classroom routines I plan to focus on for the next school year.


I plan to try and improve communication between our classroom, parents, and students. I'm not sure whether students or parents read my emails or get our classroom news. At times, they do not respond to the posts on Google Classroom. The silence from that side of the wall has been baffling, frustrating and a big challenge for me.

 I just may have found the solution.

The App Remind is an excellent way to overcome this problem. It is a great tool which ensures everyone receives the message instantly on their phones, and it need not be an iPhone or an android!

Last year, being new to Japan, I was unable to take advantage of the resources around me.This country's unique culture and history have much to offer. After reading Ron Berger's "An Ethic of Excellence", and seeing the powerful learning that can take place with the help of the community, I plan to actively learn more about and reach out in order to seek expert help from the community. For example,  the students do not have to just learn about famous people and write their biographies . They can seek out local citizens in their community, who have contributed to the society and make them the focus of their studies. Creating information booklets about these unsung heroes and inviting them to school in order to formally recognize them, is a far more powerful way of tackling the unit on role models.
Culture of Critique 

...Or assessment for learning. Of course, as a PYP educator, this is our primary focus; yet I realize the enormous scope for improvement. Setting high standards, and encouraging students to persevere and come up with multiple* drafts will require that I give them more time than I normally do. I will NOT rush to cover the curriculum. Being a teacher for prospective MYP students does put a bit of pressure on us.
* Berger refers to one of his students creating over 10 drafts to achieve the set standards. What I liked about his attitude towards  formative assessment  was the fact that student either achieved the standard or the work was considered NOT DONE.
My students have been keeping a record of their learning journey in portfolios. Next year, our school will encourage students to create E-portfolios; however, I still intend to keep a binder and will encourage the students to use it more often than once a week. Just like college graduates who create job portfolios, I am excited at the prospect of  reinventing, re-energizing this area of assessment. Our portfolios next year will be a living, breathing testimony to the hard work we put in as a community of learners.
Based on  how much my students relished and enjoyed meditating every morning, (even the reluctant, fidgety ones sought it out in the end), I intend to start our day by switching on the diffuser (I have a choice of bergamot, rosemary, and lemongrass and cinnamon aroma oils), draw the blinds, bathe the classroom in the mellow light of a few lampshades and meditate for 10 minutes... every single day for the rest of the year. If nothing achieved by this, we will have at least set a routine and created a signature classroom culture. Unless , of course ,anyone else wants to emulate!
These are my goals for next year.
What are yours?

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Art of Conversation

"True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.
I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.
I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think."


The students in grade 6 are developing their understanding of the world around them by reading news articles from the website newsela. What I like about this website is that it allows you to make the article accessible to students of different reading levels.

It was not the perfect lesson. Students were not following the rules of our socratic seminar. In the beginning, the first group of inner circle students felt nervous and kept repeating key points, without giving evidence from the text. 

A bit of background about the content?

They read the following article: (chosen by a  few students)

Candidate dismisses criticism of his plan to keep Muslims out of U.S.

Activity: Socratic Seminar.

What I liked about this first part of our experience was that two students who generally hardly come forward to share their learning, volunteered to be part of the inner circle. As a class, it seems we had managed to create a safe haven for them. This was a wonderful realisation for me!

And so, we tentatively went into the second round of our socratic seminar. They decided to change the question prompt a bit as they thought it would allow more room for their perspectives.

So from "Why do people vote for Donald Trump?" to
"Would you vote for someone like Donald Trump?" made a huge difference to the quality of conversation as you can see below.

Hope you can take the time to look at the videos!

 (with the second improvised question)


This video was based on the first question.
It's amazing how a powerful question can promote discussion among people, isn't it?

Thanks for reading.