Sunday, October 29, 2017

Food for Thought; The Importance of Reading


Dear all,

This week's Food for Thought is generated from visiting the new primary school library and noticing the number of students reading either on their own, with friends or parents. This made me think about the importance of reading for all our students at ISHCMC and whether we should build in more reading time for students across the school. I remember when I was teaching that I would regularly berate my students for not reading enough. Hence, with a new secondary library design being built to complement the feel of the primary library I thought it important to do some reading about the importance of reading and its connection with academic success.

What I discovered is not really surprising but I thought that I would share with you. Researchers have found that there is a strong correlation between reading and academic success.  Parents reading with and to their children is an excellent way to encourage children to enjoy reading and become enthusiastic readers themselves. Having discussions about what has been read adds further value to the reading exercise. 

Evidence shows that a student who is a good reader: 

  • is more likely to do well in school and pass exams than a student who is a weak reader.
  • is able to learn to understand individual sentences and organizational structure of a piece of writing. 
  • is prepared to comprehend ideas, follow arguments and detect implications. 
  • can extract from the writing what is important for the particular task they are employed in and they can do it quickly.
  • has a wider vocabulary.

Research also pointed to the obvious fact that  the greater the vocabulary students have the more likely they are to succeed academically. Having a large vocabulary is especially important when crafting sentences that demonstrate higher order analysis for academic work related to the MYP and IB Diploma. Vocabulary also enables students to articulate their thinking at all levels of the learning process. In this essay, in the Huffington post the author asks the question whether modern media will take the place of reading. The conclusion suggest that we need to find a balance.

" Words conjure deeper, more creative possibilities of thought and interpretation than what is pre-packaged for our consideration. The heart of storytelling is the ultimate quest for “what happens next,” which motivates us to contemplate our mortality. It is the mystery of all human life, a necessary component of our existence. Where are we going? What is ahead? Is there anything beyond disintegration and the end of life? These are the primal questions behind the idea of storytelling. The imagination is indispensable to our existence and the speculations that reside in fiction, as presented in words, are the stimulant that facilitates that projection.

............................................. Of course, there are those who will present passionate arguments for the superiority of the moving image over the written word. Each has its place. My argument is for making the preservation of the art of the written word a priority and finding the right balance between it and the moving image."

The data on the correlation between reading and academic success is quite over powering and should stop and make us think about whether our students are doing enough reading everyday. The research for reading  shows a wide range of positive additional academic outcomes related to spelling, verbal fluency and reading comprehension. This table drawn from the work of  Adams, Anderson, Wilson and Fielding clearly shows the impact that independent reading has on Standardized Test scores like MAP.

Image result for importance of reading statistics

Where would a Food for Thought be without a TED. This short TEDEd is an excellent example of why we need students to read if they are to reflect upon their own work and improve their own ability to hold a readers attention. The TED is about writing introductions that grab the attention of the reader. If you are not a reader then you would not understand this concept however, this concept applies equally to a fiction writing as it does to an academic literature or history essay.

We must also be careful not to isolate the impact of good reading scores to just Primary and Secondary School. My reading clearly indicated that success at the university level depends on existing pre-entry college attributes, including the mastery of some fundamental academic skills. These include –reading.  What we have to remember is that by the time students reach university/ college level they are expected to be able to read academically. Their new professors are unlikely to teach these skills. Unfortunately, for many students entering college/ university they do not possess academic reading skills which results in using strategies that produce only a superficial level of reading.  

This article, the Importance of Teaching Academic Reading Skills, "discusses some strategies, examples, and resources aimed at promoting students to take a deep approach to reading. The major tenet of this article is that if teachers explicitly teach students how to read academic texts in aligned courses where students have ample opportunities to engage in reading activities throughout the term, students are more likely to adopt a deep approach to reading. It begins with a discussion of the difference between a surface and a deep approach to reading. It then recounts an action research study conducted to analyze whether explicitly teaching academic reading skills, coupled with the introduction of teaching and learning activities designed to encourage students to actively engage in deep reading in aligned courses, makes a difference in the approach students take to reading. Then, the paper explores the categories of analysis needed to read academic texts and the importance of aligning courses. Finally, it discusses teaching and learning activities aimed at fostering students’ adoption of a deep approach to reading. "

The overwhelming conclusion from my search for information is that ensuring our students have a solid foundation for their reading is imperative. However, equally important are the needs to keep students motivated to read and the deliberate and sequenced development of academic reading skills that will enable students to access, interpret and use text for the rest of their lives. It is clear from the research that reading is vitally important for academic success, innovation and creativity because of the way it stimulates us to problem solve, be curious, imagine and empathize. There have also been links made recently to reading bringing benefits similar to meditation to our health and happiness to our lives.

Have a good evening,


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Food for Thought: Building non violent communication into our every day actions

Dear all,

On Tuesday Grade level coordinators, House Leaders, Counselors and SLTA attended a workshop given by one of our parents Aleksandra Roussiere. It was a good workshop and one that will be shared with all of you and parents at a later date. I walked away from the workshop feeling that there are some important learning that could and should be embedded in our positive education culture immediately. It was clear from the work of Marshall Rosenberg that the ability to connect with both oneself and others is essential for the development of empathy and compassion. NVC is rooted in the belief that all humans share the same universal needs, including the sense that they’re being heard, understood, valued, and respected.

In its simplest form Rosenberg's work boils down to form simple actions. By following these steps it is believed that we can shift the tone of communication and encourage collaboration by creating a meaningful conversation that connects and encourages the expression and sharing of everyone's needs. 

Here are the 4 steps in short:

"1. ObservationWhen you begin to speak about something, it is important that the facts are clear. Say what you have seen or heard (what was said or done by someone). Try to be precise and avoid mixing in what you think about what you have seen or heard. Observation is a job for your senses, not for your thoughts. A way to detect whether thoughts are mixed in is if you think that what you have seen or heard is good or bad. Good and bad are judgments, and judgments are thoughts. If you have such ideas, then try to be even clearer in describing the observation.
2. Feeling. What do you feel about what you observe? What is the reality inside you? Bring your attention to your body and find the right word for the feeling. Sometimes it can take a while to find the word, and sometimes there are more feelings. If you sense that the word you have chosen speaks about the other person and not you alone, then it is likely that thoughts and judgments have sneaked in. Then wait until you find a word that only describes the reality inside yourself. There are many feelings words, however, they often come down to: happy, sad, afraid or angry. (for more, see: List of Feelings)
3. Need. What do you long for when you observe and feel like this? Or, if the feeling is happy, what need is fulfilled for you in this situation? The things that people need or long for are basically the same things, although often not at the same time. The needs repertoire is the same for all human beings. Needs are also limited in number to some 10 basic needs, for example, Individuality, Community, Rest, Contribution (for more, see List of Needs). When you can express what you need in a situation, it creates a strong point of understanding and contact between yourself and the other person. You will feel it as ‘coming to yourself’ and being true to yourself. When you feel the need in the body and find the right word, you will most likely feel a sense of relief.
4. Strategy. This is about what action you would like to happen in the situation where you observe this, feel this and need this. What action would meet your need? What would be the best thing to happen for you? Who would be the best person to do it, yourself or the other person, both maybe, or a third person? And when? When it is clear for you what action you want to choose, NVC suggests that you express it as a request. This will make it more likely that the person you ask, will do it. It is about giving them a free choice. If you sense that you somehow also make a demand, then come back to yourself and remind yourself that you can survive a ‘No’ and that the other person’s freedom is parallel to your own sense of freedom. There will be other ways or other people to help you."
To end this brief Food for Thought here is a video that explains more about Non Violent Communication.

Have a good Sunday,


Friday, October 13, 2017

Food for Thought: Future of Work; Student Empowerment and Digifam

Dear all,

Hope you have had a wonderful October Break and are refreshed and re-energized.

This weeks Food for Thought aligns very much with who we are as a school and the direction in which we are moving. Here are three interesting links to our mission;  jobs in the future, engagement to empowerment, and how smartphone make us less engaged.

Firstly, jobs in the future. This is a new TED Talk that gives further support to our school vision and mission. threads link with Sir Ken's writing in the Element and Daniel Pink's thinking in Drive. Great for showing any parent who questions why we are encouraging creativity and innovation rather memorization in our teaching.

"We've all heard that robots are going to take our jobs -- but what can we do about it? Innovation expert David Lee says that we should start designing jobs that unlock our hidden talents and passions -- the things we spend our weekends doing -- to keep us relevant in the age of robotics. "Start asking people what problems they're inspired to solve and what talents they want to bring to work," Lee says. "When you invite people to be more, they can amaze us with how much more they can be." 

Secondly, as you all know there are three key words in our mission statement, ENERGIZE, ENGAGE AND EMPOWER. As a school we are getting better at promoting inquiry and releasing learning to our students. Studio 5 is an excellent example of this process in action. This short video, 2 mins, focuses on the move from Engagement in our classrooms to Empowerment of our learners.

Thirdly, as a follow up to DigiFam I was sent an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, unfortunately as I am not a subscriber I was unable to read it. However, I did find other information related to the same research findings and wanted to share this with you. Here is a link to research from Chicago University, that suggests the Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. The conclusions are probably not a surprise to any of us in education but do provide evidence that we can use to support classroom and school control of smartphones and make us think about the most appropriate next moves regarding in school technology.

"Our smartphones enable—and encourage—constant connection to information, entertainment, and each other. They put the world at our fingertips, and rarely leave our sides. Although these devices have immense potential to improve welfare, their persistent presence may come at a cognitive cost. In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence. We conclude by discussing the practical implications of this smartphone-induced brain drain for consumer decision-making and consumer welfare."

"The results showed a surprisingly strong case for leaving your phone somewhere else when you want to perform well on a task. The two groups of participants who kept phones nearby either on a desk or in a bag showed lower working memory capacity (the ability to remember information temporarily) and a lower functional fluid intelligence (the ability to solve new problems and see patterns)."

Cognitive capacity increased the further removed participants were from their phones

The findings might be useful for how we use technology in our classrooms and control mobile usage at ISHCMC. It might explain why students are not paying as much attention to their work if the have their laptop open or phone on in class. The research findings clearly have implications for students and ourselves working at home with smart phones or other mobile devices nearby.

"The problem stems from your brain using a bit of your cognitive capacity to stay on track when you know your phone is right next to you, begging to be touched. It gets compounded when something like a notification gets your attention, causing you to think about what that notification (text messages from family, email from a boss) actually means, sending your brain on a tangent that distracts from your primary goal."

Linking to escaping from your smartphone there is a new 21 day meditation programme starting with Oprah and Deepak later this month. Finding 20 minutes in your busy day for some quiet time is very important for your well-being and happiness. This link will take you to the registration page if you would like to participate.

Have a great weekend,


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Food for Thought: Measuring how our students are growing as learners.

Dear all,

This Food for Thought arises from discussions at the Asia Heads Conference and the Educational Advisory Board meeting, regarding the question, how do we know that students are learning? When you stop and think about it this is a justifiable question to be asking about school, that has as its primary goal, student learning. This question is notoriously hard to answer and provides the provocation for Tuesday afternoon's staff meeting. ( see below)

"Incredibly, you can walk into almost any school in America, go down the hall to the first couple of classrooms you find, look at the teachers inside, and realize this: nobody, not the principal, not the parents, not the students, not even the teachers themselves, actually knows how effective those teachers are in helping their students learn. They probably have an opinion, maybe even some anecdotal evidence. But in terms of accurate, verifiable information about how effective individual teachers are at helping each of their students learn and make progress from the beginning of the school year to the end? In the vast majority of schools, nobody knows."  -- Kevin Carey, EdTrust

What is emerging as we focus more and more on personalized learning and tracking of students is a move towards value added assessment. Of course this is not easy and firstly needs to be understood. Hattie attributes the largest effect on learning to the teacher or should it be teachers? This then begs the question how do we differentiate between teachers and should we? There is lots to discuss on this topic. This brings us back to Tuesday's meeting. This will be your opportunity to do some research and self inquiry and share your findings with other staff. These meetings are not scheduled to be part of CIS or IB accreditation but rather your chance to have time for pure educational discussion and debate with your peers. 

Hence the provocation for Tuesday 3rd October is; If we truly believe that character, skills and concept driven learning are essential for the future, how can we reliably demonstrate that our students are learning and that we as individual teachers are adding value to this learning?

As a background for your discussions I want to share a couple of things to get you started. Firstly, this long academic document about VAA.  Secondly, two relevant reads from Mindshift, What Character traits should we focus on and why, and Beyond  Academics, What a holistic approach to learning could look like. Of course you can find your own articles and do your own research. Please bring this with you on Tuesday to share with your group. At the end of Tuesday's session there will be the opportunity for tables to share their discussions and learn from each other.

Have a good Sunday,