Planning for Misunderstanding

Over the three day weekend Amy and I flew up to Jakarta to stay with some friends of ours.  Getting from the airport to their house required a ride with a Grab driver who, seemingly, was very helpful and polite.  However, the next morning I received a phone call from a Grab representative inquiring about some extra charges that the driver had added onto our fare (I paid with credit card.)  I was very impressed that this huge company was being proactive about something they could’ve easily just missed or decided to ignore.  It became clear to me that they’ve spent time anticipating potential problems or trouble areas for their clients and can now respond proactively when situations arise.

Recently I’ve been listening to a really interesting podcast by Craig Barton, a Math teacher in the UK.  On the last episode I heard, he interviewed former teacher and author of Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov.  During their conversation they discussed the idea of planning for misunderstanding, as I was reflecting on my interactions with the Grab representative I realized that this was a very similar situation – Grab had planned for my misunderstanding.

While we’re planning units and lessons for our students it’s important that we take the time to stop and think through their potential misunderstandings before we teach the lesson.  By taking the time to process the material from our students’ perspective we are able to proactively trouble shoot the challenges our students may face as learners.  By anticipating potential problems we move from being responsive teachers to proactive facilitators of learning, a huge step forward on behalf of our students.  

Over the next two weeks you’ll be very busy writing comments, marking assessments, and providing quality feedback to your students.  However, when it comes time to think about those first units of semester two, take some time to plan for misunderstandings.  Grab had the foresight to realize that extra charges added onto a ride need a little investigation and dedicated time and effort to ensure that my experience was the best it could be.  What can you do as an educator to make the experience of learning in your classroom the best it can possibly be for your students?  

Planning for misunderstandings might just be the most effective strategy you can use to help your students, take the time to do this before teaching a lesson.

Lining Up For Education

This past Saturday was a busy one around the Sekolah Ciputra community.  Sembako Murah, supported by over 40 High School students, brought hundreds of local community members out to campus to take advantage of the PSG’s wonderful charity event.  A group of our Year 7 boys participated in (and won) a soccer competition at SES.  Also, at PTC, some of our High School students participated in the Jawa Pos Zetizen Conference.  It was a great weekend for our students and all of those who helped coach, mentor, and support them through their activities.  

While all of that was happening for our community and current students, we also hosted over 60 prospective new High School students and their families.  These families were at Sekolah Ciputra bright and early on Saturday morning to take enrollment tests because they want to be a part of our community.  Speaking to these students and their families was an incredibly inspiring, and humbling, experience.  As someone new to the community I try to keep my eyes and mind open about our students, community, and school.  However, this weekend took me to a whole new level of understanding about just how special our school community really can be.

Talking with the students who were arriving and nervous to be taking an enrollment test so early on a Saturday morning I was shocked and awed by their dedication and drive to, hopefully, enroll at Sekolah Ciputra.  Students had literally come from all over Indonesia (Solo, Bali, Sulawesi, and more!) just for the chance to take these enrollment tests.  Perhaps even more impressive were the kids who are currently attending other schools in the Surabaya area.  Talking to these kids and inquiring into their backgrounds and stories, I was blown away.  Comments like,  “I had to BEG my mom to come to this school”, “I know this is the best school to prepare me for university”, and “I have friends who go to this school and they love it” were all things that I heard multiple times throughout the morning.  

For those of you who’ve been here for a while this may be old news to you, but let me assure you, this is special!  I’ve worked in four international schools and visited many more, this is the first time I’ve encountered such rapid enthusiasm for potential enrollment at a school.  It truly is a humbling experience to see all of these kids (and parents) so excited for even the possibility of joining us at Sekolah Ciputra.  

Considering how excited these prospective students and families were just to have the chance to attend our school got me thinking about what it meant to already be a member of our SC community.  Often times we take our jobs and students for granted but I’d like to encourage you to step back and reflect a bit on just how wonderful a school community we have at Sekolah Ciputra.  Sure, some of our students arrive late and are inexcusably absent too often, but overall our students are fantastic young adults.  Many of our kids were saying all those previously mentioned comments not too long ago.  They look at Sekolah Ciputra as an opportunity, a chance they are excited to have.

So, take some time to reflect on what it means for our students and for you to be a member of the Sekolah Ciputra community.  People are lining up to get into our school because they see SC as the opportunity to chase their dreams.  What are we doing to help make their dreams a reality?  


Measuring Success

Last week I attended the EARCOS Leadership Conference in Bangkok.  I joined sessions about developing strong leadership teams, teacher supervision and evaluation, child protection, school accreditation, and more.  Unfortunately, some of these sessions were less helpful than others, leaving a lot to be desired.  I spoke with a few of those presenters after their sessions and asked them how they thought their session went.  Interestingly enough, no one I spoke to really felt confident that their session went well, yet they couldn’t be sure one way or another.  It got me thinking…

While all of the sessions I attended were very different from one another they all had one thing in common – none of them asked for feedback in order to see how successful they had been.  To be fair, the presenters may have had another method for determining the level of success of their sessions.  However, I have to wonder whether the presenters and facilitators I worked with ever measured, or even determined, any indicators of success.

I’m sharing this story today, not because I want to bash the presenters at EARCOS but rather because I want to provoke your thinking about your classes.  How do you know whether a lesson, unit, or assessment was successful?  

Each lesson has an objective, a goal for what the students should be able to do or learn by the end of the lesson.  So, at the end of the lesson how do you know if the objective has been met?  Are you collecting data that provides evidence of student learning?  Perhaps, like many of the presenters I spoke to after their sessions, you’re not always 100% sure how successful a lesson has been.

I want to nudge you to think about how you’re able to know whether a lesson has been successful.  We will be discussing this further with Faculty Heads this week and I’m going to ask them to continue the conversations with department teams.  Please take some time to think about how you determine a lesson’s success as well as brainstorming other ways that you could possibly use to measure success in the classroom.

26 Things You Forgot You Knew

We’ve had a busy last week and it took until the end of it to finally start feeling some continuity and flow around here.  Student Goals Conferences on Wednesday aided to the feeling of disjointedness but I hope they were as valuable for you as they were for me.  On Wednesday and I had a lot of great conversations with students, parents, and teachers.  Many of those discussions came back around to things we’ve talked about before.  If it wasn’t me saying it, then is was usually the other person in the conversation, something to the effect of “this is a good reminder of what we need to be doing.”   

How easy it is for us to lose sight of things that we’ve previously viewed as priorities.  At the beginning of the year we talked a lot about building positive relationships with our students, we’ve come back to this at various times throughout the year but it seems to be one of those things that we overlook or assume has already happened and therefore can be forgotten.  However, those relationships don’t end…ever…especially when we are talking about teenagers!!  In fact, it is probably even more crucial to focus on relationships when you consider the culture our students come from, one that is very social and relationship focused.

I was once again reminded of the importance of these relationships when I came across a great piece called “26 Research-Based Tips You Can Use in the Classroom Tomorrow”.  I’m a huge fan of “ready to use” tools and these 26 tips are just that!  Some of them may be more relevant to you than others but there are a few that I think everyone would really benefit from thinking about and prioritizing (for more information on these select examples, click the link above):

Tip #1:   Focusing on building positive relationships by greeting students at the door and starting off with a positive comment, research indicates that it can improve student engagement by as much as 27%!!  

Tip #3:  We’ve talked before about the value of trying new classroom arrangements and making seating a priority for learning.  The study referenced in “tip #3” discusses the benefits and disadvantages of different types of seating arrangements.  However, most importantly, it points out that no matter the arrangement, when moving kids from the “back” to the “front” of the classroom their academic achievement increases.  Obviously you can’t sit everyone in “front” all the time but consciously changing seating arrangements and groupings to rotate kids for their benefit can have a very positive impact.

Tip #12:  The classic “turn and talk” strategy strikes again.  In this ready to use tip we’re reminded that recalling and using information we’ve just learned can help us retain it.  Have your kids briefly discuss new information shortly after learning it to help imprint it more solidly in their minds.  Ever learned someone’s name and repeated it to yourself a few times…yup, you’re doing the same thing!

Tip #16:  Do you ever have the feeling that your students think they understand something better than they actually do?  Well, it’s true…most people actually experience this phenomenon.  For more complex topics (research doesn’t show positive results for more basic concepts) have students think or write about their understanding of the topic, this could be a good “exit ticket” prompt.  This will help them (and, in the case of the exit ticket, it will help you too) realize their gaps in the understanding…now the trick is getting them to fill in those gaps!!

Tip #20:  I found this tip especially interesting.  While many of these things felt like good reminders, this tip was new for me.  Don’t put text on your PowerPoint Slides!  The double input of reading and hearing the information creates something called “cognitive overload” and can prevent people from actually retaining the information.  This article is very interesting and definitely worth exploring a bit more, especially if you’re a frequent PowerPoint presenter!  

Tip #22:  Lastly, and again something new for me, comes this tip that seems a bit like plain, old common sense.  The use of multiple choice assessments may actually be causing your students to learn the wrong information.  By presenting them with wrong answers to consider they may be internalizing those wrong answers as correct.  Better to go with fill in the blank or short answer.  While more time consuming to create and assess these will help your students better learn and recall important information.  

Okay, my intention was to only share five tips but I got a little carried away (what’s new?!?)  This article is definitely worth a look as the other 20 tips are also very helpful and applicable to many of your contexts.

I wrote recently about re-prioritizing and focusing our efforts on what is most important.  This article is a helpful reminder about some of those things that may need to be prioritized in our classrooms.  Take a look and see what will work for you.  Just like the title of the article suggests, these are things you can start using tomorrow 🙂


The Freedom of Choice

Today I’m writing as I sit in the back of the advanced guitar rehearsal session at our awesome 2014 Music Festival and thinking about last year when I sat in the beginning guitar rehearsal with these very same kids…it’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown in so many aspects over the last year but particularly in their guitar skills (especially since my skills have gone backward over that same time!)  Their dedication and motivation to learn and grow is impressive…it got me to thinking.

Our music program here at SCIS is mandatory for all Middle School students but the fact that we provide so much ‘choice’ for our students has led to a music program that thrives.  Our students get to choose, not only their music class, but their instrument too.  The positive energy around campus during the Music Festival stems directly from the enjoyment our students get from learning and playing their instruments, awesome stuff!

Choice is extremely important in education for many reasons but, in my opinion, one of those reasons sticks out more than the others.  Last week I wrote about the importance of curiosity and I believe that choice is directly related, in that they both spark people’s intrinsic motivation to learn.  Every one of us has an innate desire to feel competent and at the same time have the freedom to do what we enjoy.  Choice lets our students pursue their passions while also putting them in the position to feel successful.  The intrinsic reward for achieving success with a self-selected goal is tremendous and spurs even further motivation to continue growing.

Another area in education that allows for choice is allowing students to demonstrate their learning by choosing a method that suits them.  Now, this doesn’t mean a complete free for all but no two students are identical and each has their own strengths (and weaknesses).  Allowing students to choose between a selection of options for demonstrating their learning can be an extremely effective way of engaging learners who may otherwise be disinterested.  Writing a song to demonstrate understanding of vocabulary words, designing a math game to show comprehension of algebraic concepts, or creating a melody to prove mastery of strumming techniques in guitar are all examples of ways that students could share their learning while also choosing their own path.

Give some thought to how you currently incorporate student choice into your classroom as well as how you could increase the amount of opportunities for choice.  Don’t forget to come out tomorrow and enjoy the fruits of all the motivation and skills that our kids have demonstrated over the last two days in their rehearsals and sectionals!  (I know the advanced guitar will rock!)

A great piece about student choice:

Ready-to-use Tools: Checking for Understanding

Recently I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about checking for understanding and using on-the-spot assessment strategies to figure out which students have gaps in their learning and, perhaps more importantly, where those gaps are occurring.  In my last two cents I asked the questions: ‘How do you know your students are actually learning what you want them to?’ and ‘When your students leave the classroom, do you know how well each of them understood the day’s objective?’  Since writing that piece I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this topic and I would like to offer a few of the best tips I’ve come across.  Keep in mind that this brand of assessment is not just a simple check-list of tips and tricks but rather something akin to a chess game, in which your next move needs to be dictated by the response and actions of your students.  These strategies are a good place to dip your toe into the water, so to speak.  They’ll give you a foundation to start with, they aren’t magical in any way, but employing these strategies will improve the learning in your classroom.  Have a look and try some out in your class.  My tip, start with number one and add a few others, it is essential!

1.    Take them to teacher’s college:

Our students are smart, they’re perceptive, they get it, and most of all, they like knowing what’s going on!  Explain the new strategies you’ll be employing in class, have a conversation with your students about what you’ll be doing and why.  Let them join the conversation.  When they’re aware of the strategy being used they can understand the intended results, which leads to increased awareness and engagement.  Inform the kids, they’ll buy in, and you’ll be amazed at their responses and the feedback you can receive when students are part of the conversation!

2.    Learn to teach with no hands:

Riding a bike with no hands takes practice and, for some, can be a daunting task (especially in China!)  Teaching with no hands may put you out of your comfort zone as well.  What do I mean?  What would happen if kids weren’t allowed to raise their hands to answer questions?  The best way to create an environment where participation is mandatory and expected from all students is to do just that, expect it from all students!  Popsicle sticks with names seem so 3rd grade but this strategy (we can call them equity sticks if that feels better) will ensure that all students are held accountable for thinking.  Ask the question (see below for strategies on questioning) before you choose the respondent.  If every student knows they may have to answer the question, they are all forced to engage and think.  This strategy may not be popular and it will take some time.  Explain it to kids, the eager students are going to feel frozen out (they can’t show off how much they know) and the quiet non-participants will be forced to contribute (*Note:  For your ESOL and reluctant students, try prepping them by letting them know you’ll be calling on them next and then forgoing the random draw for that particular question.  This allows more time to process and helps eliminate the nervousness of being cold-called.  You might also try “teacher’s choice”, “free pass”, “ask a neighbor”, “check my notes” and other ‘wild-card’ sticks to spice things up.)

3.    Questions that ‘work’ for everyone:

Okay, so if you’re calling on random students how do you prevent getting a bunch of “I don’t know” responses?  Allow ALL students to engage with your questions on multiple levels; don’t just ask questions that require a certain ‘correct’ answer, try some other options:

Check for Understanding Graphic

Example:  In math class, instead of solving a problem, give two problems and ask students to explain which problem is harder.  This requires everyone to solve the problem and allows for more advanced thinkers to ponder further, plus it allows you to discover where the misunderstandings lie for those who are struggling.  Another version of this may ask students to create a third problem that is similar to the original two problems, allowing the students to find commonalities and then create something new that fits into the group.

4.    Wait for it!

Slow down!  Too often we are in such a hurry to finish a lesson that we don’t check to make sure the intended learning is happening.  After asking a question, just wait, give students time to think and process.  ‘Wait time’ often comes with uncomfortable pauses but it also comes with increased participation and understanding.  If too many pauses feel uncomfortable, consider a think-pair-share followed by a journal entry routine.  Allow students a few seconds to think, then a few more to pair with a neighbor, and enough time to write a sentence or two in a special section of their notebooks.  Students can write their thinking or perhaps what they learned from their partner.  Then share, everyone should be able to share either their own answer or their neighbor’s.  The biggest issue with any ‘wait time’ strategy is the amount of time it takes, so plan ahead and budget appropriately while also picking your spots, find your balance.

 5.  Before anything else…”

Preparation is the key to success.  All of the strategies mentioned require time and effort in preparation.  Teachers who have been employing these strategies for many years need not plan much further in advance than a few minutes or even seconds.  However, if these are new to you, sit down beforehand and plan.  Look for places to include these strategies in your current lessons, plan time to have conversations with your students about their learning.  The amount of time and energy that one well thought out lesson may take is dwarfed by the incredible increases in learning gained from a prepared teacher!

“As educators, we are responsible for learning, not teaching.”

Truer words, perhaps, have never been spoken.  The job we do every day with our students comes with the wrong name, teacher.  As a verb, “teaching” is a one-way activity whereby the sage with all the knowledge explains, demonstrates, and passes all of their knowledge onto their students.  BUT, that’s not how it works is it?  No, we’re facilitators, leaders of exploration, motivational speakers; we’re lots of things and yes, we occasionally ‘teach’ as well.

Anyway, I don’t want to take up your time ranting about your job title but rather asking you a question, the very same question asked by Edutopia blogger and educational coach, Elena Aguilar…”Do you check for understanding often enough with students?”  Jumping back to that great quote (also from Aguilar), it’s not about imparting your knowledge on your students but rather facilitating their learning.  Often times as teachers we can feel rushed to complete a lesson or unit because we have to get to the next one, just so we can finish everything we want to cover for the year.  That’s a normal feeling but is it worth it, what about quality over quantity?!  So, I’d like to ask two of my own questions, ‘How do you know your students are actually learning what you want them to?’  and ‘When your students leave the classroom, do you know how well each of your students understood the day’s objective?’  These two questions are essential, if you can’t (honestly) answer in a way that is truly positive then perhaps it’s worth rethinking your strategies for checking for understanding and student learning.  It’s not okay to rely on a quiz every 8 days to tell you which students are getting it and where the gaps in learning happen to be.  Frequent and accurate checks for understanding are the key to ensuring learning in our classrooms.  Have a look at Elena Aguilar’s blog post regarding checks for understanding as well as the attached PDF with techniques for quick and easy formative assessment (from Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding By Design, via  No matter how confident you are with this aspect of teaching it never hurts to try something new 🙂

Teaching Students to be Proud of Themselves

As report cards go out and students see their marks for classes I worry a lot that students and parents (and perhaps us sometimes) put too much value into the grades on those papers.  I don’t think these kids really believe that the only reason they did all that work was to get one number printed out about them at the end of the semester.  However, at this time of year it certainly seems that way.  What are kids (and/or their  parents) so proud or disappointed about when they look at those reports?  Is it the number grade or is it the realization of how much they learned throughout the semester?  And what’s our role in that perception?  When students are assigned work, what message are we sending about the value of the work…is it about the learning or getting a good grade?  When kids have missing work…what do we threaten, lower grades or loss of learning opportunity?  We should think carefully about the message we are sending to our students.  We all want them to value what it is we are teaching but what incentive are we giving them?  Likewise, when they have done well how are we praising them?  When I was first starting out as a teacher I came across a way of speaking to my students (I can’t remember if I read it, heard it, or was told) and I’ve tried to internalize one phrase ever since, “You should be proud of yourself!”  Check out this article about helping students feel proud about themselves.  Our students need to learn that school is about the learning and that they should be proud of themselves for all the hard work they put into that learning!!  Enjoy your holidays, you all deserve it…but hey, that’s just my two cents 😉

Real Tips for Educators

Last week I was fortunate enough to go to the EARCOS Leadership Conference (for those on Twitter, #elc13bkk, there’s some good stuff there!) I met Rick Wormeli who you may remember from the assessment and homework videos we watched earlier in the year. I held up my promise to you, I called him out (privately!) and asked his rationale for allowing homework to count in his class at all (he claims it counts about 1.7%) His response was honest…basically, he admitted that the pressure in his school district from parents and admin to count homework is strong and that he included it ONLY because of that fact. He encouraged me strongly to not count homework when assessing a student if at all possible and even offered to participate in a Google Hangout if we wanted to chat with him more as a staff…so that is on the table for the future if people are interested. I’ll write and share more about the ELC in the near future but for today I want to share a great article written by another great education mind, Alfie Kohn. One of the pleas I hear often from teachers, and one that I used to make myself, is “Just tell me what I can do!” Well I can’t do that but in this article Alfie Kohn outlines 12 core principles that are essential to success in the classroom. As I read through these I connected more to some than others but the three that hit me the most were numbers 5, 6, and 9. I especially like number 9 as it speaks directly toward the motivation piece that we so often struggle with in middle school. Have a look and let me know what you think…thanks for listening to my two cents (more like 3 or 4 cents this week!)

Rick Wormeli homework video

Alfie Kohn Article Link

Originally published in SCIS MS Headlines on November 8, 2013.

Continuing Conversation on Re-dos

After about a month of hard work and countless conversations I feel like we are finally getting to a place in our Middle School where re-dos and re-takes have become a piece of the culture of high expectations that we need for our students. The day we all sat in C212 and watched Rick Wormeli talk about re-dos was the beginning of a big mindset shift for our middle school…that’s not over, we still have a long way to go before everyone (teachers, students, parents, etc) is truly on board. However, we have already come a long way! It’s a rare day that I don’t have at least one conversation about the theory of re-dos and how we can/should be implementing them at our school. As I continue to read about re-do theories and implementation I have come across a great summary of an article by none other than Wormeli himself…in it he outlines a number of strategies for successfully implementing a re-do culture. A lot of what he says we have talked about already but there are some really useful and validating pieces to this article…it is a must read in my mind. My favorite item on this list is the final statement about how to maintain your sanity despite the extra time and effort needed to be a champion for our students’ learning!! Have a look and let me hear your two cents 🙂

Rick Wormeli on re-dos video

This article summary came from the Marshall Memo, an amazing professional resource!!

Originally published in SCIS MS Headlines on September 27, 2013.