The ESL Roller-Coaster Experience

Warning: The following is an extremely long winded blog that describes the ups and downs I experienced during an ESL placement in China.

I have just returned from spending a month in China, and before that, 3 weeks in Ecuador. I know, surprise surprise, of course I’ve been traveling. But, I wanted to talk specifically about China, how it has impacted me as a teacher.

About 6 months ago, some friends and I decided that we were all going to do an Additional Qualifications course together, specifically, ESL Part 1, where we had the opportunity to complete an international placement in China. We had been looking forward to this opportunity for a while, and things changed, circumstances prevented some of us from going, but I was still able to go with a few of them.

I would not have made it through this experience without these girls! This is us when we took a day trip to Shanghai Disney on the weekend.

We did not know our placement specifics until we arrived in China. On our first Sunday there, I discovered I would be teaching Kindergarten students at a school where two of my friends would be teaching the same. Excitement, nerves, anticipation, so many feelings went through my mind before that first day, but excitement was generally my main emotion.

The Downs

Who would have guessed that within those 6 hours of my first day teaching that I would do a 180, and leave feeling defeated and so discouraged that I was questioning my ability to be a good teacher. My only solstice was that my two ‘coworkers’ had the same struggles during their first day.

The first week was hard. When we met with teachers from other schools, they talked about how much fun they were having, how they were able to laugh and make jokes with their students, and that they could have small conversations. It seemed as though we were the only teacher’s struggling. They discussed behaviour issues, and how their TA’s were helping them, they were teaching days of the week and action words. We were dealing with behavioural issues as well (my coworkers more than I), but we did not have a TA who could speak English. I was teaching my student’s how to say ‘my name is’ and help them learn their English names, while I also felt like I was teaching my TA as well.  When we tried to explain how our students spoke ZERO English, nobody really understood.  When we asked for help, all the suggestions seemed too complex to be run with our brand new English speakers. Nobody seemed to ‘get it’.

Reviewing the months of the year (which after the first week, I was finally able to stop teaching, because it was too abstract of a concept to teach to beginning English Language Learners).

As the first week came to a close, my feelings of defeat hadn’t really changed. I still had numerous students who could not answer the question ‘what is your name?’, but I had to move on to teaching colours and classroom items. Before the week had ended my coworkers and I decided that we needed to take our own course of action and rather than try to motor through our required workbook, we needed to take to time to review what we had learned so far.

Learning Curve #1: Some student’s catch on way faster than others. That does not mean that you need to continue to move on for the benefit of those select few, because then you would not be benefiting the ones you leave behind. When looking to benefit the majority of the class, review DOES NOT HURT. Review time provides students with extra practice, and allows you to teach topics in a variety of ways. See Learning Curve #3

13640818_10101523701263466_1127515416937471872_oIt was during those last couple of days of the first week that our ‘complaints’ were finally acknowledged as struggles, and some clarity provided. We were informed of the demographics of our school. While this program has been running for years, this was the first location to be publicly funded by the government, and to have classrooms full of public school students rather than a mix of public/private (contributing to numerous differences in student abilities). These students had just finished a kindergarten program that’s only goal was to ‘be happy’, so these students had never been in a formal classroom setting before, nor had they EVER been exposed to English. This combination led to learning curve #2

Learning Curve #2: A teaching from the online portion of the course that was reinforced: if students have a strong knowledge of their first language, it makes it easier to understand a second language. Therefore, my students who were yet to be proficient in Mandarin were more likely to struggle in their ability to grasp English.  If they had yet to learn how to write pinyin, I could hardly expect them to write in English right?

The Ups

It was nice to finally have a confirmation for what we had been trying to say during our first week, it made the second week a little easier. Because most of our students had never heard the English language before they met us, we had to approach what we were teaching in a much more simplified manner. We were given permission to create our own pages of the workbook and stop following what was originally intended to be taught.

This decreased the amount of vocabulary we were trying to teach them by a lot, allowing us more time to review the main concepts, and give students as much practice in using/hearing the vocabulary as possible.

Learning Curve #3: When you are teaching students a new language, you need to make what and how you are teaching relevant. Be aware that what may work for some, may not work for others – so it is important to provide a variety of ways that can help your variety of learners retain the vocabulary you are teaching them.

Just saying hello as we practice walking in two lines! It was obviously a work in progress! 🙂

Weeks 2 and 3 consisted of a lot of creativity on our part. I never knew you could teach colours in so many ways! My classroom involved a lot of moving around, we were never doing the same thing for too long. We practiced vocabulary with movements/gestures, we played games, we did seat work, we did arts and crafts, we did group work; all to reinforce the vocabulary they had been taught.

Learning curve #4: I always knew young students have short attention spans, but I never knew how beneficial it would be for classroom management to be constantly changing activities and always introducing something new.

Making the letters of the alphabet with our bodies!

Weeks 2 and 3 were definitely easier, but still challenging. I was noticing student improvement in the games we played, and those same improvements were evident in my assessments, which were conducted almost daily. It was almost the second last day of summer camp, when my last student was finally able to answer “What is your name?” without any prompts. The feeling of accomplishment both the student and I felt on that day is something I need to hold on to.

During my three weeks of teaching ESL, I would constantly question whether I was really helping my students learn English. Up until our closing ceremony, I was wondering if I could have done more. But this is in my ups, remember, because I think I was proven wrong.

Our culminating project: Arts and crafts that incorporated the majority of the vocabulary students learned over the three weeks!

On our last day, my students preformed two songs in our schools closing ceremony. Two songs that they sang with clarity. Two songs I watched and directed from the sidelines with pride. A support staff of the summer camp teachers program, shared his surprise with all of our classrooms, because during the first few days, he was not sure our students would be able to sing two English songs as well as they did. Check out a video of them singing below!

During the first week if you had asked me whether I was excited to leave, I would not have hesitated to exclaim yes. But, my last day at Whale Hill Public School was full of emotional goodbyes, goodbyes I was not excited to make.

I am going to quote a part of a speech that was made by a parent representative from our school (the full speech is posted below). “The hardest thing for a child is to learn from nothing”. Being the person to begin that foundation was very challenging. There were times during these three weeks that I felt defeated and thought that teaching my students who had never heard the English language was impossible. I left my students as a teacher who was amazed at the progress they had made, from learning a new English name to being able to tell me what they are wearing, my students worked hard. I will definitely miss my little ones.

Classroom 1B will forever hold a place in my heart as my very first class.

It’s Not a Box!

I think the definition of childhood innocence is imagination. When we were kids we are able to take the simplest things and turn them into something amazing. I remember my neighbour and I turned an old tree branch into the secret garden gates for our beanie babies to live in, or our patio cushions were our boats that saved us from the molten lava grass.

I remember these scenes so vividly, but I don’t remember when we stopped. When did imagining scenarios like that not become fun anymore? When did having an imagination like that become uncool?

Antoinette Portis’ book “Not a box” depicts the wonder of a child’s imagination, and what imagination can do to a box.

In my tech class this week, our class created our own “Not a box” compilation (seen below). While creating our own “not-a-box”, I fully admit that I struggled, and through discussion with a few of my classmates, I know I was not the only one. But why is accessing our imagination for some of us so difficult? Why does being creative seem more like a chore sometimes? Was I told that imagination was useless somewhere a long the way? Was I told that I should stop using my imagination and start being more realistic?  I don’t have answers to the questions, and maybe I really am just not that creative of a person, but it got me thinking….

Why do we question children’s imagination? Why do we have to see what’s in front of us, rather than participating in these children’s fantasies?  Why do we need an answer to, if it’s not a box what is it? I think we should encourage our students to use their imagination all the way through their elementary and high school careers. Imagination can lead to such amazing products when we give students the chance AND THE TIME, to be creative. We should not try and bring our students “back to reality”, instead we should encourage them to use that imagination to learn, to explore and to find the answers.

Check out our classroom compilation of “Not a box”!

YOGAtta try this in your class!

During my last placement I had the wonderful opportunity to witness the addition of an 8 week yoga program to our classroom. The grade 3 students got the chance to participate in 40 minutes of yoga every Wednesday and Thursday. Initially I was unsure of the benefits of this program, as the first two sessions were not very successful for my highly energetic class who could not find that “stillness”.

But, after participating in the final session this week, it is a totally different experience. Over the past 8 weeks, the students were excited to go to yoga every week. Even the most behaviourally challenging students asked to have yoga every day. As the weeks passed, the students gradually were able lay still for longer periods of time, their balance improved, and they were able to hold a pose that they could not during the first session.

One of our peaceful yoga sessions!

I have read a few articles about the positive impacts yoga has for student learning, including this one by a Penn State student J. Buterbaugh. After this experience in my practicum, I hope to implement a yoga program in my future classroom because I believe it would be beneficial to all of my students. If I were to do anything differently, it would be to ensure the yoga session is prior to active learning. During my practicum, students went straight to recess after the session, so I am not sure if the yoga impacted the classroom to its full extent.

Check out some other yoga benefits here!

Let Genius Hour Begin!

Those who follow me already know I have a passion for global education and global citizenship. So when the opportunity presented itself to participate in my own genius hour, can you take a guess at what I have chosen to learn more about? My genius hour question is How can I encourage my students to become global citizens?

Photo found here


At this stage in my learning, I am debating what direction I want to take it. On one hand I could look at creating an actual global citizenship program, on the other hand, maybe I just want to find a variety of resources and create a portfolio based on curriculum integration. While I know the latter is the easy way out, I think I would like to focus on a program that I can implement across curriculum subjects. Since my next placement will be in a junior grade, my research is going to focus on grades 4-6 in hopes that I can implement some of my ideas in my block.

I have previously posted about some of the resources found during my “Global Education” class in fourth year, so I have a basis on where to start my research. If you don’t remember these posts, you can find them in my Global Education Resources category. I have also started using my Pinterest to collect some resources and activities that I may want to consider in the future.

I am looking forward to continuing this Genius Hour project! I think participating in my own genius hour will help me implement it my own classroom.

My Friend Ed – Teaching Past Tense Verbs

So, I had the opportunity to facilitate my first lesson in my Grade 3 placement class the other day. It went well so I thought I would share it with all of you.

A fellow teacher candidate of mine brought up the idea of “my friend Ed” to help one of her students remember to add -ed endings to regular past tense verbs. I thought this idea was SO CUTE, I just had to expand on it!

The students had just finished learning about verbs, so I started with a quick recall of what a regular verb was. To get them excited for the lesson I explained that we were going to have a visitor come into out class, and introduced them to “My Friend Ed”. In this case I just tried to find a GIF of a male character waving, and the internet brought me to Max Goof.


The thing about Ed was that he was very shy and often likes to hide. So as a class, we had to find Ed, behind the past tense verbs in the story “Froggy Plays T-Ball”

I transferred the book onto SMART Notebook, and found a picture of an excited Ed (aka. Max Goof) that I could copy and paste. I pasted this photo of Ed on top of all the past tense verbs ending with “-ed” and animated the photo so that it was hidden until you clicked on the word.

I would read each page and then ask the kids to locate the past tense verbs. One student would come up to the board and click on the word which they believe is a past tense verb ending in -ed, if the word was right, when they clicked it, the photo of “Ed” would appear.


The kids were all extremely engaged, and they could not wait to come up and “Find Ed”.

Reflectively, I believe that having each student come up once was enough time  for this activity, and going further they would have lost interest. It is a good introduction activity to locating regular past tense verbs, and could be followed by a dramatic scene that uses past tense -ed verbs, or practice writing the past tense of present tense verbs.

Life Maps

Due to a recent classroom assignment I found myself spending the weekend letting my creative juices flow. My cohort class has asked us to create life maps! The purpose of these life maps is to… well map out our lives….  🙂 More specifically, it was meant to show an ongoing journey of significant events in our lives and how they have influenced who we are today.

My life map had a traveling theme (who would have guessed!)
My life map had a traveling theme (who would have guessed!)

This activity was a great reflective activity. Going through different memorable moments in my life I realized how much, even the little things, influenced who I am/will be as a teacher. Teachers often teach what they are comfortable with, so being aware of where my comfort levels are and what has influenced them is important. Increased awareness of such will allow me to adapt my lessons to incorporate other elements, such as different learning styles.

Life maps are a great way to get to know your students! It gives them the independence to tell you about themselves in a way that they are comfortable. Examples of different ways people made up their life maps included: power points, posters, scrapbooks, game boards and so much more! This activity provides a lot of room for creative feedback.

BUT, the life map activity does not have to be used to depict a life journey either! Here are some examples our class thought you could use the idea of a life map for:

  • Class Year Map (post significant events within the class all year)
  • Character Maps (students create life maps for characters within books)
  • Life Cycle maps (plant and animal life cycles)
  • Life Maps/Daily Life Map of children living in different countries
  • Life Maps of an individual in history

There are so many different ways you could incorporate Life Maps into your classroom, I would love to hear other ideas!

PLN Resources

The last of my resources involve building my personal learning network (PLN) and professional development opportunities.

cubeCube for Teachers

edweb edweb2EdWeb

googleGoogle+ Circles/Communities

These are just some of the many online resources I found for developing my PLN and locating online opportunities for professional development. The perks of these online platforms is that they are available, 24/7, to be accessed at the most convenient time for teachers. PLN’s will allow me to gain classroom know-hows and connections that can advance my career and my classroom into 21st century styles.

After going through 4th year and learning about backwards design, and 21st century teachers, I can see how much effort teachers really put into their work. Backwards design is time consuming, and Project based learning takes time as well. Teacher’s no longer have time to go on long conferences. I can imagine how many opportunities there are on professional development days, when you only have the chance to visit one, you may feel like youre missing out. Online platforms allow busy teachers to connect with many different opportunities at different times, different discussions are happening all over the world, everyday, every hour.

Student Tweets

We all know, and more than likely use, the infamous Twitter. Prior to this course I was aware that some teacher’s used twitter in their classrooms, but until my exploration of both Aviva’s and Ms. Cassidy’s blog, I always assumed it was simply the teacher tweeting some daily activities, not actually allowing students to compose tweets themselves. I previously discussed the use of twitter as a teacher resource in my blog #whatisschool. But I personally think I may enjoy the idea of a student led twitter account rather than an account I use for professional development. While the latter is important for a 21st century teacher to create online networks, I do not really enjoy the use of twitter and find that matter somewhat complex.

But, providing student’s the ability to tweet, I believe can give them a sense of agency, which needs to be present to become successful 21st century learners. Ms. Cassidy provides a collection of student tweets for one St. Patrick’s day activity called My Pot of Gold. After going through the tweets, you can see that some student’s provided multiple answers, which I interpreted as not only interest in the subject, but also as excitement to participate in this social network.

It is uncommon for student’s in primary grades to have access to their own twitter account, so I believe incorporating the social network into the classroom provides and excitement factor that a teacher can use to drive student learning. Twitter provides teachers with the opportunity to teach media literacy and the importance of how you convey yourself in the online world. While also providing a gateway for collaboration between classrooms and even parents.

Twitter can be used as a resource in student directed learning and inquiry, as they can locate similar topics through hashtags, leading to a variety of resources.

Taking a Break from Inquiry

Sometimes all that inquiry within a 21st century classroom can really get to your head, and I believe it is important to ensure that students take breaks. Mrs. Lirette posted an very interesting resources called GoNoodle

GoNoodle is a free resource which can be used as a classroom management technique, as a way to refresh students minds, or keep them busy while still learning. While most activities focus on physical activity (which still be connected to the curriculum), there are also some other math and vocabulary activities, or the “think about it” activities (seen in the picture below), which have students think about topics such as teamwork, conflict management, or making someone happy. gonoodle

With the right direction, these activities would make a great addition to a 21st century classroom. Simply, the activity incorporates the technological aspect, as well as the student-centered part, assuming the teacher will allow student’s to pick the activities, and the students actually enjoy these “Brain Breaks” (even I think they look fun!). But the activities that require some thought process could be used as introductions to the teaching of moral and character literacies. These types of discussion could thoroughly improve classroom climate by having student relations grow, but also allowing them to individually think about their morals for topics such as teamwork, attitude, etc.

You could also use GoNoodle as a strategy to engage less confident learners, because these activities make learning subjects such as math and language fun, without overwhelming or intimidating students. GoNoodle is a technological opportunity for differentiated learning.