In education, words matter.

Many teachers use word clouds or wordles in classroom activities to have students highlighting important words or to show students which words they’ve overused in their texts. One thing I’ve never done before is apply a wordcloud to my own practice, which is exactly what I recently did for the educationrickshaw.com blogroll. Once I made it by uploading our url into wordclouds.com, it was time to start digging into what exactly was going on. Afterall, it’s important to see where our emphasis has been, and how we need to refocus our language in the teaching profession.

Below is the word cloud for our site, educationrickshaw.com, and some of my conclusions.

 

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Students First

Before I made the word cloud, I was sure that “teaching” was going to be the most frequent word. That would make sense, since educationrickshaw.com is meant to be a blog to be enjoyed by international teachers, not students or parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see that “students” is by far the largest word in the word cloud.

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I hope that this is because our articles focus on what students are doing in the classroom, with a decreased emphasis on what teachers are doing. I find that when I think about what I want students to be able to do, I facilitate lessons that more often than not achieve that outcome. When I focus on what I am doing, which I think is a common newbie teacher mistake, the learning suffers as a consequence.

I know teachers and administrators say that they put the students first, and I imagine that most believe that they do. It is a different thing altogether to actually put it into practice. Relying on tradition aka “the ways things have always been done”, ego, and acting in fear over the fallout that can come from putting students first is too often the status quo in education today.

Learning is the goal

Also up there in size is “learning”, which should always be the goal for teachers. If students are the noun, then “to learn” is the verb.

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Now, there are many ways that students learn, and our conversations need to be centered around how students best learn – Not what is easiest for teachers, parents, and administrators. The minute that we go down such a road, we begin to deprofessionalize the teaching profession, and we cheapen the quality of a student’s education. Similar to this is what I talked about in the article “The What vs. The How”, where I argued that we should give less attention to what we are teaching and what we are using for teaching, and focus more on how we are teaching. I suppose another addition should be the “why”, which I’d argue is for learning.

Yes we CAN!

The final big word I want to point out is the word “can”, which is floating somewhere over west-central Africa in the wordcloud.

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Even though I can sometimes lose my optimism, especially when I don’t have enough caffeine in my system, I believe that if we keep our focus on students and learning, we can reach our goal of making a lasting difference in the lives of our kids.

 


 

What do you think? Would you consider putting your comments for your report cards into a wordcloud? Stephanie, who’s name is currently reigning over Madagascar, and Zach (nowhere to be found 😂) would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Ways to Enhance Reading and Writing Workshop with Technology

Our school recently made the switch to Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Although Stephanie and I received some surface level training on the project in our previous school, this has been the first time that we have been asked to follow the program with a high level of fidelity.

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Like with any program, there are ways to improve outcomes by looking at how best to use technology to maximize learning. We’re all about looking at traditional teaching practices and seeing how they can be improved. The following are some of the things that we have tried in our classrooms to facilitate 21st century learning experiences within the Reading and Writing Workshop model.

Use online forums and chat rooms for class discussions, teacher and peer feedback, and ratings

Class discussions can happen in many ways. When the program asks for reading and writing partners to turn and talk about their thoughts, students can also do so in an online forum. The tool that you use doesn’t matter: This could be on Seesaw, Flipgrid, EasyBlog, Edmodo. . . whatever! I use Moodle for forums, because I find it to be very customizable, but you can have kids discussing on almost any platform. Again, it’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning.

There are inherent benefits to having discussions online. Instead of always communicating in informal language, as is the case with “turn and talk” in class, students are forced to use formalized language. There is a record of what they have said, and teachers can see it, give feedback on which terms they are using correctly, and can have students go back and edit their ideas for clarity. Students can continue the conversation at home, alone or with their parents, and you can always go back to the conversations during your conferencing, which is much harder to do with traditional “turn and talk”.

Use online multimedia journals with links, videos, photos, audio, drawings, table of contents, dictionary and thesaurus

I am a fan of both paper/pencil journals as well as multimedia online journals. While the benefits of the paper/pencil journal are well known, it is sometimes effective to give students the chance to write or write about their reading in an online journal.

In my students’ wiki journals, they are able to create new pages whenever, wherever they feel like. This creates great situations where they can [[link]] to a new page (for example, a character page), and then fill in their ideas there. If they need inspiration for character development, setting, or anything visual, they can pull up images from online and stick them in their journal. If they need to create a quick sketch, they just insert a drawing into their journal, and can move it around as they wish without feeling that they are getting in the way of their writing. When I provide them with materials from the program, they can link to these materials, refer to them, and annotate the parts that they feel they need to work on. By just clicking on a word, they can look up new words in online dictionaries and thesauruses and build their vocabulary . . the multimedia journal creates learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a 100% paper/pencil workshop.

Give assessments with feedback, rubrics, checklists, infographics, memes, pictures, video, inline editing

I find the assessments in the Reading and Writing Project to be easily convertible into online resources. For the beginning of the year reading assessment, I put all of the questions into an online assignment, and had kids take the test.

After the kids took the assessment, the data came back to me organized by student and question type. I was then able to give students feedback to enhance their learning. I did this in the form of inline editing, inserting the rubrics right into their answers, and providing checklists, infographics, memes, and links to previous discussions and journal entries that they had made. After I helped one student with a certain problem – using pictures, videos, or whatever – I was able to use that same teacher-created resource to help the next student that had the very same problems.

The point is, with technology you can link up all of the resources that you and your students have created – assessments, discussions, journals, rubrics, glossaries, etc –  at any time, so that students are not only making digital connections, but connections in their craniums as well.

Make the Heinemann resources accessible to students online

Instead of printing everything that I’m provided in the Reading and Writing Project from the Heinemann online resources – the sticky notes, the reading logs, the anchor charts, the exemplars, etc – I put them on my class website and into student hands. It saves a tree, and it helps students engage with the materials by actually using them in various ways.

Why not just project the resources? I find that projecting these resources without putting them up on my online courseroom makes it so that I become the “keeper of all resources”. I believe in a student-driven classroom, where information is accessible to all, parents included. By putting the resources up onto our Moodle page, students can not only access them anytime they want, but they can manipulate the content, insert it where they want, and ask questions and post comments about it.

Go nuts combining apps, web tools, social media and productivity tools!

There is so much out there that can help kids think and remove potential barriers for learning the content required in the Reading and Writing Project. I’ve written before about some of my favorite tech tools for getting kids writing, but I really recommend that you go sit on your couch with your device in hand, and explore the unlimited possibilities that exist out there.

Even if the Reading and Writing Project doesn’t explicitly say that you should or could use technology, that doesn’t make it wrong to take advantage of the best tools at your disposal. For me, technology is ubiquitous in the learning process, and learning is non-linear.

So, have kids record podcasts and watch their speaking and listening skills grow as they engage with the Reading and Writing workshop. Put up a green screen in your classroom, and explore the possibilities this has for student learning and engagement. I also believe that learning should be shared and public, and with technology this is possible. Have kids share out their reading and writing on blogs, social media, and e-mail. Get parents engaging with the Reading and Writing Project from their phone.

There are so many ways to make this program more dynamic and better for the learner. So if you’re like me and new to the Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, keep at it. I know I will!


Thanks for coming back again and again to educationrickshaw.com, a website by Stephanie and Zach Groshell. Feel free to comment below!

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Guest Article on TeachersMatterMagazine

Last year around this time, I was invited to the AEC conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I took two institutes that really blew my mind. One of those was led by the fantastic Karen Boyes, and it focused on getting students to do the thinking and take control of their learning. I’m happy to announce that one of our articles was selected for her mag, TeachersMatterMagazine!

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Many thanks to Karen Boyes and all of those that have supported us in our never ending pursuit of excellence in education. Check out the original article here and if you’d like to join my PLN, follow me on Twitter @MrZachG, check out our facebook group, Over Posting Educators, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

5 Luxuries Bestowed Upon Thee As An International Teacher

The typical teacher in their home country is afforded few luxuries. A coffee at Starbucks is seen as a rare treat. A PB&J for lunch is the norm. I remember clearly when one boisterous teacher in my first stateside school’s faculty lounge asked that anyone who had a tarp covering some part of their car (to protect from the rain in Washington State) to raise their hands, or forever hold your peace. Scout’s honor, there were five hands that raised that day admitting the tarp.

While, in my opinion, most international educators are still severely underpaid for what we do, the cost of living in many of our host countries allows for some pretty sweet perks. That coupled with the built-in savings potential that comes with many international teaching contracts (free housing, free flights, etc) makes it so that many international teachers find the benefits of international teaching to be too lucrative to ever want to return to teaching public school back home.

Compared to teachers back home, we have it good. We have teaching assistants. Our classrooms are well resourced. The class sizes are smaller. There is money for PD. These are all things that we experience in the international school classroom. But on this educationrickshaw.com post, we will be looking at 5 luxuries that most international teachers enjoy as they go about their leisurely lives that teachers back home just can’t afford.

Ka-Ching! $$$

#1 Affordable Cleaners

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There’s nothing like coming home to a clean house after a hard day’s work.

Most international educators that I have come across in both Vietnam and Sudan hire a cleaner. Some have them come for a couple of days a week, others have a cleaner come everyday of the week. When I first heard of this arrangement, I initially had uneasy feelings. Aren’t we taking advantage of these poor local women by having them do the lowliest of jobs for measly wages?

While cleaners may be way out of a teacher’s price range back home, the cleaners in many developing host countries do have a small salary in comparison to the American minimum wage. However, all of the teachers that I know tend to pay significantly more than the average local pays their cleaners.  Instead of delving into that here, check out this article on Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty For Having a Cleaner.

#2 Cheap Massages

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Expat Chillaxin’

I don’t know about you teachers, but my back is always hurting after a day of work. You don’t need to read the studies to know that teachers get stressed out, and this can lead to chronic foot and back pain.

While a massage in the US can set you back 60 plus dollars per hour, many expat teachers in developing countries find themselves getting quality massages for less than a third of that cost. Whether you’re looking for a back massage to ease the pain of bending over and getting on kids’ level, or a bizarre Dr. Fish massage served up in murky waters, international teachers have the full range of possibilities within reach.

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This was in Cambodia, and it cost 1 USD and you got a free adult beverage. How about that for a deal?

#3 Security Guards That Do Everything

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My friend, and one of our trusty security guards.

All of the countries that Stephanie and I have taught in have felt safe. But because wages are so low in developing countries, many schools will hire security guards for their buildings. Many large apartment complexes in capital cities will also provide security guards.

 

All of the guards that we have had at our apartments have been extremely gracious with their time and efforts. They will go out of their way to help us translate phone calls and documents, fix popped tires, and alert the school when there is something wrong with our apartment or car. The average security guard in the international setting is part handyman, part electrician, and full-time procuror of all local goods. They’re more often than not the first person to go to when you’re in a bind, and many of them have become my close friends. I can’t imagine going back home and living without them.

#4 Taxis that cost next to nothing

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Vinasun, the omnipresent Vietnamese taxi that has the monopoly in Ho Chi Minh City. CHEAP!

The only time I have ever paid for a taxi in the USA was when I was in a real pickle and had my dad call me one to take me home. I remember that it was 35 bucks back in the early 2000s to go just a few miles from my school to my house. It took the driver over 25 minutes from the time I called him to the time he arrived to pick me up at my school. It felt like a big waste of time and money.

Since I moved overseas as an international educator, I’ve taken hundreds of taxis. Many countries have a taxi culture that allows for affordable rides, even in some of the more expensive cities (Dubai, for example). When Stephanie and I lived in Vietnam, we would leave our motorbike at home if we were going out late, and taxi the whole night long. If our motorbike happened to break down, one of us would take a taxi to a repair shop, hop on the back of a mechanic’s motorbike and come save the day. It was truly one of the most convenient forms of transportation, and it was cheap, cheap, cheap!

#5 Great Vacations Closeby

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Our travel map as of 9/2017 with some funky rickshaws going in random places

I’ve talked before about the importance of maintaining balance in this profession by taking great vacations whenever you have the chance. However, in addition to having low salaries and savings potential in comparison to international teachers, American teachers are not afforded a great geographical location for travel. Just crossing the country to another American city costs as much in airfare as it would take to get me to a whole ‘nother country and culture. Just take a look at the map above; When we were in Asia, we traveled all over Asia. Now that we’re in Africa, we’ve traveled all over Africa. It’s just what international teachers do.  As an international educator, depending on your school and your package, you likely have the time, the money, and a great geographic location to travel.


We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this article. For more on international teaching and learning, keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com! Don’t forget to comment 🙂