M5U2A2 – Malin Matus – Articulating Outcomes: Thinking Like and Assessor


In this blog I will continue to use the standard and objectives I outlined on my infographic in activity one. Using the five objectives from the previous assignment I will describe a formative assessment that can be used to check that the objectives are being met during the unit of instruction. In addition, I will outline a performance based summative assessment that can be used at the end of the unit to provide a final evaluation of what the students learned.


Here are the five objectives from the previous assignment for ease of reference.

  1. SWBAT match key English words to describe thoughts and feelings to their counterpart in Japanese.
  2. SWBAT match key English words to describe thoughts and feelings to pictorial representations. e.g. smiley face, sad face, etc.
  3. SWBAT recall and correctly pronounce English thought and feeling words when given a Japanese or pictorial prompt.
  4. SWBAT identify culturally specific gestures to convey emotional states. i.e. what are the gestures in your culture and are they the same or different in other cultures.
  5. SWBAT to analyze their effectiveness in expressing a thought or feeling in English.


Formative assessment is key to ensure that students are learning what the objective states is to be learned. In the case of the objectives above, for the “M” of the SMART component I tried to include a quantifiable number that could be used as a measure of learning. For objectives 1 and 2 above this took the form of the 20 key vocabulary words that are introduced. These twenty can be quizzed informally and provide a quick measure of whether the students are remembering some key information. However, as the unit progresses I would want to have an ongoing measure of deeper knowledge, i.e. are my students making conceptual connections or are they just memorizing and repeating. For this I would use what I will call the Comic Interpretation Exit Card. This formative assessment would start after finishing instruction on objectives 1 and 2. So, for every lesson after, in the last 10 minutes of class I would present the students with a comic strip like the one shown below.M5U2A2 - Formative Exit Ticket Example
Each comic will contain at least three to four emotions in them. Some will be explicitly stated by the characters, like how the boy says, “I’m so frustrated.” and “Lisa is so annoying.”. The other emotions will have to be inferred from the characters expressions and/or the context of the dialogue. In the above example we can infer that the girl, Lisa, is happy or in a good mood having finished all her work quickly, and we can infer that the boy is surprised to hear this from his expression. How this will be used to test the students ongoing understanding of English for thoughts and feelings will be as follows.

  • The students are shown a comic strip and asked to write the thought and feeling words, in both Japanese and English of the emotions being expressed in this comic strip.

This short writing assignment will be collected as an exit card before the student leaves class and what they write will inform me as to how they are understanding thought and feeling language and expression. For example, if a student writes all the explicitly stated emotions in English and Japanese but none of the implicitly stated ones, then I can conclude that the student understands the emotion words by sight but not necessarily by the situation. On the other hand, if I have a student who can only identify the emotions implicitly stated by the characters expressions than I know they cannot yet decode the English.  In contrast, if I have a student who can state all the emotions in Japanese and English, even those implicitly stated within the context of the language then I know they have a deep understanding of both the English and non-verbal expressions involved in expressing thoughts and feelings.

The value of the Comic Interpretation Exit Card to me as a formative assessment it that it will define at what layer of understanding thought and feeling language a student has penetrated. Are they at the beginning of just grasping the vocabulary stage, or are they unaware of non-verbal language, or can they comprehend the background context of the conversation, etc.  If I see the same students stuck at a particular layer then additional support can be provided to them. Conversely, if I find the whole class is failing to comprehend an objective point then review or alternative instruction of that objective will be necessary.


The goal of any unit of instruction is to have students learn something. Of course, the question arises, how does the teacher “know” if a student has learned anything? If they have learned the question becomes, how well have they learned it? This question is answered by summative assessment to evaluate the student along the unit’s learning objectives to see if they have reached the goals laid out, and to ascertain how well they can apply their knowledge. To assess the objectives I stated above I will use a performance based assessment I will call a emotive situation skit, which I will describe as:

Emotive Situation Skit
Students will demonstrate their ability to express their thoughts and feelings in English by forming small groups of 2-4 students and, together writing and enacting a dialogue where the characters are expressing their thoughts and feelings. The students will use their knowledge of English to write a skit that; thoroughly defines the conversational situation,  uses many examples of thought and feeling English, uses appropriate forms of non-verbal communication and, is written and spoken with enough accuracy that the target audience (the teacher) can comprehend the majority of what is said.
Students will be given a copy of the evaluation rubric shown here to aid in guiding their script creation and performance practice.
M5U2A2 - Malin Matus - Emotive Skit RubricThe students will be given 2-3 class periods (50 min. each) to prepare and practice their scripts. Performances will be asked to be no longer than 5 minutes.
Students can write a skit on any situation where characters may be using thinking/feeling language. The Comic Interpretation Exit Card tasks will serve as a good example as to what a part of the skit may look like.


If we look at the five objectives outlined at the beginning of this blog we can see the overarching theme of all the objectives is to use English thought and feeling words to communicate. As communication is more than just words some instruction must be devoted to identifying non-verbal communication of thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the formative assessment task proposed for this unit must include both verbal and non-verbal measures of English thought and feeling communication, which the Comic Interpretation Exit Card does quite nicely. Since we are dealing with communication a performance based assessment is ideal for this type of instruction. Performing a skit containing thought and feeling content is an efficient method to evaluate whether or not students can apply English thought and feeling words in a practical manner. The performance based Emotive Situation Skit assessment measures the students explicit usage of the target language, implicit understanding of the target language through correct use of non-verbal body language, and the students correct use of English grammar and pronunciation which is key for audience understanding. To finish, the two assessments presented here are ideal tools for giving the teacher information about student learning within the defined unit objectives.

M5U1A3 – Malin Matus – Reflection on Understanding and Applying Standards


In this blog I will reflect on what I learned about unpacking educational standards and using backward mapping to plan a unit of study guided by the standard. Personally, I feel that learning to unpack standards and to plan by backward mapping was hugely useful. I think that the unpacking strategy was helpful allowing me to really breakdown what content and skills needed to be taught in a given context. Similarly, I believe backward mapping to be a very important planning strategy for teachers to ensure that their lessons are taking students along the correct path, and to make sure that all of the lesson paths link together to reach an ultimate conceptual destination. For me learning these strategies has been overwhelmingly enlightening and I have mainly positive impressions to share. Never the less, there are one or two pitfalls that come to mind when I think deeply. I will divide my reflection into two main parts, unpacking standards and planning through backward mapping. For each part I will go through examples of the helpful strategies I learned and insights that I gained. I will then finish each part with a brief discussion of any of the weaknesses I felt were inherent in that approach.

Unpacking a Standard

This module of Teach-Now was not the first time I had encountered an educational standard. In fact I have been seeing them in textbooks or on course outlines since I began teaching English in Japan over ten years ago. I mostly used the standards as guidance into content instruction or if I felt they were too boring or unrealistic I’d disregard them. However, in activity one I learned to truly interpret a standard. To give a more concrete example I will look at a simple math standard I used in activity one.

(1) To help pupils understand the meaning of units and measurements of area, and determine the area by calculation.
a. To get to know the units of area (square centimeter [cm2], square meter [m2], square kilometer [km2]).
b. To explore ways to determine the area of squares and rectangles.
(MEXT, 2008, p.12-13)

Before this unit and activity one I would have interpreted this standard to mean, “Teach the students about measuring area of squares and rectangles and be sure to include sizes that use square centimeters, meters and kilometers.” That would have been it and I would be off teaching. Now, however, I look at this differently. I would of course pick out the content words as I did above (measurement of area in squares and rectangles) but I have now learned to analyze the verbs in the standards as skills. The verbs; get to know, explore and understand all inform different types of activity by the students and therefore inform the teacher to use different instructional approaches. An exploration strategy will involve more discussion, more opportunities for failure but also more opportunities for freedom. The stakes will necessarily have to be low to encourage creativity. On the other hand, an activity to show understanding will have the goal of success, failure will be an undesirable outcome and the stakes will be higher. This insight is the power of the unpacking strategy and it has radically changed how I read and interpret educational standards. This method allows a teacher to tease out the underlying big ideas inherent in the standards and also interpret how deeply to delve into the material.

While the strength of the unpacking standards strategy is, its attention to teasing out all the details and meanings of the verbs and nouns written in it, it is also its weakness as such close reading and analysis takes time. That being said I do feel that with practice the process will become quicker. The one other downside to the unpacking strategy is that it is prey to the wording used by the standards author. What I mean is that if the author uses poor word choice the power of this method is lessened.  For example if vague terms like know or see are used frequently the skills to be taught to the students becomes unclear and more open to wide interpretation. Consider the first part of the math standard above rewritten more vaguely. To help pupils see [understand] the meaning of units and measurements of area, and know [determine] the area by calculation. I replace understand with see and determine with know and if we read the standard written this way it is much less clear what skills the students need to acquire. How does a student know the area by calculation? Do they measure, estimate, use a formula, or some other way? Through this example we see that should a standard be poorly written even taking careful attention to unpack it will not necessarily lend the teacher any additional insight as to the direction of instruction.

Planning by Backward Mapping

While unpacking a standard gives us the instructional focus of a standard, planning by backward mapping ensure that we point our instruction in the correct direction to have it link up with the big ideas and concepts later in a student’s education. Let me illustrate with the same mathematical example from above.

(1) To help pupils understand the meaning of units and measurements of area, and determine the area by calculation.
a. To get to know the units of area (square centimeter [cm2], square meter [m2], square kilometer [km2]).
b. To explore ways to determine the area of squares and rectangles.
(MEXT, 2008, p.12-13)

We unpack this standard and summarize the skills and content to be instructed as:

  • Explore: Try various ways to determine the area of squares and rectangles, without any expectation of success.
  • Determine: Precisely calculate the the area of squares and rectangles i.e. length x width
  • Understand: To be able to use the units and measurements of area, cm², m² and km², in the correct manner to calculate the area of squares and triangles.

We also tease out a big mathematical idea from all this, “Some attributes of objects are measurable and can be quantified using unit amounts” (Charles, 2005, p. 20). Having unpacked all this data a teacher could then go plan a unit to include some direct instruction on what is area followed by drills and homework to practice the concept and then be done. And without backward mapping that is what many teachers do. However, having learned backward mapping I now would approach this much differently. If the end goal is the big idea that, we can measure things in math, then for me that really ties into the idea that math applies to the real world things we can see, touch, taste and smell. We need to incorporate this idea into the lesson. It doesn’t matter that these grade 4 students won’t need to know a big math idea like the one above, backward mapping is about ensuring that we point ourselves in that direction at each instructional point. This is so that when the day comes that a student does need to understand the big math ideas around what is measurable in math, they will have had sufficient experience to do so. With this goal in mind I would design activities that touch on the concept of what area is (l x w for rectangles and squares) but I’m also going to include real world stuff. Stuff like taking a meter stick and measuring the area of whatever surfaces we can find. Activities like trying to write your name on graph paper where you have to use the squares like pixels but you can only use a limited area. It is through these activities that the student will begin to develop the schema to understand the big ideas in math associated with the area of objects. This for me is the beauty of backward mapping. Keeping learning aligned along a purpose that serves a long term educational goal and the development of conceptualization in students rather than fact acquisition or skill repetition.

I like backward mapping as an instructional planning strategy a lot and I am hard pressed to think of any negative points about it. The only thing I can think of is that when you are looking at the big ideas all the time to align your lessons and units it could be overwhelming. The big ideas may seem too big, and teachers may question how do I get elements of that advanced concept into a simple context or lesson.


In this blog I shared my experience of learning to unpack standards and to plan instruction by backward mapping. Overall I believe that both are powerful tools for my teacher’s toolbox and I plan to use them extensively for as long as I have to plan and teach. Through unpacking standards I learned how to focus not only on the instructional content of a standard but also the skills for students to learn and demonstrate, as well as, the underlying big ideas included with the content area. Learning about designing instruction using backward mapping helped me understand how to use the large concepts, major skills and big ideas of a content area to align my instruction to continually develop and reinforce transferable skills that will serve students from lesson to lesson, unit to unit, year to year. Altogether learning these two strategies has been an eye opener and very valuable to me as an already practicing teacher and career educator. I wish I had learned these two methods years ago when I first started teaching.


Charles, R. I. (2005). Big Ideas and Understandings as the Foundation for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics. Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership, volume 7, number 3. [PDF file] Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://www.google.co.jp/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjJpLyVu4XVAhViCMAKHWnQAgYQFggkMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.authenticeducation.org%2Fbigideas%2Fsample_units%2Fmath_samples%2FBigIdeas_NCSM_Spr05v7.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHKmtdKmLq_V0mw9NIqi0dW3U_zqw&cad=rja

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT]. (March, 2008). Improvement of Academic Abilities (Courses of Study): Section 3 Arithmatic. [PDF file] Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/elsec/title02/detail02/1373859.htm

M5U1A2 – Malin Matus – Standards and Backward Mapping.


The purpose of this blog will be to introduce a grade 4 math standard from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT] and then to outline; three proficiencies for students to achieve, three learning activities to teach skills to accomplish the proficiencies and three assessments to gauge if the proficiencies were learned.

The Standard and Why?

(3) To help pupils deepen their understanding of division of integers, divide accurately, and extend their ability to use the calculation appropriately.
a. To explore ways of division in the cases where the divisor is a 1-digit or 2-digit number and the dividend is a 2-digit or 3-digit number, and to understand that these calculations are based on the basic calculations. Also, to understand the way of calculation using algorithms in column forms.
b. To divide accurately, and to use the calculation appropriately.
c. To investigate the relationships between dividend, divisor, quotient and remainder and to put them in the following formula: (dividend) = (divisor) × (quotient) + (remainder)
d. To explore properties of division and to make use of the properties in order to explore ways to calculate or check the results. (MEXT, 2005, p. 11-12)

I chose this standard because I feel the concept of division to be fundamental to both understanding and applying other mathematical functions and because the concept of division has many applications in the real world. For example; from the mundane calculating how many packages containing 100 napkins would be needed for a party of 237 people where you want to ensure that each guest has a lease 4 napkins, to calculations needed to manage a business i.e. dividing up a budget, distributing stock, pricing, calculating loss and profit, etc.

3 Proficiencies

1. To be able to graphically represent division on a number line with the dividend represented as a collection of chunks (the divisor).

2. To correctly apply the long division algorithm to a 2 digit divisor and a 3 digit dividend.

3. To be able to check division results using (dividend) = (divisor) × (quotient) + (remainder)

3 Assessments

1. Formative

As the standard states to deepen understanding an assumption of prior division knowledge is present. This assumption should be tested and that is what I will do. To begin the unit a short quiz on single digit and simple double digit division will be given to ensure that students are ready to proceed to 3 digit dividends. Those who are not can be brought up to speed. After the initial quiz, ongoing formative assessment will continue throughout the unit. Every activity’s worksheets will be checked and corrected, and returned to the student as an informal progress check. Those who show signs of struggling or who are falling behind can be identified and given additional support. Formative assessment will also be conducted in having students explain their reasoning behind answers in both small group discussions and in classroom discussions.

2. Summative – Long Division Poster

All students will complete an individual poster showing the steps of long division in an example using a 2 digit divisor and 3 digit dividend. The poster will include a mnemonic to remember the steps of long division; Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down, Repeat/Remainder. Each divide example in the poster will be represented on a number line. Use of color to clarify the concepts will be encouraged.

3. Summative – Long Division Story

Students will write their own long division word problem and make a story. The story will have to include at least two problems encountered by the story’s characters that can be solved by long division (2 digit divisor and 3 digit dividend). In the first paragraph the students will have to set up the problem as a narritive, then in a separate paragraph write the solution as a narrative. Finally, the student will have to prove their solution by using the formula (dividend) = (divisor) × (quotient) + (remainder).

3 Learning Activities

1. Number chunking and, divisor, quotient, dividend poem.

  • Objective: Students can draw a 3 digit number divided by a 2 digit number on a number line and identify all the elements by the names divisor, quotient and dividend.
  • Materials: Blank A4 paper, 30cm ruler with mm increments, pencil and eraser, math Poem “Divisor, Quotient, Dividend” and worksheet (Greenburg, 2002, p. 13-14).
  • Procedure
    1. Present the students an easy problem, what is 10 / 5 ?
    2. Tell the students 1 = 1 cm so can they draw a line to represent 10
    3. Then ask students to mark how many times the 5 fits on their line.
    4. Now present the students a more difficult problem, what is 252 / 12?
    5. Give them only a minute and then prompt with this question, “If 1 = 1 mm how would you draw the problem like we did with 10 / 5”
    6. Give the students time to do this, circulate and check what they are doing. Note who has correctly identified the way to do this using a number line. Call on those students to give the answer and explain their approach. Follow their solution on the main board.
    7. Give the students more problems to reinforce the concept.
    8. Read the poem “Divisor, Quotient, Dividend” together as a class. Then in small groups have them discuss which numbers from the number line activity would match these words. Circulate to check groups and have some of the groups who clearly understood this concept articulate it to the rest of the class.
    9. Finish with the “Divisor, Quotient, Dividend” worksheet, collect for correction and return to the students.

2. Learn Long Division through Story and Mnemonic

  • Objective: Students can identify and apply each of the  procedures of long division: divide, multiply, subtract, bring down and repeat/remainder.
  • Materials: Note book, pencil and eraser, math story “Johnnie Diviso, Division Detective” and worksheet (Greenburg, 2002, p. 24-26).
  • Procedure
    1. Ask the students to draw 42 / 3 on a number line as in the previous activity. Secretly time the students and when the majority of them are finished report the time.
    2. Tell the students “We are now going to learn a faster way” (much cheering ensues)
    3. Read the story “Johnnie Diviso, Division Detective” together as a class.
    4. Break the class into small groups and tell them “In this type of division there are five steps. All the steps are in the story. In your group try to find them.” Circulate to monitor and prompt the discussion. Have some groups who did well share with the class.
    5. Introduce the mnemonic Dangerous, Monkeys, Swipe, Bananas, Rapidly for the five steps; divide, multiply, subtract, bring down, repeat/remainder. Have the small groups try to make their own interesting and easy to remember mnemonic.
    6. Have students finish by completing the long division worksheet independently and collect for correction and to give back to students.

3. Division House Activity

  • Objective: Students draw a house with the number of details such as; doors, windows, flowers, trees, roofs etc. decided by solving division problems. Students use (dividend) = (divisor) × (quotient) + (remainder) to check each others work.
  • Materials: Division House Worksheet, colored pencils/crayons/markers, blank paper, pencil and eraser.
  • Procedure
    1. Show the students some examples of division houses. Point out the differences in the number of windows, doors, flowers, trees, etc. from picture to picture and ask the students why that is?
    2. Give the students the division house worksheet and work through the first few problems together. Then have the students complete the worksheet.
    3. As students complete the worksheet pair them up and have them check each others work using (dividend) = (divisor) × (quotient) + (remainder).
    4. Once the worksheet has been given the peer okay students proceed to draw their Houses. Complete houses are posted on the class bulletin board.


Division is one of the four fundamental operations in mathematics and developing deep understanding in division is important. The learning activities presented above certainly give the students the opportunity to deepen their division skills.  Representing division on a number line allows students to form a visual spacial relationship with division which can aid later on in the more abstract applications of division. Learning long division through stories and discussion activates several learning types and correct use of long division will aid students in more complex problem solving. Turning a series of division questions into a pictorial house representation is another opportunity to explore division as more than just an operation on numbers. However, although deepening division skills is important it is also important to plant the seeds of the big ideas in mathematics and allow students to develop schema and skills which will serve them in years beyond long division. Big ideas in mathematics such as “Numbers, expressions, and measures can be compared by their relative values.” (Charles, 2005, p. 14) should always serve as a touch stone even at the fundamental skills training level. The number line activity promotes thinking about this big idea and as the students progress, if their teacher is diligent, they will encounter more instances where this idea holds true. Then once the students have encountered this idea enough they will be able to utilize it broadly as a tool for problem solving in novel situations. This more than anything is the key of backward instructional design and hopefully I have provided a small window into that process here at the grade 4 math level.


Charles, R. I. (2005). Big Ideas and Understandings as the Foundation for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics. Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership, volume 7, number 3. [PDF file] Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://www.google.co.jp/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjJpLyVu4XVAhViCMAKHWnQAgYQFggkMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.authenticeducation.org%2Fbigideas%2Fsample_units%2Fmath_samples%2FBigIdeas_NCSM_Spr05v7.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHKmtdKmLq_V0mw9NIqi0dW3U_zqw&cad=rja

Greenberg, D. (2002). Mega-funny division stories: 24 rib-tickling reproducible tales with companion practice sheets. New York: Scholastic Professional Books.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT]. (March, 2008). Improvement of Academic Abilities (Courses of Study): Section 3 Arithmatic. [PDF file] Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/elsec/title02/detail02/1373859.htm

M4U5A1 – Malin Matus – Applying Rules and Procedures


For me the establishment of norms, rules and procedures in the classroom is an absolute must. Failure to develop a comprehensive set of rules and procedures will make a teacher’s job neigh impossible. However, establishing norms, rules and procedures  is only the first step and they become effective only if they are consistently and constantly enforced. In this blog I will talk about my thought process around the application of rules and procedures in the classroom.

How a given teacher maintains their classroom rules and procedures will necessarily be idiosyncratic, but they will be sure to use either positive consequences, negative consequences or a combination of both. When discussing application of rules and procedures Marzano (2010), states that, “a combination of positive and negative consequences appears to be the optimum approach” (p. 133).  I too echo this sentiment and believe strongly in the use of both positive and negative reinforcement to maintain classroom discipline.  In this blog I will outline my positive and negative consequences plan with a chart and a verbal description of my positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement methods.


M4U5A1 - Malin Matus - Positive and Negative Reinforcment Flow Chart.png


I categorize positive reinforcement into two main areas of recognition, verbal and non-verbal. Under each category I have several actions that I take to reward and promote positive behavior in the class.

This is verbal recognition from the teacher, i.e.  good job, well done, I like how hard you tried etc.

  • Quiet Praise: To make it more personal I like to praise individual students very quietly so that others don’t hear. Then if the student wants to share what I said it is up to them.
  • Praise: This is usually to the whole class and praise on a given procedure i.e. I really like how everyone is writing quietly, or I’m glad everyone worked well together to move the desks so quickly, etc.
  • Public Recognition: I use this only with permission of the student. If I encounter a really good example of student work , effort or process, then I share that with the class and we all give the student(s) involved a cheer for hard work.

This category is praise that doesn’t come in the form of speech. It can be really informal like a high-five or formal such as a letter home to parents.

  • High-five/Smile: These are non-verbal actions and cues that I like to cultivate. Making someone else smile can be a powerful motivator. Also, I’ve discovered after working hard my student’s enjoy a high-five to celebrate their hard work. A high-five plus a smile is even better.
  • Tangible: These are rewards the students can get their hands on or experience visually. I use two tangible reward system. The first is a raffle ticket system where I give students a raffle ticket for positive behavior. This can be just extra helpfulness or cooperation, to finishing a difficult assignment in time, to doing extra-curricular work. At the end of each quarter I hold a raffle draw and I have some novelty stationary items they can win. The second is a class point system. In this system I give the class points for following our procedures and rules. At a set number of points there is a class reward, usually a gamified learning activity but it could also be a video lesson.
  • Home Recognition: This is not something I currently use but it is something I am looking toward using. Parents are usually only a recipient of a teacher’s email when their son or daughter is in trouble at school, however, I would like to send out at least one daily email regarding positive behavior. So, I will create a student of the day award. At the end of each day I will recognize one student as the student of the day and they will get a special certificate and a raffle ticket too. Also, I will send an email to their parents informing them of their son’s or daughter’s excellence on that day.


I categorize all the actions I take when students are not following the norms, rules or procedures as negative reinforcement. These could range from a simple non-verbal cue to a letter home to the parents depending on what the situation warrants. I have also further subdivided this category into actions to undertake for minor infraction vs. major infractions.


  • For minor infractions regarding rules or procedures I will follow what Mazano calls, “Using a Series of Graduated Actions” (2010, p. 142), if number one fails to resolve the issue than I will go on to number two and so forth.
    1. Look at the offending student(s): Giving the students “the look” to let them know they are outside of the expectation.
    2. The next step is to move closer to the offending student(s)
    3. If proximity doesn’t help then I’ll quietly remind the students to follow our rules and procedures.
    4. If a quiet reminder doesn’t work then I will stop the class to deal with the offending behavior.
  • Classroom Behavior Card Color Code: This is a system that I am not currently using but envisioning for the time in the near future when I will be a middle school homeroom teacher. The system will consist of a bunch of pockets, one for each student with their name written on it, attached to the class bulletin board. Then color cards are inserted into the pockets to represent the students overall behavior.
    • WHITE: No problem, the student’s behavior is within the norms, rules and procedures that have been established.
    • BLUE: Caution, the student is having trouble maintaining some of the norms, rules or procedures. This color in the student’s pocket should be a reminder to them that should they continue to ignore the classroom rules and procedures more serious consequences will ensue.
    • PURPLE: Reteach, the student is clearly not following one or more of the classroom rules or procedures. At the point when a purple card appears in the students pocket they will have to meet with the teacher at a specified time to discuss the difficulty and to practice the rules and/or procedures that the student is violating.
    • BLACK: Intervention, the student is not following several of the classroom rules or procedure and having a negative impact on the class environment. When a black card appears in the students pocket it means that the student’s parents will be informed of the behavior. From this point if the behavior doesn’t improve further measures such as a parent teacher meeting or a meeting with the school councilor may be scheduled. Depending on the outcome of those measures a special behavior plan or additional/special classroom rules or procedures may be implemented to help the student and to preserve the learning environment for the rest of the class.


  • Out of Control/Dangerous Behavior: This is my plan for handling worst case scenarios involving student(s) in class. e.g. fights, yelling at the teacher, breaking down into tears, etc.
    1. Calm Myself: Whenever encountering a highly charged situation it is important to not escalate the the level of emotion or tension. Therefore, to intervene in a calm manner to diffuse the high emotion I must first be collected and calm. I will take a moment to recognize that the situation is bad. Take a deep breath, remember it isn’t about me and then wade in.
    2. Calm the student(s): I will engage the student(s) with a simple direct statement identifying the situation, e.g. Wow! You are mad, I can see you’re very upset, etc. Then I will open up dialogue by inviting the student(s) to tell me what is the trouble, e.g. what are you feeling right now? What happened? etc. Then I will just listen and listen actively, mirroring the student(s) statements to show that I am hearing what they are saying. I will continue this until the level of emotion has decreased significantly.
    3. Once things are relatively calm I will follow Marzano’s advice and, “[communicate] a simple request intended to diffuse the situation. Typically, the request will involve the student and teacher leaving the classroom” (2010, p. 147). Once outside of the classroom further debriefing and discussion can follow and further help can be found, e.g. go to the school councilor, contact the parents, etc.
  • The behavior color code BLACK can be considered part of the major infraction section as well.
  • Contact Parents: When any serious trouble starts to disrupt the class and the usual avenues of discipline are not working it’s time to enlist the help of the parents. Contacting parents could be an email or a phone call as the situation warrants and the intention behind the communication would be to open up dialogue about their son’s or daughter’s situation. Ideally the parent will be able to provide additional insight into the child’s behavior and could possibly assist the teacher in correcting that students behavior.
  • Further Action i.e. Parent Teacher Meeting / School Counselor Consultation / Behavior Plan: For more serious situations where an informal phone call or email has failed to resolve the situation, or where the behavior of the student is so extreme that a more formal forum is necessary then a parent teacher meeting should occur. This meeting may include a school counselor or the counselor can be recommended by the teacher as one method to help the situation. Additionally, if school policy and local law allows the teacher may direct the student to see the student counselor before obtaining parental consent (this is the case in Japan at my school).  A possible result of the parent teacher meeting and/or a consultation with the counselor is a behavior plan whereby additional and/or special rules and procedures are outlined with the goal to help the student manage their behavior and become a positive participant in class.


Although I have done my best to make a comprehensive plan maintain classroom rules and procedures I recognize that it is impossible that I’ve thought of everything that could possibly happen. Additionally, as I was describing the flow chart I realized I had not included a powerful device for maintaining classroom rules and procedures, the class meeting. A class meeting is the perfect forum to discuss behavioral expectations and to poll the student body to generate their own ideas for rules and procedures, as well as, for solutions to any current classroom troubles. Definitely, should I become a homeroom teacher I would use class meetings to discuss and reinforce classroom rules and procedures. With regards to the methods outlined here I am already using many of the strategies in my current teaching practice and they have proven effective for me. I definitely agree with Marzano’s idea of “the balanced approach, which involves
acknowledgment of positive behavior and negative behavior” (2010, p. 148). Certainly I want to remain as positive as possible in the classroom and respect student’s by treating them fairly and kindly, however, I do believe as teachers we must not be afraid to defend our behavioral expectations and confront students to maintain the rules and procedures established. If we shy away from conflict, from enlisting the help of parents or from the hard work of behavior/conflict resolution then our rules and procedures become no more than pie in the sky ideals which will look very nice on paper but have no effect on keeping a safe functional learning environment.


Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: a comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


M4U3A2 – Malin Matus – Creating High Performance Learning Environments

The following are three analysis of the videos; Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action (Teaching Channel, 2012), 3rd grade Chinese–math class.avi (Chen, 2011) and Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics (roxishayne, 2011). For each video I will analyze the; academic expectations, the behavior expectations, the norms and procedures, as well as, my personal reaction to the teaching scenario.

Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action

Academic Expectations
I believe the teacher has high expectations for her students in this scenario.  She communicates to them using scientific language. She expects them to know, understand and use physics and engineering terminology. Some of the vocabulary used to describe the designs I didn’t even know. The students are also expected to participate in rigorous design process. They must explain their reasoning to her on design modifications.

Behavior Expectations
Most certainly the students are held to high behavior standard. They are required to collaborate on their designs and be responsible for specialized roles which contribute to the success of their project. The teacher says that when they collaborate they are expected to respect other peoples opinions and idea and they are expected to express themselves clearly.

Norms and Procedures
It is a bit harder to get a sense of what kind of norms or procedures are used. Definitely, there are some behavior based norms, respect to others for example. The teacher mentions that she usually starts off the lesson with a Chime where one group member begins a recap of the previous days work and the other group members then respond.

I think this STEM lesson is superb. It has so many elements of good teaching practice; collaboration, problem solving, blended learning and multiple intelligence activation. I really like how these kids are being given, essentially a real world problem to solve and are taught to solve it as seasoned engineers would. It’s not dumbed down for them, it challenges them, it makes them think. I also, really like that failure as a roadway to success is incorporated because a growth mindset is essential to becoming a good problem solver.

3rd grade Chinese–math class.avi

Academic Expectations
Due to the language barrier it is difficult to get an idea of the teacher’s academic expectations. However, in an article on Chinese math lessons Wei (2014) states, “In order to understand multiplication, pupils have to memorise the multiplication rhyme” and this can clearly be seen in the video. Wei, goes on to say that Chinese math education is rigorous in terms of expecting the students to master content and mathematical language. Furthermore, because of societal values there are high expectations for children.

Behavior Expectations
This very short video makes it hard to assess what behavior expectations the teacher has for the students. I can not say whether or not they could be considered high as we only see her interact with the students for a couple of minutes. However, she certainly does expect them to listen to her quietly and to listen to a peer answer quietly as well.

Norms and Procedures
The times table chant at the beginning of the lesson is obviously a common procedure as well as the chant and clap routine that I’m guessing is a transition signal for the students. Again a very short clip with out any explicit explanation of the lesson make it difficult to know what other norms or procedures may be in place.

There wasn’t much lesson in this video to form an opinion on. The lesson looks pretty standard to what you would expect after reading the Wei article on Chinese math instruction, teacher driven direct instruction. I liked their clap-chant though that seemed fun. However, if it were me teaching math to those kids I’d be doing it differently. Either in small groups or using stations.

Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics

Academic Expectations
In this short video it is difficult to get a sense of whether or not the teacher had high academic expectations for her students. This is because, hardly any content is shown in the video. However, I can extrapolate from the fact that she has the students seated in small groups, that she has them teaching each other content and engaging in pair work, that she does have fairly high standards.

Behavior Expectations
I believe that the teacher in the video has high behavior expectations for her students. She uses the Whole Brain Teaching method and she has her students well trained to follow the procedures she has set. They give her their attention when she calls for it and they promptly transition to work when she signals. To me this is a sign of high behavior expectations.

Norms and Procedures
She has many norms and procedures. Respect and dignity for all is one of the norms chanted by her and the students. She has several different procedures in place from the Whole Brain Teaching method; class-yes to call attention to her, teach-ok to have the students repeat content to each other, scoreboard, and various cheers to create positive feelings.

My first thought was “Wow! this teacher is using Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) with grade 9 students and it’s working”. Of course, I am likely seeing the best of her classes and a lesson that worked out well but I was surprised that 9th graders seemed happy to be doing class-yes and other “kiddie” things. I use WBT techniques in my ESL classes so I feel a kinship with this teacher and I enjoyed seeing her students smiling while they learned. I think WBT is an effective way to teach and manage a class.

Summary – Setting Up a High Performance Learning Environment.

To begin the vital statistics of my students and classes. I teach both 7th and 8th grade English as a second language (ESL) to Japanese students at a private middle school in Tokyo, Japan. I have three levels of English students my 7th grade SA students who are the most proficient in the 7th grade. For my SA classes I have 20-30 students in a class. I also teach 8th grade A and B courses. The As are the middle proficiency group in the 8th grade and the Bs are the lowest proficiency group. For my A classes I have about 30 students per class and for the Bs I have about 15. All the ESL classes are team taught with a Japanese teacher of English and we divide up the 5 English periods a week between us in the following ratios by level. For SA classes its native English teacher to Japanese teacher of English 3:2, for A classes its 2:3 and for B courses it’s 1:4. As can be seen from these ratios the most proficient students is where I have the most chance to influence the learning environment. So for this exercise I will focus on my SA class.

Compared to the three learning scenarios I watched how would I set up my learning environment. Most certainly I would avoid the direct instruction approach in the Chinese math lesson. Of course some direct instruction is necessary but I think it is complete death to student interest and at the middle school lesson if I just lectured from the front all class I would only put them to sleep. Ideally I would aim for the collaborative approach seen in both the STEM class and the WBT class. Every term students have to complete an English presentation and I want my students to collaborate in small groups to tackle a more realistic English situation they may encounter in their lives or in pursuit of their future goals. To foster a learning environment where students can take on such a challenge and succeed I have three key action points:

  1.  Develop a classroom norm of mutual trust and respect. As done in the STEM lesson and the WBT lesson students will be taught how to communicate with respect to the teacher and one another. This is then reinforced with WBT techniques of the rule chant and other procedures.
  2. Foster a growth mind-set for learning English. Teach the students it is okay to fail and show them the value of sustained effort. This can be done with activities like  Q & A time challenges where a pair of students has to each answer a set list of questions, with their own answers in a given time limit. However, as they practice they will be rewarded for reducing the time it takes to complete. This will demonstrate how sustained effort leads to positive results.
  3. Make things fun. In both the STEM and WBT videos the students had a smile on their face while they were learning. I would strive to set activities that, although challenging, are fun and provide a sense of accomplishment when finished. Some silly and fun success chants like WBT’s “10 fingered woo” are a good addition.

This concludes my action plan for setting up a high performance learning environment. Think very key norms and procedures need to be in place for success to happen and those must NOT be compromised.  On the other hand an overly strict and ridged environment stifles fun and I am a big believer that fun is a far better motivational tool than fear of getting a poor grade.


Chen, C. (2011, June 13). 3rd grade Chinese–math class.avi , Retrieved June 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7LseF6Db5g

Roxishayne. (2011, May 31). Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics Retrieved June 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iXTtR7lfWU&feature=youtu.be

Teaching Channel. (2012). Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action Retrieved June 16, 2017, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-stem-strategies

Wei, K. (2014, March 25). Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good? [Web log post]. Retrieved June 16, 2017, from http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-makes-chinese-maths-lessons-so-good-24380

M4U1A3 – Malin Matus – Establishing a Positive Classroom Climate


To begin this blog I’d like to share a little pertinent background information. Currently, I am a middle school ESL teacher with four years of experience teaching 5th grade and am currently in my first year teaching 8th grade. Before I started in the middle school classroom I had only previously taught adults: business English and conversational English. I had, had a smattering of experience teaching kids conversation classes but that was very little. As a teacher of adults, classroom climate was not something I thought about much other than usual ice breaking activities at the start of a new course. Thus, when I entered the fifth grade classroom for the first time it was a disaster—for the whole year. Vowing not to repeat that experience in my second year I embarked on a mission of self-directed learning on how to better manage my classes. I found a lot of stuff and tried it out. Some worked and some didn’t but ultimately things got better. Now doing the Teach-Now program I am very excited to have the opportunity to again delve into the realm of managing/creating/existing the teaching environment. When I first thought about writing for this assignment I read the word “classroom” in the title and immediately thought about what to do with the kids in the class and in the lessons. Then, naturally, I thought how can our classroom learning be extended into the community or how can what we learn be applied into a broader context. However, while thinking an investigating ideas for these two areas I started asking myself questions like “What would my personal response be to bullying?”, “How culturally sensitive am I?”, “What do I know about the inner workings of the families of my students?”, etc. Very quickly it became clear to me that establishing a positive classroom climate starts with the teacher examining their own beliefs and practices and then educating/developing themselves to bring positive caring practices into the classroom. I envision it like an onion, the teacher is in the center and from them an environment of safety, caring and positivity moves outward in layers: to the students (and perhaps other teachers), to the school community and to the community outside the school.

The Teacher

I think a positive and equal classroom environment begin with the teacher. They are the default leader of the class and are the number one role model for the students. Therefore it is very important that a teacher educate him/her self to be the kind of person that they would like their students to be. How effective would a teacher be if they preached anti-bullying like Rosina Keren (Teaching Channel, 2012) but then was seen to be yelling at students. Not very effective I believe. The inherent hypocrisy would completely undermine that teacher’s credibility with the students and they would likely not hear what that teacher has to say. What about a teacher who is trying to foster an appreciation for cultural diversity in their class but they have trouble correctly pronouncing some of their students’ name and laugh it off say, “Oh, I don’t know x language so you’ll just have to get used to my horrible pronunciation”. Without realizing it this teacher has just sent a message to that student saying, “You are not important enough for me to learn how to say your name right”. Therefore in order to set-up a positive and caring classroom environment it is vital that you educate yourself comprehensively so as to not undermine your own efforts, and to be able to lead with honesty and integrity. Teaching Tolerance [TT] (2016) has several suggestions for doing this and I think two very important one are; “16. Self-Awareness and Cultural Competency” and the two strategies mentioned there, “Self-Assessment” and “Professional Development on Working with Specific Groups” (Teaching Tolerance [TT], 2016, p.19). The other is, “20. Ongoing Reflection and Learning” and the strategy called, “Critical Friend Relationships” (TT, 2016, p. 22). I think these areas of teacher development are important because firstly, when it comes to cultural awareness we can often believe “I don’t think of my students in terms of their race or ethnicity. I am color blind when it comes to my teaching.” (TT, n.d., p. 1) but that leaves us ignorant of who someone truly is, because like it or not race and cultural background have an effect on education and we cannot be blind to it. Therefore, in order to combat our own blindness we must educate ourselves and use self-assessment whenever possible to try and ensure there are not gaps in our awareness of who our students are. Second, I believe that having a “Critical Friend” is an essential part of educating oneself to be the kind of teacher who is able to lead and maintain a positive and caring classroom. A “Critical Friend” is a teacher colleague who you trust to give you constructive criticism on your teaching practices. Unfortunately, even teachers are human and prone to think the best of themselves (or vice versa) and an outside opinion is necessary for us to realize more concretely what we are doing. A timely observation or discussion with your friend could be the piece of the puzzle you needed to further improve your classroom environment, or it could be the necessary validation of your technique or idea allowing you to stay the course when perhaps your conviction was wavering. As teachers we likely all want the best for our students. A learning environment filled with positivity, caring, understanding, freedom of expression and safety. However, in order to realize these goals in our classrooms and/or in our students we must first realize them in ourselves. If we do not our best efforts will be sabotaged by our own hypocrisy, whether overt or covert, and our goals will not be satisfactorily realized. As a result, it is incumbent on teachers to become the most positive, caring, understanding, free and safe, individuals they can be, in order to, bring out those qualities in their students and learning environments.

The Classroom

Of all the places where a teacher works the classroom is likely the place where a teacher interacts with their students the most. Therefore, it is essential to establish it as a positive and safe environment for both students and teachers alike. There are many ways one could accomplish this task and what any given teacher might do would depend on their teaching style, the age of children being taught and the subject of instruction. Nevertheless how a teacher may decide to organize their classroom their measures will fall into one of three categories. One, use of physical space: how the desks, chairs, furniture and other instructional materials of a classroom will be arranged. A science classroom will necessarily need quite a different arrangement of furniture and materials than a math classroom. Two, what the teacher will do in the class: this is a list of routines, actions or responses the teacher will employ in the class. This could be how the teacher will greet and start each class, to how they will handle disruptions of learning. Three, and the last category, is what the students will do in the classroom: this is a list of behaviors and actions that the students will be expected to perform in the class. As mentioned before the way in which a teacher structures the items of the above categories will be dictated by age group, teaching style and subject taught, so for the purposes of example I will provide some description in these areas according to what I have taught: grade 5, ESL to Japanese students in Japan. Marzano states, “The physical setting of the classroom conveys a strong message regarding a teacher’s approach to managing instruction and learning” (2010, p. 121), and I agree with it who heartedly. Therefore, for my ESL classroom to promote the positive, “we are in this all together” mind-set I think is essential for language learning I have the student  desks and chairs arranges in clumps of 4-5. The teacher’s desk is off in the corner as I don’t spend time there during class. At the front is a big white-board with space in front of it so that both the teacher and students can use it together. The goal of this set-up is to create a collaborative environment and when I set my student groups language tasks to practice I go around and see what they’re doing. Also, the groups serve as teams for game based activities. With the physical space organized a teacher must “establish a small set of rules and procedures” (Marzano, 2010, p. 122) to promote positive interactions in the classroom. For middle school learners it is import to have routine as it allow for familiarity and lowers the affective level of the students, which is important for learning. While establishing class rules and procedures I think that it is important to incorporate the element of equity over equality. Definitely we want all students to have equal opportunity but I think “that one-size [rules or] lessons do not fit all” (Safir, 2016). The same application will not always help a student and while establishing rules and procedure we must retain flexibility. Personally, I like big catch all rules that can be adapted to many situations. My number one rule in all the classes is, respect everyone, and we spend time in the first months of classes going over what this means to each students and when we need to take the opportunity to apply it. Sometime respecting someone means letting the rules bend a little bit in order to retain that person’s unique viewpoint or passion. Of course other more bland rules like, raise your hand to speak, or, walk don’t run, have their uses but once again maybe we’ll run in class one day for a game or just to burn off youthful energy. It is just important to run respectfully. As the teacher you set up the classroom and define a basic framework of procedure and rules, and then it is time to turn it over to the students. Marzano says “interact with students about classroom rules and procedures” (2010, p. 127) and this practice is very important for middle school aged students I believe. Within a basic framework established by the teacher having the students decide on how to manage things is empowering for them. It allows them to take ownership of their behavior and class, and for them to employ an internal locus of control rather than just be controlled by an external agent. This ties into the idea expressed by Teaching Tolerance [TT] (2016, p. 9) of, “student jobs and ownership of classroom space”. As humans we are much more likely to take care of what believe is “ours” rather than what we perceive as “another’s”. It is especially important for middle school students to be given the opportunity to solve problems themselves as at their age they are developing a greater sense of personal agency. TT mentions “student-generated agreements and contracts” (2016, p.12) as a method for doing this. I think this is particularly effective because as adults teachers do not always understand what students perceive as equitable. Having the students decide for themselves may remove feelings of arbitrariness and the excuse that “adults just don’t understand” which middle school students often express. Designing and maintaining a classroom environment that is safe, positive and learner centered is no easy feat. However, with some forethought and by being flexible, aiming for equity and listening to your students it is achievable in my opinion.

The School

While often not directly under the teacher’s locus of control the school culture plays and important role in creating safe, positive and productive classroom environment. A teacher and their classroom is only a microcosm of the school universe. Certainly, a teacher can do all they can to promote safety and positivity in their classroom but if the overarching school environment is filled with violence, apathy and/or negativity, the teacher will be fighting a losing battle. Consequently, it is absolutely necessary for schools as a whole to participate in all the practices I’ve mentioned above. Namely, having administration that will support teachers in; gaining self-awareness and cultural competency, learning anti-bullying practices and getting ongoing professional development and training. In addition the school must provide resources so that teachers can establish physical learning environments appropriate to their students and subjects, as well as, time and resources for teachers to facilitate students in taking ownership of the physical space and resolving inter-student conflict. Also, while maintaining an internal school macrocosm that promotes safety, equality and positivity the school should be reaching out into the community to establish ties that will make what happens at school more relevant. There are many ways this could be done but I think one key method is Teaching Tolerance’s strategies of; family interviews, guest speakers and community research (2010, p. 12). Family interviews can take the students life into their home and vice versa. Definitely parents and teachers will be far more effective if they understand each other and work together to educate the children involved. Guest speakers can provide and invaluable real-life perspective on education. Showing the students the purpose of education and that there is a reason for learning spelling, problem-solving, history, etc. Finally, community research can allow the students to connect with and share their identities with the school.


In this blog I mention three layers of an onion to develop a positive, safe and caring environment for learning, from the center our: the teacher, the classroom and the school. However, at the end of this blog I think perhaps the onion analogy could be misleading. Thinking of these three areas as separate layers I think may belay the interdependence they have on each other. Certainly, a poorly maintained or managed school will challenge teachers greatly to establish a positive, caring and safe environment. Conversely, a negative ill-tempered teacher would likely be a spreading stain on an otherwise sterling school’s environment. So, as I realize this point I think what I am trying to get at is that teachers are tied to their schools and schools are tied to their teachers. That education is a holistic process that involves relationships, reflection and growth to thrive.


Alrubail, R. (2016, July 7). Equity for English-Language Learners [Web log post]. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/equity-for-english-language-learners-rusul-alrubail

Davis, M. (2016, September 8). Preparing for Cultural Diversity: Resources for Teachers [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/preparing-cultural-diversity-resources-teachers

Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: a comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Safir, S. (2016, January 21). Equity vs. Equality: 6 Steps Toward Equity [Web log post]. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/equity-vs-equality-shane-safir

Teaching Tolerance. (n.d.). Common Belifes. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/common_beliefs_descriptions.pdf

Teaching Tolerance. (2016). CRITICAL PRACTICES FOR ANTI-BIAS EDUCATION. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from http://www.tolerance.org/critical-practices

Teaching Tolerance. (n.d.). Common Beliefs. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/common_beliefs_descriptions.pdf

Teaching Channel. (2012). Change Attitudes Toward Bullying: Be An Ally [Video]. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/be-an-ally


M3U5A1 – Malin Matus – A Case for Mobile Technology Use in Language Classes

M3U5A1 – Malin Matus – A Case for Mobile Technology Use in Language Classes

In a short International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE] article titled “Are Drill-and-Practice Apps an Appropriate Use of Educational Technology?”, the two authors, Grant and McLemore, take opposing stances (2013). McLemore argues for the usefulness of drill-and-practice apps, “as a way to reinforce previously learned content and acquire new information” (2013). On the other hand, Grant argues strenuously against these apps; stating, “technology should be a catalyst for change, or at the very least, a lens to re-examine teaching and learning” (2013). The article goes on to poll the readers and ends up with a near 50/50, yes/no divide on the topic. I think this article is instructive not for how it presents two view points on drill-and-practice apps but for how it encapsulates what I believe is the general response for using any kind of mobile technology in the classroom. You could ask any similar mobile technology question and you would get the same polarized yes/no response. However, that being said, I think that the proponents against mobile technology in the class are seriously mistaken and I will outline two reasons why I think mobile technology is a must have for the classroom and the future of education. In addition, I will also provide a list of best practice considerations as well as one proposed use of mobile technology for ESL instruction.

Why Use Mobile Technology?

The first reason for having mobile technology in your classroom is that it is a high order academic tool. What I mean by this is: for any open ended learning experience a student will have to collect new information. They will have to store, organize and manipulate that information. Finally, they will have to produce some sort of product to demonstrate their mastery of the concept. In the past students would have to go to many physical locations to do these tasks. Library to get information, perhaps other locations to ask questions of experts. They would physically store, manipulate, and organize with pen and paper. Finally they’d have to deliver their final product in a classroom or similar environment. Now with a mobile device and high speed internet a student has all three of these physical limitations removed. They can easily connect and retrieve information. Store it, clip it, cut and paste it and organize it on their device. In the end they can use the device to produce and deliver their final product. The increase in efficiency is astronomical and allows the student more time to work with concepts and information rather than moving around to different physical spaces.

Second, is that mobile technology can allow students to better learn about learning and more easily personalize their learning experience. Schaaff proposes a way for mobile technology to calibrate the learning experience to the affective arousal of the learner, thereby increasing the chances that learner will be in the “zone of proximal development” improving retention of material. If the goal of higher learning is metacognitive process, the conscious knowledge of ones thoughts and their processes, then mobile technology can provide invaluable feedback on how to to learn better.

Guidelines for Mobile Technology Use

Now by no means is mobile technology perfect and just like any other educational tool best practices must be followed to ensure it’s effectiveness. Global Citizen’s Foundation’s [GCF] white-paper titled “10 things you Should Know Before Starting a BYOD Program” offers a pretty comprehensive list of considerations for mobile technology use in the classroom. I’ll highlight a couple of their points here that I believe are especially salient. The most important and GCF’s number one reason is “A Clear Vision” (2015). I think too many classroom technology programs are just put together ad-hoc without any clear short or long term goals for how this technology will innovate or enhance the education program. Too often technology is viewed as something different and not part of content education, but this is a mistake. Another error is viewing technology as a means to deliver the same content in a different way. While this may improve learning outcomes it does not exploit the full potential of mobile technology. So, in my opinion a clear short and long term plan must be rigorously defined before any implementation of mobile technology. A fundamental element of this comprehensive plan should be what GCF calls, “A Global Digital Citizenship Program” (2015). This is very important and it is shocking to me that educators overlook this. Teachers for generations have been expected to show children how to behave in society. We teach traffic safety, conflict management and a host of other good citizen practices. So, why are we not educating students about online citizenship? This is fundamental for the success of a mobile technology program because without it the students will invariably fall prey to the darker side of technology, cyber bullying, illegal downloading and other damaging practices. To my mind this is key; just as when I was younger I was taught about traffic safety, academic honesty and to not talk to strangers, the next generation needs to be taught in the same manner to use mobile technology ethically and safely.

A Hypothetical Use of Mobile Technology in ESL Instruction

While there are many apps and ideas out there to use mobile technology for language instruction, like the aforementioned drill-and-practice apps, they feel to me like we are just using the technology to do the same old thing (flash card vocabulary practice) in a new way (flash card apps like quizlet or anki). However, I think that it is time to think bigger and broader. I think that an ongoing part of ESL instruction could be regular contact with actually speakers of English via mobile technology. Students could be assigned a language learning buddy and carry out an ongoing language exchange via video call software. A language exchange is when half of the conversation is done in one person’s native language and the other half of the conversation is done in the other student’s native language. They would meet at specified times for 60 minutes. The value is that both students get contact with a native speaker of the language they are studying. This will provide immediate context and feedback on actual language use. In addition the learners will be exposed to common language usage and proper pronunciation. These are all highly valued elements in second language instruction and people used to have to travel far to experience them. Now they can be stored in your pocket.


10 Things you Should Know Before Starting a BYOD Program. (2015). Global Digital Citizen’s Foundation. [PDF document] Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://solutionfluency.com/en/downloadables/byod-ebook?__hstc=163937376.4ff703e4aec239be92c973d1ca48b713.1495631912728.1495631912728.1495631912728.1&__hssc=163937376.1.1495673960419&__hsfp=641409690&hsCtaTracking=41a93840-074d-40b2-908b-b924a439fcaa%7Cc4750b22-f2fb-4275-bda9-5af79a3fed04

Grant, K., & McLemore, C. (2013, June & July). Are Drill-and-Practice Apps an Appropriate Use of Educational Technology? International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE]. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://www.iste.org

Schaaff, K. (2013). Enhancing Mobile Working Memory Training by Using Affective Feedback. International Conference Mobile Learning, 269-273. Retrieved May 25, 2017.