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.

M2U4A2 – Malin Matus – Special Education Referral Process


This blog will outline my actions for assignment 2 of unit 4. For this assignment I performed two interviews. One with Diane Olson a certified adapted P.E. special educator and Kenji Sakai former principal of my school Tamagawa Academy (2008-2014) and general educator. The purpose of the interviews were to gain information on the special education referral process as well as further insight into how special education is viewed and performed at the teacher level. I will provide a short summary of each interview where I will outline my major findings. In addition, I have provided a link to the recording of each interview and a document containing the interview questions used (note some questions were paraphrased for ease of understanding by the interviewee). Unfortunately, neither interviewee could clearly describe the special education referral process so before the interview summaries I will also provide a brief outline of the US special education referral and implementation process as  defined under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA].

Special Education Referral process in the US under IDEA

All elements are summarized from the web page UnderstandingSpecialEducation.com (n.d.)

  1. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) Referral
    • Can be initiated by parent, teacher or other school personnel
    • The IEP process can legally take up to 60 days but the district should provide you with an assessment plan and a copy of procedural safeguards within 15 days
    • Parents have 15 days to approve the plan and return the consent form. Without informed parent consent a child cannot be evaluated unless the district uses due process.
  2. Evaluation for Eligibility
    • A special education evaluation or assessment is done by an IEP team to determine if the child has one of the 14 types of eligible disabilities defined by IDEA.
    • After the assessment the IEP team will determine whether or not the child is eligible for special education.
    • If a parent disagrees with the IEP’s decision they may request an Independent Education Evaluation.
  3. Writing the Individualized Education Program (IEP)
    • Should a child be found eligible to recieve special education services the IEP team will write a IEP for the child. The IEP will include:
      • Your child’s present level of functioning
      • Strengths, weaknesses, abilities and educational needs
      • Area(s)of eligibility (based on the 13 categories named in IDEA)
      • Annual goals and objectives
      • Common core standards
      • DIS services
      • Program placement
      • Accommodations and level of participation in assessments
      • Transition plan
    • Parents can agree or disagree with all or part of the IEP and the plan can be modified or revised by the IEP team under parental direction.
  4. The IEP meeting
    • This is the final step in the IEP referral process and the first step in a child beginning to receive special education services.

Educator Interviews


Interview One Summary – Diane Olson – Adapted P.E. Teacher
Audio – Diane Olson’s Interview

The purpose of the first interview was to gain some insight into special education from the perspective of a certified special education teacher. Specifically, I was looking to understand how students were identified for special education.  How special education programs were conducted by schools, and the general mindset that a special education teacher cultivates to manage and cope with what is, in my opinion, a challenging teaching position. I conducted the interview with my colleague Diane Olson, who was an adapted P.E. teacher, for four years, at both a special education junior high school and at a main stream high school with special education students. The schools were located in the states of Montana and North Dakota, respectively. Diane worked in the early 1990s so perhaps some practices have changed but I think the information she provides on the day to day responsibilities and attitudes of the teachers, parents and administrators is still relevant. I asked Diane a total of eight main questions with some follow-up questions or other questions to clarify her answers.

The interview was very informative in my opinion. From Diane I gained a more personalized insight into the world of special education. From only reading government policy, or even just school policy, special education practices can sound very well thought out and standardized. However, as any teacher who has worked in a school knows, there can be a very large gap between policy and practice. Thus, I felt very fortunate to have a firsthand account of special education from the “trenches” so to speak. One more thing of additional value to me was the opportunity to investigate the mindset of another teacher because as teachers we encounter stress and challenges and developing coping strategies is as important as planning our lessons.

Four of my findings from the interview were significant and in my opinion warrant me sharing them here. First, about the dedicated special education junior high Diane (Olson, 2017), said, nearly all the adapted P.E. was carried out off campus because the school lacked appropriate facilities. Furthermore, about the high school she went on to say, the administration would fund the main stream off campus activities (like sports events and drama productions) but not special education off campus activities. This tells me that although the school had a policy to provide for special education teachers like Diane they did not allocate funds equitably, or lacked funding for appropriate facilities. Second, Diane (Olson, 2017) told me that parent involvement at the two schools was different. At the junior high school because the students were much more severely disabled there was high parent involvement: especially to supervise off campus activities and to administer medications. However, at the high school, where the disabled students were part of the mainstream student body, the parents of the disabled students were no more involved than the parents of the mainstream students. This indicates that the level of community involvement in a special education program may vary dependent on the needs of the student population. However, I question whether this should be the case. Although the high school disabled students were much higher functioning could they have benefited from extra community/parental involvement and support? This leads me to the third finding of note, which is what Diane (Olson, 2017) described as, “a lack of empathy”. What she means is that the disabled students would occasionally make errors in judgment not made by mainstream students. For example: forgetting to whisper in the library. And when the disabled students made these mistake they were often judged harshly or shamed for their behavior. This is important to note because unless the whole school community is aware of the disabled students needs and/or patterns of behavior the school will not be a comfortable or safe learning environment. Finally, I asked Diane how she combated any frustration or disappointment she felt when she saw a lack of empathy for these disabled students or when the IEP wasn’t effective for a particular student. Diane’s (Olson, 2017) answer that “the special ed. team was on the same page and that they would gather informally to discuss their frustrations and support each other” is most instructive. This underscores the importance of collaboration in teaching and building strong teams and working relationships.

From my interview with Diane I discovered many things about the ground level work of a special education teacher. How policy is actually practiced and about how schools can be organized. I also learned that community and collaboration are important to the success of education programs. In total the interview was an education experience and shed light on aspects of special education that I could not have found out from reading policy.

Interview Two Summary

Kenji Sakai – General Educator (ESL) and former Principal
Audio – Kenji Sakai’s Interview

The purpose of the second interview was to learn about the Japanese perspective on special education and differentiated instruction at the school where I work, from a general educator. Also, as an added bonus the interviewee was a former principal of our school so I could gain some insight into the administrator perspective as well. This interview was conducted with Kenji Sakai general educator (ESL) at Tamagawa Academy Middle School, a private middle school in Tokyo, which is part of the Tamagawa Academy K-university campus. Kenji is a more than 30 year veteran teacher at Tamagawa.

This interview yielded some surprising opinions and approaches to differentiated instruction, which I will outline later. As a foreign teacher at Tamagawa It is not often that we have the opportunity to discuss teaching practice and methodology with our Japanese colleagues so taking the time to interview Kenji was a valuable experience. I asked Kenji a total of seven questions with a few follow up questions in order to clarify his position or ideas on a particular topic. He provided me with the Japanese perspective on how to manage struggling students. Furthermore, he outlined the process, in our school, by which learning disabled students are identified and supported.

As mentioned above some of Kenji’s ideas on differentiated instruction surprised me and I’ll take the opportunity here to explain a few of them. First, when asked, how can differentiated instruction be used to assist students who are struggling? Kenji (Sakai, 2017) replied, “Seating is very important, put the [struggling] student in front of the teacher” he also went on to outline that additional after school instruction and special assignments are also used to help struggling students. The comment about seating is surprising to me because I did not realize that such a premium is placed on the student’s location in the classroom. I guess in the Japanese system, where direct instruction still dominates, student proximity to the teacher can affect student performance. Another surprising thing Kenji said in response to the same question above was that, “communication is important. Students should respect the teacher and the teacher should have patience”. I found this an interesting opinion as I know that in Japan teachers still believe that students must respect the teacher, however, I had never heard Japanese teachers talk about patience for the student being important as well. I am curious if this is just Kenji’s personal idea or indicative of a more generalized feeling among Japanese educators. Another point of interest from the interview was that Kenji (Sakai, 2017) mentioned communication as being a key element several times in the interview. When asked: how to determine if a student should be referred for special education services, how do you combat frustration/disappointment if the IEP or your teaching methods are failing to prove effective, and what was your opinion on how schools and teachers should deal with learning disabilities? His answer was, communication and teamwork between the subject teachers, homeroom teachers, the head teacher and parents as being the vital elements for deciding on action. This was a surprising finding for me as I have always felt that our school system is very top down. The head teachers tell us what to do and we get to work doing it. However, it seems there is a collaborative layer at play here that I either have not noticed or do not have access to.

From the interview with Kenji I learned some new things. That there is educational value placed upon a student’s position in the classroom. That teacher patience with struggling student is seen as important. Most surprisingly I discovered that when dealing with learning disabilities and/or struggling students, a premium is placed on collaborative practice. The teachers, parents and administration work together to decide on the best course of action and support the students learning. While by no means do I feel our school does an excellent job of helping struggling students, after talking with Kenji I have a bit more respect for my Japanese colleagues. I have learned that the Japanese teachers are thinking about the students in trouble and trying, in their own way, to help them as best they can. Additionally, they are not doing this in a vacuum, rather, there is a collaborative process at work that is trying to elicit support from several sources. The challenge for me now will be to find a way to get involved in this maybe exclusively Japanese circle.


Hancock, M. (n.d.). Understanding Special Education Law (IDEA). Retrieved April 14, 2017, from http://www.understandingspecialeducation.com/special-education-law.html

Olson, D. (2017, April 12). Personal interview.

Sakai, K. (2017, April 13). Personal interview.

Positions on International Education in Japan – by Malin Matus

Positions on International Education in Japan – by Malin Matus

As a Canadian expat living in Japan I have a strong interest in international issues, especially those related to education and language learning. I’m a mostly bilingual father (English and Japanese) raising a completely bilingual daughter, who doesn’t hesitate to correct me. She will be entering school next year, and as a result I have been paying close attention to what opportunities are available for her education here in Japan. Particularly, I would like her to get a bilingual education in English and Japanese, as well as an international education so she can appreciate her multicultural heritage. Therefore, for this blog I investigated the topic of international education within three educational organizations: MEXT – the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Science and Technology, JAFSA – Japan Network for International Education, and OECD & CERI – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  & Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

Is the main governing body of all education in Japan. For good or ill MEXT wields a great amount of authority on what is taught and how it is taught in the compulsory education environment (Grades 1 -9). However, their policy and authority often extend beyond compulsory education into secondary and post-secondary as well. Regarding international education MEXT has released a recent report on the topics. In April 2011 under the heading “International Education” MEXT released:

In their report MEXT outlines both the need for English education; “Globalization brings about unprecedented necessity of English in universities and enterprises” (2011, p. 5), and a policy to bring about this education, “it is most important to use educational materials based on actual English usage, to actively introduce debates and discussions, and to resort to other means for improvement of lesson quality” (2011, p. 6). Finding this report was a new thing for me. Previously I had not known that MEXT is taking a decisive stance to promote English education as a means of globalizing learning. From my perspective as a teacher MEXT’s policy is certainly a step in the right direction and I like how they view native ESL instructors as, “a valuable asset increasing opportunities for students to come across practical English, and to actually use English by themselves” (MEXT, 2011, p. 7). My only point of concern is that while MEXT has stated this policy in 2011, I and my native ESL colleagues are essentially unaware of this stance. Furthermore, MEXT outlines several ways to improve English and international studies by: engaging in speech competitions or debates, having guest speakers talk about how they use English in their work/research, develop exchange programs with schools in foreign countries, etc. (2011). Unfortunately, in the four years I’ve been teaching at a middle school, there has been little to no movement towards these initiatives at the instructional level. So, while MEXT outlines a well thought-out and practical approach to enhancing English instruction and globalizing learning there is a large gap between policy and practice.

Is an NPO founded in 1968 whose mission is to “promote and enhance excellence in international education in Japan and provide for a connection to the global community” (About JAFSA, n.d.). They go about this through networking partnerships between private and government institutions and universities in Japan. JAFSA has a relationship with 225 Japanese universities (JAFSA member list 2, 2016) which is just over a quarter of the universities in Japan. They also boast that their membership encompasses 90% of the inbound and outbound students in Japan (JAFSA member list 1, 2016). This is all new information to me as previously I had no idea this organization existed. JAFSA seems quite dedicated to promoting international exchange at the university level. One thing to note is that JAFSA membership was at 250 universities in 2011 which rose sharply to 283 by 2013 (JAFSA member list 1, 2016). In no other two year span, since 2005, did membership increase by such a margin. This is interesting as the sharp increase in JAFSA university membership corresponds to the release of MEXT’s policies to promote globalization in education in 2011. Of course we can’t say MEXT necessarily drove up JAFSA membership, but we can not discount it as a factor either. From my standpoint as a middle school teacher JAFSA is not part of my circle. Certainly, I agree with any attempts to promote internationalization of education, however, JAFSA’s workings remain inaccessible to me. What I’d like to see is JAFSA or a JAFSA like organization developed at the primary school level to help support the implementation of international education programs at the start of a child’s education.

Is a huge repository of research, articles, blogs and other media related to education at all levels, with a specific focus on the future of education. While OECD & CERI encompass a vast range of information and research on education their position on international education is indicated in their book  Languages in a Global World Learning for Better Cultural Understanding (Chiesa, Scott and Hinton [eds.], 2012). Chiesa et.al. states,

In our globalised world, language competencies are increasingly important. It is no longer an advantage for a job seeker to speak just one non-native language (NNL). Rather it now could be a drawback for a job seeker to only speak one language. (2012, p.26)

CERI takes a firm stance that learning a NNL is an essential element of a student’s future success in the job market. Since, CERI so strongly promotes NNL learning I also conclude that they similarily promote international education as I believe the two are inexorably linked. Comparing CERI’s stance to that of MEXT and JAFSA, CERI’s is certainly the strongest; that NNL learning and by proxy international education are essential. MEXT recognizes that it is advantages for Japanese to learn English but they do not say it is essential. JAFSA’s position is even more watered down as they merely promote the concept of international education without taking a strong stance about the value of it. The thing that struck me about this CERI book is that until I discovered it I was unaware that so much research had been complied pointing to the positive results of NNL learning. In the past I had read research that had indicated some benefit but it seemed the jury was still out as to the value of NNL learning as a whole. However, CERI’s book makes s very compelling case that NNL learning is of benefit to the student as a person, to society and ultimately, to the world. As an ESL teaching in Japan where, at the level of instruction, there is a fair amount of antipathy towards English learning, finding this book was a real validation of what I had always felt was true: that NNL learning has great value and is a valuable life skill, not just a hobby or a curiosity.

In this blog I discussed the policy/opinions on international education from three organizations; MEXT, JAFSA and OECD & CERI. While all the organizations supported international education in some form, CERI made the strongest case as to international education’s value for the future of our students. To my surprise, I discovered that MEXT actually has some very clear policy and goals related to international education, and it is quite disappointing to see how MEXT’s decisions are failing to enact much change at the instructional level. Going back to how I started this blog with my concern over my daughters education. I can say that after reading more about international education; I am more determined than ever to promote my daughter’s bilingualism and international awareness. In addition, I feel the fire of motivation burning in me to take language and cultural education into my classroom with renewed verve. Because of my discoveries I once again feel confidant the English language instruction does matter,  it is worthwhile, and it will prepare my students for their future.

Della Chiesa, B., J. Scott and C. Hinton (eds.) (2012), Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264123557-en

Japan, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Science and Technology. [MEXT], Tokyo. (2011, June 30). Survey on the Five Proposals and Specific Measures for Developing Proficiency in English for International Communication. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/elsec/title02/detail02/1373861.htm

JAFSA – Japan Network for International Education. (2016, July 13). [webpage member list] Retrieved March 29, 2017, from http://www.jafsa.org/en/membership/jafsamembers/entry-973.html