M6U1A3 – Malin Matus – Implications of High Stakes Testing in the USA and Japan

INTRODUCTION

The Glossary of Education Reform defines High Stakes Testings as, “any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability” (2014, para. 1). High stakes tests can be found in many forms through-out the worlds many Educations systems. For this blog I will compare and contrast the high stake testing environments in two countries, the USA and Japan. First, I will explore the general situation of high stakes testing in the USA and Japan and then I will go on to talk about how high stakes testing manifests in the teaching practices of both countries.

GENERAL STATE OF HIGH STAKES TESTING

In the USA the enactment of the No Child Left Behind [NCLB] amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] in 2002, and most noticeably in it’s 2009 iteration, made states accountable for the scores of their students, all of them, including the typically under-reported scores of disadvantaged students and English language learners [ELLs]. The accountability took the direct form of financial funding which made the results of high stakes testing very high indeed. The enactment of NCLB lead to an explosion of standardized testing in USA schools.  A study of 14 school districts conducted by the Center for American Progress found students in grades 3–8 taking an average of 10 and as many as 20 standardized tests per year (Lazarín, 2014, in Hofman, Goodwin and Kahl, 2015, p. 2). The backlash of this high stakes testing environment has resulted in both parental and educator opposition to the battery of standardized tests students have to undergo. Parental advocacy groups such as, United Opt Out National, organize and educate parents with the goal to:

“[serve] as a focused point of unyielding resistance to corporate education reform. We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue” (n.d.).

In response to the criticisms of NCLB the USA Department of Education [DOE] replaced the NCLB with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10th, 2015. The ESSA is an attempt to address the failings of NCLB, which were its overly heavy focus on standardized testing results and lack of flexibility. Initial educator and parental response to ESSA has generally been positive, however, states are just beginning to revise their accountability plans and receive DOE feedback so I believe it is much to early to tell if ESSA will alter the high stakes testing environment in the USA.

In Japan there is high stakes testing as well, but when compared to the USA it is of a different nature. Gardner describes the education environment in Japan as, “built on cutthroat competition and high-stakes testing” (2014, para. 3). And while Japan’s ongoing high rankings on the PISA test certainly point at an achieving education system, voices demanding reform have been heard since Japan’s economic decline began in the 1990s. The major criticism being that, “Japan’s schools are inordinately test-oriented at the expense of student creativity. In the new global economy, this has proved to be a decided liability” (Gardner, para. 6). This test-centric educational philosophy culminates in Japan with annual entrance exams. For Japanese students success in life it equated with which universities they enter, which is decided by whether or not they pace the entrance exam. In Cordilia’s interviews of Japanese university students, the students often described their education as a railroad:

One cannot for example, easily take time off between high school and college (except in order to do an intense period of study for the entrance examinations). If a student takes time off to work for a few years, (s)he will find it difficult to pass the entrance exams later, since (s)he will have forgotten much of the relevant material (s)he crammed in high school. (1989, p. 5-6)

From Cordilia’s study we can see the importance that these high stakes entrance exams have on student life. They are in fact so definitive that failure of the exams often lead students to commit extreme acts, such as suicide. In contrast to the USA, Japan’s testing climate is not government driven. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT] in Japan does not rank schools, nor require across the board standardized testing. Cummings states that, “in Japan, in most cases testing is carried out on a sample of students (whose identities are carefully protected), and researchers are not [End Page 228] allowed to link these individual scores to particular schools or classrooms” (2017). In Japan public school resources are not allocated by test score. All the pressure of testing in Japanese school’s come from the fact that a student’s success or failure on an entrance exam is likely to influence that student’s financial future for the rest of their life.

Similar to the USA, the [MEXT] is advocating education reform. MEXT in their Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education, outlines education reform to move away from the exam-driven pedagogy that has been in place since the 1950s saying, “What is truly needed in Japan is independent-minded learning by individuals in order to realize independence, collaboration and creativity” (2013). Although enacted over four years ago this plan has not yet materialized in the Japanese education system, that I have been exposed to at least, and the mainstay of direct instruction and content based testing is the norm.

IN THE CLASSROOM: HOW HIGH STAKES TESTING INFLUENCES USA AND JAPANESE TEACHING

In this section I will explore my observations and experience of how high stakes testing philosophy has manifested in the school where I currently work, Tamagawa Academy Middle School (5-8) [玉川学園中学部]. Additionally, I will compare my experience to the American model as well. Unfortunately, as I have no direct experience in any American schools so I will be relying on information that I collected from an American teacher, working at a private Hawaiian school (K-8), that I started working with this year for our two schools’ mutual exchange program. I will start off with my observations of teaching practices here in Japan and then will finish with a comparison of American practices.

I have been teaching ESL in a Japanese middle school for five years, four years as a grade five teacher and this year as a grade 8 teacher. After only a year working here it became quite apparent to me that the “test” was everything. The “test” being the midterm and final exams the students take each semester during the school year. While neither of these tests are standardized or impact school funding they are the major measure of student performance and determine whether a student passes a grade level or not. For ESL the “test” determines which level of English class a student is placed in (there are two levels per grade, upper and lower). The “test” determines about 70% of the students final grade with a paltry 10% set aside for English “speaking skills” (usually an oral presentation), 10% for unit tests, and the final 10% as an attitude grade. Under this system the Japanese teacher of English’s (JTE) only concern is that students are passing the “test”. As we are a private school the teachers are under a lot of pressure to have the students succeed as parents are likely to wonder why they are spending around $15,000 USD a year on their child’s education to have them fail. As a result of this pressure JTE’s engage in various questionable testing practices. One is that they often make the midterm or final exam to closely mirror the most recent unit test that students took. For students who are not doing well hours of extra time outside of class is devoted to teaching toward the “test”. Getting them to do written language drills of the exact nature that will be on the “test”. Furthermore, as the “test” is the be all and end all of a students grade, JTEs usually spend their time in direct instructional approaches, teaching to the “test” content through pencil and paper drill. For the students there is no small amount of stress associated with taking the “test”. As it mirrors the type of tests that they will take to enter high schools and universities students are taught that getting a good score is very important. As a result, I have seen a lot of stress manifest in the students. It is particularly bad with the grade 5 students as the first midterm test in middle school is likely the first high stakes test they have ever taken. Consequently, in my four years teaching grade 5 I have noted that the weeks leading up to the first midterm herald a time of increased disciplinary problems as these over stressed kids reach the limits of their ability to cope. And while in 2013 MEXT issued it’s mandate to reform education away from this testing based culture, I have yet to see any movement in pedagogical practice.

To compare to Tamagawa to the Hawaiian school I collected data from my Tamagawa-Hawaiian school exchange colleague Mr. H. I used a simple google survey to collect some necessary points of information from him and you can view all the results here, if you are interested. In contrast to Tamagawa, the Hawaiian school does not embrace a high stakes testing culture. Mr. H’s responses to statements included in the survey such as, “Teachers at my school teach to the test”, “I feel pressure from my colleagues to have my students get good test scores” or “The school rewards teachers whose students get good test scores”, were all uniformly negative. The Hawaiian school and Tamagawa make a good comparison as both are private school institutions and we can see a very clear difference. On the Tamagawa side there is pressure to have students succeed on the test and that is the main focus on instruction. Conversely, on the Hawaiian school side less instructional time is focused on tests and the main focus of instruction is elsewhere. To tack on one more comparison Mr. H was kind enough to share with me his experience as a resource teacher at DOE public schools in Hawaii (see Mr. H’s final response in the survey results). In contrast to the Hawaiian private school, Mr. H paints a picture of the Hawaiian public school being heavily focused on testing as, “[at first] teachers taught heavily to the test because it was a reflection on their skills. Over the past 5-10 years, there has been a shift to focus more on thinking skills rather than memorization and administrators have been trying to adjust the tests to accurately measure students’ critical thinking skills over fact recollection and test taking skills”. From Mr. H we can see the pattern of high-stakes testing culture in Hawaiian schools closely resembles that of many other US public schools. However, neither Tamagawa or The Hawaiian school, as private schools, engage heavily in standardized testing.

CONCLUSION

In this blog I described, in broad strokes, the culture of high-stakes testing in the USA and in Japan. Primarily, that in the USA it grew out of the NCLB legislation and wasn’t entirely considered successful. The proscribed antidote, the ESSA, while addressing many of the concerns people had with the NCLB is still too new to tell if it will significantly alter the current high-stakes testing practices. Similarly, Japanese education has a high-stakes testing culture, but in contrast to the USA, it is not government driven. Rather, it is the universities and big business hiring practices that have set-up the high-stakes entrance tests which usually define the life long success of Japanese high school students. Also of note, is that both the education authorities of the USA and Japan are attempting to reform educational practices, advocating more interconnected instructional pedagogy that promotes the 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical-thinking and creativity/problem solving. Both are also encountering only limited success. At a more local level I described the testing culture of the Tokyo private school where I work, Tamagawa Academy Middle and our Hawaiian exchange school, where my colleague Mr. H works. While both schools are somewhat independent from government mandate, Tamagawa still engages in fairly traditional Japanese instructional methodology of direct instruction toward a high-stakes written summative assessment. However, on the other hand The Hawaiian school does not necessarily engage in such practice. So, while generally high-stakes assessment in the USA and Japan share some similarities, at a school to school comparison level they can be quite different. On a personal note I find high-stakes assessment to be an unappealing prospect. Certainly, data on student ability is a good thing, but that can be done without making the assessment worth all the marbles, so to speak. I think it is impossible to design the perfect assessment, so when we force students to take these high-stakes tests we invariable set some up for failure. But how can we fail a person on a single snap-shot into their life. We’ve all had bad days where we fail the test of life, so too our students can have a bad day and fail a high-stakes test. In addition most standardized tests only predict better scores on other standardized tests. Therefore, when the dust settles on the results of these standardized tests we have students in one category, who we are confidant will pass the next standardized test, and we have the other group, who we worry will not pass the next standardized test. Students are much more complicated and deserve more than a label, a cookie cutter approach, a one-size fits all mentality. In the words of Albert Einstein, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” and this I believe is our duty as educators. To hold true to this we will have to take each student as they come, and try to open their minds, ignite their curiosity and fuel their passion. For many we will be able to follow the same approach or the same blend of lesson types or activities. However, we will be challenged by some students and in those challenges are opportunities to see beyond education, as we have conceived of it up to that point. This is how we will grow as teachers and as individuals. High-stakes testing robs us as educators of the opportunity to become better at our craft and better people through interactions with our students. High-stakes testing robs students of their freedom to grow into the person they want to be. For these reasons I hope education reform in Japan and the USA continues to shift toward a more student centered model.

REFERENCES

Cordilia, A. (1989). College as Moratorium: The Hidden Functions of Japanese College Education. 1-13. [PDF] Retrieved August 8, 2017, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED353917.pdf

Cummings, W. K. (2017) High-Stakes Schooling: What We Can Learn from Japan’s Experiences with Testing, Accountability, and Education Reform by Christopher Bjork (review), The Journal of Japanese Studies, 43(1) 227-229. [website] Retrieved August 8, 2017, from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/646966

Gardner, W. (2014, July 7). High test scores, low expectations. The Japan Times. [website] Retrieved August 8, 2017, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/07/07/commentary/japan-commentary/high-test-scores-low-expectations/#.WYkZllFLfIU

The Glossary of Education Reform. (2014, August 18). High-Stakes Test Definition. [website] Retrieved August 07, 2017, from http://edglossary.org/high-stakes-testing/

Hofman, P., Goodwin, B., & Kahl, S. (2015). Re-Balancing Assessment: Placing Formative and Performance Assessment at the Heart of Learning and Accountability. McREL International, 1-16. [PDF] Retrieved August 8, 2017, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED568906.pdf

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. [MEXT] (2013, June 14). The Second Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (Pamphlet). [PDF] Retrieved August 8, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/lawandplan/title01/detail01/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2015/03/06/1355571.pdf

United Opt Out National. (n.d.). [website] Retrieved August 07, 2017, from http://www.unitedoptoutnational.org/

M6U2A3 – Malin Matus – Pre-Assessment for Differentiation

Introduction

In this blog I will outline my plan for pre-assessment and differentiating instruction, based on learner readiness. This is for an ESL instructional unit I plan to teach Japanese 7th grade English students. My complete plan for this unit can be found here, however, for ease of understanding I will state the unit objective in this blog. The unit objective is from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT] and states,
B. Speaking
(b) To speak accurately to the listener(s) about one’s thoughts and feelings, or facts.
(MEXT, 2008, p. 1-2)
In order to better explain my strategy for pre-assessment, differentiation based on student readiness,  and ongoing tracking, I have divided this blog into two parts. First, I will outline my pre-assessment task and how I defined the students groups for instructional differentiation. After that I will explain how initial instruction will be differentiated for each readiness group, and how I will do ongoing tracking to re-position students into the appropriate readiness group as the unit progresses.

Pre-Assessment Task and Student Readiness Groups

My vision for the unit is to have the students learning and using emotion words to express themselves with feeling. I do not plan to explicitly teach grammar structure, so the entry point for this unit requires a knowledge of; some fundamental emotion words (e.g. happy, sad, fun, interesting, angry) and knowledge of basic English grammar (i.e. ability to conjugate simple past, present and future tense forms). With that baseline in mind I created my assessment tool using Quizlet.  To make the Quizlet tests run better I had to divide the pre-assessment into two parts; a vocabulary test and a grammar test. I provide a link to each and explain my rationale below.

  • Vocabulary Pre-Assessment Quiz
    This quiz is only designed to test for passive vocabulary knowledge (recognition of English from Japanese) as that is all that is required at the beginning of the unit. Therefore, the quiz will only be matching and multiple choice questions. I will define the competent baseline as students to being able to recognize 4 out of the 5 core emotion words that the unit begins around. They are: happy, sad, angry, afraid and confused. To assess for students whose knowledge is beyond the competent point I included 10 more emotion words that are similar in meaning to the core 5 words. The cutoff for students who are far above the baseline, proficient, and require more challenging study will be able to correctly identify 8 out of the 10 additional words. Since the unit begins with vocabulary instruction, students who score poorly on this quiz are not  moved to the lower readiness category,  emerging, unless they score poorly on the grammar component too.
  • Grammar Pre-Assessment Quiz
    Again as we will begin the unit working with the necessary language to complete the unit I only need students to have a passive knowledge of the grammar use and as a result the quiz is in a multiple choice format. This is a 10 question quiz with 6 questions testing the students knowledge of the simple past, present, and future tense forms of the verb “to be”. The baseline of competence would be 5 out of 6 correct. As I don’t plan to do explicit grammar instruction in this lesson students who score less than the baseline on the fundamental grammar questions will be placed in the low readiness, emerging, differentiation group. To test for students whose knowledge and skill is far above the baseline and require more challenging tasks I included 4 more difficult grammar questions. These 4 questions are about the correct use of English adjectives that can end in either -ing or -ed (e.g. interesting or interested). Students who score 3 out of 4 or more correct on these questions may be placed in the higher readiness category, proficient, depending on their vocabulary assessment score.

The pre-assessment and readiness categorization is illustrated in the flow chart below.

m6u2a3-malin-matus-pre-assessment-for-differentiation-diagram.png

Student Readiness Groups:
I have named my three student readiness groups, from lowest readiness level to the highest readiness level, as; emerging learner, competent learner and proficient learner. I will explain each readiness label here:

  • The Emerging Learner: At the beginning of the unit the emerging learning does not have good recognition of basic grammar use (less than 5 out of 6 on core grammar questions) and may or may not be able to recognize the core 5 emotion vocabulary words. They are entering the unit without enough knowledge to access the basic instructional content and therefore need remedial support (review of basic English grammar) otherwise they will be completely lost. As the unit progresses the emerging learner label will be used to describe students who have not yet grasped the concepts previously taught and require review and/or reinforcement of previous lesson content before continuing to the next step.
  • The Competent Learner: At the beginning of the unit the competent learner has good recognition of  basic grammar use (5 or 6 out of 6 on core grammar questions) and should recognize 4 out of 5 of the core vocabulary words. They are entering the unit with sufficient knowledge to access the basic instructional content without major difficulties. As the unit continues the competent learner label will be used to describe students who are keeping pace with the units concept progression and require no major additional support to help them understand, or additional enrichment of course material to challenge them appropriately.
  • The Proficient Learner: At the beginning of the unit the proficient learner has good recognition of  basic grammar use (5+ out of 6 on core grammar questions), as well as, additional knowledge of correct -ing/-ed adjective usage (3+ out of 4 on the difficult grammar questions). They must also recognize 4 out of 5 of the core vocabulary words and 8+ out of 10 of the additional difficult vocabulary words. The proficient learner already has the knowledge that will be taught at the beginning of the unit and requires enrichment of the basic material to be appropriately challenged. As the unit progresses the proficient learner label will be used to describe students who already know the content and skills currently under instruction and require enrichment/expansion of the content or skills to challenge them to a higher order level of thinking about the unit material.

Instructional Differentiation and Ongoing Tracking

In this section I will explain how instruction will be differentiated for the students based on their readiness groups. I will explain my instructional methods both specifically, for the beginning of the unit, and generally, as the unit progresses. Also, I will describe the tracking methods I will use to continue to update my student readiness groups. The illustration below shows the basic process of my instructional differentiation and ongoing tracking.

M6U2A3 - Malin Matus - bottom Pre-Assessment for Differentiation Diagram

  • The Emerging Learner: At the beginning of the unit the emerging learner has been identified by their lack of basic grammatical knowledge. While they will participate in the regular instructional activities (vocabulary building) they will also be formed into small groups (2-4 students) and will work closely with the teacher to complete a grammar flow chart to illustrate grammar use when talking about emotions (remedial activity). The students will do the basic verb conjugations but also be challenge to discover more difficult conjugations (i.e. present perfect, past progressive etc.). They will then present their posters to the class serving as peer grammar experts. As the unit progresses, students identified as being emerging learners will be given small group remedial tasks similar to the one above. They will work closely with the teacher and the goal will be to review and gain the knowledge or skill they need, as well as, to expand on it further, in a sense to get a step ahead of the class.
  • The Competent Learner: The competent learner will participate with both the emerging learners and the proficient learners to complete activities around the regular course material. They will receive the high quality, student centered instruction planned for the unit with no additional supports or enrichment unless ongoing tracking identifies them as either emergent or proficient learners.
  • The Proficient Learner: At the beginning of the unit the proficient learner will participate in the regular instructional activities (vocabulary building). However, as they have been identified as already recognizing much of the vocabulary necessary to learn at the beginning of the unit they will receive an enrichment task to deepen their vocabulary understanding. The enrichment activity will not only ask the proficient learner to discover new words but also to place them in relation to one another and the relative strength of that relationship using a mind map tool. For example, angry is one of the core words and words with similar meaning might be  irritated, annoyed, furious, grumpy. These words’ relationship to angry (and possibly other core words) would be analyzed. Irritated, annoyed and grumpy are weaker than angry and furious is much stronger. The proficient learners mind maps would be displayed for the class as ongoing references for when the students have to make sentences and build dialog. As the unit progresses students who are identified as proficient will receive similar enrichment to above asking them to deepen their understanding of emotional language by, comparing, analyzing and creating language rather than just recognizing and applying it.

Tracking Methods
I will use two methods to assess the students readiness and place them in the readiness groups described above. At the beginning of the unit the purpose is mainly vocabulary recall so short vocabulary matching, multiple choice or fill-in the blank quizzes will be used. However, as the unit progresses students will be required to compare, analyze and create more original language. Therefore, I will use an emotive comic strip exit ticket to assess my students ability to recognize and/or analyze the emotional language used in the comic (non-verbal as well is assessed). The students will be shown a comic like the one below.

M5U2A2 - Formative Exit Ticket Example

They will then be asked a short response question like one of the following:

  • Please write down all the emotions that you can see in this comic.
  • Please write what emotions are being communicated through words.
  • Please write what emotions are being communicated without words.
  • What do you think about the girl Lisa? Do you think she is annoying? Please write why or why not.

In this way I can discover who is making the deeper connections about emotional words and their use and meaning not just recognizing how they look in text and what they mean in Japanese.

Conclusion

To finish, in this blog I outlined my tool to pre-assess Japanese 7th grade ESL student readiness to learn English to express emotion. I described how I would assess and categorize students into three readiness groups, emerging learners, competent learners and proficient learners. I provided my strategy on how I would differentiate instruction to either provide support or more challenge to students as appropriate to their readiness level. Lastly, I explained how I would use some quizzes and a short answer to a comic as tools to provide ongoing tracking of student readiness through out the lesson. When planning instruction it is not always easy to ensure that your content level matches your students ability. Additionally, you can’t always know at what pace some students may learn. Some may be quicker at one point in a unit while other take off at another point. Therefore, I think that pre-assessment and ongoing tracking for student readiness, to be very useful practices to get into the habit of using as a teacher. I believe students will be much more positively engaged in their learning if they are being taught material that is appropriately challenging for them.

References

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT]. (March, 2008). Improvement of Academic Abilities (Courses of Study): Section 9 Foreign Languages. [PDF file] Retrieved July 19, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/component/english/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/03/17/1303755_013.pdf

M5U5A2 – Malin Matus – Multicultural Content and Multiple Perspectives

Introduction

As a Canadian I grew up with multiculturalism as a given, in my life and in my schooling. I never thought of my self as Polish-Ukranian-Irish Canadian – those are my familial roots, nor did I think of my two best friends as Chinese-Vietnamese Canadian or Russian-German Canadian. We were just Canadians. A noted Canadian author and Professor of immigrant, ethnic and minority group history, Harold Troper said, “Ethnic identities do not take place in Canada: this is Canadian identity” (1998, p. 997). Therefore being asked to plan a lesson to specifically address multiculturalism seemed a bit strange at first. For, in my education, multiple perspectives and multicultural content have always been there but integrated in a ubiquitous way. It is not until I have begun examine my education from the point of view presented by Teach-Now and my American colleagues here in Japan, that I discovered the diversity to which I had been exposed. In this blog I will discuss some points regarding teaching multicultural content and multiple perspectives in ESL. I will begin by outlining how lessons in ESL can expose students to multicultural content and multiple perspectives. Next, I will discuss why it is important to teach students multicultural content and multiple perspectives in ESL classes. Finally, I am going to discuss how students develop cultural competence in the ESL classroom.

Multicultural and/or Multiple Perspectives in ESL

Renner writes, “Language is an important part of culture. It is learned. shared, evolves and changes over time. just like culture” (1993, p. 3). Therefore, just by studying English as a second language students are already exposing themselves to a multicultural perspective different from their own.  As a teacher of ESL opportunities abound to teach multicultural content and multiple perspectives. Firstly, there are many different Englishes in the world. The so called “native Englishes” and the Englishes spoken fluently as a second language in places such as; Denmark, Finland, Philippines, Nigeria, etc, comprise a diverse set of people who use English. Thus, as an ESL instructor you can tap this wellspring of multicultural English, at anytime, to challenge students to think about things differently (multiple perspectives). For example the North American words for the red, yellow and green light set, placed at intersections, to control traffic are “traffic lights” or just “lights”. In other places they are called “signal lights” (UK and Australia, among others) and “robots” (in South Africa). As a result of this linguistic diversity inherent in the ESL content it is very easy to expose students to multicultural content and challenge them to think and communicate from multiple perspectives.

Why Teach Multicultural and/or Multiple Perspectives?

In teaching a second language the teacher must expose students to another way of thinking, the second language. So, one answer to the question that this section’s heading poses is, because teachers have to – for language instruction at least. However, when teaching English as a second language students, in some ways, are required to internalize the culture of English. Furthermore, if the teacher is using a nativist approach to ESL instruction then cultural assimilation becomes a goal of instruction. Renner explains it as, “[Learning English] has often carried with it the imposition of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) values and mental attitudes. When people of color took up the use of English, it often meant renouncing traditionally held beliefs which were considered inferior to the new dominate English-speaking class” (1993, p. 2). Therefore, I think ameliorating this assimilation approach is necessary because “language learners do not come to our lessons as a blank slate, but rather have a wealth of experiences and skills that can be tapped by the language instructor and drawn onto assist in the acquisition of the L2. When the learner’s life experience is validated as having meaning, the second language takes on personal meaning” (Renner, 1993, p. 5). Thus providing multicultural content that allows the ESL student to express their own culture in English, as well as, view the myriad of other cultures through the lens of English, is essential. To not do so would be to show great intolerance towards the students, depriving them of a personal connection to the language of English and robbing them of their identity and value as a person. In addition, by not showing sensitivity and respect of other cultures through English the teacher will foster an attitude of bigotry within the classroom environment.   To sum up my answer to the question, “Why should we teach multicultural content and multiple perspectives in ESL classes?” is best condensed as: One, we must expose students to multiple perspectives in order for them to learn a second language. Two, while teaching English teachers need to foster respect for the culture of the learner and at the same time teach sensitivity and respect for other cultures, who are learning and using English. Doing so will allow students to fully engage in English as a means of communication.

Developing Cultural Competence in the Classroom

This is not something that I have thought about before this blog and planning a lesson on multicultural content and multiple perspectives. Therefore, it was helpful for me to seek out a working definition of cultural competence. For the purpose of this discussion I will use Ngo’s definition that, “at the individual level, cultural competence involves congruent personal philosophies, attitudes, knowledge, and skills that enable individuals to interact with people of diverse cultural values, beliefs, customs, and practices with respect, appreciation, and effectiveness” (2012, p. 206). With this definition in hand I can begin to formulate how I might develop cultural competence in the ESL classroom. Here in Japan there is a large cultural homogeneity and the majority culture reinforces the belief that, Japanese are Japanese and everyone else is everyone else.  While Japan embraces many aspects of foreign culture the popular media sensationalizes it as “different”, and it is not acceptance with respect. So, instilling cultural competence into Japanese students is likely to be a bit of an uphill battle. In the ESL classroom I would approach the problem on two fronts:

  1. I would start with the “values, beliefs, customs and practices with respect” portion of Ngo’s definition. I would challenge my ESL students with differing English speaking viewpoints on common everyday things. Mealtime routines, school life, hobbies and interests, and other such topics that I think middle school could readily relate to. We would explore the commonalities and the differences, and do so in a way careful to not define the differences as better or worse than another culture’s norms, but rather as just a different way to do things.
  2. Next I would teach to the “attitudes, knowledge and skills that enable individuals to interact” part of Ngo’s definition. This is teaching the communication part of ESL. What do you do when you don’t understand? How can you bridge gaps in language and cultural understanding (such as hand gestures)? Teaching the students effective methods to solve English communication problems, making them aware of the resources they can bring to bear on any given situation. Resources, such as a positive attitude and openness to new experience.

Once the students have been exposed to differences and taught how to manage inter-cultural/linguistic interactions then the question becomes how do I know if they are actually gaining cultural competence. This is a bit tricky at my current school where we have little to no cultural diversity and those students who are from a background other than Japanese are very much assimilated. However, I can think of a couple of ways to test my students cultural competence. One way is through reactions to culturally diverse video. This YouTube video, Cultural Diversity Examples: Avoid Stereotypes while communicating (Positive611, 2014), is an example of video media that can be shown to students and then the students try to identify what is the cultural conflict that is happening? How could it have been avoided? The students reaction to the video and responses to questions about it can show the teacher their level of cultural competence at an intellectual level. The other way I can think of is to have students do role-plays to simulate situations where cultural competence is required for effective resolution of the communication problem. This is a more authentic way for the teacher to assess the students cultural competence. Unfortunately, both of the methods above fall short of the actual goal of communicating with someone other than your linguistic-cultural group.

Conclusion

Before writing this blog and planning a multicultural and multiple perspectives lesson I had not given much thought to the idea of purposefully including those perspectives in my instruction. I guess as a function of the environment surrounding my upbringing and education in Canada, I had just assumed that the ideas of multiculturalism and a promotion of multiple perspectives would be included as part of everyday school culture and educational life. In this blog I explained how I believed multicultural content and multiple perspectives organically arise in second language instructional environments. However, I then had to explain that there is danger in lending credence to the dominant cultures of English and that ESL instructors must strive to connect to the culture of their students and foster two way cultural linguistic respect. Lastly, I offered some ideas on how cultural competence could be taught in the ESL classroom and how the teacher could assess the students’ competence. Writing this blog has been a valuable experience for me, as I think before writing it I was walking around with a level a naivete about the amount of multicultural pluralism in Japanese education. Certainly, the blinders have been lifted and I realize how important it is for me to teach these concepts to my students. If the goal of 21st education is to produce global citizens and leaders, then we must produce cultural competent individuals as well. Looking at what my students are exposed to on a day to day basis I think they are sadly missing out on the wonders to be discovered by exploring the diversity of culture and language in the world. Hopefully I can begin to open that door for them, I will certainly try my best to do so.

References

Ngo, H. V. (2012). Cultural Competence in Alberta Schools: Perceptions of ESL Families in Four Major School Boards. TESL Canada Journal, 29, 204. doi:10.18806/tesl.v29i0.1118

Positive611. (2014, February 09). Cultural Diversity Examples: Avoid Stereotypes while communicating. Retrieved August 03, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUO59Emi3eo

Renner, C. E. (November, 1993). Multicultural Language Learning: Applications in EFL
Curriculum Development [PDF file] p. 17 Retrieved, August 3rd, 2017, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED375611.pdf

Troper, H. (1999) Multiculturalism. Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples, ed. Paul Robert Magocsi. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 997–1006.

M5U3A2 – Malin Matus – Differentiating for Student Needs

Introduction

While arguing the dangers of “teaching to the middle” Tomlinson and Kalbfleisch state, “Ignoring [the] fundamental differences [in student learning styles] may result in some students falling behind, losing motivation and failing to succeed…. Students who may be advanced and motivated may become lost as the teacher strives to finish as much of the curriculum as possible” (as cited in, Subban, 2006, p. 938-939). I have certainly seen this played out before my eyes when as an assistant language teacher I watched the main teacher plow through reams of grammatical content while his students eyelids slowly lost all will to stay open. Now, these were not run of the mill students but the top performers in a prestigious high school where many students went to top tier universities in Japan. That year, I watched as these bright enthusiastic grade 10s, who were excited to try to speak English to me and learn more, were content brow beaten into an apathetic and listless state. What a waste. Back then I did not know what differentiated instruction was, but I did realize that there was a better way to deliver, engage and involve students in their language education.

Fast forward six years and I am now teaching 7th and 8th grade ESL to Japanese students at a private junior high school. While my students may not be destined for some of the best universities in Japan they are certainly deserving of a humane and engaging experience of English language instruction, and that is what I strive to deliver to them. In this blog I will outline some differentiation strategies that I will use in an upcoming unit of instruction. For clarity, I will break up this blog into some sections. First I will provide a short outline of the unit and standard I will be teaching. Then, I will provide an overview of some differentiation methods that I use as a matter of course in nearly all my units of instruction. After that, I will outline some further differentiation strategies with a flow chart to address student readiness. Finally, I will include some strategies to differentiate instruction of ADHD learning disabled students.

Unit Overview

This unit is based on a standard from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT], the standard is:
1. Speaking
(b) To speak accurately to the listener(s) about one’s thoughts and feelings, or facts.(MEXT, 2008, p. 1-2)

The theme for this unit will be communicating with feeling. The focus of the unit will be on thought and feeling words AND how one can earnestly express those words.

The objectives of the unit will be achieved through a series of tiered activities designed to generate and introduce thought and feeling words and sentences in English, teach and have the students practice using the key language, have the students self-reflect on their ability to communicate with emotion and finally show that they have met the objectives with a performance of thought and feeling language.

Differentiation as a Matter of Course

Six years ago when I watched bright 10th graders loose all interest in their English language course, I could see that the students were not engaged, they were uninterested and could not see how the grammar and translation that the teacher was performing had any bearing on their study of English. When I became a middle school ESL teacher I decided I would never be a teacher like that, and I embarked upon a journey of finding interesting, engaging and authentic; instructional approaches, activities and projects for my students. Unknown to me at that time I was differentiating instruction for my students. Now five years later my Teach-Now studies have shown me that I use many strategies to differentiate instruction for student learning styles, already. Until now I had never comprehensively planned a unit in such detail. However, as I look over my plan and look back over my past teaching experience I can see how many of the teaching techniques, activities and projects I used in the past work for different learning styles. This table summarizes the teaching practices I have used and plan to use in the upcoming unit to differentiate for learning style.
M5U3A2 - Learning Style Differentiation Chart

Differentiating for Readiness

For me student readiness can be the biggest question mark to address when planning instruction. Especially with middle school students you can never know when your student might, for some reason or another, not get the content or just plain decide they don’t want to do it. As much as possible I try to keep the lessons, authentic, engaging and active to motivate the students. However, it is almost always a given that at least a few students will not “get it” in the first go. What to do with these students is an important consideration. Conversely, you also have the students in class who “get it” and maybe they get it very quickly, the last thing you want is them becoming board and disruptive in the lessons. So my approach to differentiate for readiness is two pronged. One direction leads in the “I don’t understand” direction to help support those students. The other prong leads in the “this is too easy” direction to challenge students who are understanding the content quickly. I’ve conceptualized my approach for this unit in the flow chart below and have categorized student readiness into four categories:

  1.  ENRICHMENT – These students have understood the content quickly and accurately and need a challenge to engage them more deeply or comprehensively in the material.
  2. GOT IT – These students are the ones who understand the content well and are challenged at the initial level the lesson is delivered.
  3. ALMOST GOT IT – These students understand the main idea of the lesson but are having difficulty completing the tasks and need a little additional support.
  4. LOST ALONG THE WAY – These students are clearly lost in the lesson. They understand little to none of the content and require immediate and extensive support.

M5U3A2 - Malin Matus - Differentiation Flow Chart - Page 1From the chart we can see that the first level of support is to place the students who are having difficulty into a group with more knowledgeable peers. This idea comes from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development [ZPD] and as Blanton states, “In order to develop the ZPD, learners must actively interact socially with a knowledgeable adult or capable peers” (as cited in Suban, 2006, p. 937), which in my experience has proven true on numerous occasions. Therefore, the first line of support for students struggling with the content will be a more knowledgeable peer. Additional supports are mentioned in the chart, as well as, enrichment for the students who need an additional challenge. The resources provided to the students by support level or enrichment are as follows.

  • ENRICHMENTLeadership role to challenge them to think more deeply as they have to guide their group through the task. Additional words to challenge the student to further expand their vocabulary knowledge. More challenging task enrichment students play a more difficult version of the memory game that doesn’t include Japanese (L1). Summary of a key lesson idea challenges the student to think more deeply about the lesson material as they try to explain it in their own words.
  • A SUPPORTS Grouped with knowledgeable peers this supports the student as the peers can demonstrate and explain the task in more detail, and the weaker student can learn by watching. Peer support can also be more comfortable than having the teacher explain. Translated word list to scaffold the lesson language using Japanese (L1). Remedial exercise worksheet to build more past foundational knowledge and provide underlying knowledge support. Alternate easier activity doing a different version of the memory game with less cards to make memorization easier and hopefully give the student more success and build confidence.
  • B SUPPORTSOne to one teacher support will give the student sole access to the expert and the teacher can match the lesson content specifically to the students current level. Additional time outside of class special extra lesson time to allow the student more time to practice skills and have contact with the content. Reduced product output helps relieve pressure for the student to perform and sets the bar of success within their reach.

Differentiating for Learning Disability ADHD.

ADHD is I believe not recognized in Japan except in its most severe forms. I do not have the training of a clinical psychologist and I understand the dangers of applying learning disabled labels to students. However, that being said I have students who have some serious difficulties staying focused, controlling their behavior and sustaining output. It is clear from my interactions with them, and the times when they do complete their work, that they are just as intelligent and capable as their more focused and composed peers (which is saying a lot for middle school students). Therefore, without actually saying ADHD I will implement some accommodations for ADHD students for my more distracted, impulsive, disorganized, yet generally positive and engaged, students. Morin in her infographic  “At a Glance: Classroom Accommodations for ADHD” (2014) suggests many accommodations and here are the ones I believe will best benefit my students.

  • I will seat the student at the front so the whiteboard and big screen (where lesson media is displayed) are not obscured by any distracting people or items.
  • I will come a visit the student often during independent work time.
  • I will group the student with understanding and knowledgeable peers who can support the student.
  • I will give the student a lesson outline at the beginning of each lesson. (If there is time I will read through the outline with them before the lesson starts)
  • I will set-up a simple non verbal cue, tapping my pencil on the corner of their desk, to signal them when they got off focus.
  • I will keep extra copies of the key worksheets.
  • I will break down the lesson activities into smaller steps for them and provide a small kitchen timer where they set it for 5 minutes and then try to stay focused on their work during that entire time.

Conclusion

The German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said, “No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy” and while I certainly don’t view my students as “the enemy” I believe there is a grain a truth in what von Moltke said. Certainly, in the past I have made what I thought was a comprehensive and solid lesson plan only to have it go sideways when taught. Does this mean we shouldn’t plan? Of course not. However, I believe in planning and trying to predict student need that we develop a framework of possible things to do rather than a discrete, if this, then that, logical approach. This is what I tried to do here. I explored how I have differentiated instruction based on learning style in the past and brought those ideas into this units plan. I defined levels of student readiness and outlined support or enrichment strategies to be used in those cases. Lastly, I found ADHD accommodations I can use for my students who have trouble staying focused and on task. By outlining these differentiation strategies I have increased my knowledge and insight into how to best help my students meet learning objectives. Am I prepared for every eventuality? No. But, do feel confidant that, should something unforeseen arise in the course of a lesson or unit, I could handle it? Yes. And that to me is more the value in preparing to differentiate instruction and thinking about student need.

References

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [MEXT]. (March, 2008). Improvement of Academic Abilities (Courses of Study): Section 9 Foreign Languages. [PDF file] Retrieved July 19, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/component/english/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/03/17/1303755_013.pdf

Morin, A. (2014). At a Glance: Classroom Accommodations for ADHD. [infographic] Retrieved July 20, 2017, from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/instructional-strategies/at-a-glance-classroom-accommodations-for-adhd

Subban, P. (2006). Differentiated instruction: A research basis. International Education Journal, 7(7), 935-947. Retrieved July 28, 2017.

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

INTRODUCTION

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.

THE OBJECTIVES

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.

COMIC INTERPRETATION EXIT CARD (FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT)

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.

EMOTIVE SITUATION SKIT (PERFORMANCE BASED SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT)

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.

Conclusion

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

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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.

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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