Daily blogging challenge – Over the hump

Photo by author

Photo by author

Did I mention that I am now 6 months into my daily blogging challenge?

That’s 182 posts published.

I’ll be the first to admit that not all of the posts (including this one) are of stellar quality.

Also wow is it hard to write content during a 7 week break from teaching.

Nevertheless I pat myself on the back for this achievement.

In the next 6 months I have:

  • Project Zero Classroom
  • A new class to look forward to
  • New Coetail courses

And a bunch of conferences to attend.

I’m sure that will give me a lot to blog about (but not necessarily write about)

What is an international school?


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One of the inevitable questions you get asked when you are travelling for an extended period is, “What do you do?”

When I answer I’m an international school teacher in Singapore, most people assume that I’m teaching English as a Foreign Language to Singaporeans at a language school. I have taught English, both in a language school and a public school in Korea, but that is worlds away from the world of international schools.

In continuation of my So you’re thinking about teaching internationally… series in this post I will outline the world of international schools.

So what is an international school?

International schools are private schools that operate overseas to serve the needs of expatiate business people and diplomats. The older and more established schools tend to be non-profits and there significant numbers of for-profit schools out there. There is at least one international school in each of the major cities around the world. Cities with large expatriate populations have large numbers of international schools. However international schools can also operate in remote areas as well.

What do you teach in international schools?

Basically what you would teach ‘back home.’  The language of instruction is usually English, but you can also find schools who offer instruction in different languages in the bigger cities. International schools usually follow a curriculum from another country; Britain, America, Canada and Australia are the common systems for English-medium schools.

Often you can tell what country a particular school follows by the school’s name – (like Shanghai American School) however others might not be so clear. Some schools choose to have a mix of national curricula to meet the needs of their students. Many international schools International Baccalaureate programme, which consists of the IB Primary Years Program, IB Middle Years Program and the IB Diploma Program.

To add to the mix there are also private schools, primarily in the United Kingdom, setting up campuses in different countries.

Where are the kids from?

International schools often start enrolment at preschool (3 years old) right up to the end of high school (18 years old). The students come from a diverse range of countries, the ‘where are you from’ question can be difficult for many children attending international schools to answer. There are often children from the host country in international schools however in some countries, such as Singapore, domestic students are not able to enrol without special permission. In some countries schools might be labelled as “international” to attract native-English speaking teachers however the student body is made up almost exclusively of students from that country. The only way to find out about the make up of the student body is to ask!

Who works in international schools?

There’s a huge mix of ages and nationalities in international schools.Teachers in English-medium international schools are generally from English-speaking countries but not all staff will be. There is a mix of highly experienced teachers, mid career and some new to teaching (though in general most schools will be looking for teachers will at least a few years of experience). Some teachers will teach internationally for a few years, others become ‘lifers’ bouncing from country to country every few years.

What are the benefits of working in an international school?

For me it’s always been a sense of adventure that has drawn me overseas. Living in Singapore has enabled to rack up a ridiculous amount of travel around Asia. The other attraction is the diversity in the school. My colleagues as well as the kids I teach come from different countries bringing with them new languages and culture which forever enriches my life.

The other benefits of working in an international school are:

  • Fantastic opportunities for ongoing professional development
  • Small class size
  • Highly engaged parent community
  • Great resources in terms of technology and teaching supplies
  • Free tuition for children.
  • Salaries are generally higher than ‘back home.’ International schools benefits include annual flights home, comprehensive health insurance, a shipping allowance and cost of living allowance. Benefits depend on the location and the individual school.

The benefits come with very high expectations from school leadership, parents and the kids themselves. However international schools also offer fantastic support to help you focus on being the best teacher you can be.

Are e-portfolios past their educational used by date?


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This post is perhaps a tad hypocritical.

I have not one but two e-portfolios. I’ve used e-portfolios in class for the last few years.

They’ve been around in education since back when I was coding html sites in the 1990s. However over the last few months I’ve been wondering if e-portfolios have been mean meeting the learning needs in my class.

Is it time for education to move on from its love affair with portfolios?

My first problem with e-portfolios is right there in the name – we’re using technology to replace what was done on paper. The inclusion of video and audio moves e-portfolios perhaps into the augmentation level but really they aren’t all that transformative.

If the goal of having all this expensive technology in class is to transform learning, we need to push us thinking beyond digitising what could easily be achieved on paper.

Yet so much time and energy is devoted to talking about e-portfolios and that’s before they hit the classroom.

Often the systems supporting e-portfolios are unintuitive. What should be a two click job ends up being sucked into multiple lessons showing kids how to upload content, embed files, link to content or finding fixes when systems won’t talk to each other.

The portfolio becomes the learning rather than the tool to support the documentation of learning.

The problem with e-portfolios is that they create a walled garden. Fine when you are doing something the designers have envisioned but infuriating the minute you wander from the trail.

Yet the internet by its design is divergent.

Media is created on multiple devices and shared through different content channels.

This year I used blogger as portfolio found myself frustrated at the unnecessary hurdles being put up in order to maintain e-portfolios.

  • Made a cool path on pic – that needs to be saved first to the camera roll before it can be uploaded to blogger.
  • Easy blogger junior was a quick way for students to send video content to their blogfolios until the videos were too long and it didn’t support tagging aside from the child’s name.
  • A creative animation on keynote needs to uploaded to youtube, then embedded into a post.
  • The kids made an awesome book creators. Great but they won’t upload directly to blogger.
  • A google doc with a writing assessment needs to be linked back to in blogger. There’s a whole bunch time lost publishing the doc to the web, linking to the doc and that’s before the child has had time to reflect on their writing.
  • Showing an album of photos of a school event or science project? Fantastically easily on flickr or a photo stream on iOS but then that requires a link in blogger.

All these superfluous steps translate into lost learning time and shift the focus of the learning onto the technology.

To be clear, I don’t think this is a problem specific to blogger. There are other platforms out there I could use but they would have other issues and I know my actions part of the problem.

I am very conscious of the digital tools I introduce to the children I teach. Any app or website needs to fit the purpose of the learning otherwise I don’t use it. As a result, the kids become critical of the technology they are using to support their learning.


Over the course of this past school year, I was amazed at how quickly the children were starting to make decisions about what tools to use but were able to justify why they wanted to use them. It struck me that if my year 4s are already able to articulate what applications they think best suit their learning needs now, imagine what they’ll be capable of in a few years. More importantly, the older kids are highly capable of documenting their informal learning experiences right now.

The problem is that their institutions often don’t recognise the tools they are using.

E-portfolios won’t change this.

Particularly if the tools don’t recognise that kids are going to have digital lives outside of those walled gardens.

Being able to curate and share evidence of learning is important. But for the amount of work that teachers do and the amount of learning time sucked out of maintaining e-portfolios, a big question needs to be asked.

Is the technology supporting the learning or is the technology the learning?

Because the most important e-portfolio in our students lives is the one we don’t really give that much thought to – their google search footprint.

What do the walls of your classroom really say about learning?

In between the consumption of vast quantities of delicious food, I’ve been spending a lot of time meandering around art galleries in Europe.

I’ve seen the grand masters – Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Dali, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas.

Too many – I was sensory overload.

A lot of the works of art have just blended in to one hazy experience.

Which is perhaps why the What Design Can do exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum had an impact on me.



On the wall were simply designed visual provocations – no extraneous visual cues.

Just a simply designed posters with well thought out questions to provoke thinking.

My attention was immediately focused by the simplicity of the visual designs.


The exhibition provoked my thinking about classroom set up.

Primary classrooms are often an explosion of bright colours, cute slogans with lashings of decorative fonts.

Is this visual stimulus all too much for the children?

Could these bright displays be distracting for some kids?

With a new school year starting up in another month in the northern hemisphere, teachers will be hitting craft supplies stores to decorate their classrooms and display their rules in order to ‘set the tone’ for the rest of the year.

There are some amazing classrooms out there, particularly on pinterest, where teachers have obviously spent a lot of time and money to make their classrooms as warm and inviting as possible.

There’s just one small problem.

Where are the kids in this process?

When children walk into a fully set up classroom on the first day of school you are setting the tone. You are telling the kids this is MY classroom – you’re a guest.

A few months ago, the image below showed up repeatedly on my twitter feed.

Image via twitter

Image via twitter

The display hits nearly all of classroom design features, bright, colourful, font overload, and of course a border. The idea of growth mindset is great, but is this display valuing the traits of a growth mindset?

Were the kids involved in making this display or was it teacher doing all the work?

If we really value learning, should our walls value finished product over process?

Should there be less teacher-made displays and more ‘works in progress?’

Is less more in classroom design?


Links you should be reading a bunch of…

I thought it was supposed to be summer here in Europe. I’ve spent most of the week in Amsterdam but am now in Ghent in Belgium on the lookout for waffles, chocolate and frites (with mayonnaise naturally).

In the meantime, here’s a list of links that have caught my attention this week.

Kids art takes over billboards in times square Part of an exhibition by the Metropolitan museum of New York. Love the idea of kids art in public places.

The Poet laureate of Columbia, South Carolina wrote this touching poem to the victims of the Charleston shooting. We need more poet laureates in the world.

Omotenashi promo video of quick shinkansen cleanup goes viralGetting a shinkansen clean in less than 7 minutes.

Why Compassionate Male Teachers Struggle in Education’s Jock Culture Already shared on twitter but worthy of a reshare.

International Space Station symphony so beautiful I could watch this all day

Speaking of beautiful, this excerpt from the book Skyfaring should have you purchasing both plane tickets and books.

Two weeks of Status updates from your vague friend on Facebook. Oh dear that friend might be me…

6 ways to make ‘no hands up’ work

My school has a policy of ‘no hands up.’

Put simply a teacher doesn’t ask a question to the class and then pick a student from the several that have their hands up.

It’s hard habit for both teachers and students to break.

The kids have been taught if they want to speak in school, the polite thing to do is put their hand up. Likewise as teacher it can be easy to just talk to the kids who have their hands up. Such is the power of this practice.

There are some big problems with ‘hands up.’

Firstly the children who are confident get a disproportionate amount of teacher time at the expense of those who are shy. It enables kids to disengage with learning conversations simply by not putting their hands up. I also find that kids with their hands up are often so busy thinking about their question they’ve missed valuable pieces of information while waiting to ask.

Talk less
This might sound obvious, but you lecture way more than you think you do. Set yourself a timer for any whole class chats and stick to it.

Random picker
I’m not a huge fan of class dojo for the reasons Pernille Ripp has outlined in this post. I do use the random choice function. I don’t display the scores in class but rather use it as a data tool for myself to ensure I’m interacting with a broad range of kids in my class. Names on ice-cream sticks/pebbles etc. works as a low-tech solution.

Bubble catcher
The kids have their bubble catchers with them. If they have a question they can write it down to ask me, or better yet another child, later.

The backchannel

I’ve used Todaysmeet with Year 3/4 as a way for the kids to ask questions and discuss ideas with each other  on twitter-like chat room.

Think, pair, share

An oldy but a goody, get the kids to talk to each other about the questions you pose.

A Harkness discussion

A guided group discussion where an observer tracks discussion over time, offering input to the group about the quality of the discussion.