Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Reading Levels

Reading A-Z

My school has been using Reading A-Z for a number of years. It is a useful way of tracking students' reading and comprehension as they progress through the different classes. The lower level books begin at A and are suitable for students in the first grade. Each level becomes increasingly more difficult all the way up to Z, which would be around fifth grade, depending on your school system. Reading A-Z provides this correlation chart for parents, teachers and students in order to keep track of the individual's progress. It is important to note that this system is designed for students whose first language is English. The chart also contains the Lexile index range for each book. This is a scale educators use to determine the appropriate reading age of a book for a child. It is particularly useful when buying books as gifts!

Running Records

Running records serve two main purposes:
  • They are used to match students to books that are written at their instructional reading level.
  • They are used to determine whether or not students are ready to exit their current levels and move to the next ones.
Reading Groups

Perhaps the most useful teaching tool I have gained from the Reading A-Z program has been reading groups. During these times, I will divide my class up into groups of four to five students. I will then assign the same book to each student in the group. The books are as near to the child's reading level as possible. I then have the students read a page of the book each until the book is finished. After they have read the book, I will have a retell activity or a discussion on the story. 

I hope this is useful to somebody out there!

High School Youth Retreat

High School Youth Retreat

Last weekend, my wife Kirsten and I took twenty-two high school students on weekend retreat. We went to the beautiful countryside of Hoa Binh, about two hours southwest of Hanoi. We left Hanoi on Friday evening after school and travelled by bus to Hoa Binh. Our friend, Michael Ong from Tea Talk, came along and taught the group on Friday night. Michael spoke about community and the need to work together. He also had us play a fun game where we were required to work together to solve a problem.

Saturday was a lot of fun with some more teaching in the morning before games of frisbee, a walk through the nearby creek, a buffet and a bonfire. The students then led a worship session for two hours that night. It was excellent; under the stars, away from the city, connecting with the LORD, surrounded by his creation. 

The highlight of working with this group for me has been seeing the students learn to lead Bible studies and develop into leaders. I am always so proud when I see them lead studies and step out in faith in order to help others. This trip was very much an inreach event where we grew stronger as a group. The next step will be another outreach event where we can go out and serve our community. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Symposium Towards a Learning Society

Symposium: Towards a Learning Society

On August 22nd and 23rd of this year, I had the honor of attending a learning symposium organised by VVOB and the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET). The aim of the symposium was to bring educators from all over Vietnam together to share best practices. The topics ranged from development, community and family to special needs. All the presentations are available here. Each presenter had to submit a paper and, when these are available, I will share them also. 

The symposium was divided into four themes:
  1. Students
  2. Teachers
  3. Managers
  4. Parents & Communities
I presented in Session 2 on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I have been researching into this topic for a couple of years now and wrote my thesis on it. There will be a blog post coming on the findings of that research. My presentation was intended to encourage educators to develop PLCs in their schools. They are an area for teachers to come together to share their knowledge. When implemented correctly, PLCs impact school culture in a positive way. 

I would highly encourage anybody out there who is doing a Master's degree to write your papers in such a way as you can submit them for similar events. It is a great opportunity and, again, a way to kill two birds with one stone. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Twitter for Teachers

(Image courtesy of Creative Commons)

I love learning! My primary source of professional development over the past ten years has come from university courses. With the going rate for an international student being around 2000 dollars per unit, quality learning can be quite expensive.

Recently at the Vietnam Technology Conference, I was introduced to Twitter. Now, up to this point, I was extremely skeptical about social media. I had noticed how people were wasting hours on Facebook and was determined not to do the same.

At the technology conference, I saw for the first time how Twitter can be used for educational purposes. The key to it all is to create an account strictly for professional use. Identify quality educators to follow and learn from them. It is also important to share your successful lessons too, thus creating a professional learning network.

The same applies to other professions. If you are a manufacturing engineer, follow people in the same field. If you are a doctor, look for other doctors to learn from. For more information on how to set up a Twitter account, check out this guide from Edudemic which includes a video by Erin Klien. They have done a much better job of explaining Twitter than I ever could.

Follow me @brianlalor.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Building Community in Hanoi

My mother was a teacher for forty-two years. Most of that time she taught at a local primary school near my home. Teaching for that length of time at the same school is extremely beneficial for building relationships within the community. As a child, many older boys in my neighborhood looked out for me because I was "Mrs. Lalor's son". The desire to be a part of the community I live in and to help develop it is something I got from my mother, so thank you, Mam!

The Friday night youth group I teach at Hanoi International Fellowship has become involved in building community in Hanoi. They have teamed up with another organisation I volunteer for called the Australian Charity for the Children of Vietnam

ACCV works to help young blind people in Hanoi have a better life through English language programs and building social networks. There is a lot more information about ACCV here where Alison has created a beautiful blog post of the same event. We met at the new HIF Center and began with a time of eating and getting to know each other better.

After lunch, we played Connect Four, Dominoes and cards. It was a real learning experience for us to see how well the blind students could play these games. I thought you needed to be able to see to play such games. After this, some of the HIF youth brought a couple of the ACCV students into the auditorium to play musical instruments.

The highlight of the day for me was all the different organisations present. There were not only members of HIF and ACCV, but also of another organisation that works with the blind called Lift You Up. Members of the Young Adults group at HIF also attended, as did other blind friends from Hanoi. Various international schools were represented including Singapore International School, UNIS and Concordia. I believe this was a very successful day of learning and building community. 

Our next project together will be to expand our game playing into the physical realm. One of the HIF members has sourced a football for blind people and we are working on creating the game pictured above, which is called Swish. It is a version of table tennis that blind people can play. Thanks to everyone who came on to this awesome event!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Pathway to PhD

I would like to share some information that has been a big help to me in my learning journey. I have even shared this with my 5th Grade class to motivate them to plan.

Two years ago, the opportunity arose through my school to study for a Master's degree. A colleague of mine pulled me aside and told me that if I were to set up my Master's in a certain way, I would have one third of the work for my future PhD done by the time I finished my Master's. I was not even thinking about a PhD back then, but am very much interested in 'killing two birds with one stone' whenever possible. This is an important skill I believe we need to teach our students too. For example, with different subjects, how by merging them we can do one assessment piece to cover a number of subjects. I hope that made sense  but I mean much like the integrated units of study taught in the Queensland State curriculum cover Technology, English, The Arts, etc. and are all assessed in one project.

I started my Master's of Education in the Leading and Managing stream with the intent to become a principal. My colleague suggested I identify an area of interest and try to steer all my assignments towards this area. I chose the area of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Half way through my course, I decided to switch into what is called a Research Pathway, which is like a mini PhD. At the end of a Research Pathway, you write a short thesis of about 15,000 words. During this time, you are exposed to the ethics process before commencing research, you are introduced to different research methods and choose your own and you write a literature review and begin to identify lots of sources of information  All this information can be used for your PhD. Bang! There goes another bird! The end goal would be to turn your PhD into a book always looking for that area that has not been written about yet.

I hope this saves time and money for somebody out there!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

English as a Second Language 2

Backs to the Board

(Image courtesy of Creative Commons)

I would like to share another English language resource. It often takes second language learners time to develop the confidence to speak. This is totally normal and I would never suggest you put pressure on a child to speak during this period, which I have seen last a couple of years.

One fun way to develop speaking skills, however, is by introducing a game called Backs to the Board. The game is played by splitting the class into two or more teams. One member of each team stands with his/her back to the board. The teacher writes a word or draws a picture on the board which the student cannot see. His/Her team can see it and the objective of the game is to get the student with the back to the board to say the word. One point is given to the first person to say the word. The rules are as follows for the team describing the word.

  1. You cannot say the word or spell any of its letters
  2. You may not use your mother tongue 
  3. You cannot use your hands or any body gestures
You will soon see your class shouting as they try to explain the words on the board. "It is a country in Asia, next to Vietnam, there are famous temples there". There are lots of variations to the game too and the teacher can use it to assess understanding of common nouns, verbs, pronouns etc. 

Have Fun!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

English as a Second Language 1

I have been teaching English to second language learners for nine years now and would like to share what have been some successful strategies for me.

The first one is a 'Singing Cloze' activity.

Each week (or every second week), I identify a song that interests my class. I then print out the lyrics, but use white out (tipp-ex) to delete about 10 words. With a black pen and ruler, I draw a line where the word should be and then photocopy the sheets for the class.

I will then play the song via Youtube and have the students listen for the missing words. We then discuss new words in the song, the theme, genre and composer. We will sing the song together twice a day. This can be a nice transition between lessons and gives the students a fresh burst of energy.

By the end of the week, most of the students will know all the lyrics of the song. A lot of new vocabulary! Two favourites with my classes have been Big City Life and I'll be Missing You.

Keep on learning!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

IBO Research Skills

I was reading the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) document titled 'Making the PYP Happen'. I found the most beautiful little section which outlines the kinds of research skills the Primary Years Program (PYP) seeks to develop in  learners. It calls these transdisciplinary skills.

I had been worried that I was pushing my Year 5 class too hard in the area of research by asking them to create surveys and analyse the data. However, after reading this document, I see that I am right on track and will now delve deeper into the interpretation of data.

Research Skills
Formulating Questions - Identifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling and relevant questions that can be researched.
Observing - Using all the senses to notice relevant details.

Planning - Develop a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information.

Collecting data - Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums and ICT.

Recording data - Describing and recording observations by drawing, note taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements.

Organizing data - Sorting and categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs and diagrams.

Interpreting data - Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.

Presenting research findings - Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media.

(International Baccalaureate Organization 2007)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Vietnam Technology Conference

In March of 2013, I traveled down to Ho Chi Minh City with colleagues from Singapore International School, Concordia, UNIS and Wellspring. We attended the first Vietnam Technology Conference. I delivered the first session on teaching research methods to children. My PowerPoint is available here. I have also shared the videos I shot via my YouTube channel. I hope they are beneficial to some educators out there.

Next year the conference will be in Hanoi so start planning now to attend. Lots of learning!