Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Episode 4


Friday, 18 September 2009

Promoting Learning Through Fun!

YAY! Each successive episode gets better and better (or so we hope)!

We "pre-released" this episode at a Parent-Teacher Potluck... It was supposed to "air" on Monday (in school), but oh well! :p

Check out all my school-related videos HERE.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Monday, 31 August 2009


Kicking off the week... Here's the premiere of our brand new campus TV show!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Wells International School Counseling Department Blog

Curious about what a Counselor does?
Well... wonder no more!

Stay abreast with what I do via my new Counseling (School) Blog:

Learning Life!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Miracle in Front of Your Eyes!

Have you ever watched a child grow?

Today, I observed the way my 3rd graders (last year) already seem to be more mature 4th graders (this year).
Surely summer wasn't all THAT long!???!?!!

In child psychology, we learn about the changes that a child goes through - physical and otherwise, and it is plain to see that children are indeed fast learners. From not knowing what language or communication is even for, to having a vocabulary that grows and expands in a way that would put an adult to shame!

The thing is, we are often so dulled by the "normal" aspects of everyday life that we fail to recognize the daily miracles happening right before our eyes.

So next time you feel frustrated with your students/children because it seems that they just never seem to learn...
- they are learning! They are learning more than you know!
They learn vicariously through observation, from daily repetitious behaviours, from the trial-and-errors of life's experiences... boy oh boy, do they LEARN!

So... just take a breath now.
Be patient with them.
Because change, in anyone, takes time.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Infectious Optimism!

A happy classroom is a learning classroom.

Today I held the first meetings with the upper and lower elementary student leaders.
They have been given a special mission: to infect the school with happiness through their own optimism.

Here's a clip that demonstrates some great points on optimism (watch just from 2:50 onwards):

After the clip, we discussed what optimism is, and HOW to infect others with positive energy. In particular, how do you infect a "negative" person with optimism?
The video clip holds the key (last part) - that even the toughest/hardest person has a soft inner core.
Teaching the kids this important point, I saw a glimmer of hope and excitement in their eyes.
It's interesting to see how quickly they caught on to the idea that helping make other people happy might be fun and benefit them!

Many children enter school with an effervescent enthusiasm for learning, and a natural optimism towards life. However, somewhere along the way, that glimmer gets squashed.

I think that as educators, it is important for us to ask ourselves this question ever so often:
How do we nurture and keep those flames of enthusiasm burning?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Take Them OUT!

Stuck in routines?
Classroom feeling claustrophobic?
Kids bored?
YOU are bored??

Well, take your kids out! :)
Sudden douwpour! Thank God it didn't happen a few hours ago w... on Twitpic

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Visit From The Ancients...

Grade 3B gives Grade 3A an impromptu fashion show...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Give Them a Taste!

Today I decided to let some of my kids take turns being the teacher.

I don't just mean to let them teach a class/chapter, I mean to let them take responsibility for classroom procedures such as getting their classmates to pack up, line up, and go home!

Yes, many times, teachers get bogged down by simple classroom procedures.
What seems like it should take a minute to accomplish, in the awful reality of the true-to-life classroom can take up to 15 minutes longer than expected. (Thus diminishing precious teaching time!)
This is REALLY something unis/colleges should include when they teach teachers to teach! -->READ: Bridging the gap between pedagogy and theory.

Instead of just designating a job to a student, I went a step further and "stepped down" from my own position of "power" by saying that this student was now the acting teacher and was in charge.

One would expect that the class would take a turn for the chaotic... after all, classroom management is not something we teach kids!

However, to my surprise (perhaps it is the groundwork of empathy I've been working hard on instilling in them), the students were pretty cooperative with their Student-Teacher!
Maybe having a Student-Teacher seemed like some-sort of game to them too... hence the element of "fun" was added to a normal everyday situation.

And we all know that having fun is a great motivator for anyone!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Look Forward... But Not Too Far Ahead!

After an eventful weekend, Monday morning loomed bright and early.
As I was exiting the train station and walking the familiar route to school, blisters on my feet bothered me, the heat of the day was already palpable, and my mind was still hazy from sleep.

I can't wait for work to be finished today!

What was that?

Had I just been looking forward to the end of the day when my workday had not yet even begun?

Immediately I corrected my line of thinking.

Let's get excited about what I'll be doing in school today.
Let's see.... I'm going to see the students I love, I'm excited to teach them about verb tenses (YES!!), we appoint a new student of the week....

Soon, I realized that I felt more positive about my day.

It's only natural (as human beings who get bored and tired) to want the workday to be over.
But if you want to have good workday in the first place, LIVE IN THE MOMENT.
Concentrate on finding the positive things that motivate you and will help you enjoy the day.
Before you know it, the day will be over, and you would have had a great day.

Have a great week everyone! :)

Friday, 6 March 2009

Keeping Humble

I learn a lot... a LOT from my kids.

This week, I've learned that humour cures almost any situation.
I'm also learning to give them more credit - to look beyond the outward behaviour and see the inner needs.

Kids try hard.
Yes, they are ego-centric and selfish-absorbed little creatures... but at the same time, they crave our love, attention and approval.
This need for approval drives their behaviour so strongly.
Yet in every child, the way they show this need is different.
Some show it in more endearing ways than others.

But at the end of the day, they all want the same thing:
To be loved.
OK, maybe not just to be loved... but also to be loved in spite of who they are - how they look, how they speak, what they wear, mistakes they make, words they say.

By watching them, I feel greatly humble and sometimes even chastised.

It is indeed a privilege to deal with children everyday.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Mental Preparation....

Teachers have a lot to of preparation to do on a regular basis.
Much of our time is spent researching, planning, organizing, gathering materials, making things, and then doing it all again week in and week out.

And THEN we have to actually execute the lesson.

Add crazy shouting kids who have a 2 minute memory span for any instructions given, and dealing with various other crazy things that pop up, trying to cover content in the expected time, attending meetings, dealing with parents,... not forgetting all the "debriefing" and reflection we are supposed to do AFTER a lesson, yes, teachers can be pretty mentally exhausted by Fridays.

So I generally try to make sure I'm READY for the week - Sunday is usually my most laid back day, and despite feeling generally depressed that the gorgeous weekend has just passed, I try to look forward to the new work-week ahead.


I think about my kids - not the stuff that gets me antsy and frustrated, but rather then things that make me happy.
Like how one of my kids just wrote in his journal on Friday that he has been very concerned about me when I missed school cuz I was sick. Then he said he loved me.

I also try to get myself excited about any projects I'm working on.
For instance, this week, I'll be issuing my 2nd class newsletter.
Also, I'm taking the student support centre "public" - regular opening hours will finally be starting.
Lastly, I run through the lessons I have to cover tomorrow in my mind.
No surprises.
Everything about teaching has to be intentional.

Most importantly, I make sure that when i start my day tomorrow, it's with a smile - whether I feel like it or not, a smile is a powerful thing.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Take it Seriously, But Teach Perseverence!

The first time (ever) a kid came crying to me over a tiny little cut on their arm, I was plain amused at the severity by which he treated the small injury.
Almost disregarded it.

I mentioned this to my mom one day and she happily retorted that I had been much worse when I was a kid.

"You came crying to me with a small cut on your arm and asked me if you were going to die."

Amusing, yes.
But I began to realize that despite how small we think kids' problems are, at that age, they have not yet gained the wisdom of experience and almost everything is a HUGE problem or predicament to them!

Just because we see their problems as small, and cannot understand why they would cry like there's no tomorrow just because they forgot to bring a pencil or the like, doesn't mean we should trivialize their problems.

I've found that the key is in balance.

You see, while it's important to take their little problems seriously, it's a whole other "problem" if we coddle them each time they cry or make a fuss.

Instead, we need to give their "little" problems the due attention and care, but teach them to move on - to learn from their experiences, and to become stronger for it!

Many kids nowadays (and I say this from the point of view of a school counsellor) have difficulties facing the problems in their lives.
They easily become victims of their own faulty thought processes.

We need to equip the children of today with tools and habits of hardiness, and teach them to be active thinkers and learners, developing a tenacious outlook on life.

Friday, 20 February 2009

"So Nice Smell!!"

That's what my kids would say when I first began using aromatherapy in the classroom.

I have about 7 scents - each for different purposes.
Lavender and Jasmine, I've noticed, generally helps to calm the class down (which is many cases is exactly what I need).

Today during meditation I tried something a little different.
I got my kids to focus on 3 main senses one by one - with their eyes closed (thus completely ignoring one sense to hone in on another), I asked them first to feel the cool air from the ac blowing on their skin.

How did that make you feel?
I saw some smiles.

Next, I got them to focus on using their sense of hearing - concentrating on the sound of their breath and on the music they could hear, but blocking all other sounds out.
I saw some very resolute expressions.

Finally, I brought the scent diffuser I have in my classroom around the class.
Telling them to now try to see if they could smell anything specific in the classroom, I moved the diffuser around the room slowly, passing near their noses.

(I could feel myself relaxing too!)

Smell can so often easily be overlooked.

In doing some research about essential oils, I've come to realize that this can be of great aid to the teacher.

There are specific smells that can help us achieve certain states of mind.
Lavender, for example, is a very commonly used scent because of the wide benefits.
It can help with anxiety, depression, guilt, helplessness, irritability, nervous tension, exhaustion...

Scents like lime, orange, grapefruit, or lemon can help lift your spirits, and citrus, mint and pine can help freshen you up!

So far I have more of the calming scents (because my kids are pretty hyper usually)... but I'll soon be getting some of the more citrus scents to play around with when they seem tired or need some perking up. :)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Class Newsletter

Yes, it's a lot of work, but the kids love it, and this way I can keep parents informed.
I've come to realize the importance of working with parents - keeping them in the loop, explaining things to them, and getting feedback from them.

Here are some thumbnails of this year's Jan edition.\:

Included in the monthly newsletters are sections on:
  • Class Awards
  • Featured Student Work
  • The Learning Frontier - Learning about Learning
  • Journal Snippets
  • IT Section
  • Announcements, Birthdays, and Calendar
  • Lots of pictures!

I'm beginning on Feb's issue now.

Morning Music Meditation

The benefits of music have been long hailed.
And when joined with meditation, and visualization techniques... wow!

For the last few months, I spend 5 minutes or so every morning with my class doing meditation.
Each day is different.
Somedays I give more directions, using visualization techniques and a bit of yoga breathing, and other days it's just up to the students themselves.

This video has a bit of everything - mostly just letting them focus on the music and responding to the music (this is music therapy), and if you notice, there is heavy breathing sounds - which is a yoga breathing technique.

Visualization was only used a little in this particular session. Sometimes I use more visualization which has to do with colours and using actions as well.

Notice that I don't say anything in the beginning (when the students are walking in) - I use visual and auditory cues (dim lighting, music in background, PowerPoint slide) that tell the students what they should do. You'll notice that many of the kids just walk in, sit down, and immediately get into meditation "mode".

By the way, the "You Are A Tree" bit has really helped - many of my kids usually have issues with staying still (yep, hyperactive!), an when I first taught them to breathe in and out, they had trouble balancing and staying upright! So using the basics of the yoga tree-pose, I taught them to keep their eyes focused on one point and to ground themselves like a tree. Immediately, the students who usually could not keep still showed resolve and focus in their eyes. No more swaying around and off-balance postures.

Finally, I ended with smiling.
The benefit of just putting your facial expressions into a smile is that your body can't tell the difference between a real smile/laugh or a fake one... sometimes I get the class to just laugh for 30 seconds non-stop. This helps put the kids (and myself) in a good mood at the start of the day!

Results of meditation - my students have feed-backed to me that the daily meditations have helped them feel calmer, happier, more focused...

... but hey, don't just take it from me - try it with your students and see the difference yourself! ;)


I get bored easily.
Pet peeve when I was a student - boring teachers.

So these days, I make sure that if I start leaning towards "boring", I stop whatever I was doing, and get myself interested.

I mean, seriously - if I get bored by my own teaching, what more my students?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Caught Doing Good Slips

Sometimes, it's the littlest things that help the most.

This is a blank Caught Doing Good Slip:

I have a bunch of these sitting on my desk.
Any time I see a kid trying really hard to do the right thing, I either:
  • Quietly pass him/her a slip, smile/nod, and whisper what they did good. For example "You were listening well." OR...
  • Make a big show out of it to the whole class. Eg:"Class, this morning I noticed that Tommy did not get distracted when he entered the class even though the class was very noisy. He simply put his bag down, went to his seat, sat nicely, and started his own meditation."
After I pass them the slips, they fill them up on their own time, and bring it to me to sign (so that no one "forges" any slips). Here are some example:

After signing, they put the slip into a jar (I use a transparent box I recycled):

Once their names are in the jar, they stay there for the month.
During the month, I can at any point pull out a slip as a form of a lucky draw (the kids love this!). Thus awarding a higher probability of winning to those who have more slips.

I also give an award to the kid who has the most number of Caught Doing Good slips at the end of the month (as mentioned in an earlier blog post).

Quite simple but really effective.

I initially got the idea from Rick Smith, and adapted it to suit my own needs.
Mainly I find that it helps:
  • Teach kids what they are doing good (immediate positive reinforcement),
  • Affirm even the quiet kids,
  • Emphasize certain classroom procedures that are important,
  • Gives them something to work towards.

Hope this helps you!
Please let me know if you adapt this, and what worked or didn't work.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Instant Classroom Mood Changer

Today it took me a good 3 hours to feel humanly awake.

A friend suggested that I hold a class arm-wrestling competition, where the class winner wrestles me, to perk the class up a bit.
I was so intruiged, I did it immediately at the end of my previous class.

Immediately, the mood of the class changed - my students were having fun, laughing, and cheering each other on.

That's one thing I've learned - that sometimes if the classroom climate starts getting to a point where it hinders student learning, that just means it's time to slot in a short Mood-Changer!

Ps: The strongest kid in my class is a strapping Indian boy, and unfortunately for him, he got beat by a girl - me. I've been grinning like a fool ever since. Heh.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

What Will My Day Be Like?


Every day is a challenge.

Not many people realize just how much mental energy gets zapped from the moment a teacher steps into the classroom till the moment she leaves.

Bombarded by a magnitude of stimuli, from dealing with students asking silly questions to having to make informative announcements, check homework, read notes from parents, perform administrative tasks, and prepare lesson plans, a teacher’s job seems a hundredfold more than what it’s made out to be.

We are the care-takers of the mind, the soothers of the soul, and the farmers of tomorrow’s society.
Yet, given these many responsibilities, it is so easy for a teacher to become overwhelmed and despondent – right at the start of the day.

All it takes is a combination of several things going wrong at once.

“Teacher, I forgot to bring my Math Textbook home, so I couldn’t finish my homework.”

“Teacher, what are we doing for Science today?”

“Teacher, I lost my worksheet.”

“Teacher can I go to the toilet?”

“Teacher, Tommy took my pencil! Waaaaaaahhhh….!!!”

Knock at the door.

“Ms Shimona, can you give these letters out to your class? And I have not received your attendance list yet. Can I get it soon?”

Ten minutes pass. Still no homework handed in. An argument breaks out. 5 kids need to visit the toilet at precisely the same time. I’ve misplaced my lesson plans somewhere underneath a labyrinth of homework and textbooks. Kids keep coming up to the teacher’s table to ask questions that have nothing to do with the lesson.

Another ten minutes pass. Students are finally taking out their textbooks, albeit very noisily. We have about twenty minutes left. How will we cover the lesson in time now?

One can easily feel stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed by a situation such as this, especially if this is a normal, everyday occurrence. It would be the most natural thing in the world for a teacher to, at this point, feel her blood pressure shoot up through the roof and start shouting for the kids to sit down. Her mood would steadily get worse and worse, and the classroom climate get more and more tense. The teacher, after all, sets the tone.

Mind you, I am not the most bright and cheerful person first thing in the morning. In fact, this is one problem I often face – feeling like something the cat dragged in –all grumpy and sleepy in the mornings and being tempted to “blast” any kid who irritates me with a silly question or talks too loudly. So instead of letting the day set my mood, I try to take what I’ve learned from positive psychology and make precautionary measures to decide for myself what the day will be like.

This morning for example, I woke up feeling groggy and grumpy as per norm. So I decidedly had a “talk” with myself on the way to school.

“What will your day be like today, Shimona?”

“Will you be grumpy, shout, and take it out on the kids?”

“No! It is going to be a great day! You’re a good teacher, and the students are all fantastic children. You will have fun together, and the school day will be a success!”

Amazingly, those few seconds I spent having that little pep talk with myself worked wonders! I waltzed into the classroom this morning with a huge smile plastered on my face, and the day rolled out before me in a blanket of cheer and goodwill. Being pleasant and humorous came easily, and I found that my tolerance for silly questions was much higher as I deemed the questions not so much silly as inquisitive. My smiles came more frequently and readily, and the kids responded eagerly to my excitement for learning. Soon, we were playing games to learn content matter, and my students were eager to please and behave well.

Isn’t it a wonder what starting the teaching day with the right, positive mindset can do?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Seriously.... Let's not be too serious.

I like to learn from my kids.
I think it's a good attitude to have - that a teacher can learn just as much from their students.

One of the most important things I've learned is the ability to lose my seriousness and just have fun!

How many times do teachers get so bogged down by all the "serious" stuff?
Paperwork, noisy children who won't listen, advise and opinions coming in left right center, the dripping aircon, the marker that just ran out of ink.....

It's not that important!

What's more important is what we convey to our students.

Sometimes I'll say something really serious like "Class, I have something important to tell you..." with the most serious of serious faces... only to complete the sentence with:
"... I'm so proud of the progress you've all made as a class!"
Accompanied by a huge grin.

Sometimes I stop mid-sentence and ask "do you hear that?"
And we spend the next few minutes listening to bird calls.

Or sometimes I'll just give them silly faces or silly answers.

Our students are always looking to follow our lead.
When we show them that we are result-driven and that all we want is a class full of robotic beings who listen to all instructions to a "T", and who get straight A's regardless of their true ability to think critically or mind other peoples' feelings... well, then what we are simply conveying to them is that we don't care about them.

This does not make anyone motivated.
Not motivated to cooperate,
Not motivated to learn,
Not motivated to be happy.

So instead, when we lighten up the atmosphere by learning from children's innate ability to want to make anything and everything fun and play... we show our students that we value and respect them.

This is the best motivator a student could have.

The Secret Box

What is one thing that all human beings love?

That's right - suspense!

People of all ages love a good mystery... kids even more so.
So one of the little systems I have in my classroom is a Secret Box.

Using a very fashionable shoe box (I'm all for recycling!), I started collecting various knick knacks - some real gems like ice-cream coupons and chocolate bars, some fun flukes like heart-shaped balloons and tiny pieces of wrapped candy. Anytime I see something I think would be interesting to add to the box, I do one of these two options:
  1. Put it in the box secretly.
  2. Make a big show out of putting it into the box so the kids know something interesting is going in.

My Secret Box is a veritable stash of good fun, and can be used for different situations:

  1. To accompany certificates during my monthly class award presentation,
  2. Random lucky draws from the Caught Doing Good jar (more about that in this post),
  3. Birthdays
  4. Student of the Week

I will add a picture to this post soon - camera's not in use right now.

In the meantime, why not start your own secret box?
If you do, please link up to this post (if you have a blog) with pictures etc... or just sign my guestbook/write a comment about YOUR Secret Box, tell me what novel items you placed in it, and what your students' reactions were.

By the way, try it with any age group - you'd be surprised at the results! ;)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Competitive Cooperative Groups

One great way I am able to motivate my students to work fast and well together is by using a competition based cooperative grouping.

Here's the run-down:

  1. Group students into groups of 4-5. (Randomly)

  2. Have groups give themselves a group name and designate group jobs:

    Group Jobs:
    *Group Leader - helps repeat instructions that the teacher gives to any student in the group that missed it the first time, manages the group, is responsible for the cooperation of the group.
    *Book Passer - collects and passes out any homework/letters/textbooks, etc.
    *Time-keeper - Keeps track of the time the group takes to do any given activity.
    *Encourager - Uses positive language and moderates the group's overall well-being.
    *Shhh Manager - Monitor's group's noise level.
    *Group/Team Job - Each group is responsible for one thing in the class. For example, keeping the Reading Corner clean and tidy, or making sure no one leaves anything behind at the end of the day.

  3. A point system is used for any activity/procedure/task... and I mean ANY.
    For example:
    Class is too noisy, so teacher writes on the board:
    "Noisy groups get -5 points, first group to do their work quietly get 10 points"
    OR (say to class)
    "First 2 groups to get all their group members' homework handed in get 30 points"
    Works conversely like this:
    "Flaming Dragons, your team needs to cooperate and not fight - minus 10 points for fighting."
    Points can also be given for class teamwork done (see earlier video on Science Revision)
    Points can be added or subtracted depending on how well groups do their group/team jobs.

  4. Points are accumulated till the end of the month, and the group with the most points gets certificates and a prize.

  5. After prizes have been given, groups are shuffled so that students have a chance to learn to work cooperatively with other students of different personality/abilities/temperaments/academic level.

  6. Repeat every month!

This kind of ongoing competitive cooperative group strategy can be utilized in many ways.
I will add posts as I remember any good pointers on how to use the groups and link them to this post, but this here is the basic gist of it.

Feel free to rate and comment.

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