What a Student Taught Me

As a teacher, I can be surprised by things my students say or do. This term, one of my students taught me something and I’d like to share it with you.


Daniel* entered my class, a student with large saucer eyes. He was a second termer or exiting student as we call them. Off to mainstream at the end of his time with me.

He should have been speaking more English. But he wasn’t. He either couldn’t or didn’t know how. I was perplexed: Did he have a learning issue or was he just incredibly shy? I referred him as ‘being at risk of not making progress’ to the Student Welfare Co-ordinator. She just followed up with home routines, made sure he was going to bed on time.

When reading with me, Daniel would seek reassurance after almost every word. Maybe he was scared to make mistakes? What had happened? Why was he so nervous? His volume would drop and I would remind him to ‘Read with a big voice’.

But when he read with his Reading Buddy, he would shine and the words would come out clearly and confidently. I would sneak past on my way round the room and marvel at the difference.

Daniel was paired up with his Reading Buddy to perform a Jazz Chant for the class. I was hoping I hadn’t set him up to fail. I need not have worried. He rose to the occasion and did well because he had such a supportive partner. The other students recognized this as a huge achievement for him.

I know his Reading Buddy and partner did not like working with him. She told me in a survey about reading. However, I don’t think she realized what a gift she gave him in her steadiness and modeling of language.

I learnt from Daniel to be persistent – to not give up. I also realized how powerful co-operative learning can be when students support each other.

And now Daniel talks.


*Not his real name.

What has a student/patient/or client taught you recently? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.


Teachers are humans too.

I challenged another blogger on WordPress to be more honest in her posts as I felt her latest post was aiming for a cheap laugh and certainly not her best writing. Needless to say she was unimpressed and she returned with a sarcastic comment.

So now I need to be honest.

And to be honest, this week I feel very blah about all aspects of teaching. This is the last week before Easter break and I am struggling with a severe case of ‘Can’t be Bothereds’. I will lose nine of my twelve students come Thursday as they complete their time at our school. Anything I plan this week is really a bonus in terms of their learning. I had one student who left early. His family managed to convince the school that someone back in Iran was unwell and the family had to return there. On quizzing the student, no one was sick. Grandma just wanted to meet the baby brother. And fancy that, it coincided with Iran’s New Year celebrations too. What did I tell you about Grandmas? It still makes me feel used.

Another reason for feeling blah is that I am losing a dear friend and colleague. I wrote about Miss Lee last year in an article attached to my portfolio. Miss Lee has managed to get a job in the Department of Education in the EAL unit (English as an Additional Language unit). So she sort of becomes my boss. I shall miss her greatly as there are some colleagues you just gel with more easily and she was one of those colleagues for me. What disturbs me though, is her recount of going for her interview and saying that different workers for the Department were queuing up for coffees at the cafe at 9:15am in the morning. At 9:15am in the morning I am already working hard and there are no coffees in sight. It would be nice to think my employers work just as hard…

We have also been working at home to determine whether there is any mold issues in our home. I had a microbiologist do his laser thing and spore trap thing around the house last week after I discovered that my genes make me multi-susceptible to molds and bio-toxins. If the fatigue from teaching wasn’t challenging enough, I also deal with ongoing allergies and inflammation. It might take a few weeks to get the results from the testing but if we solve this issue, things hopefully will improve. This certainly adds to the ‘Can’t be Bothereds’.

Today we also said ‘farewell’ to the pastor at our church. We’ve only known him for about two short years but he is moving on. His passion for Jesus and love for people were very much evident in all that he did and he will be sorely missed.

Tomorrow is Monday. I shall get up and pop a smile on my face. I shall face my students and then face their parents in what becomes a three-hour parent-teacher interview session that lasts into the evening. I shall get through this week and then take time to grieve, adjust and recover from this term over the holidays. I just need to you to know that behind every teacher’s smile, things can be going on. So let the teachers in your life know that you appreciate them and all the work they do.

*Featured image: Pixabay


The term rolls on…and I revisit KWL charts

Term 1 started four weeks ago and I have only just come up for breath. For the first two weeks I did not have the same class two days running. As our enrollments came in, I would lose students to older classes and receive other students from the class below me. I thought I had dodged receiving any of my old students from last year, but one popped and proved to be old enough and capable enough to join me this year.

I have P7 this year and I’m loving it. Last year I had P4, which was about a Grade 1 / 2 or about seven-year olds. Currently I have eight and nine – year olds and I have the upper ability grouped class.  My teaching partner has the same age level but his class is the beginner group and he’s finding the adjustment tough. It’s amazing the difference a year or two can make and also when the students have a little bit more English. I am actually having more fun and am not feeling so tired at the end of the day. The crunch will come in two weeks, when I have to write ten exit reports as my students will leave for their mainstream schools.

I have fallen in love with anchor charts this year. Here is one that is really working for me. It has solved a lot of angst in the classroom.




Late last year, I wrote a post on KWL charts in the EAL classroom. Certainly in P4 I did not achieve much success with them. I thought I would revisit them with my older group. To increase the challenge I had them working in groups with only one student allowed to write and only one student allowed to present to the class. Each person in the group had a role. My students did an amazing job! Even Student T from last year managed.



Here’s to a Happy New Year in the classroom too!

Graphic Organisers in the ESL / EAL classroom

Part of the ongoing Professional Development that has been taking place at our school this year has involved looking at different teaching strategies that are considered ‘effective’ according to research and then adjusting them for our English as an Additional Language setting.

One of the latest strategies which we have had to experiment with has been the graphic organiser. My teaching partner and I decided to give the humble old KWL chart a try. The KWL chart has been around for years but for those who may not have come across it before, it is a tool for organising thinking. It acknowledges that students bring prior learning to the current topic being studied and also allows them to think about what they want to learn.

The KWL chart is basically this:

– What I already Know.  (This step is completed before the learning takes place)

W – What I Want to know. (This step is completed before the learning takes place)

L – What I have Learnt.  (This step is done after the learning takes place)


Our first try was when we were studying houses way back in week 3 and 4 of this term. My preferred way of doing the KWL chart with young students (I have seven-year-olds) is to give them a sticky note and have them draw/write for each section. The K section went well. You can only just see some of the yellow pieces that are for this section. We hit a few problems with ‘What do we want to learn?’

First problem: Students don’t know, what they don’t know.

Second problem: When English is not your first language, how do you even begin to write what you want to learn?

The drawings on the blue squares did have some input from me.



Maybe ‘Houses’ was too much of a thing topic rather than a concept topic. So after a bit of discussion with other teachers, we tried again with the next topic of ‘Zoo’. This time, I took the approach of me modelling how I might approach the ‘What I Want to Know’ section. I don’t think the students understood that I was trying to think out loud for their benefit. The conversation that surrounded this KWL was hilarious.




Me: I want to know the names of different animals.

Student A: I like magpies! And ducks!

Student T: Giraffes!

Student H: There’s elephants!

Me: Shh! Stop calling out. I also want to know What kind of coverings do animals have?

Student T: (still calling out) Feathers. Birds have feathers.

Me: (wondering why that wasn’t drawn on his paper?) I also want to know Where do animals live?

Student A: Trees!

Student T: The jungle!

Student H: Do we have to copy this?

Me: (inwardly sighing) And I want to know What do animals eat?

Student T: (still calling out) Lions eat meat!



56A181E6-6659-4DA9-B0E0-A2998FFF775A    While we were on a roll, I thought we should have a try at a KWL chart for Addition.

This is really beyond seven year olds. This is Student A (from above) who is incredibly bright. He did not really understand how to use a KWL chart for Addition. His ‘L’ section shows things he already knew as we did not cover doubles as part of our addition unit at this time.




I have come to the conclusion that KWL charts may not be the best use of time for me with a bunch of seven-year-olds in an EAL classroom. Maybe seven-year-olds in the mainstream classroom could cope with this graphic organiser better or maybe older students in the EAL classroom could cope with this strategy better.




Assumptions Not to Make in the English as an Additional Language Classroom.

The last two weeks have been crazily busy with family related things. My youngest turned 8 which required parties and presents, grandparents and cakes. These things are all fun, but did require some serious time for planning and execution.

My oldest, is getting ready for high school next year.  The big transition from Year 6 to Year 7 is looming. And the main issue for us is that we are out of zone for the school that we would like him to attend. So we have been going on school tours and making up application packages. Everything has now been submitted and we have to wait until August 9 to find out where he is off to next year.

Last week at school I was hit by some assumptions that I was making but probably shouldn’t when teaching six and seven year-old New Arrivals in Australia. So for a laugh, here are some photos and some assumptions not to make in the EAL classroom.


1: Don’t assume that students have had the same access to physical development programs as in your own country.



This photo shows part of the Physical Education program that we run for the younger students at our school. We try to teach the language of ‘balancing’, ‘jumping’, ‘hopping’, ‘skipping’ and so on as part of the program. The students also need the body confidence and awareness to be able to learn effectively in the classroom. A lot of this learning would typically occur in Australia in Kindergarten programs and in the first year of school. My students are being prepared for the second and third year of school in Victoria. Three weeks into the term and most of our students are running up the ramp and over the A-frame with a jump onto the mat. This child has developed in confidence also, but is still hanging on with her hand as she negotiates the top of the A-frame.


2: Don’t assume that students will correctly colour in the flag of your country.



This is Australia’s ‘official’ flag in terms of country recognition. I know we have our Australian Aboriginal flag but that concept is a little too much at this point for my learners. So despite talking about the Australian flag being red, blue and white and talking about the stars and the parts of the flag, and having a flag on display one student gave me this.

After all, stars are yellow, aren’t they?

They are, especially if you have a Chinese background, and you are six years old.


3: Don’t assume that copying is easy.



This student was so proud of his work and I realised “Copying is so hard….” He copied the date and the sentence ‘Yesterday was ANZAC day.’  The second sentence was his. Compared to his peers, his drawing lacks maturity. There is a lot of work that needs to be done with this student both academically and in terms of overall maturity.


4: Don’t assume a student knows how to use a scrapbook.



This student completed a task at the start of his scrapbook. The next task was glued into the middle of his scrapbook and the last task was glued in near the end of his scrapbook. Oops! I had to get out the date stamp and stamp everything for when I go back through his work. Needless to say that this child is now on my ‘got to get to first’ list when we start new tasks so I can get him to the next page. Hopefully he’ll get the hang of it soon.

What assumptions have you made in your teaching or work? I’d love to hear some of your stories.