Creating High Performance Learning Environments.

I believe that I can improve as a teacher by understanding a wide range of practices and strategies and finding what works for me and my students.

I watched three videos recently, three different teachers using very different teaching strategies.

The three videos are here;

First video Roller Coaster Physics.

Second video Third grade Chinese-Math class

Third video Whole Brain teaching

Video 1 – Roller Coaster Physics by Ms.Donna Migdol.

The longest video of the three. This PBL STEM class was the most recognizable class out of the three and most closely matches my teaching and my teaching environment.  I teach in an inquiry based learning environment (The IBO Primary Years Programme) and the way that Ms.Donna Migdol encourages the student to think like engineers and solve a puzzle for themselves, with just the right amount of scaffolding, is inspiring.

The specialist STEM teacher, Ms.Migdol, is a very distinguished educator (27 Years) and engineer National Academy of Engineering. and she is an expert in her field. She has clearly prepared very well for this project and has probably taught and refined it many times. The gradual release of project information and available materials was a very skilled choice and the teacher understands that by adding to much information at the start the students don`t develop the inquiring, problem solving skills to the expected standard. By trying to carry out the aims of the project with limited resources, at least at the start, the students have to work out the fundamentals of friction, potential and kinetic energy and the laws of motion. The way that student choice was incorporated into class (e.g students chose their group role as well as using trial and error), is something that I try to facilitate as much as possible too.

Watching this video made me realize the truth of the 5 P`s – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance – and the value of being an expert in what you teach. In order to further develop my personal learning network, I hope she accepts my request to connect via LinkedIn.

Video 2 – Chinese Maths class, Ms Crystal Chen.

China is known to perform well in Mathematics, Reading and Science,  as are other Asian countries Pisa 2012 results: which country does best at reading, maths and science?

Whole class response strategies are observable in this video and chanting rhythmically is in evidence in this video. I wonder how effective this method will be with what appears to be American children, whose first language is (presumably) not Mandarin or Cantonese. Is the object to learn Chinese or Maths or both?  What was the academic expectation of this class? It would be interesting to hear if the object is to teach Mandarin/Cantonese through Maths or to teach Maths through Mandarin/Cantonese.

According to PISA 2012 results China, Korea and Japan all score well in Maths generally, however a weakness shared by them all is in the students application of what is learned to real life problem solving situations. After watching this video I can`t see how that weakness in teaching strategy will be strengthened. There were a number of students off topic and disengaged throughout this short video, I wonder what behavioral expectations or what norms or procedures were communicated to the students from this teacher.

I have used choral repetition and rhythmical call and response type activities to reinforce my behavior expectations. However, I was surprised to see this memorized multiplication “song” as the basis of the (albeit short ) class.

Video 3 – Whole Brain teaching, by Ms.Roxi Shayne. Her Blog

The premise appears to be that the more the teachers “lectures” without interruption the fewer students maintain interest or attention. There are many call and response type set-ups and routines in class. There is also more emphasis placed on physical movement whilst learning (mobile learning). Reading and writing are clearly goals of the class and the teachers uses different methods to teach reading whilst maintaining student interest (Speed reading etc.).I think they way that collaborative learning is expected and introduced, with the prompt “teach” is very good and linked with  The Gradual Release of Responsibility, Pearson and Gallagher (1993). I do, We do, You do it together, You do it alone.

I wonder how the classes change over time, what happens when this fun way of teaching and learning become familiar and what happens when a student just wants to read quietly by themselves and have a good think before responding orally or in written form?

I find this method interesting and I am sure it has a lot of merit, and if the right teacher were put into the right situation with the right group of students it would garner improved results. I believe it will be most successfully used for a “difficult” class of low academic achievers. As can be seen in the tagline of the homepage of the website Got Challenging kids? Try Whole Brain Teaching.

However, it puts the teachers at the forefront in terms of being an “edutainder”, and that may suit some teachers, but not others. It seems difficult to teach conceptual understanding using this methodology, I see the methods used as primarily a tool for reinforcing behavioral expectations and should be included in norms and procedures for certain “challenging”classes, or younger age groups.

The ethnic, and cultural background of the students plays a role in the effectiveness of these methods and how much the students “buy in” to the whole thing may be affected by this too.

This method and my strategies have a lot of crossover, in terms of my attention-getting techniques and short direct instruction leading into collaborative student learning.

My summary on creating a learning environment with high expectations for students

It is generally accepted that your students will mirror your expectations of them.

I think the idea of “good enough” is anathema to success. My students now know that if they ask me if their work is “O.K” I will ask them  – Is your goal to make o.k work or to do your best?  The answer to which, is as instructive to them as it is to me. I am communicating that I think they are capable of more and it is expected that they do their best.

However, my belief that they can do better needs to be coupled with good formative assessment (to understand how much they may be capable of right now) and strategies to improve student learning outcomes.

As a teacher of Grade 4, in an International Elementary School  with students of Japanese Background I have to be aware of cultural as well as language issues, below are some areas that I believe I can improve in.

To improve my practice and ensure a learning environment that has high expectations.

Develop a stronger daily focus on reading and writing.

Use more technology in class.

Use technology correctly in class. How to integrate Tech into class

Entertain and Engage.

Students set their own goals as well as teachers and parents.

Teachers plan together.

Teachers team teach.

Teacher brainstorm problems together.

Praise students for the things they do well and the things you want others to do.

Don`t accept excuses.



Edutopia,. (2011). Project-Based Learning in an Elementary Science Classroom. Retrieved from

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach like a champion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miyashiro, D. (2014). Project Based Learning in the Blended Learning Classroom. Retrieved from

The Power of High Expectations: Closing the Gap in Your Classroom. (2016) (1st ed., pp. 29-36). Retrieved from

Wei, K. (2014). Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good?. The Conversation. Retrieved 15 July 2016, from

Whole Brain Teaching – The fastest growing education reform movement in the world!. (2016). Retrieved 15 July 2016, from




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