…be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out

This week the LI team had the pleasure of speaking to Alice Cheung, a grade 2 teacher at Parkside.

She recently revamped the workspaces in her room to give her students more agency and enhance their learning.

Alice had been thinking about this change for a while, but finally took the plunge (being a risk taker) and decided to make the change.

Let’s get into her responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

I wanted my students to be aware of what type of learner they are choosing to be.

This starts with them understanding their needs as a learner and making a decision which bests supports that.

For example, if you learn better in a quiet space, then maybe a communal space is not the best place to complete your work.

Now in order for this to happen, I needed to open up my classroom and allow for different seating arrangements and spaces.

Although the change was meant to enhance the students’ learning, it also gave me a deeper insight into how each student learns best and allowed me to address any needs they might have.

I would never have known this if my classroom set-up stayed the same with just tables.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

There were three main skills I wanted them to gain through this process.

Frist, cooperation. Students would have to choose a learning space and if it was taken, they would have to use their cooperation skills to work it out.

Second, communication. This incorporates both audio and non-audio forms.

For example, if they were sitting in a group, they need to be aware of their body positions and identify which position would allow them to listen and talk to their peers.

Additionally, different forms of communication for different scenarios. Sitting at a desk by yourself or sitting in a group will require different forms of communication.

Lastly, self-management. This is crucial when students have to make a decision when sharing spaces. From materials to where to work, each student has to be aware and manage how to work in the new spaces.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

My old room was very teacher-centric.

It sent a message where the teacher would write on the board. Material would be taught with a projector, and document camera.

Additionally, the front of the room is where the teacher put things for students to read and find.

The crazy thing is I never said any of this, but this is the message I was sending.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

Well, I always admired teachers who let kids choose their own seats or workplaces, typically in older years.

So I thought how could I incorporate this same idea into grade 2.

I actually tried this gradually in previous years where groups could choose, but it never worked out.

Then I attended a workshop at EARCOS named Positive Learning Environments and it was the tipping point for me.

Instead of staying in my comfort zone I pushed through and decided to go all in and say YES!

The workshop provided pictures and the inspiration necessary for me to have the courage to implement these changes in my class.

It was the like the first domino in a line which finally fell, thus causing the others to fall as well.

Now that I think about it, this is similar to how I decided to change my approach to teaching math.

I had heard a lot on blogs and social media, but I did not make “The Decision” to change until a consultant (math) came in and showed the staff how we could do it!

The key I am seeing is both the workshop and consultant helped me overcome my uncertainties and take a chance.

Both started out mainly as curiosity, but the process in each made me reflect and analyze WHY I was teaching the way I was.

The presenter (EARCOS) started out with a simple question, which actually helps me decided to take the chance.

What message does your classroom send?

For me I realized my room was telling my students the teacher has a spot, students have a spot, and we all learn in one space (front of the room).

This made me think how I could step out of the “Ms. Cheung” role and see it from the students perspective.

(The dominoes start to fall…)

This lead me to think about the equity between the teacher and student, which led me to the conclusion

I don’t think there should be a front of the room

(Next one…)

Then, I started to think how we could leverage every space in the room, not just the front of the room.

I was so excited and sent a message to some colleagues on a Saturday and asked them if we could meet once we got back from the conference. I was so excited to start!

It took a couple of conversation, but I decided to start small.

First, I decided to open up the middle of my room (dominated by two large tables) and make it more a communal and interactive space.

This made me re-think the use of traditional furniture and how they are used. For example, I took the legs off the periodic tables and placed them on the ground so four students could easily fit around the table (this also saved a lot of room).

What was the result?

Well, there were two benefits right away.

One, everything became communal, thus allowing learning to happen in all areas of the room.

Two, children were given agency and able to choose the learning space which best suited their learning.

(The dominoes keep falling…)

Next, I invited students to come up to the front of the room (previously all filled with my work) and engage with a “Wonderwall.”

The key was I made it at their level, which made it easy to ask questions and show their thinking visible.

Overall the whole experience of changing my room has been great and the biggest impact has been on the students!

They love the new space and it has opened up a lot of different learning possibilities.


(BONUS Advice)

Like I said, I did not intend to send out a message to my students that everything was centered around the teacher.

Thus, be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out, even without you intending to be.


Fiona Zinn – EARCOS Workshop Leader

Article: Putting Structure within the Space

John Burns -Satisfying a Need in your classroom

Ms. Cheung

“What it does is allow students to begin making connections”








Happy Tuesday #sisrocks!  This week we are highlighting Rosana Walsh from our Bayside campus. Rosana was nominated for all the knowledge, energy, and support she brings to creating a more inclusive environment for her students. 

What did you want your students to know or understand?

The lessons that I am thinking about are tied to our first unit in seventh grade, which is modern identity.  Students have a choice of two novels, one is called among the hidden, which is really about identity because its about a child who shouldn’t be there. And what it does is allow students to begin making connections into things like the one child policy in China. There’s a lot of inferences you can get out of the story: Why is this child treated like this…? The other book is called Flying Solo and it is about a class that runs itself on a day when it is not supposed to when the substitute doesn’t show up – What’s interesting is that as the story unfolds all the personalities come out. I wanted these kids to know that they could get the same  kind of understanding from these two very different books about how we can identify character traits and personalities and how they develop – and often it has a lot to do with studying our backgrounds. – what do we bring. One of the big words for modern identity is perspective.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

Really what I wanted them to know is that we are unique and often people see us from different perspectives.  Its a unit that builds empathy.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past? / 

If I go back to the books that we are focused on right now.  In previous years, they’ve read the bookend have done reading responses but we’ve had a shift in student demographics so we now have students coming into seventh grade who are various reading levels – they may be seventh grade level in their own languages. Now we are looking at books that are dual languages, which is why Flying Solo was introduced last year. And to teach it differently, we had teachers take chapter and read so that now students have an audio piece to go along with the text.  

4. How did you problem-sol come up with this new method for this lesson? 

In terms of problem solving, we keep finding different solutions for student who need a lot more support … for example, this year we began using curiosity catalysts, which are really just visuals that matched the title of each chapter but they’re really fun and they are an excellent prompt fo getting the kids to discuss what they see in that image. Whats significant about it? How do you think its attached to this story? This allows kids to warm up to the chapter before we, as a class, read loud.  It’s a shared, interactive, talk through of the chapter. 

We were able to learn far more about our students and create stronger bonds…

This week we had the pleasure of speaking to the Grade 4 team about the School Without Walls project (SWW).

What is SWW?

SWW = traversing the Shenzhen metro, visiting the wet market, buying lunch on a budget, a spaghetti design challenge, movies, late night dodge…all infused with the ESLRs.

Or in more simple terms, it is when kids get to have fun without their parents…and learn how to build trust, teamwork, collaboration, and build community through a non-traditional classroom experience.

Lastly, it is a prep to help students prepare for the Grade 5 overnight trip.

Without further ado, here are their answers.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

We wanted them to understand two main things.

First, you are able to work with other people in new ways. It is possible and we actually created activities where they did not work with their friends.

This allowed students to get to know each other in different ways – field trip to wet market, design challenges, athletic games – in activities where you don’t  have the time or opportunity to hit in the academic classroom.

Second, to push past their comfort zone. Again, we put students in positions to make new connections. For some of them, it was their first overnight experience.

A bonus we did not see, was that all of us (Ts) were able to learn far more about our students and create stronger bonds with them.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?


Collaboration – Learn to collaborate with new people to solve various challenges, whether academic, athletic, or social.

Communication – Communicate effectively to learn more about others and facilitate the problem-solving process.

Critical thinking – Analyze and synthesize information to make a plan and carry it out. For example, how to eat on a budget or how to get from point A to point B using the metro (first time for many of them).

Confidence – Ability to be put into new situations and use their knowledge to adapt and figure it out. Like we said, some of them had never been on an overnight experience.

Independent Learner – Learn to do things on their own. Pack their own bag, roll out own sleeping bag, track belongings.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

Usually, we relied heavily on a company to do most of the work. We were very Hands off.


It would be mainly focused on having fun. For example, we would have a “Lock-in, Movie night.”

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

The best things are homegrown, so that is what we did, we catered to our students’ needs and created an experience we knew they would one, enjoy, but two, gain the opportunity to learn and grow.

We wanted the focus to be more on team building and the academics (while still be fun!).

In terms of planning, we did it incrementally. We already planned on a weekly basis, so we built in time a few weeks out to chunk it out.

Luckily, we work well as a team and are able to adjust on the fly – trust each other. This actually made the activities more meaningful, as we could pivot on the fly.

Now, let us tell you it was not all rainbows and roses. There were challenges (a lot).

Someone, once said you don’t know what you do not know until you do it.

That was spot on for us, as we got a little stressed as we did not know who does what.

Do we ask parents to purchase things, what about catering…and so much more.

The biggest thing was the logistics and the scope of responsibilities widened as we got closer to the event.

Yet, it all was completed and the success was abundantly evident.

Every student left with a smile on their face, and this was after minimal sleep the night before.

In addition, we were able to see some of the students blossom due to be given an opportunity to show their strengths in a new setting.

Lastly, all the students were “indoctrinated on how overnight school trips are AWESOME.”

This will help then next year and build anticipation for their overnight Grade 5 trip!

(Everyone sighs…)

BUT…We are already thinking of improvements for next year.

First, building in concentrated time to plan. Again, the logistics of SWW took a lot more than we expected.

Second, taking student suggestions into account, giving them agency to help plan.

Third, how we can utilize Shenzhen better. Although we went to the wet market and other locations, we would like to leverage our local community.


Nom, nom catering – kids liked it

Grade 4 Team – contact them if you are planning an overnight experience.