Single Stories

After listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk (via SPELTAC Course 2) about the dangers of the single story, I was in awe of the power of this notion, how it can at the least hurt and the worst destroy a cultural dignity. This need to show balance, “to create a paradise”, as Adichie stated, led me to interview students I work with at a local children’s centre just outside Ulaanbaatar. Some of the students are local Mongolians while others are young university members visiting Mongolia from various parts of the world.

I was so intensely moved by Adichie’s personal anecdotals (particularly, her meeting her college roommate in the USA and when she visited Mexico for the first time) explaining how she herself moved beyond single stories, that I needed to know how this idea would come through to young people I work with on a global scale.

I set out by prompting each interviewee these stems:

1.Describe a personal experience in which you went into it with a preconceived idea and throughout the experience, changed your mind about “x”.

2.What individuals or groups of people helped you change your perspective, or add to your prior knowledge?

3.Other questions depended upon the story the person being interviewed was sharing.

I will share one student’s response:

Jackie is a Canadian business student who discussed her experiences in France and thoughts about getting to know French people…

An excerpt:

“…I had gone to France when I was in high school and experienced what I considered at the time rudeness and snobbish behaviour. A few years later, while with a friend in Thailand, I talked with a French guy who changed my mind about those first impressions, although not in Thailand. A year later, I moved to Paris for work, a job I could not pass up. I reconnected with him as he was the only person I knew there. I learned over time that the initial coldness I felt from the French was their cultural way of filtering where a person fits into the social class scheme. Relationships while I have been living in France are never superficial. There is a lot of substance, not a lot of fluff to make a person simply feel good. At parties, French people may not seem so outwardly friendly on the first meeting, but with more time, deeper understanding, with a lot of frankness, of individuals is sought. Relationships at all levels it seems are not of convenience for the French, but of a sort of approval of your being…”

With Jackie’s story and all of the others I interviewed, I intend to share them with my students this coming year. We implement a 40 book challenge (idea from Donalyn Miller’s ” The Book Whisperer”) in grade 5 at ISU where students make goals to read from a wide range of genre, authors, time periods in history, etc. Sharing these single stories and their extensions will serve to demonstrate the need for multiple perspectives, open-mindedness, balance, and as Adichie stated in her Ted Talk, “stories matter.”




Follow up: Language Collaboration and Mathematics

As I have implemented a student centered inquiry approach into mathematics this academic year, I have been thinking about how to also better address mother tongue integration. English and Mongolian are the only languages in official use in the primary school for the time being. After discussing my students’ thoughts on this topic, we began to reflect at a deeper level about how this may affect those who return to home countries.

As all students at ISU have daily Mongolian classes, it is the second common language in the school. After reading Emily Vand’s post about experimenting with using languages other than English to discuss books, I decided to try this with mathematics.

During a recent unit about space and shape, students were wondering if a couch would fit in the classroom, for next year. Applying their understanding of measurement and principles of perimeter and area, students used Bee-Bots to justify their predictions and floor plans.

As they experimented with the coding necessary to prove their calculations, a student who is German volunteered to direct a classmate,  a native Mongolian speaker, speaking only in German, how to program the Bee-Bot. Upon reflecting afterward, here were some comments:

-“There are some words in German that sound like English.”

– “Hand gestures would help since we didn’t know any German.”

-“It’s helpful to discuss in our native language what we thought he meant as he told us in German what to do with the Bee-Bot.”

-“Like in Mongolian and English, there are multiple words in German that mean one thing, or a similar thing.”

I would like to encourage my students to continue this language exploration, not only in mathematics investigations, but with book clubs and units of inquiry. As Dr. Jim Cummins states, use of one’s language affirms one’s identity. My German student was enjoying using math talk in his self-proclaimed least favorite subject. The hope is that this type of language collaboration can help students build an appreciation for languages other than English and Mongolian, as well as extend their own inquiries by also using their home languages.


Language and Mathematics

Since joining SPELTAC, I have been reflecting upon my practices as a teacher of language across the curriculum, as well as the language policy of my current school. Are we doing what is best for students’ English, Mongolian, and home language development? What are we currently doing that helps students reach their fullest potentials? How aware are we of the words we use with students–do our choices encourage students to engage more confidently and authentically with language?

To this end, as I read Emily Vand’s posts from earlier this academic year, I thought what an interesting idea to invite students to discuss literature in languages other than English. As we have been implementing a full on inquiry approach into mathematics this year, I decided to ask my students their thoughts on this (and then try it!), to enhance their understanding of cognitive academic language (Jim Cummins) in the mother tongues within our class-Mongolian, English, German, Japanese, Afrikaans, Korean, Russian, and French.

Our grade 5 class is currently inquiring into circles’ measurements and other attributes, including proving Pi. More to follow on how these explanations go in languages apart from our common language of instruction, English.

Using the deBono Thinking Hats as a thinking strategy, students commented on the positives and possible downsides of conducting mathematics instruction in languages other than English.

Anu suggested, with several classmates agreeing, that the specific vocabulary would be “easier” when the student’s native language is used in instruction.

Similarly, Laurenz implied that it is just easier with a common language most people understand.

Tushig stated that “it would be hard for teachers because they do not know ‘all those languages’ listed”. Another peer was in agreement.

Anu also offered the idea that many countries have different strategies and systems for teaching mathematics–different from a PYP international school model. This would thereby make it hard for students to manage learning mathematically specific terminology  in a language other than their native tongue. She was hinting at the idea that cultural practices and language are connected to one another.

After trying this approach in class with volunteers using their home languages, we will re-visit their initial feelings and discuss how their thoughts either stayed the same or changed.

Possible questions could be:

How did knowing the terminology about circles in English help you when ___ was teaching us, speaking _____?

How did visuals and body language assist your understanding?

How did you feel as you were listening to  _____ speaking______?

How does knowing this in English, in _______, and _______ (and _____) help you have a deeper understanding of circles and their characteristics?

Excited to do this!

The Power of Visible Thinking

As my grade 5 students navigate the PYP rite of passage of Exhibition, they continually reaffirm to me the power of belief in the self, goal setting, self reflection, and visible thinking routines. My students’ steps have proven to be leaps toward a deeper understanding of the inquiry process.  Their carefully crafted thoughts will continue to remind everyone where we were and where we’re going. One student firmly stated as she furiously jotted down her speculations, “Well, Miss Nicole, you know the best thing you can teach us is how to think for ourselves.”

What a joy to see students using their visuals to discuss their surprises, anxieties, brainstorms, stresses, happy moments, successes, “I wouldn’t do that again”, and next steps of XN with their parents during our half-way check in meetings. It’s all part of the journey!

Multiple Choice









Mixed Expressions