Using Computational Thinking in a Modern Language Classroom

Isabelle Wolfe
Language Teacher, International School Aberdeen

Using Computational Thinking in a Modern Language Classroom


Computational Thinking describes the thought process of formulating problems and their solutions in a way that can be carried out by a computer. More than just a classroom strategy, it is also a life skill that our students can learn to solve any problems inside or outside the classroom. In this article, I will endeavour to explain the four stages in this process as well as giving a specific example to illustrate how I implement this process in my modern language classroom


At the International School of Aberdeen, where I teach French, as a way to develop integration of Computational Thinking across the K-12 curriculum in different subjects, we have started a monthly podcast featuring teachers called “CT Pod”. Feel free to listen in


Computational thinking involves four steps, the first one being decomposition which is often regarded as the most difficult one. This step consists in breaking down the problem into manageable parts. The problem is presented as a task that will be extremely difficult to overcome. Actually, the most daunting this task is presented, the better the thought process led by the students will be rewarding. When a lesson plan uses the Understanding by Design Framework, this “problem” that is presented is the outcome of a unit or a couple of lessons.  The final assessment will essentially be this language focus introduced in this problem in this stage.  As an example, in a modern language classroom, it could be a skill or a concept such as “I am learning to use the past tense, J’apprends le passé composé”. For most Middle Schoolers who are just familiar with the present tense, this learning objective is presented as a problem that they have no idea of how to tackle it and more importantly to solve it. With guidance, students will then break this problem with the teacher by leading the discussion by asking questions such as “what is a tense?” “what is a verb?” “how many groups of verbs do you know?” “what is the past?” what is a regular verb?” “why is the past tense called compound past in French” “what do you think it means?” etc. Little by little, the students feel less anxious and more comfortable solving the problem.


The second step is pattern recognition which implies looking at similarities and differences. Students are presented with various sentences or paragraphs including the learning outcome and without much guidance from the teacher will be able to define a rule or an appropriate process that needs to be followed in order to achieve the outcome. It’s always very useful to colour code the similarities. Going back to the example of the past tense, in this lesson, students will be presented with sentences in the present tense and in the past with the same verbs and a variety of verbs (regular and irregular). Students will then highlight the similarities in one colour and in another the differences. Colour coding is an example of implementing pattern recognition but other methods such as the use of Venn diagrams can also be very effective.


The third step is abstraction and is probably the most important one. Abstraction consists in generalising the model, which is essentially extracting the general rule without focusing on the details. Here in the example of the past tense, abstraction will consist in giving the general rule of an auxiliary followed by the verb. However, we would not go into the details of regular and irregular past participles for example.


Finally, the last stage is the algorithm which is writing a set of instructions that needs to be followed in order to solve our problem, similar to a recipe. In the example of the past tense, the students will probably first write that it is important to look at the verb we need to conjugate so that we know if it is regular or not, then secondly to conjugate the auxiliary, and so on… This algorithm can be referred to by the students as a go-to resource when they are in doubt. As it is quite succinct with only a few steps written in short bullet points, it is very quick and easy to check the algorithm when in doubt.


It is very important to note that all these steps are student-led so that the students take ownership of the whole process and make the task meaningful. Computational Thinking can be applied across all subjects and grades. It is vital that the students are familiar with the terminology so that there is consistency throughout the process with any learning outcome to be achieved and in any settings. In order to achieve this, computational thinking could be included in the curriculum as a school-based strategy. Use of icons and visual displays throughout the school could also reinforce this wide-spread implementation and familiarisation of that thought process.


Computational Thinking has had many positive impacts in my modern language classroom. Firstly, it reinforced the student-led process and therefore the ownership by the students of their learnings. Secondly, it has definitely had a positive consequence on the time taken to achieve the learning outcomes. Computational thinking has also had benefits in the time taken to grasp new concepts. I have found that the students also have adopted a different mindset and look forward to embark on difficult concepts. With the process of computational thinking, teachers offer a safe and secure environment as students know that the algorithm they have designed can be referred to if needed.


At the International School of Aberdeen, where I teach French,as a way to develop integration of Computational Thinking across the K-12 curriculum in different subjects, we have started a monthly podcast featuring teachers called “CT Pod”. Feel free to listen in

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



My name is Isabelle Wolfe. I am the language subject leader at the International School of Aberdeen. I teach French in Middle and High school as well as the French Mother Tongue programme to our French native students. Prior to teaching at ISA, I have been teaching in England, Australia, and Egypt.


Keeping Students Active with Dance

Melanie G. Levenberg, M.Ed.
Physical Education Consultant | Chief PLAY Officer at PL3Y International Inc


Keeping Students ACTIVE with DANCE

Dance can be a fun and engaging way to get students active in your Physical Education class.

For many educators, teaching dance is intimidating – there’s a part of us that makes us feel like we’re supposed to have the ‘perfect’ hip hop technique or remember complicated choreography routines in order to be a ‘good’ dance teacher. Sound familiar?

As a PE teacher with no dance training, I was one of those teachers who was intimidated by the thought of teaching dance to my students.  As I read through pages and pages of Right Foot/Left Foot choreography notes for folk and country line dances, I felt overwhelmed by the need to remember all the small details, while feeling deep down that this content wasn’t going to be relevant to my students.

I wasn’t sure exactly what ‘dance’ outcomes were supposed to look like in my classes, but my mind kept flashing images of intricate hip hop routines, larger than life stage leaps and five-thousand-person flash mobs.

When I looked at my PE curriculum documents, however, I did not find outcomes linked to students mastering the “chassé” or the ‘pliés” or even a hint about teaching students how to do that epic head spin move from that YouTube video. Instead, reading the expectations and outcomes reminded me of my responsibility to create opportunities for students to have positive experiences with a range of physical activities, including dance, as they develop competencies and confidence to engage in lifelong active living.

I strongly believe that dance plays an important part of a balanced PE curriculum: dance allows students to experience cultures from around the world, work in groups with others to achieve different types of ‘challenge’ (e.g. creating a dance) and to learn about body movement while being motivated by the power of music!

Most importantly for me – it allows students to develop all aspects of physical literacy: fundamental movement skills, positive social interactions, critical and creative thinking, and the ability to confidently express themselves using their body.


Accepting the challenge of teaching a fun and engaging dance unit head on, I looked to one of my favourite PE teaching models for inspiration: Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU).  I asked myself: “If a modified games approach could be used to teach students about different games and sports, why couldn’t a modified dance approach be used to teach students how to bust a move?”

And so, Teaching Dance for Understanding (TDfU) ( was born.  TDfU mirrors TGfU in the way it brings a more playful approach to learning dance. The model begins by developing positive mindsets and allowing students to learn foundational dance moves. Once students have experienced success with movement and rhythm, they are better prepared and motivated to learn and refine their skills. The momentum continues as students confidently participate in creative dance activities, and work with others to build and present dance routines.

The lessons within my dance unit followed 6 simple phases:

Dance as a Playful Experience

The goal of this first phase is to develop positive Attitudes towards dance, by modifying some of the more intimidating elements (ie. ‘rules’ of dance.) In order to create a playful setting, the use of right foot/left foot cueing, complex choreography, and the concept of standing in lines to watch (and copy) the teacher are eliminated. The role of the teacher is to actively lead students through a variety of songs, where they learn simple movement patterns and experience success with dance.

Click here to watch an example of a playful dance experience. 

Dance Appreciation

In order to give students a broader understanding of dance, lessons in this phase are designed to allow students to explore the Elements of Dance, the historical Background and cultural meanings of different dance genres, and different types of locomotor and non-locomotor movements. Students are encouraged to share prior knowledge and express personal interests and personal connections to dance, to guide their learning.

Developing Connections.



The purpose of this phase is to foster Connections and ensure that students are prepared to apply their thoughts and ideas during creative movement activities in the next phase (Phase 4). Through listening, self-reflection and large group movement activities, students learn to connect to music rhythms and styles, to themselves (thoughts, ideas, opinions, goals), to others, and to prior learning.

Click to watch a fun activity you can do with your students to develop rhythm, teamwork, and group connection.

Creative Exploration

Traditionally used in the first lessons of dance units, Creative Exploration is shifted to Phase 4 in the TDfU model, as it requires students to apply multiple types of understandings and skills in order to confidently express themselves through movement. Building on the A-B-Cs (Attitude – Background – Connection) of the first three phases of TDfU, students explore various ways of expressing their thoughts, opinions, and ideas using the rhythms and styles of different genres of music. In these lessons, teachers are encouraged to provide keywords and ideas from the Elements of Dance to spark creative movements (e.g. different energies: ‘melt’, ‘pop’, ‘burst’ etc.).

Skill Refinement

In this phase, students work in groups to create a sequence of movements that demonstrate their understanding of the curriculum expectations/outcomes that are being assessed (which will vary by district/state/country).  Students practice and repeat their dance, receive feedback from their peers and review videos of themselves performing the dance in order to refine the technique and group coordination needed to perform a synchronized group dance.

Dance Performance

As a culminating activity, students perform their dance routine as a group, using the Elements of Dance to communicate messages, thoughts and stories. In this phase, students apply strategies to learn and remember choreography. Cross-curricular learning opportunities include the incorporation of coordinated costumes or the integration of multi-media to enhance the artistic component of the presentations.

Click here to watch a co-created Dance Performance.

Overall, the success of this approach has been echoed by fellow educators throughout the world: from Australia to Canada, Korea to Ireland, teachers are seeing how a play-based approach to implementing dance in PE fuels motivation and maximizes participation.


10 Tips on Using the TDfU Model in your PE Program

1-    Start with the goal of making dance fun, engaging, and ‘do-able’ by students.

2-    Flex the “rules” of dance to maximize student success; let students move around the space and don’t worry about right foot or left foot.

3-    Keep the students MOVING as they are learning to dance; avoid the stand-and-watch syndrome.

4-    Play MUSIC while students are learning the dance moves and sequences! (Always teach on the beat)

5-    Make sure you address the A(ttitude)-B(ackground)-C(onnection)s before you ask students to do creative dance.

6-    Teach dance routines; learning and remembering sequences is an important part of learning how to dance

7-    Keep things simple with repetitive and predictable sequences that match the music sections.

8-    Integrate technology as part of the feedback process; students love watching themselves perform their dance routines to identify where they can improve.

9-    Offer opportunities for artistic elements and multi-media integration into final dance performances.

10-  Integrate Core Competencies/Living Skills throughout the dance unit. Remember, it’s not about how well a student can perform the detailed techniques of the dance moves, but rather how the dance creation experience allows them to learn about themselves, work with others and demonstrate their understanding of key concepts from your PE curriculum.




Teaching Dance for Understanding
How Dance Develops Physical Literacy

Reconceptualizing Dance in Physical Education: Teaching Dance for Understanding (JOHPERD 2020)



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Melanie G. Levenberg, M.Ed. is a Physical Education Consultant and the Chief PLAY Officer at PL3Y International Inc – an international training and certification company that provides professional development workshops, pre-choreographed resources, and in-school residencies on DANCEPL3Y (  – the world’s leading physical literacy and dance program.

Get access to free video resources at and check out

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Planning for Language Development

Planning for Language Development

Beth Skelton
Presenter | Coach | Consultant


Much of my work with teachers this past school year has focused on the power of lesson planning for language development. In this blog post, I will explain how to use a simple tool to add a language focus to any lesson plan and provide the necessary scaffolds and supports to ensure that all students can be successful with the expected language outcomes of the lesson. The questions on the lesson planning tool I will be describing can be found at the bottom of this post.

Language Objectives

The SIOP model, the WIDA framework, Kate Kinsella and Tonya Ward, Jeff Zwiers, and Confianza have long advocated for adding language objectives to lessons, and they have created useful tools for how to do this. Despite this strong support for language objectives, writing and teaching them often remains a difficult challenge for many general educators and content specialists. During the past school year, I have drawn on the work of those mentioned above and worked with many educators to create and refine the following tool as a simple, practical way for deciding what might be included in a language objective for one lesson and planning ways to support students in meeting the language demands of a content lesson. This tool uses a backwards design to get at the language students need to be successful in a lesson.

Backwards Design: The Unit Assessment and Content Objectives

Like any lesson plan using the Understanding by Design Framework, this tool also starts with the end in mind. Since most districts and international schools already require teachers to plan units starting with the final assessment in mind, the information for the first row of the form should come directly from the teachers’ prepared unit plans. Once teachers review their final assessment (performance, project, or traditional test) and jot down what students should know and be able to do by the end of the unit, they think about one upcoming lesson within that unit. The second row of the form asks teachers to record what students should know or be able to do by the end of one lesson. In teams or individually, teachers should explain how those specific daily objectives help students to achieve the content objectives for the entire unit.

Planning for Language Development: The Prompt

The third row of the tool adds a focus on the language students will need to express their learning at the end of one lesson. Teachers should think about one Turn and Talk question or an Exit Ticket prompt they might ask students to talk about or write about near the end of the lesson to gather formative assessment on their learning for that day. This question or prompt should directly link to the daily content objective listed in the second row. Some of the elementary teachers that I worked with during recent planning sessions created the following prompts. These examples require students to synthesize their learning from the lesson using extended discourse of more than one sentence:

Explain how to create equivalent fractions using shapes.

What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources?

Describe the main character in the story and what he dreams of using details from the text.

Describe how the native Americans lived in the river valley in the 1750s.

Notice how each of these prompts starts with a specific language function such as describe or explain or asks students to contrast or compare. These language functions dictate the type of language students will need to use in order to effectively address the prompt. Students will need to use appropriate grade-level content vocabulary, sentence structures, and discourse markers in order to effectively and academically respond to each of those prompts.

Planning for Language Development:  The Response

Although general educators are usually able to quickly write a prompt that would require an extended response, they rarely write or think through what they expect as an answer before asking the question. Since every content area standard has different expectations for how students should respond to these prompts, I ask the teachers to write out an ‘ideal response’ to their own prompt. I began writing my own responses to prompts about 10 years ago when I was teaching at an international school in Germany. I would write every response with my students and share my papers with them as well. This process gave me insight into the complexity of the language and often led me to refine my prompts or teach short language-focused lessons to support their answers. Although this is a practice I have used for many years, I credit the WIDA Consortium for the term ‘ideal response’.

When two or more teachers from the same team come to a planning session together, I ask them to individually write their ideal response before sharing out with the entire team. This response should reflect what a top student at that grade level should sound like when using appropriate academic language in their response. The teachers should write what they would love to hear or read as a response to the prompt. When I script their responses, the teachers immediately understand how much language is embedded in their responses, which academic vocabulary words they should directly teach, and which linguistic structures they may have to intentionally model during the lesson.

For example, as an ideal response to the prompt, “Explain how to create equivalent fractions by using shapes,” teachers wrote several different possible answers. Then, they created differentiated sentence frames and sentence starters to support the language necessary for a clear response. They also realized that these sentence frames and starters supported the thinking necessary to successfully complete the hands-on task. One possible frame for Level 1-2 students was:


I can trade _______ ___________ for _________ _______. 

       (number) (shape)               (number)     (shape)

And for students at higher language acquisition levels, they created the sentence starter: I can create an equivalent shape by using ________________.

For the prompt asking students to describe the main character in the story, both teachers used a noun clause in the first sentence of their response and realized they would have to provide a mini-lesson on how to start a clause using who as in their ideal response: Leroy is a__________, who dreams of __________.  Teaching students how to embed a noun clause will not only increase the complexity of their writing but also help them understand more complex texts that frequently use noun clauses (like this sentence just did!)

Analyze the Language in the Response

Once teachers have written an ideal response, they can analyze the language in the response at the word level, sentence level, and discourse level. As a team of grade level or content area teachers, they can use the form to plan strategies for directly teaching the vocabulary students will need in order to respond successfully to the prompt. The teachers may also determine that some words do not need as much explicit instruction because students will not be expected to use the words in a written or oral response and only have to comprehend the vocabulary in context.

For example, when a team of fifth-grade teachers wrote their ideal response for the prompt, “Describe how the native Americans lived in the river valley in the 1750s,” they realized that they did not need to spend as much time on some of the new vocabulary words in the text as they had originally thought. Although words like quenched and knelt did come up in the text and needed some defining for comprehension, the students would not need to use these words in their responses to the end of the lesson prompt. When the teachers realized this, they changed their vocabulary focus in the lesson and spent more time on the general academic terms the students needed to clearly describe the native Americans’ life along the river.

Fourth-grade teachers wrote an ideal response to the prompt “What is the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources?” When they analyzed their answers, they realized that students would know the key terms renewable and non-renewable by the end of the lesson, but would need additional support with discourse markers such as however and whereas. The teachers on this team decided to explicitly teach students how to contrast ideas, so that they would have the language necessary to contrast renewable and non-renewable resources.

Often teachers discover that the words and sentence structures students need to successfully respond to the prompt are not part of the written curriculum. For example, in order to describe the main character, students would need to use the word spontaneous or a synonym. Although the text provided plenty of details that illustrated this character trait, this word, and its synonyms do not come up in the text. Teachers who wrote out their ideal response realized they should teach words that are not necessarily in the text, but necessary for talking about the text.

Using the Planning for Language Development Tool

After analyzing the language in their ideal response, teachers will have developed a list of words and linguistic structures they will need to teach in the lesson in addition to their content. They should also make note of any strategies, scaffolds, and supports they will use to teach this academic language. After just one experience using this tool, one third-grade teacher with no other background in language acquisition exclaimed, “It’s easy to add a focus on language to our lesson plans! We already have the prompt, so we just have to figure out what we want as a response. This helps us frame our teaching and the students’ thinking.” I hope you find the tool just as useful.

Prompts from the Planning for Language Development Tool

  1. What should students know and be able to do by the end of the unit? What is the end of unit assessment?
  2. What should students know and be able to do by the end of one upcoming lesson?
  3. Write a prompt for an oral discussion or a written response during the lesson.
  4. Write out an “Ideal Response” to the prompt.
  5. List the key content and general academic vocabulary students should ideally use in their response to the end of lesson prompt. How will you teach each of those words during the lesson? (include details on the strategies you will use like gestures, visuals, realia, questions, etc.)
  6. What grammatical or linguistic structures in the ideal response might be challenging? (clauses, verb tenses, word order, etc.) What organizational features of the response might be challenging? How will you teach these structures?
  7. What supports will you offer language learners as they respond to the prompt?  (labeled graphic organizer, labeled pictures, sentence frames, discussion starters, native language support, oral language practice before writing, etc.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Beth earned her Master’s Degree in Multicultural Teacher Education from the University of New Mexico and taught English learners at many levels. She has coached, consulted, and presented in a variety of school settings across the US and around the world. From 2010 to 2013, she served as the program coordinator for English as an Additional Language (EAL) at the Bavarian International School in Munich, Germany. Her expertise includes Harvard Project Zero; the International Baccalaureate English B course; instructional coaching; the WIDA standards, Marzano’s Strategies that Work for English Language Learners, Kagan Cooperative Learning, Total Physical Response, and the Common Core for English Language Learners. She has also published student and teacher materials for adult English Learners entitled Putting it Together, which have been translated into Spanish, Dutch, and sign language.

Learn more about how Beth can support you and your students.

Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Multilingualism in schools. Yes or No?

Valentina Spyropoulou, Teacher of English / EAL / Dyslexia Specialist
Optimist International School


Many people believe that when you move to a different country, you should try to exclusively practice the host country’s language in order to learn that language faster. This notion has also been adopted in many schools across the world. However, is this really the best approach?

A monolingual approach in schools has been vastly adopted for a long time now and, oftentimes, has resulted in many international parents and their children feeling excluded or even embarrassed to use their home languages. However, over the past years, we have seen a positive shift towards including languages in schools more and there are many good reasons why. Here are some of the most important ones:


Language as cultural identity
Language is an inherent piece of who we are. A valuable part of our identity. The more we explore and develop our languages, the more we develop a sense of belonging and self-value and this is of crucial importance to our children’s wellbeing and success when it comes to their personal and academic development.


Multilingualism and brain
Extensive research on the impact of multilingualism on the brain has proven that multilingual people’s brains do function differently and in a more advantageous way compared to monolingual people in areas such as complex thinking, mental flexibility, communication, and interpersonal skills, and even reduced risk of age-related mental diminishment conditions.


Home languages benefit the learning of more languages
Dr. Jim Cummins, a prominent researcher in bilingual education, has stated that developing language repertoires at the same time, actually accelerates and deepens understanding and acquisition of languages already mastered, but also of more, new ones.


Ready for the global community
Multilingual individuals are more prepared for the global community, as they are able to communicate with an open and flexible mind, having possibly been exposed to various cultures. Is this not a goal worth pursuing?


Language skills and structures, as well as concept knowledge, many times, already exist in the children’s educational toolkit, and the only thing missing is the words in the new language to prove it. I am sure, if you are an international living outside your home country, you probably have experienced a situation in which people are talking about a certain matter that interests you and you know a lot about, but the language spoken is one you have not yet mastered. If you were given the opportunity to talk and write about it in your own language, would you feel more confident and included? Do you think you could have contributed to these conversations? Maybe if you were reading a text translated in your language with the foreign language next to it, you would be able to understand some words? Maybe sentence structures? The answer to all the above questions is yes, and this is exactly how it works for multilingual children as well.


Language Friendly School
Optimist International School, an international primary school, recently became a Language Friendly school. This means that all languages spoken by students are welcome and valued.

In our classes we allow students to use the languages they feel most comfortable with in order to show their understanding and develop their skills, while we try to methodically use their languages to support the development in English, as well. For this purpose, children can read, write and do research in their own language, while teaching staff guide them to create links between their languages for deeper and effective acquisition.

Moreover, we often use the children’s languages in various aspects of school life, such as greeting them in the morning, asking children to translate keywords in their languages for us to learn or even learning to sing ‘happy birthday’ in all the different languages we have in school.

The smile, confidence, and safety that the children feel in our school by feeling included, respected, and valued is what fuels our teaching and learning. The results in children’s academic and personal development are outstanding as they can be themselves, navigate through their cultures and identities, while being respectful and tolerant of others.

Multilingualism is an asset and we, as a school of multilingual and intercultural educators, are committed to promoting and improving our multilingual approaches in order to support happy, respectful, inquisitive global citizens.



Bartolotti, J. and Marian, V. (2012), Language Learning and Control in Monolinguals and Bilinguals. Cognitive Science, 36: 1129-1147.

 Brainscape Academy. 2021. The cognitive benefits of being multilingual. [online] Available at: <

Craik, F., Bialystok, E. and Freedman, M., 2010. ‘Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve’, Neurology, vol. 75, no. 19, pp. 1726-1729.

Cummins, J., 2017. ‘Multilingualism in Classroom Instruction: “I think it’s helping my brain grow”’, Scottish Languages Review, vol. Winter 2017, no. 33, pp. 5-18.

Goossens, F., 2019. Monolingual Practices in Multilingual Classrooms. EAL Journal, [Online]. 10, 16. Available at: [Accessed 19 January 2021].

Keysar, B., Hayakawa, S. L. and An, S. G. (2012) ‘The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases’, Psychological Science, 23(6), pp. 661–668. doi: 10.1177/0956797611432178.

NALDIC. 2021. EAL Journal E-Issue 10 – NALDIC. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 February 2021].


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.






“Ever since I remember myself I wanted to be a teacher. My studies include specialisms in English Language and Literature, SEN, EAL, and SpLD. I have over 12 years of experience in education within various roles of teaching and middle management in Greece, the UK, and the Netherlands. I have always worked within multicultural environments and with students of different ages, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I am currently working as a Group teacher and EAL Specialist at The Optimist International School in Hoofddorp and I am loving every moment of working with students and colleagues from all around the world. Education is my passion and I always strive to support my students and colleagues to feel welcome and safe to be who they are, explore their identities, and develop their talents. I love reading, cooking, and enjoying the company of my friends, while recently I have taken up painting and discovered that I am actually really enjoying it.”

Colouring outside the lines: Using the full palette of our diversity

Colouring outside the lines: Using the full palette of our diversity

Debra Rader, International Educator, Author and Consultant

First published in TAISI Magazine, January 2021.

This is a hugely pivotal time in our world and in education. We have come to value our humanity anew, and to look for and see the humanity in one another. There is a renewed commitment to anti-bias and anti-racist education, and to promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in our learning communities. Intentionally teaching about human relationships, and the ability to live, learn and work together with understanding, compassion and positive regard is central to this commitment. Sharing our identities, cultures, personal histories and stories is part this work. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding enables us to colour outside the lines using the full palette of our diversity.


Equity, diversity and inclusion


The aim of education is to develop the full and unique potential in every student and enable each person to contribute in purposeful and meaningful ways to shaping a better world. Towards this aim schools strive to create equitable and inclusive learning communities where all children and adults, with the rich diversity they bring, are affirmed, valued and thrive.

With a wide range of cultures, languages, identities, life experiences, and personal and cultural histories schools must work intentionally to embrace their diversity and ensure that everyone is seen, heard and included. We aspire to provide a safe and welcoming environment where everyone is represented, engaged, feels protected and cared for, and has a sense of belonging.

Our schools are tasked with establishing and sustaining equitable, diverse and inclusive environments for all members of the learning community, and also nurturing the values of equity, diversity and inclusion so students, as engaged world citizens, will continue to work towards creating more just and sustainable societies.


What is equity, diversity and inclusion?


Equity is a state of fairness and is the continuous goal of inclusion. Equity aims to provide all members of the school community with equal access to the opportunities and resources available and ensure their full participation in the life of the school. This includes students, faculty, staff, parents, caregivers and board members, and it is reflected in the practices, programmes and policies in the school.


Equitable schools aim to identify and eliminate biases and barriers to inclusion, and respect the dignity and worth of each individual. They aim to eliminate inequality and discrimination of any kind. Equity recognises that people bring their individual strengths and needs to the school community and these are ever changing. Achieving and sustaining equity is therefore a continuous process of recognising and responding to the diversity that exists. Equitable pedagogy, practices and policies are developed to ensure fairness in teaching and learning, in the admissions process, and the hiring and retention of faculty and staff.


Diversity refers to the mix of people and the wide range of differences and identities they bring to our communities. These include race, ethnicity, cultures, languages, socioeconomic, ability, gender and gender identification, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, body shape and size, secular and faith-based beliefs, and all other forms. It includes diversity of values, ideas and perspectives. Diversity strengthens and enriches our communities, and provides resources and opportunities to enhance our learning and understanding. Diversity alone does not necessarily lead to inclusion. Inclusive school communities are developed intentionally when all members of the school community, children and adults, work together to live inclusive values and practices.

All schools should actively recruit and retain students, faculty and staff across a wide range of differences that reflect the community they serve.


Inclusion is an approach to education that embraces diversity in all of its forms, increases participation and opportunities for all, and welcomes and values the contributions of each member. Inclusion work is about how we create connection and community in our schools where all members feel a deep sense of belonging.

Inclusion requires respect and appreciation for all forms of diversity, the willingness and ability to engage with difference, openness to different ideas and perspectives, the ability to listen well, and a commitment to ensuring human rights and dignity for everyone. As schools engage in the work of inclusion they consider ways to establish and sustain an inclusive environment that is respectful and responsive to the changing complexity and needs in their community. Inclusion is a feeling of belonging, being seen, heard, valued, and represented and engaged in making a contribution. Inclusion is an ongoing process and involves all members of the school community. We are all both learning and leading. It is critical that supportive and trusting relationships are developed with and between students, faculty, staff, families and board members in our schools. In inclusive schools children and adults work together to create an environment where everyone can contribute fully and learn with and from each other. It is through working together that they can create a culture of inclusion.


Inclusive beliefs, values and attitudes


The work of inclusion is informed by our beliefs, values and attitudes that guide the way we live, learn and work together. In order to engage in the work of inclusion schools must identify and actively promote the shared beliefs, values and attitudes in their community that guide and support all they do. These are reflected in the mission, vision and philosophy statements, written curriculum, strategic plans, newsletters and other published documents in the school. Inclusion is also a disposition and when we value inclusion we help create inclusive spaces for one another. This is the responsibility of all members of the community.

Beliefs, values and attitudes that promote inclusion in schools recognise our common humanity, value relationships and include compassion, empathy, kindness, trust, appreciation and respect for diversity, curiosity and an interest in others, human rights and dignity for everyone, and social justice and equity.


Looking forward


The work of equity, diversity and inclusion requires ongoing commitment, collaboration and reflection. It is exciting work. It is challenging work. It is vital work. Given the inequities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, inequality and ongoing racial injustice, this work is ever more timely. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding promotes this work and provides a way forward.


Intercultural understanding is the bridge between diversity and inclusion


A diverse community is not necessarily an inclusive one. Intercultural understanding is the bridge between diversity and inclusion. Inclusive learning communities are developed intentionally when all members, students and adults, work together to ensure that everyone is valued, and feels a deep sense of belonging.


Intercultural understanding is a disposition and competence that enables us to engage with all forms of difference and diversity with appreciation and respect, establish inclusive relationships, and work to create inclusive learning communities. We continue to develop intercultural understanding throughout our lives, and as we move through our lives we come to understand it more deeply and live it more fully.


As a disposition it is a mindset or orientation and includes beliefs, values and attitudes; as a competence it includes knowledge, understanding and skills. Together they provide a way of being in the world that enables us to approach and engage with difference in mutually respectful and affirming ways.


In my book, Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds, I present a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016), which contains these four components:


KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING of topics including culture, language, identity, beliefs and global issues


TRANSFORMATIVE BELIEFS, VALUES AND ATTITUDES including appreciation and respect for diversity, compassion, empathy, curiosity, human rights, social justice and equity


ESSENTIAL INTERCULTURAL, INTERPERSONAL AND LIFE SKILLS including intercultural awareness and sensitivity, communication, adaptability, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, resilience, and the ability to recognise, challenge and resist stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and racism.


ENGAGEMENT IN POSTIVE ACTION that puts into practice what we are learning, aligns our beliefs and values with the ways we live our lives, and makes a positive contribution to our world


These components of the Framework need to be intentionally taught, modelled and practised, and embedded in the curriculum and life of the school. I provide detailed lesson plans based on compelling children’s literature, that integrate the Framework into pedagogical practice.


I invite you to bridge diversity and inclusion in your learning communities through teaching and learning for intercultural understanding, and to colour outside the lines using the full palette of our human diversity.


Free webinar/conversation: Dialogue with Debra: The Nature of Intercultural Understanding

Online via Zoom: 07 October
16:00-16:45 BST (London time)

“I warmly invite you to join us as we explore the nature of intercultural understanding, and meaningful and powerful ways we can encourage and nurture its growth and development.” Debra

We are partnered with Debra Rader, international educator, author, consultant and workshop facilitator to offer a monthly series focused on Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding. Developing intercultural understanding is at the heart of international-mindedness, global competence and global citizenship education, and promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and antiracist education. It is an essential disposition and competence to develop in ourselves, each other and the children we teach.


One Day Institute in Partnership with ECIS: Teaching & Learning for Intercultural Understanding

Online via Zoom: 20 October 2021
09:00 -17:00 BST (London time)


It is a challenging yet exciting time to be an educator. Our world, communities and schools are increasingly multicultural, multilingual and multiracial, and respect and appreciation for difference and diversity are needed more than ever. Intercultural understanding is a vital disposition and competence to develop in ourselves, in each other and in the children we teach, and we all have a critical role to play in nurturing its development.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are all part of a common humanity and that we have a shared responsibility to take care of ourselves, each other and our planet we call home. We have been given pause to consider what is most important in life and have rediscovered the need for connection and community, love and compassion. Human beings have an enormous capacity to counteract xenophobia and racism. Ongoing events worldwide remind us of the need to teach for compassionate, respectful, equitable and inclusive human relationships.

Intercultural understanding does not occur naturally and needs to be cultivated with intentionality. Bridging theory and practice, and applying research in the field of intercultural competence, we will explore ways to integrate teaching and learning for intercultural understanding in our learning communities. You will be introduced to a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016) and ways to integrate children’s literature as a catalyst for classroom discussions and inquiry. We will engage our hearts and minds, and work together towards creating a more compassionate, peaceful and inclusive world.

Participants will actively engage in personal and collaborative learning and reflection through a range of activities. We will explore new strategies, activities and resources that nurture and support the development of intercultural understanding for all members of the learning community.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Debra Rader is an international educator, author and consultant living in Lucca, Italy. She brings years of experience in national and international education as a primary, middle school and special education teacher, primary school principal and educational consultant having worked in the US, the UK, Germany and Italy. She has extensive experience working with inquiry-based and dual language approaches to learning, US Curriculum and the IB PYP.

Debra has presented at Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS), Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS), Alliance for International Education (AIE) and The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI) conferences in Europe and India, and led workshops in international schools in Europe on developing intercultural understanding and international mindedness; understanding international mobility; and implementing transition education and transition programmes that support internationally mobile children and families. She facilitates in-depth workshops for educators on Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding, and has worked with educators from around the world.

Debra is the author of Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds (Routledge, 2018), a comprehensive resource for educators complete with lesson plans based on compelling children’s literature. She is also a transition specialist and co-author of New Kid in School: Using Literature to Help Children in Transition (Teachers College Press, 2003).

Debra is a licensed Qualified Administrator (QA) for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a leading cross-cultural assessment tool used worldwide to measure group and individual capacity for intercultural competence, and promote its further development. Passionate about developing intercultural understanding in children and adults, Debra is deeply committed to honouring each other’s cultures, languages, identities, personal stories and histories, and to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice and antiracism in education.


How Social Determinants Affect Young Adults with Autism and Learning Differences: Creating a Plan for Future Success

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, Program Director, The College Internship Program

Social determinants of behavioral health (SDBH) can have a significant impact on young adults on the autism spectrum, especially as they enter adolescence and young adulthood. Research indicates that most graduates with autism and other learning differences will have a difficult time following high school for almost any outcome – working, continuing school, living independently, socializing and participating in the community, and staying healthy and safe (Thompson 2018). Repeated social failures may generalize to all events and can develop into a passive, failure-prone attributional style consistent with learned helplessness and depression (Abramson et al. 1978). These symptoms only intensify during the transition to adulthood.

Society has begun to embrace the unique characteristics and strengths that belong to individuals on the autism spectrum and those with learning differences. One has to look no further than Netflix to see an explosion of television shows and documentaries that warm our hearts and enrich our understanding of neurodiverse children and adults. Even still, many societal conditions exist that impact the mental, physical, and emotional health of individuals on the autism spectrum – workplace discrimination, academic and school supports that fall short of what a person needs to succeed, community programs that can be overwhelming for adults with social anxiety and fears, inaccessible clinical services for those in lower socioeconomic groups, late or missed diagnoses for young women on the spectrum… just to name a few.

At the College Internship Program (CIP), one of the first things shared aloud with prospective families and students is this: obstacles exist in life and, in all likelihood, you and your family may have faced more obstacles than other people your age. When you leave this program, you will have a sense of what you want to do with your life. You will be prepared to face challenges head on by forming a path that is marked by self-awareness and self-determination.

How can a young person with autism or learning differences begin to carve a path for him/her/their self, a path of productivity and purpose?

Young adults with autism or learning differences should prepare a plan to address the challenges brought on by social determinants by focusing on several key domains of their lives: academic, career, independent living and wellness skills, and social-emotional health.

Academics – know what you need and how to ask. Self-advocacy paves the way for accommodations and support. Whether it be a college exam or a Learner’s Permit test, you must be the voice behind your accommodations. Put them in writing, role play with a trusted friend, speak to your instructor and then verify that the instructor followed through in putting the plan in place. It is important to assist young adults in all areas of post-secondary learning. Asking the DMV for testing accommodations can be just as daunting as asking a professor for extended time on an exam!  Students must understand what they need in order to succeed. Transferring individualized education plans to post-secondary settings and mastering executive function skills needed for studying and classroom preparation are all part of the work it takes to succeed in a post-secondary education.

Careers – know when to whom and how to self-disclose. Grab all the literature that you can on resume writing, current interview formats, workplace attire, and job application trends. For example, many businesses are now asking applicants to participate in group interviews, oftentimes over a computer screen. Social nuances of workplace communication aren’t easy to navigate for individuals on the spectrum. At CIP, students do a deep dive into these and many other workplace scenarios in workshops such as: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Job Application and Resume Support, etc. Many young adults recognize that they have to work hard to overcome the assumptions and stereotypes that come with their diagnosis. Ask a social skills coach to role-play various workplace scenarios with you: what do you bring to your first workplace potluck, what does small talk around the water cooler really look like, and what will the job force look like in 2020 and beyond? Many can relate to the embarrassing Zoom backgrounds or noises that we have finally learned to work around or at least laugh about.

Independent living and wellness skills: master your routine. Before succeeding in a career, one needs to know how to navigate a day. The common phrase, every successful day begins with a well-made bed is a great starting point. Develop a morning and evening routine, learn to navigate your local grocery store, plan 21 meals for the week, develop an exercise and sleep routine, and use a HALT check (am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?) to monitor needs on a moment by moment basis.

Social and Emotional Health: understand your diagnosis and develop a well-rounded plan. Create a support team and become part of a community that embraces you and supports your wellness routines or coping skills. A support team may include psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches, parents, peers, and trusted mentors.

A young woman was recently coached through a difficult pandemic-related workplace situation. As an employee at an assisted living facility, she learned that close to 120 employees and residents had tested positive for COVID-19. With a roommate’s health to consider, along with her own, she began the delicate process of sending inquiries to her employer. How was the situation being managed? What safeguards were being put in place to address the outbreak? What was she expected to do as she returned to work? Was she entitled to a leave of absence? Situations like this one are difficult to navigate, let alone in a pandemic situation and for a young woman who struggles with the nuances of workplace communication. It took an effortful strategy and a support team to put together email communications and phone calls in order to obtain the information she needed and in order to make an informed decision about whether she should return to work. This young woman had a trusted team of individuals that she could lean on. She had developed a voice when it came to self-advocacy and was able to obtain the answers that she needed in order to make a decision, confidently, and with self-assurance.

With support, forethought, and determination, young people can lead a life marked by passion and productivity. There is much to contribute and even more for society to gain when young people on the autism spectrum are embraced and encouraged as they forge unique paths toward development and growth.

Original article: Behavioral Health News.

Learn more about What is Regressive Autism.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT

Jenna Knauss, MS, LMFT, is Program Director at The College Internship Program. She has worked in the field of clinical psychology and program administration for the past ten years. Jenna worked in a private practice with adolescents and their families providing intensive wraparound and therapeutic services. She has been an adjunct instructor in both Community College and private University settings at the graduate and undergraduate level and held administrative roles in both the outpatient and residential setting.

What is Agile?

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.


What is Agile?

ECIS and several partners recently launched the Agile Research Consortium for Schools, or ARC.

Agile is relatively new on the educational scene. If you as an educator are not familiar, you are in the majority. Its origins are in the software industry, where it was needed, according to Steve Peha (listen to his podcast on Future Learning Design), to handle the large and expensive projects developers were working on in order to avoid wasting a lot of money.


References to agile as a set of principles and practices in education began showing up in the literature around 2005, mostly in courses and disciplines related to computer programming. This makes sense, of course, since agile was making a name for itself within that particular domain.


It didn’t take long, however, for agile to spread further, with early references and calls for its application in schools. (See Steve Peha again, this time in a 2011 Youtube video filmed at Yahoo.) Peha, speaking at the time ten years after the adoption of the failed US federal education law called NCLB, makes the point that it might be technology, not centralized testing programs, that save education … just not the way we might think.


Don’t wait for the next best app or technological fix for education, Peha was suggesting, but do consider learning more about how tech companies are working. In other words, learn about agile. In 2021, that might mean learning more about the way the folks at Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Tesla are working. Jeff Sutherland, speaking at a Boston University (BU) Agile Innovation Lab conference last fall (BU is one of the ECIS partners guiding ARC), put it like this: Companies that don’t work agilely aren’t going to be able to compete, period. Might it be the same for schools? Sutherland, by the way, knows a thing or two about agility. He co-created Scrum, one of agility’s best-known formulations.


Lots of folks in education do think we need agility – or agile values and an agile mindset – in school. Beginning with John Miller around the time Peha spoke to the folks at Yahoo and continuing with Willy Wijnands and others, the agile mindset as a guide for education has gotten more and more attention. Wijnands, for example, adapted Sutherland’s Scrum for his high school chemistry class. Less than ten years later, eduScrum has organizations in over 30 countries, with a host of trainers and workshops and model projects in schools.


Those who have already adopted elements of agile in the classroom are not surprised by its growth at all. Any system and manner of thinking that is about increasing student agency, sharing the management of learning, focusing on short iterations, and delivering frequent low stakes feedback is welcome in our schools. In fact, as I’ve met and interviewed people working with agile, it’s common to hear of its transformative power. People who have adopted agile approaches report that their personal lives changed and their way of thinking about work and colleagues changed. This quote, paraphrased, comes up so often it cannot be a fluke: “After adopting an agile mindset, I could never go back to working how I used to.”


But there are still far more anecdotes of success using agile in education than there is research. ARC would like to address this lack. The co-founding organizations of ARC hope to organize existing research and contribute their own as we learn more about agile and how it works as a mindset for educators and students. We would like to know if agile stands a chance of offering a significant and sustainable contribution to school reform.


We hope the website raises interest in agility for those of you new to it and that it is useful to current agile practitioners who are continuing to “inspect and adapt,” as agilists say, as they find their way forward. Everyone is invited to contribute resources and research; see the link on the site:


Want to find more stories of agile in the classroom? Read Spotlight, a publication of Leysin American School, and visit Agile in the Alps, Blueprint Education, EDgility, and the resources mentioned in the text. 


Paul Magnuson is a founding member of ARC. He and colleague James Costain will be presenting at the April ECIS Leadership Conference on pulling agile into education.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.


Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.

Leading with Courage in Education

Leading with Courage in Education

Joe Lumsden, Secondary School Principal, Stonehill International School


Every school is torn apart by three conflicting demands from the world and the community that it serves.  Firstly, there is the ‘economic’ demand for high scores and university placements that promise financial returns for parents. Secondly, there is the ‘social’ demand for graduates that will have a positive impact on the planet and the society that they live in.  Finally, there is the ‘personal’ demand for schools to provide opportunities for each child to grow in their own way and to fulfil their unique potential.  School leaders need to pay attention to all three demands as they make decisions on a daily basis.

Now, with countless new ideas in education battling for attention and the evidence base flimsy, contested, and often politically biased in all areas, we need to rely on a clear vision of what it takes to lead an educational community in the twenty-first century.  As we move forward through the jungle of rapid social, economic and technological change, these, I believe, are the five tenets that we need to hold onto:


1.You have to believe that relationships come first and that people are always more important than a system. 

Any system that you set up is not going to be equitable or work for all of the stakeholders. Systems need to bend, and when they do, everybody needs to understand the difference between what is ‘fair’ and what is ‘equal’.

Relationships based on trust and support have to be built throughout the whole learning community. You cannot run cooperative learning experiences if students are more interested in competing with each other and if it is in anyone’s interest to ‘beat’ anybody else. You also can’t expect any student to be courageous enough to present their work in front of others, share their ideas comfortably in a group, or risk failure by attempting a more challenging task if there isn’t the safety net of a supportive community of students, teachers, parents and administrators protecting them.


2.You have to believe that our task is to prepare students for the future, not just for their university career.

If we are willing to shoot for a more noble goal, then we can justify spending time on getting students involved in real-world learning activities, wading into the murky waters of interdisciplinary challenges, getting out of the school building to work with local organisations and businesses, and helping them connect their learning to the kind of things they’ll probably be doing after academia.

Of course, students need to practice for university entrance exams, but not at the expense of ‘getting an education’.


3.You have to believe in a more democratic sharing of power, both in the school and in the classroom.

We need to understand that not only is “my way” (the teacher’s methodology) appropriate for many students, but that there is also a “highway” (presumably for the more gifted students in the subject), and there is even a large number of alternative routes that will get students to a variety of desired destinations. This may manifest itself in increased student voice in the curricular decisions made in class, differentiated instruction and assessment, mixed grade levels, an approach to ‘inclusion’ that is more push-in than pull-out in a school, and flexible scheduling with students determining how to spend their time. Teachers and administrators need to be okay with the mess that such an approach inevitably results in.

And on a whole school level, administrators have to also be comfortable with allowing teachers to experiment and to run their classes in their own style, a style that will hopefully allow them to remain true to their own personalities rather than being sucked into a standardised system of instructional practice.


4.You have to believe that students, when or if they want to, are quite capable of learning whatever is necessary without you. 

If you are going to pretend to hold on to the knowledge that students need to succeed in your course, then you are constantly going to be resisting so many of the initiatives that hold so much potential. If students are spending time completing projects connected to their passions, or if they are given the choice of what to read, or if they are given time for self-directed learning, they are inevitably not always spending time doing what you think they need to do in your course.

You may argue that there are things they need to know to do well in your course, but we need to have faith that, given the resources and clear expectations, students are quite capable of learning such things by themselves. They will do so when they need to, not necessarily when you want them to.


5.You have to believe that it is ‘growth’ that matters, not ‘achievement’, and that learning cannot be easily quantified. 

The battle that administrators face is to make sure everybody knows that high average scores in external exams are not necessarily an indicator of success for the school. The easiest way to ensure high scores is to control admissions and limit the number of students taking such tests. Put qualifying criteria in place and you are safe.

Administrators have to focus on ‘growth’ — on showing the community the things that students learned due to their enrolment in the school, on the progress against academic indicators with reference to where they started from, on the things they tried for the first time, on the reflection that they engaged in during challenging learning experiences, on how they were able to meet their goals and, perhaps, take steps towards living their dreams.

That’s much harder than putting up a bar graph to show the performance of the graduating class in the recent exam session. Administrators have to believe that it is worth the effort.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Joe Lumsden is the Secondary School Principal at Stonehill International School. Before moving to India, Joe was the Secondary School Principal at the Istanbul International Community School. He is an active member of NEASC and CIS Accreditation teams, with a professional goal to help his own school and other schools bring the NEASC ACE Learning Principals to life on a daily basis. Learn more