I wanted to follow up on the reverse instruction lessons I’ve been working with teachers on.You can read the first blog posts here on the outline in English and U.S. History.

Here’s a bit of the chat conversation:

‹Alex› what if there was no external validation? wouldn’t we all become crazy?
‹TK› we cant live alone isolated within ourselves ‹Holden Caulfiel› yes, by definition
‹Jenna› @TK, well thats because we were brought up that way ‹jutecht› @Alex….yes
‹Holden Caulfiel› a crazy man is one who lives in his own reality
‹Stporn Mint Nit› @Alex – we kind of “create” our own life. we think in some way. we act in some way. and we face consequences according to our actions. however, the existence of others may also affect the way we think in some cases?
‹Holden Caulfiel› however, the reality he lives in, is his own
‹Holden Caulfiel› therefore, he sees everything that everyone else sees, but his perception is skewed
‹Jay› Do we have the right to say someone is crazy then?
‹Jenna› so then a crazy  man can also be an existentialist?

That’s only a snippet of a chat-room that involved 8 students that was very intenses both in speed and in depth of thinking. This was the first time any of these students have been in a chat-room for this type of learning and the feelings where mixed about whether or not they liked it…..let me rephrase that. They all loved the chat-room but they were split on it’s relevance to the fishbowl discussion.

“I felt like I got sucked into the chat and wasn’t listening to the discussion in the fishbowl.”

“I liked it….it was great to grab something that they said in the middle and have a deeper discussion about it.”

The students felt they were missing the conversation in the middle of the fishbowl being so wrapped up in their chat. However, they all agreed that the learning/discussion in the chat was just as valuable…the problem was they wanted both!

by Flickr ID: ChrisDownUK

Debriefing with the teachers afterwards we found about what I expected. That some of the quieter students in class discussions shined in the chat-room. Whether is was just more time to think and write, or not being overshadowed by more vocal students, both teachers found shining moments for some of the more shy kids in the class in the chat-room. Some of the shyer students even asked if they could just keep doing the chat…it was more comfortable to them while those more vocal seems to want to…well…talk. 🙂

I think everyone could agree one of the most powerful aspects of the Fishbowl activity was having the students talk about what they learned from reading their classmates blog entries. To be sitting on the outside of the circle and hearing other kids quote your blog….was pretty cool…even if the kids wouldn’t always admit it…the smiles on their faces when they were quoted was all you needed. The quality of the blog posts and writing was another fantastic outcome from this experiment. You can read some of the blog posts here and their in-depth thinking as they found research and then tried to make sense of what it was they were reading. It was interesting to read these blog posts next to some of the others the students have posted. In this blog post they had an audience (the other half of the class) and they knew that their writing was going to be read. Creating that audience for students in the beginning of blogging is so important. Give them an reason to do their best writing…and “somebody might just happen to read it” is not a good enough reason for an 11th graders. 

We’re halfway through the experiment and we continue to talk to the students as now we have new essential questions and the roles within the class have been flipped. I’m looking forward to what this looks like on a common assessment. 

U.S. History has to be one of the hardest classes to teach at an international school. When at best half your students would be from America and at worse none…yet our U.S. based curriculum says we have to teach it. So how do you motivate students who for the most part have no buy-in into U.S. History? The teachers do a great job of trying to look at U.S. History with a wider lens and that’s what this reverse instruction lesson is about.

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What are the characteristics of a civil war?

What were the causes of the U.S. Civil War?

So those are the questions posed to the class yesterday. The class was broken into two groups. Each group would research one of the questions and was paired with a partner researching the other question.

Our plan followed much the same process as the one I blogged about using with the IB English class. However instead of using the blogs to post their research the students in this class will be using our school Moodle install. We set up a forum for each question. Students will post their information in a forum where their partner will be able to read and comment on it. Everyone in the class of course can read all the entries making one big study guide for the class.

On Friday we’ll be doing a similar fishbowl routine as in the English class. The group who researched the characteristics of a civil war will talk about the U.S. Civil War while those that researched it will be in a chat room listening and commenting on the discussion. We then reverse the roles the second part of class.

The teacher Casey Corning, has been doing a lot of great things with tech this year, and is probably my best user of a teacher blog in the high school. She has a blog for each of the courses she teaches, and has helped to transform our senior seminar class into using the blogs as their semester long reflection. So it wasn’t a shocker when she stepped up to want to try this approach in her classroom. She then decided to take it one step further and we’re doing a little action research around it. She teachers two periods of U.S. History. So one period is getting the “traditional” teaching model while the class I’m helping with does the student-centered reverse instruction model. At the end we’ll talk to the kids and use the assessment to see if there was any knowledge difference in what the students learned with the two approaches. It’s always great when you have teachers willing to take a risk like this.

More to come on Friday.


Dear Mr. President,

Last night I stood and watched as you became the 44th President of the United States of America. It was a gathering of many excited American expats in Bangkok, Thailand.

history.jpgMy wife and I moved overseas in August of 2002 to Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. A small town 3 hours north of Jeddah. When we arrived in August to our little western compound, there was a wooden drop bar that separated the compound from the deserts of Saudi Arabia. It was much like a gated community you can find in many places in America.

When we left three years later in 2005, the scene was quite different. To enter our home, we had to pass through three armed check points, a cement barrier weave, a 6 inch thick steel gate, and two drop down barriers, along with a bomb searching area.

From those who were in Yanbu before us, we heard of good times within the Kingdom. Times of celebrations together, of Christmas parades and Thanksgiving Turkey. Times when being an American did not mean fearing for one’s life and in some cases even claiming Canadian citizenship just to avoid being hassled.

For the past seven years, living overseas when people ask us where we were from, both my wife and I hesitate before saying “America”. It was almost a feeling of being ashamed. Ashamed that our country was viewed so poorly by so many in the world.

We have traveled the world, we have friends from Palestine to South Africa, from China to India and for the first time in seven years, last night I felt as though being an American wasn’t a bad thing, that it wasn’t something I needed to be ashamed of any longer.

I thank you for not only speaking to the American people but understanding that your stage was much larger. For the first time in seven years, my friends from other countries talk with respect about America. The taxi driver, when asking where I am from, gives me a thumbs up when I tell him I’m American.

Mr. President. I know the world is more complicated than I will ever understand. But please know from my little spot on this planet here in Bangkok, Thailand, that I appreciate you putting hope back in the hearts of not just Americans, but of humans everywhere no matter where the political boundaries say they are from. Please know that you have already taken steps to mend the wounds of wars, to heal relationships, and bring hope to humanity with your words, your compassion, and your desire for change.


Jeff Utecht