Keith’s Blog

Every Expat Teacher in East Asia Should Study Confucianism

I am currently taking a Philosophy of Education class, and it is arguably one of the most important classes I will take in my degree.

Aside from the fact that Dr. Patrick Slattery at Texas A&M University is one of the most brilliant and thought-provoking people I have ever met (with hilarious stories of growing up Catholic), the course has really evoked many thoughts on what it means to be an educator.

Each of us were asked to choose a philosophy to study independently, and I chose Confucianism.


Because I have spent most of my teaching career as an educator in Taiwan at schools that have pushed away Eastern thought and promoted Western education. In short, I wanted to know more about what we were suppressing.

Confucianism is complicated, and I am far from really understanding it due to conflicting interpretations, but one thing I do know is that all expat teachers in East Asia should study it.

I think to really understand those we work with in Confucian societies like Taiwan, South Korea, etc., we must understand Confucianism. I have witnessed many arguments (and perhaps engaged in a few) that could have been explained (though not necessarily resolved) by differences between Western thought and Confucianism. Here are a few:

  1. Westerns are individualistic; Confucianism is about community.
  2. Westerns work in absolutes; Confucianism changes based on context.
  3. Westerns think linearly; Confucianism is cyclical.

Obviously these are generalizations and not meant to mean EVERYONE is like this, but they are good starting points for conversations about differences.

I will intentionally leave this post short because (a) I’m a Ph.D. student and have no time to blog, and (b) I would prefer readers to think about what this means for them.

So on that note, tell me your thoughts on the three items above and what they mean to you.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on Confucianism and other philosophies down the road.


Improving Content and Language Integrated Tests

It is really hard to write a great test for students, but those of us who teach language through content have double the trouble.

Our task- balancing the content and language assessment in one test.

For many teachers, their tests probably either lean toward the language side or the content side. For me, I was  guilty of learning heavily toward the content side.

So how can we move toward a more balanced approach?

Johanna Leal may have a solution.

Leal conducted a study in Columbia with third grade science teachers who taught through English. She had the teachers use an assessment grid she created and tracked their test questions over a school year.

The assessment grid has the following categories for test questions:

  1. Quadrant 1: high content / low language
  2. Quadrant 2: high content / high language
  3. Quadrant 3: low content / low language
  4. Quadrant 4: low content / high language

At the beginning of the year, the teachers leaned in favor of content, much like I used to. But at the end of the year, after using the grid, their tests were more balanced.

Interested in learning more about the grid and the test making process? Check out the article here:

Do you have any test making tips? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section!

[AsiaTEFL 2018] Attitudes Toward EMI in East Asia and the Gulf: A Systematic Review

This presentation is on a systematic review on attitudes toward English-Medium Instruction in East Asia and the Gulf by Keith M. Graham and Zohreh R. Eslami.

Presentation Slides: AsiaTEFL 2018 – EMI Attitudes – Keith Graham

Would Ideo's Annual Review Re-Design Work in Education?

Teachers often speak very poorly of administrator observations for a variety of reasons.
And by speak poorly I mean they loathe them, usually with a few expletives.
As teachers we know feedback is valuable, but often times we find the observation process either as “a waste of time” or worse, demoralizing.
I recently read about how the design company Ideo came into the Hogan Lovells Law Firm and re-designed their annual review for lawyers.
Here’s how the annual review worked after the re-design:

Within every four-month period, associates are supposed to actively solicit feedback from three different people they’ve worked with, including partners, assistants, and peers. Each of these feedback sessions is supposed to take the form of a 10-minute-long conversation, using a card with guided questions to keep the dialogue focused on what the person can do to improve. Once the associate has had all three conversations, he or she has another with a peer to talk through the feedback–almost like you’d do with a friend–help them process it, and think about how to incorporate it into their lives. (Article)

Naturally I couldn’t help but wonder what this might look like in a school.
I imagine it would involve observations still, probably by fellow teachers (or admin if the teacher so chooses). I suppose this brings the first problem – Would teachers be willing to give up their time to do this? Maybe for a more equitable and valuable evaluation, perhaps, but I could see this needing to be preceded by a lot of “selling” to the teachers.
But let’s say we get past that. The part I am really interested in is What would the guided questions on the card say?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Making Science Easy for ELLs

***This post is a re-post of my article on the ESL Best Practices Blog.***
If I asked you what is the hardest subject to teach to English language learners (ELLs), what would you say?
Most teachers would definitely say science!
But what makes science so difficult for ELLs? Lee and Buxton (2013) have an answer:
“ELLs frequently confront the demands of academic learning through a yet unmastered language without the instructional support they need” (pp. 37-38).
In this post, I will discuss strategies that can help address each of these difficulties.
Continue reading “Making Science Easy for ELLs”

A reminder of how our ELL students feel

This is a clip from a short film about immersion education. It shows a recent immigrant, Moisés, in an American math class.
While short, this video really hits home how our English language learners often feel in content-based classes. It is a reminder for teachers to use strategies that help support ELLs with barriers they may be having with language.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

AAAS Project 2061

Do you teach science to middle school or high school English language learners?
If so, you probably have to create assessments from time to time.
We all know how hard making good quality assessments can be. And research suggests teachers are really bad at creating reliable tests.
Fortunately, Project 2061 is here to help.
Project 2061 is a long-term research and development initiative focused on improving science education so that all Americans can become literate in science, mathematics, and technology.
Project 2061 has a website where educators have free access to more than 600 assessment items that…

  • Are appropriate for middle and early high school students.
  • Test student understanding in the earth, life, physical sciences, and the nature of science.
  • Test for common misconceptions as well as correct ideas.

Check out their assessment website at

Keith's Birthday Book Giveaway

Hey Readers!
Exciting news- my birthday is coming soon!
And do you know what I want for my birthday?
To give you one of my favorite books!
Bringing Words to Life is one of the best (if not THE best) book on teaching vocabulary. A lot of my most successful vocabulary teaching techniques came straight from this book.
So how can you get a chance to win a copy?

Step 1: Go to this link:

Step 2: Confirm your entry in your email.

Step 3: Share the link in your email with your teacher friends and get double the entries!

It’s that simple! But don’t wait too long, the contest ends this week.
Happy birthday to me…
Good luck!

Revising and Editing with Young English Learners

Here are some quotes from teachers when asked about revising and editing in their elementary classroom:
“Students can’t do it.”
“We don’t even bother.”
“I call in a sub for those days.”
“It must be five o’clock somewhere…”
FACT: Getting students to revise and edit is hard, and teachers typically don’t like to do it.
But it’s important for students to learn how to revise and edit early because this practice helps them improve as writers.
So how can we teachers get students thinking about revising and editing?
All we need are ARMS and CUPS with MINTS.
Continue reading “Revising and Editing with Young English Learners”

NYT: Iran Bans English in Primary Schools to Block 'Cultural Invasion'

Ooo…spicy headline New York Times! (I totally clicked it!)
According to this article, a senior education official in Iran told state television that the teaching of English in primary schools as part of the official curriculum in both government and nongovernment schools is against the law.
I would love to get a focus group of Americans together to elicit their reactions to this. Iran is often played as the villain in U.S. politics and media, and I am sure many would have strong opinions on the issue.
I would equally be interested to hear from Iranians and their thoughts. I have some classmates from Iran, so I plan to ask them their perspectives (Hopefully, they will comment below).
Where do I stand? I agree to a certain extent with the Iranian government, but with some caveats.

Continue reading “NYT: Iran Bans English in Primary Schools to Block 'Cultural Invasion'”