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March 25, 2021 | Abby Liu
We’re running a new video interview series so that you can get to know our Middle School faculty. We hope that you enjoy learning more about them!
Abby Liu: Hello I’m Abby Liu, Director of Marketing Communications at Mustard Seed School, and I’m here today with Gladys Wu, who is one of our learning specialists. Thank you so much, Ms Wu for being here with us today.
First of all, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what a learning specialist does. I don’t think everybody knows the answer to that question.
Gladys Wu: Sure. And to kind of put it simply, as a learning specialist my role typically entails making sure students needs are met, and developing goals with each student so that they can grow in their own learning, but it also depends on each child. So my work with them might look a little more hands on or more hands off, because ultimately the goal is to develop independence and motivate them to reach their potential. But also, I really encourage them to recognize their strengths and own weaknesses that they might have. And with that some more specific tasks that I might have include researching a lot of accommodations or modifications, whether it’s technology to help the student be a little bit more independent. And I worked really closely alongside teachers to help them differentiate with their lesson plans. And we constantly ask the questions, what are the barriers and how do we remove those barriers?
Abby Liu: How did you get here? What did you study in college?
Gladys Wu: Yeah, so in college, I studied psychology, I was a double major in psychology and special education, and then a stayed a few more years to get another certification so that I could teach individuals who are blind and visually impaired, so I actually learned a little bit more about Braille and about other tools that are beneficial for individuals who have a visual impairment or are blind.
Abby Liu: Oh, I did not know that. What are you most passionate about when it comes to teaching different kinds of content?
Gladys Wu: And so, with the different types of content. I think I’m, I really appreciate just being creative and making students, I really like to activate prior knowledge–that’s something that we always say–and so I’m going to say for example, I really like writing because I think students who struggle with writing say they don’t like writing. I encourage them by saying things like, “We all bring in different experiences and different backgrounds, different styles of writing.” And so with writing in particular, it, connects individuals, even if they have barriers. I think everyone can write.
And I always celebrate that with students. I tell them all the time that you have stories and you have things that you can share with other people. If the barrier is that you can’t physically write, there are technologies out there that can help you with dictation features on the computer, right. So how do we remove those barriers so that students can really appreciate something like writing? And that’s actually why I appreciate writing as the subject content the most. With math there are other barriers. I do like math, too, but that’s what I really, that’s what I’m passionate about. What I teach is breaking down those barriers and finding creative ways to meet students where they’re at, so that they enjoy learning as well.
Abby Liu: That’s great. I love how that really dovetails with our mission to remove barriers so it’s excellent. Can you describe a moment when a student was challenged beyond what was expected in class. And what did that work look like and what, what about that was exciting for you?
Gladys Wu: So it’s not one student in particular that I can think about, but I have set up this opportunity for sixth to eighth graders to become peer tutors. And so that’s actually beyond, the classroom expectation. They do it purely voluntarily, they don’t have to do it. I just asked a lot of the students and they are the ones who come to me and tell me if they’re interested in this opportunity or not. And so with peer tutoring, what I usually tell the students is that the bare minimum, is to connect with this younger student once a week just check in and see how the student is doing with math or with language arts. And then, just extend a helping hand, ask them what they need to practice, etc. And what I have seen is the students in Mustard Seed six to eight really take this opportunity and run with it. I see them developing their own worksheets. They’re doing little quick quizzes for them. They’re developing their own lesson plans. And sometimes I’m in the room and I can overhear them zooming each other, and I’m just so impressed. I’m so impressed by the language that these tutors use, how encouraging they are. How motivating they are, how I can even see it from the younger students and how they want to come to these sessions. They leave, and then they messaged the tutor to say, “Thank you. That was so lovely, that was so amazing.”
And because I’m usually in the emails or the group chats, I really get to witness the beauty of peer tutoring, and the ways that these students are building relationships with each other as mentorship happening. So it’s really just beyond what I initially expected when I planned for peer tutoring as an opportunity for the students. I’m just, I’m blown away by our students.
Abby Liu: It’s such a great way to build community, right? And to build friendships across the grades.
Gladys Wu: Right, exactly.
Abby Liu: Yeah, it’s really exciting. As you know, UDL or Universal Design for Learning and diversity, equity inclusion are things that we’re thinking about right now as we think about belonging. Do you have an idea that you’ve tried as you’ve been implementing Universal Design for Learning in your work?
Gladys Wu: So, one of the pieces of UDL is multiple means of representation, of presenting information in different ways that can engage students and that can, motivate them to want to learn a topic that maybe they initially thought was too challenging. I’m just going to say one topic is multiplication, particularly because I’ve been working a lot with students across grade levels on specifically multiplication, and the things that I have done with students to get them motivated and interested is using songs. There’s so many songs on YouTube for multiplication. And so at first, I chose a few songs that I thought were kind of catchy. And now students request songs from me and tell me, “Oh, I know this really good multiply by six song can you play it.?”
So I’m trying to normalize it but I really see that they are taking initiative and that’s one of our biggest goals. We want students to take ownership of their learning. So here is an example of a student, telling me that they did their research and that they, really think that this video or this song is interesting. And in the end it aligns with our goal, that we want them to be fluent in multiplication so that’s fantastic. I have also used children’s books and read alouds to teach math.
There’s a website called https://www.hoopladigital.com which is just an online platform. If you have a Hoboken New Jersey City Library card, you have access to all of these great ebooks, so I’ve been able to use Hoopla Digital dot comm to share my screen on Zoom and then read children’s books out loud to students, and I was able to find a few great math books on there as well.
Abby Liu: So those are some really great tips. Excellent. How about diversity, equity, inclusion? What are some actions that you’ve taken to better honor and celebrate diversity in the work that you’re doing?
Gladys Wu: Like I said before, every time I work with students, the language I use tends to be about how we all bring in different experiences. Our brains all work differently. Something might be hard for one student, but then might be really easy to another student. And then all these different topics, everyone comes in with a different prior knowledge.
And so, it’s okay to not know one specific skill in math, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad mathematician. It doesn’t mean you can’t do that, just because of one little skill that you need extra practice in, does not mean that you can’t do it, you can’t do all the other math things, right? So, when I speak to students I really try to encourage them to ask questions and to also be aware of the feelings of other people. We come in celebrating that we all are in different places, and that we all need to set goals, to get to the next point. And we all just want it to keep growing. And that’s also why I really like the MAP test. That test is all about growth and we’re all in a place where we can continue to grow.
Abby Liu: Thank you. What motivates you, as a teacher?
Gladys Wu: Every time I see a student take ownership of learning, that just motivates me as a teacher. Whenever I see students reach out for help, which I have been seeing a lot more because I think we’re really just normalizing that. Especially on the Middle School floor.
Students are able to G chat teachers and to email us. And that’s something teachers always tell students– if you have any questions, contact us. You’re a middle schooler at Mustard Seed. You are able to take ownership and ask for help, and that’s part of being independent. You can’t just lay back when you don’t know something, right? So those moments that I see a child scheduling a call with me, even a little fourth grader who says, “Ms. Wu I need help with this, can we get on a call?”
Those are the moments that really just that excite me because it really shows me that they’re completely owning it. They’re completely owning their learning, and they’re setting goals for themselves.
Abby Liu: That’s great. Actually that’s one thing that I noticed for both my sons who are alumni. They’re both in high school and they’ve felt really comfortable reaching out to their teachers, getting in touch when they need help. I think that’s just an invaluable skill. If you can learn that early it’s going to help you go on and do well in life!
Is there anything else that you’d like our families to know about you?
Gladys Wu: So I think typically when people see me on the outside, they see me as more quiet and introverted. And yes that’s true, but another side of me that people don’t typically know is that I’m definitely like a big picture, big dreamer kind of gal. So that’s why I tend to like, I’m a big dreamer, but I also really like putting my dreams into action! And that’s why I tend to move way faster than sometimes I should. So I really appreciate when people stop me and tell me, okay this is what’s realistic. And so even just growing up, I had many moments in my life where I had big dreams. I was able to start a club in elementary school and high school to raise money for charity. And then in college. I also started a club for Chinese dancing. I created a dance team which I knew nothing about. I just really appreciate Chinese culture. And I connected with a professor, the Chinese professor and she helped me with developing this club to celebrate our culture. But also Chinese dance. And then I was part of the teachers Christian small group.
I think I just really love taking on big projects. And I tend to work very quickly and very like, How do I get all these things done? I have so many great goals I agree to accomplish. So that’s why I think when I work with students, I still tend to set the bar very high.
And I and the people I work with at Mustard Seed are fantastic, because a lot of times they’re the ones who do that check and balance with me, especially Abby Choi who’s always like “Wait, but what about this little piece?”
So that’s just yeah that’s how I work and I don’t think many people know that about me.
Abby Liu: That’s great. Well I hope we get to see some of the Chinese dancing some time too. I feel a mini term course down the line!
Gladys Wu: Maybe, yeah, maybe. It would be exciting. I really do like many terms because it does allow me to explore different interests and hobbies and be very creative with it.
Abby Liu: Yeah, it’s such a fun time of the year.
Alright so I’ve got these rapid fire questions. So eight quick questions to answer fast: How long have you worked at Mustard Seed School?
Gladys Wu: This is my third year.
Abby Liu: And what’s the last book you read?
Gladys Wu: With my church small group, we just finished The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.
Abby Liu: That’s a good one. What is one show that you’re watching right now, or that you recently enjoyed?
Gladys Wu: Well, actually just last night I watched This is Us.
Abby Liu: If you could speak with a historical figure, who would it be?
Gladys Wu: This is actually the question I skipped.
Abby Liu: We’ll skip it! That was a hard one. I thought that was a hard one. What’s the first thing that you’re going to do with a pandemic is over or at least some of the major restrictions lifted?
Gladys Wu: I just can’t wait to travel again and especially eat Korean barbecue, because Korean barbecue is usually indoors and I have not been eating indoors. So I really miss that.
Abby Liu: Yeah, that’s a good one! Favorite dessert?
Gladys Wu: There’s a shop that just closed in New York City but it was my favorite place to go to. It’s soft serve with boba inside, so the ice cream is milktea flavor or oolong flavor with a little bit of boba inside. So good.
Abby Liu: We’re gonna have to find a replacement!
Gladys Wu: Yes.
Abby Liu: Alright name, a band or artist that you enjoy listening to.
Gladys Wu: It’s a band called Tim Be Told. The main person’s name is Tim and I only he is really in the band anymore I think kind of disbanded a little bit but I love them. They’re a Christian band.
Abby Liu: It’s alright. And finally, what’s one item that will always be in your fridge?
Gladys Wu: Eggs and frozen dumplings. You can eat eggs at any time of day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And frozen dumplings is whenever I just can’t cook. That’s the go to.
Abby Liu: Yeah, that is for us too. We oftentimes will go into Chinatown and like stock our freezer with as many dumplings as we possibly can. Well thank you so much for joining me today, Ms. Wu, and we’ll be seeing you around school.
Gladys Wu: Thank you.