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When we were first learning about ordinal numbers, I made my students make life cycle wheels, so we could practice saying those first few numbers over and over again.

And then Ms. Ann, a former kindergarten teacher who has been invaluable this year in helping some of my students get much needed attention in reading, introduced a few books that dealt with butterflies and bugs.

I have been a member ofECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain since I moved to Vermont in 2006. It was the one place I could take my babies and let them look and learn and not have to be dressed in snow pants in winter. So we’ve been members ever since.

During spring break, I took my youngest back, and we saw butterflies! I was enchanted.

So having already done life cycles, I decided that I needed to take my students to ECHO before the Butterflies, Live! exhibit leaves, and before I lost my class to the end of the year.

I was planning on paying for my students to go out of pocket; although many of the elementary schools make regular visits with PTO support, the high school plays less of the field trip game. So I just decided to try to fund it on my own. And I needed them to see the National Geographic movie that described the life cycle.

But at $8 for students and $10 for the three adults who came with me, plus $3 for everybody to see the movie, the price was getting awfully steep.

I was beginning to get a little frustrated, tapping into every resource I had. And then it happened. Through a generous offer of passes, I was able to get my group in for under $60. And the students saw the movie. We were able to bring a few of our multilingual liaisons, Krishna, Lal and Poe Poh, with us. Ms. Ann, sadly, was not feeling up to the visit. Everybody had a great time exploring, though they thought the butterfly tent was a bit too hot.

I left a very happy, and very grateful teacher.

The donations this organization gets from donors go a long way to helping subsidize those of us who are not the “normal” visitors.

My daughter’s 5th-grade class was there. I remember giving $5 at some point during the year to pay for a trip to ECHO. And I have $5 to spare. But for newly resettled refugees, money is tight. There’s not much disposable income when you have nothing to begin with, and then you have to start paying rent and buying food and clothes in a Western society when you are making wages below the poverty line. And on top of that, you have to pay back the plane ticket the government gave you to get here. So $5 for ECHO just isn’t in the budget. And that’s why I had to take them.

I am so grateful to ECHO for making this possible. And donors help make that happen. So if you’re looking for a place to spend that money you would have spent on a latte this week, I’ve got a great idea of where it could go!

(P.S. Please share widely! It’s important to spread the word about generous moves in the world that make one smile!)

This video shows the pictures my students captured of field, forest and beach, a short walk outside our building.

I asked them on Monday what their reactions were to this course in general were overwhelmingly positive.

Nobody wanted to fill out the sentence frame that said, “I didn’t like EXCEL this year because…”

And that feels nice.

 

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I am a little melancholy as this year’s classes end today.

I am not sure whether this class will run next year. Together, we’ve seen great progress, with 19 students in and out my door.

I have felt so blessed to get to know every one of them: the boy who told me that what I do is not teaching, who eventually came to me to get help; the girl who shared her heart-felt pain with me; the one who would share nothing; the one who smiles only to herself; the one who always claims to understand; the one who texts just because he is bored; the one who is sad to be here, but pushes herself to learn more quickly; the one who comes almost daily, no matter the problem; the one who calls me “second Mom.”

I celebrate and cry over students leaving my class, almost simultaneously. I urge them to leave, knowing they need to go on to move forward.

I tried to help them through troubles, both in and out of school. And sometimes those troubles were heartbreaking; other times they disappeared like mirages.

I know I will see these students again… at least most of them. I’ll see the ones who stick it out, who try to play school the way that we do, even though it may clash fundamentally with the schools they came from. I’ll still ruminate on the ones I don’t see, the ones who decided that this school is not the right place, or that it’s not the right time.

They will grow. They will learn, no matter which path they choose to take.

And I will miss them all.

I will miss teaching this class. I can only hope that the mood of the country changes, and that we will be able to someday run this course again.

 

The final curtain

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Friday was our last day with Susan Palmer from the Flynn, and the last day of full classes.

It had been quite a week for me: Two days out of the classroom for PD, and two days at the end of the week, the last two full days of class, with Susan.

She had asked what would make sense for her to cover, and I still kept coming back to time. All those ways we say time with an analog clock are so confusing… Half past, quarter till, quarter to, quarter of, quarter after, quarter past…

“Quarter” is one of those words that plays a role in text complexity. Multiple meaning words are hard when you speak English as your one and only language. When deciding which words make the most sense to focus on, Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown researched what words would give teachers the most bang for their buck and developed this three-tiered system. (You can read more about it here.) Tier 2 words are those that are used across content areas, many of which have multiple meanings. For English Learners, these can be very confusing. Think, for example, of how many ways you can use the word line. Line up. On the line. Parallel line. Waiting in line. Walking a thin line. Crossed the line. Snorting a line. (Not that I do that kind of thing…)

 

Susan came in with a really nice idea to bring to bring the word quarter into focus. We pretty much ended up with a table that had a piece of paper–in whole, half and quarter–a measuring cup, a dollar and a quarter. We handed the paper around and said “whole,” “half,” and “quarter.” Then we did the same with a measuring cup of water. Then we built a clock on the floor and yelled “after” and “till” unless we were standing on the 3/6/9 points of the clock, when we shrieked “quarter after,” “half past” and “quarter till.”

It is hard to explain, but it was fun.

We also counted the minutes in the clock and jumped in the air on the numbers that should be those points: 15, 30 and 45.

And then it was time for Susan to go help her partner pack for a trip, and time for us to have a little party. We sent Susan off with cards we wrote for her last week. We said our goodbyes and waved. And then we ate. And ate.

What a lovely way to end the week!

Thursday was our next-to-last day of regular classes and our next-to-last day with Susan Palmer, our Flynn artist.

When we were talking about what would make sense to cover a couple of weeks ago, I just kept coming back to time. But when it’s so hot outside (93 degrees! It’s not even summer yet!), it’s just not prudent to stay indoors.

So I ran to the store and got water and food, and Susan brought some chips, and we were ready to go.

We did have Susanna Olson with us, another Flynn artist who I worked with many years ago at the Integrated Arts Academy. She told me at the end of our walk that she had been meaning to come by, and it suddenly was the end of the year. And now we were finishing. So my students got to play a little name game/greeting stuff before we took off.

At the classroom, we prepared for our outing, talking about what students could see in a field, in the forest and at the beach. We brainstormed and made movements (which I sadly did not catch on video) to reflect items that we might see. How many different ways are there to show “forest,” for example?

We had spent a third of our time getting ready (in addition to the name games and brainstorming, we also were assigning photos so that all would be walking with a purpose). It all felt kind of last minute, making it up a bit as we went along, because although we were planning, we were both kind of planning past each other. I brought a list of a scavenger hunt; she had in mind something that came more from the students. Two different ways to deal with the same issue of keeping students’ heads in the game.

That’s the drawback of not really having that face-to-face time and of making up lessons week by week. Maybe next time I have the chance to develop a project with the Flynn, we need to build in some google hangout space so we can see each others’ faces outside of that five minutes at the end. Even just a few minutes to get our thoughts together the night before or over the weekend would be so helpful. Email just isn’t sufficient for getting the job done.

Soon I’ll post all the photos students took. They each had an ipad and an assignment. The boys were all going a bit crazy with finding every single flower in existence to photograph, which led to me needing to herd the group every once in awhile.

The rain we’ve been experiencing of late, along with the heat of Wednesday and Thursday, brought a few swarms of mosquitos our direction. It also brought up the chance for Susan to explain to students about ticks, a pretty big concern in the area at this time of year.

We ran out of time to eat, but we did see a snake and we collected artifacts on our walk. Susanna got the opportunity to meet a few of my students, and we reconnected a bit. It was overall a lovely day, and a nice way to begin ending our time with Susan for the year.

 

 

 

Ever have one of those days where it just feels off?

This one kind of did.

blackeye_pigmentationWe were working with Susan Palmer on describing people and things. We walked tall and short. We walked big and little. We described our height and our eyes (which, other than mine and Susan’s, are all brown. That’s usually why we don’t talk about eye color much, because they all think they have black eyes, and then we have to explain that black eyes to English speakers means when you get hit in the face. Hard.).

We talked about clothes and colors and played color tag again. But it was stuff that I really had gone over and over with them before. Nothing new. And we could all feel it. One of my students feigned illness. Hadn’t had anything to eat. Refused to go to the nurse to get crackers. I have a headache, yet I want to sit in this corner and listen to music blasted into my ears because really what you are doing is just no fun.

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So in continuing the descriptions vein, we decided to focus on food. Talking about food is a pretty essential part of life. So we showed a diagram of the tongue and the taste regions and then tasted such things as:mapoftongue2

  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • apples
  • carrots
  • bread and jam
  • sriracha peanut butter with maple
  • raisins
  • Thai peppers
  • potato chips

 

And my student with a headache suddenly was able to participate when the chips came around.

We peppered them with questions: Do you like salty food? Do you like sweet food?

It was interesting seeing what drove them. And what didn’t.

But I think we are all itching for that last week of classes to come and go.

Beginning-Middle-End

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What makes you happy?

What makes you sad?

These were the questions we started with when we met with Susan Palmer on May 8. The idea was to build on the work we had done during the previous meeting, when we read a book and talked about the beginning, middle and end of the story and how the characters’ moods changed throughout.

We this time asked students to create their own movement piece and have the other student follow those movements, then to add all six movements together to make a finished piece. Performance. Creativity. I should really be tagging these blog posts to the Graduate Expectations they are bringing to students… But on with the story.

The focus was on beginning-middle-end, and then creating a collaborative sequence.

We expanded from pairs to triads:

After working with groups, we were ready to move on to something that was a step harder. What we didn’t realize was how big that step actually was.

We returned to the imaginary box, but this time, we each took an animal that Susan introduced, held it, and made the sound that it made. For this, we started to get a little pushback. It was odd. They had been brave for so long, taking what we were asking them to do and performing with gusto. But this time, the mood was a little off. Even though everybody claimed, yet again, to be feeling “OK” or “fine”.

Ugh.

We then took these characters and tried to make a simple story in groups, the boys in one group and the girls in another. You added one sentence to the story to make the next part and added a sound effect to make it come alive.

And this, I think because of where we are with English language development, did not go as planned. It was hard and answers had to be pulled out of students. It happened, but in the end, it was a difficult activity for this level. Not one we’d try like this again.

It’s hard to be original in another language. And it’s even harder to keep lists of original ideas in your head when they are not your own. Here are our results:


For the girls’ story, we found out afterwords, the most proficient student created it, and then they all just took their roles.

Just goes to show that there’s more than one way to skin (or in this case, sting) a cat…

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