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This year, I have started working with Susan Palmer, a teaching artist from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. I had tried to get a grant to fund a yearlong residency, even though my class rosters are constantly changing. It’s a tough gig for a teaching artist.

But my grant failed.

So I’m taking a class. The class guarantees me at least seven sessions. And seven is far better than none.

My students generally move from my class, where the focus is on listening and speaking English (essentially gaining self-confidence and vocabulary, memorizing phrases and learning how to communicate in this new culture), to English 1, where the focus turns to writing, the toughest domain for language learners.

My theory is if you can say it, we can teach you to write it. But it’s really hard to write it if you don’t know what you’re saying.

And I think drama and movement is the best way to get students to that point, where they can say what they want to say and can get started on expressing themselves with purpose and confidence.

We will be meeting for seven weeks, and the first happened recently. At the top, you can see one of my volunteers playing a movement game with one of my students. The game is called 1-10. The idea is to create a static picture. Each person takes one turn while saying the next number in the sequence, and the idea is to create a picture, like a statue, that is aesthetically pleasing. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to be an audience member, as you might have seen in this video.

We’ve put new technology in the hands of young people who have never had the chance to take selfies before. And even though these students are not NEW new, they are still relatively new to the school and to this culture. And so sometimes, we need to set firmer boundaries.

Another way to do this would be to have the student who is not watching become the documentarian, which is what needs to happen next.

Another activity we tried was to show what we did this weekend. The language points in this were to use past tense and to communicate meaning.

We had to act out what we did during the weekend without saying it, and then others had to guess. Like a simple game of charades.

Although this may not seem like academic work, expressing these ideas for these students is more difficult than you can imagine. It’s simple to say in their own language, but words escape them often. Even phrases we’ve practiced over and over again become lost in the weekend or even in the course of a day.

Here’s what that activity looked like:

It doesn’t seem like much, but even these simple forays will be essential as we work to build confidence in English learning.

We will be meeting Mondays through February. I can’t wait to see where life takes us!

Every year that we take this plunge, I feel like I’m getting better and better at helping my students push themselves to be a little braver in their English acquisition.

My hope is they will be brave enough to ask the hard questions when they need help. And who doesn’t want a student who can self-advocate?


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