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Celebrating Mental Health

Our librarian this year set up a bunch of activities to have students think about mental health, a good topic as we move closer to the end of the quarter and final grades.

I went with my students primarily to spend some time outside the classroom (we’re all a little mentally done) and to show them where they might be able to find books at their level.

We planted flowers and played with toys called Spheros, controlled through an app on their iPads. The task was to follow a path taped on the floor, which is really harder than it looks.

While they were playing (or waiting for their turns), I grabbed a bunch of low level books. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of that part. But they all were taking turns reading books they could actually read. It was such a beautiful thing, watching literacy happen.

If you give them resources, they will jump in. And it’s an amazing thing.

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MONDAY! Time to play again!

flynn2Susan Palmer is coming to my class again! I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us this week.

It’s so fascinating to watch what happens with these encounters.

We asked students to make their own handshakes, but they all came out looking a lot like the handshake Susan and I made up together. So I think we need to work a bit on creativity.

And Susan brought a game in which we had to introduce the names and sounds of animals. One person would leave the room and “unfreeze” people to find the desired pet. But the idea of “freeze” and “unfreeze” are still a little unclear.

I love doing this work because it lets me know how much farther we have to go with having students find themselves in this new language and culture.

I also find myself being a little melancholy because we’ve just started, and soon it will be time for five of my fledglings to move on: The purpose of my class is to move students as quickly as possible toward credit-bearing classes and, ultimately, on a path toward high school graduation.

I grimace because I’m just not done with them yet. I want to teach them so much more. But the end of the semester, and their departure, is coming soon. We’ll have to see how far we get in the next couple of weeks.

Perseverance with Hour of Code

Hour of Code is a push to get students to try coding, to build bridges for regular kids to enter a world of computer programming.

And for my students, coding is nothing they’ve ever tried, nor is it anything they ever knew about.

And I was out to change that today.

I was fortunate to have the assistance of

  • Ryan, whose last name I forget but who is studying to be a teacher of English learners (He just came by to observe today and I sent him to work. I met him yesterday at lunch, and he already knew who I was. “Your name kind of circulates at St. Mike’s.” Really??!!??);
  • Rich Downing, a senior analyst and programmer at University of Vermont (who answered a last minute call in the waning hours of the evening to show up at my class without knowing anything about me other than what I dashed off in an email);
  • and Vitaliy Kulapin, technology specialist at our school.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 8.01.17 PM.pngWith the help of these three, we dove in with nine students who have pretty low English proficiency, to tackle Disney’s Hour of Code, which made us captain a boat in search of fish and then lead the hero/heroine through a battle against little coconut-covered villains.

I had seen the movie last week with my family, and I found myself wishing I had enough money and room in my car to take my students to see it on the big screen. I thought they would be able to comprehend the story without too much trouble. I’m always looking for experiences like that. But I don’t have access to an account that would allow me to afford to take them. None have been to a movie theater.

So this was the next best thing.

I have been trying SO HARD for the past month to get them to play Minecraft with me, but it’s hard to do when the teacher doesn’t exactly know what she’s doing. And this was a much more doable task. Especially with three other people to help me.

Teaching students at this level is particularly challenging because they just don’t feel heard. Imagine sitting next to your favorite 6-year-old while trying to have an adult conversation with another loved one. Do you hear the “excuse me” call over and over again? That’s pretty much what my class is like: “Ms. Evans! Ms. Evans! Ms. Evans!” Over and over and over. Till I think that I’m not in a high school classroom.

They are not six. But they don’t feel heard. So they call out or come and tap your shoulder or make annoyed sounds that only teen-agers can produce.

Ugh.

They will learn how not to do this.

But in the meantime, I tackle GIANT CHALLENGES with three extra people, so everyone can feel heard.

We did have a couple try to duck out near the end. So we had quick conversations about how one of our school’s graduate expectations is tenacity. I didn’t use those words, but I was able to say that we can’t quit just because things get hard. We have to keep trying. Because everything about learning a new language and culture is hard. But giving up is easy. And if you take the easy way, you will not learn.

Learning from failure is hard. And that little musical rift that played each time the code did not quite hit the mark sounded out around the room pretty much constantly.

But I’m so proud of my crew! They did an awesome job. And they greeted a member of the community who was so excited to come into my room even though he knew nothing about me or them. And a soon-to-be teacher who just came to watch but got a lot more than he bargained for. And for a tech-ed colleague who took time out of his day to lend a hand.

And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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Resurrecting life from a forgotten fire

The Collinwood Fire from The Collinwood Fire on Vimeo.

Remember learning about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? We all learn about this 1911 New York City tragedy as a turning point in history for unions and safety. But a Middlebury professor and his team recently launched a website–just a couple of months ago–to talk about a different fire, an earlier fire.

The fire the Middlebury website talks about is the Collinwood Elementary School fire, in which 171 people died, in much the same way: doorways were blocked, doors were locked, and the building itself did not lend itself architecturally to providing easy egress for the children it housed.

I learned about this site at the VASS conference last week, where I presented on the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools program, to which I’ll dedicate a blog post soon. But taking a look at this award-winning film and the interactive website that accompanies it is well worth any educator’s time.

The site mixes history and animation, bringing newspaper relics along with commentary into the mix. It also takes a hard look at the journalistic efforts of the time, and also why this fire, though more deadly and earlier, takes a back seat to the Triangle fire.

I think my favorite part by far is a section in which Professor Michael Newbury narrates a clip of the animated short, showing where symbolism is used to convey meaning, helping the viewer to go deeper into the tale. Directly below this clip is another, designed for students to download and try to narrate themselves. Brilliant!

I just find myself wanting to bury myself in this site.

Could you imagine the beautiful projects you could create? And they want students to become an active part of building the site. From the contact page:

Michael Newbury (Fletcher Proctor Professor of American History) and Daniel Houghton (Arts Technology Specialist)  led the team at Middlebury College that made The Collinwood Fire, 1908. We’re happy to hear from any user of the site and, schedules permitting, to speak remotely with  high-school or college classes engaging the material.

We welcome additions to the Teaching Resources section of the site and hope to make galleries of student work about the Collinwood fire.  Please let us know if you have examples to share.  We look forward to seeing them.

How is that for validation of one’s work?

I encourage you to take a look at this magnificent site. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

http://collinwoodfire.org/

 

 

Just. Wow. What we don’t see…

A friend posted this on facebook.

You just have to watch it.

Here’s the article it was posted with.

So well done. I wonder if my students would be more or less distracted than I was…

Combatting fear with subversive tactics

This week, our multilingual liaison asked if students were reporting incidents of harassment or expressing fear. How were we dealing with that in our classrooms.

I do have to say that I’ve not heard of any harassment at our school directly related to the election this week.

But students are fearful.

I teach students with the lowest level of English Language Proficiency at our school. And I had three of them use their best words to ask if they needed to start packing their bags.

screen_shot_2016-09-01_at_9-35-43_am

I thought that this blog post and the comic it pointed me to by a woman named Maeril provides a much-needed tool for people to combat the hate they may be seeing.

The comic pushes people to focus on the target rather than the harasser. It’s a non-confrontational way to move the conversation, alter the focus. I think many of us freeze because we want to stop the pain at its source, but we’re afraid. So we do nothing.

It’s so important to not be a bystander in a time when fear and hate prevail.

So jump in. Start a conversation with the person being targeted. Talk about anything: How you chose chicken salad at lunch over tuna salad; how you really think that people should recycle more; how your mom just called and just brightened your day.

The topic doesn’t matter. Dissolving the targeted hatred does.

It’s like my daughter said, “You could use this any time somebody’s being bullied.”

Yep. You could.

Let’s all be problem-solvers!

#dontbeabystander

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, Guidance for ELLs and CCSS

It’s about time.

I’m reading a book co-authored by one of my favorite bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo. He chronicles tons of resources for all levels of English . (The most recent entry has to do with Ramadan, which begins Monday.)

And I say, “It’s about time,” because so much of what is in the Common Core State Standards is just unreachable for high school students who immigrate come to the United States. With this resource, I can see some light.

Don’t get me wrong… others have been focusing on how to meet CCSS standards, Like Kenji Hakuta through Understanding Language. There are some really nice things out there.

But I’ve never really thought they’ve spoken to me.

I teach mostly very recent immigrants who belong to the refugee community. Many of them are Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling (SLIFE, or in some states, SIFE).

And when I read in the CCSS that you should not pre-teach vocabulary, I just kind of wonder how students with limited to no background knowledge about the United States or its history could potentially understand without some frontloading of vocabulary and concepts…

Just last week, I read a book with student that had to do with the automobile. It was a fiction book from the point of view of a young boy whose father was the first in his town to get a horseless carriage.

Now I ask you, how is a third-grader who spent most of his short life in a refugee camp in Nepal supposed to understand anything about that? He read the piece nearly flawlessly, but he had no concept of what an automobile was (had the piece said “car,” he’d have been able to get by just fine) or insight into U.S. history and our particular national affinity with horses and the idealized image of cowboys on the range.

I don’t know that in the Nepali refugee camps that there was much talk about cars. I imagine not many people owned or had access to cars, much less thought about how they affected horses and changed the way of life for millions of people.

So what Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski are doing is being CCSS interpreters. I had, for example, never heard that the CCSS writers had “dialed back” the emphasis on not preteaching vocabulary, but rather gleaning meaning from context.

And they seem to “get” where I’m coming from. If a student comes to me in 9th grade with very low literacy skills in any language, I can’t see the goal of “college and career ready,” the mantra of the CCSS movement.

We are all for having our students be “college and career ready,” but we’re not sure that the socioeconomic infrastructure is there yet to support student, teachers, and schools in meeting the Common Core standard’s definition of that state of readiness (p8).

Yep.

So the setup of most chapters is actually quite predictable, and therefore quite digestible for the average teacher. I don’t know about you, but I tend to skim rather than read deeply, which is what we are supposed to be teaching our students. Because the format’s always the same, I know I can go back and read the information that I know I didn’t absorb before.

First, they give an overview of the CCSS and then “Creating the Conditions for English Language Learners to Be Successful in the Common Core Standards.”

That’s what I’ve been looking for all along. How do I take a student who is not literate in any language in 9th grade and get them to think deeply in a topic in English? These authors get this. This chapter focuses on socio-emotional skills that students need to learn to really play the game of student well, such as goal-setting, meta-cognitive thinking, and asking questions, to name a few. Each of these has lessons and resources to teach these across the continuum of English Language Development.

They split the rest of the book up by domains (reading, writing, speaking/listening) and then go into Language, another focus of the CCSS, as well as content areas, presented by others who know more about it: Math, Social Studies and Science.

Each of the chapters starts with the Anchor Standards, the ones considered to be the most important for all teachers to focus on to help students reach that college and career-ready standard. And then it gives explanations, what it means in the classroom, tech tools, example lessons and tons of resources.

The lessons are well scripted and innovative, beyond the regular stuff.

This book serves a guide to help teachers navigate this course with a special eye on those learners who need that extra support and need to learn how to do it without the scaffolding. And it’s a guide that we’ve needed for a long time.

Some states do a great job making sure all teachers are aware of the CCSS and how it should be affecting our teaching and students’ learning, but here in Vermont, I feel like teachers think this is just the next fad. I heard from the beginning that people thought our Vermont State Standards were so much more rigorous than the Common Core. “Take these rocks from this place and restack them over there.” Just another lens through which we do what we’ve always been doing.

But still, I have to wonder who is holding our feet to the fire. And if we were so much better than the Common Core, why were students still falling through the cracks? Especially the New American students that we expect to conform without really adjusting our teaching?

Teaching is more than standards. And I’m grateful to hear from people who have been in my shoes how I can help hone my practice so I can be a better teacher than I was yesterday, meeting the needs of those kiddos in front of me.

At the end of the year, I always find myself getting very excited about next year. Clean slate and all. And I know this book will help me think about it more deeply.

 

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