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Thank you, ECHO Center!

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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!)

A look back, on the last day of classes

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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.

 

A beautiful day for a walk

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.

 

 

 

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…

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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VT Commons students come back!

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During the last week in January, students from Vermont Commons School came to visit my class of beginning English learners.

They came on Monday to meet us. And then they came back on Thursday to share how they envisioned learning could be facilitated with drama and movement.

We learned about shapes, colors, prepositions of place, transportation…

And it was really kind of fun.

I think that outsiders are always amazed at how much repetition it takes to get words to stick. But it’s also hard for teens to envision how to teach elementary topics to peers. They have great ideas. I can tell they put a lot of thought into what they did…

What I do has to be presented simply. But what I do is not simplistic. These are (almost) all grown adults, who have a lifetime of experiences on their own. And so the lessons cannot be simplistic…

The issue with having visitors into one’s room, especially when they want to take on the role of teacher, is when does one jump in? When do I fix the issues? When do I intensify what was done? When do I add my particular brand of craziness to the mix?

I agonized a bit.

Sometimes what they did was just perfect. The language, topic, engagement hit the mark.

Sometimes the content was just right, but the affect was not. Students who don’t speak English well can’t pay attention to students talking to them for an hour if the hype is missing. It’s all about the salesmanship. They are game to try whatever it is you are selling, but if you don’t bring what it takes, they aren’t buying.

And sometimes it was about the prep. How can you teach a lesson when you don’t bring what you need? I see pre-service teachers do this, too. Someone comes in with an idea–and it’s not necessarily a bad idea–but it’s not fully baked and not ready to roll out. Questions I have fielded: Do you have a box? Do you have this thing I can use? Do you have magnets, markers, a box, a toy…

It’s likely I do have that stuff…somewhere. But, honestly, I’m not the best teacher to ask to give you something on the fly. Happy to give it to you if I know in advance. But with an office in one building and my classroom in another, I’m just not that organized. I have all kinds of stuff, but it takes me a while to lay my hands on it.

For being teen teachers, they did an awesome job. Like I said, I see the same issues with student teachers, who should definitely know better, as it is their profession they are training for. And these  students were just trying it on.

I’m curious about the students’ take on my class. It looks as though they had a great time during their week of exploring how drama can be used outside the stage.

winter-2017-eweek-slides-work-in-progress

I find, however, that unless you steep yourself in this population, oftentimes one’s class and privilege get in the way of seeing who they really are and where they come from and the absolute courage it takes to even come to school.

I so much welcome people to come in. Because until we actually make contact, the strangers remain strange. I’d rather be friends.

Movement to bridge the social/language/education gap

Two weeks ago, we had two separate visits by a bunch of students from the Vermont Commons School, a private school that focuses on global immersion and planetary interdependence. They were taking a week to investigate “Performance Art for Social Change.”

Students who visited us ranged in age from grade 6 to grade 11, I believe. Their task for the week was to investigate different ways of using movement, other than just being on stage.

But our realms of experiences, our orbits of reality, were worlds apart.

When we talked about what we did this weekend, my students offered “work,” “sleep,” “visit family.” Among their offerings: snowboarding, skiing, brushing my horse, playing my saxophone/piano/etc.

In other words, the typical activities for these private school students was not of the same nouveau as the students I teach.

Life of a newly resettled former refugee is so much more about survival. There is neither time nor money for many extracurriculars, whereas our playmates for the week plan their days around them.

I so much appreciate the opportunity for my students to share space with these other students, to have a time to play and rub elbows a bit, even if they didn’t quite understand why these other students were there. Left to their own devices, the whole crowd would have just shrugged and walked away from each other, each in a different direction.

My students had nothing to tell them. And the VT Commons students did not know where to start with kids who really couldn’t speak to them. These boys and girls were incredibly articulate. But my school, with its bells and hallway traffic, seemed a bit foreign to them.

One of my colleagues stopped by and asked if I was hosting foreign exchange students. He noticed how wide-eyed they seemed, kind of lost.

No. They are just from less than six miles away. But they are worlds apart.

So the VTCommons kids came on Monday and then came back on a Thursday, ready to try to lead some activities with us, based on what they saw and observed. They came a little early and asked questions:

  • How do I teach them if I don’t know their languages?
  • Where are they from?
  • What languages do they speak?

And then they stayed later to see what they could do to help me. What kinds of things do we need to learn? Well… everything. Colors. Daily activities. Prepositions of place. Clothing. Comparatives. Superlatives. Speaking in general. You name it, they have to learn it. But the trick is getting it to stick.

The crash course I give to visitors is overly simplistic. There is no way I can convey the deep compassion I have for these heroic students who are heroes just by existing in the world. In their short lifetimes, they have had to make much more difficult decisions than I face. When I chose to go overseas–twice as a foreign exchange student and once in Peace Corps–I knew I was coming home. I had that privilege. I own that.

But I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to leave everything forever: Friends. Family. Places. Routines. Everything familiar is gone. And then they walk into my class where I make them do silly things. They don’t want to say no, because I am the teacher. I deserve respect just because of the job I do. But they do want to say no, because it’s silly.

So here, I’ll just share some of the pictures from that first day, and then tomorrow, I’ll share some of the activities we did together.

I’m glad they came.

I would like to think we all learned a little bit more about the world, just by coming together.

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