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Academic Skills: Sorting with a twist

In my class in mid-April, we were working on a skill that is inherent to us as humans: sorting.

We are taught formally how to do this in kindergarten, and we build on it throughout our lives, particularly in the school setting.

Sorting, or categorizing, is essentially the work we do when we write paragraphs, grouping similar ideas. It’s what we do in math when we look for patterns, learning how to determine odd and even numbers, primes and composites. It’s how we classify animals in science. And it’s how we approach the world: This person is like me or not.

One researcher, John Anderson of Carnegie Mellon University, posited decades ago that there are three reasons humans categorize: Creating a linguistic label that we can all learn; Recognizing feature overlap; and Denoting similar functions. In a more recent article in Scientific American, researchers at Harvard found that we are hard-wired to categorize what we see. 

So it’s an important skill to learn for students in a Western teaching environment. My students have been learning about how to label items, so that they can later build on the meta-awareness of categorizing.

For some projects, the task is open.

How do you want to sort these things? (Buttons, shells, rocks…)

https://app.seesaw.me/pages/shared_item?item_id=item.d986fac1-a7ee-415f-b5e7-1903d46fd17b&share_token=8lMbb1aPQeeHrRW-ncmLRQ&mode=embed

For others, there is a right and wrong way:

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On this particular day, after I shared with Flynn artist Susan Palmer that we were working on sorting, she came up with a way we could work on sorting things in the environment. Susan’s specialty is movement and drama/storytelling.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 6.54.57 PM

In looking at the elements of drama, we’ve been working on many of these elements all year. This was about creating (one of our school’s Graduation Expectations), imitation (an element of Drama, see left), and presentation (one of my department’s standards).

So the main activity focused on these questions:

What do you see on the land? What do you see in the air? What do you see in the water?

We brainstormed lists and then our job was to create movements and sounds for the words we came up with that fit into these physical environments. You can see the results of our group performances below. We had to choose one of the items we had brainstormed for each environment and create a picture as a group.

We were fortunate to have with us on this day Gina Haddock, director of development at the Flynn, and Kitty Coppak, representing the Oakland Foundation, which supports our work with the Flynn.

Doing such performances allows students in a low-stakes environment to get up in front of peers, which builds self-esteem in using the language.

Do we look silly? Yes. But it’s silly with a purpose.

As part of the class we also worked on handshakes:

We also worked on performance through a game called 1-10. The purpose of this is to work together with a partner to build a picture while counting. Again, it’s low-stakes and demands creativity from both partners:

Although the activities may seem deceptively simple, what we are building is (hopefully) something that students can use in years to come as they grow linguistically and academically.

I am overjoyed that Gina and Kitty were able to join us. I love letting people in our classroom to play with us!

On vacation…

I’m in Hawaii.

But it’s raining.

So I’m posting instead of baking in the sun.

I haven’t played this game yet, but if I taught students who needed to understand the plight of refugees (instead of those who understand it far too well), I’d be jumping on this.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll make my own children play it so they can wallow in the guilt of their white privilege.

Check it out:

Mar 01, 2017

Digital Learning • Learning Support

Branched Storytelling Experience

The conflict in Syria has torn that country apart, leaving thousands dead and driving millions to flee their homes. Many seek refuge in neighboring countries, but others pay traffickers to take them to Europe—risking death, capture, and deportation. If students were fleeing Syria for Europe, what choices would they make for themselves and their families? BBC’s Syrian Journey: Choose Your Own Escape Route helps students to understand the real dilemmas that Syrian refugees face. This journey is based on extensive research and real stories of Syrians who have made the trek. Similar to the branched storytelling in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, Syrian Journey is a playable blog post with threaded endings. When they play Syrian Journey, students take notes on the decisions and choices made, and describe the difficulties and challenges faced. As Syrian refugees, students decide whether to deal with smugglers or take a dangerous raft ride across the Mediterranean Sea. The culminating activity involves the creation of a student journal that includes where, as refugees, they are headed and whether asylum is granted. It includes all the push and pull factors of immigration.

Want to see more resources like this? Check out Big Deal Media.  It’s an awesome resource.

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.

Let me in

Such a powerful video. It helps show why we need to be human. Maybe people need to see it from their own perspective in order for it to be real…

 

 

In the words of our president: So sad

Where is the compassion?

I cannot understand how this isolationist move can possibly help make us “great again.”

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-refugees-20170127-story.html

In the words of my friend, Rai, is what I really want to say:

 

(Trigger Warning: Not Kind) Vermont had 100 Syrian refugee families set to arrive in 2017. Two made it in before Cheeto’s mental health disappeared. Now 98 *families* are back in limbo after 3-5 years in waiting, after being vetted (picked apart), going through rigorous security screenings, and being cleared for US resettlement. Dreams and hopes of mothers, fathers, and children dashed – because some Americans and the man they elected are misguided, misinformed, scared xenophobic, Islamophobic bigots.

Statement of Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, the U.S. civil and human rights organization among Anne Frank organizations worldwide:

As President Trump prepares orders to wall out Mexicans and shut out refugees from America, today marks one of the most hateful days in our nation’s history. Donald Trump is retracting the promise of American freedom to an extent we have not seen from a President since Franklin Roosevelt forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II. Today the Statue of Liberty weeps over President Trump’s discrimination.

President Trump is beyond the wrong side of history. He is driving our nation off a moral cliff.

When President Trump uses national security as a guise for racism, he doesn’t strengthen our national security. He compromises our national security by engendering disrespect for America by people around the world.

Make no mistake, suspending visas for citizens of Middle Eastern and African countries is not called national security. It’s called prejudice.

President Trump is now exacerbating the largest global refugee crisis in history. His slamming America’s doors on the starving, the wounded and the abused is a grotesque blot on our nation’s history of freedom. The President’s actions are an embarrassment to the timeless vision of America as inscribed by Emma Lazarus to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Demonizing refugees and immigrants, and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them out of our nation, will go down in American history as one of the most tragic deviations from our national conscience.

 

Student Voice in Changing Images

 

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The following is a press release from the International Club at Burlington High School:

The recent national election brought fear to many immigrant families in Vermont. With the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric, new Americans–refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers–were distressed about their future in Burlington, Vermont, and the United States.

What was going to happen to them? Would they be safe in America? Would they have to leave?

Driven by the real fear she witnessed in her pediatric practice, Dr Andrea
Green reached out to Burlington High School to see if she could support the students in
feeling safe and welcome. The students of the International Club of Burlington High School were also worried and wanted to do something.

The students met together with Dr. Green to talk about these fears and ways to communicate that Vermont is a place where all are welcome. During these meetings and the design process the students strengthened their voice and power to stand up against hurtful rhetoric. They were able to share how Burlington has been a welcoming community. Something they wanted to make visible to all.

—–

The pictures above were taken in downtown Burlington, Vt., on Friday, as students distributed posters to businesses and pins to passersby. The artists took a detour to Senator Bernie Sanders’ office to spread the word.

Burlington is a fairly welcoming community for refugees. Many businesses have a “Refugees are Welcome Here” poster that was distributed by Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’m so excited about this movement with student voice at the center.

It’s what is supposed to happen. I’m so proud of them.

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