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YES Day 7: Spirit of Ethan Allen & ECHO

#SoGrateful #bhsyes2017

The Spirit of Ethan Allen is usually a highlight of our YES program. However, though it was sunny, the morning cruise was awfully cold. Nobody dressed for weather on the high seas…

Afterwards, we walked to the skateboard park to meet a community partner, but because of calendar snafus, we didn’t connect. The girls got hot and started walking toward ECHO, our next destination. The boys got someone to loan them a skateboard while I was on the phone with the community partner. I asked them to finish up, but they weren’t finished. And I was left with two students.

What do you do when you lose a class?

I needed to head back to feed the meter. And it was lunchtime. The girls said they didn’t want to eat, but then, when I circled back around, they did. So it was back to the car. And then I tried one more time to get the boys, who were on their way back when I found them. I asked the boys to move to the girls and have them meet us at ECHO (THANK YOU, ECHO, FOR THE DISCOUNTED TICKETS!!!), but the message didn’t get through…

After herding cats for what seemed like an eternity, we finally ended up at ECHO to see butterflies and fish and to play with sand. When the time came, most took off to find their own way home, but I ended up with four students in the Champlain Lake Basin library, on the second floor of ECHO. There, they encountered puzzles for the first time.

And then, I couldn’t get them to leave.

Lovely when learning takes over!

 

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My thanks to Erik Oliver from ECHO for making it possible for us to come. And to the woman whose card I’ve lost, who worked so hard to keep things interesting in the Lake Champlain Basin research room. Her name might be Laura. Thanks too, to the unknown skaters who made my students’ day. That was the first time they tried skateboarding. They just might be hooked! The day would not have been the same without you. I’m grateful! #SoGrateful #YES@BHS

YES Day 6: Shelburne Museum

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Shelburne Museum is such a cool place. But it’s really hit-or-miss with our students. They either really dig it, or they think that it’s the most boring thing ever.

And we had a little of both.

The museum, for those of you who’ve not been, is a spot where old buildings have been gathered together to show a bit of the past. There is a carousel that one can ride (now for a fee), a building featuring old-time circuses, an old jail house, a train station, a boat that used to cruise up and down Lake Champlain, a one-room schoolhouse, a sawmill, a collection of toys, a printer, a weaver, a blacksmith, lovely gardens…

It’s a pretty cool place to check out history.

But on a hot day where these things look like just more things, some of our students just wanted to chill under the shade of the trees. The whole Nepali-speaking contingency brought a picnic, as the turkey sandwiches just weren’t cutting it, dietary-wise. They need their hot peppers. Our food tastes like nothing.

But the watermelon I offered up was at least a bit of a bright spot.

After we left a bunch of the girls sitting on picnic tables, we continued to wander around, getting a glimpse of things from the past. For some, it was boring. Walk and look. Walk and look.  But for at least one of our students, it was so interesting. She didn’t want to leave. She was ready to volunteer and stay there the rest of the summer, if we’d let her.

The little rays of sunshine…

Another visitor! And a book!

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Today, Susan Palmer floated a different idea: Let’s connect beginning-middle-end with the curriculum. We talked briefly about what would make sense: A story? A painting? A photograph?

final-bhs-ges-graphicShe mentioned that she knew a lovely picture book, but it was probably too young for this group.

Picture books however, particularly wordless ones, make sense for beginning English Learners. They open the door to having meaning come from the page. And wordless means that you don’t have to find meaning in someone else’s words. You make it up. Creativity. One of the Graduation Expectations for our school.

Although this could have worked with almost any medium, including video, that we would choose to bring in, a book is kind of magical.

On the day of our meeting, Susan brought Jenny Norris with her. She is another Flynn artist who is doing work with Parent University, a district-supported initiative to get new American parents involved in their children’s schools. She came to watch our work to get some guidance on how to teach students who were beginning English learners.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 9.06.27 PM.pngThe book Susan chose was this one, Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle.

We were able to focus on our own feelings and on what we do that makes us happy.  We talked about before and after: What do you do before school? What do you do after school? We acted out what our partners did before and after school. And adding in that element of time really messed with some people’s concept of what we were doing. Time is just such a hard concept in another language:

And then we looked at the book. As we explored, our conversation required a deeper vocabulary to look at the issues. We introduced the words jealous and curious. And then we created with our bodies still pictures of what happened at the beginning, middle and end of the book.

It was a very simple, yet rich, conversation that I would have never brought to these students. The key is always trying something. Even when it falls flat, it’s important to try. I would love to grab some important paintings and have them do the same kind of activity: what happened just before the artist painted this scene? What do you think will happen next?

We focus on these shifts in time every day when we look at the calendar. What is the date today? What will be the date tomorrow? What was the date yesterday?

Our final activity was to reinforce giving an opinion before we practiced again IMG_5982expressing an opinion about the lesson (which, of course, ends up being focused on what students liked. It’s fine, but I’d really love to find out what they really think. For that, we may have to work in their first language. They are always a bit reluctant to criticize…).

When I worked with Lida Winfield in my classroom a few years ago,  We did an activity after talking about my wedding in which we tried to discover what students did at celebrations in their home countries. For example, we eat cake after a wedding. Do you eat cake at a wedding? To respond to the prompt, students would choose the “yes” side of the room or the “no” side. And then we would ask students to tell us how they celebrated and ask if others did the same.

We had also used this same kind of response with expressing opinions. I had told Susan about it, and we tried a game in which students got to ask questions, and we all responded by running to different sides of the room: Do you like winter? Do you like rain? Do you like dogs? Do you like sweet? Do you like spicy?

We asked the first dozen or so questions, and then the students took over. It was amazing and beautiful as they started jumping over each other trying to ask the next question. And then the questions moved to areas that I would rather have taken more time with, for example: Do you like God?

I was left alone on the “no” side of the room as I had to explain that as an atheist I have no god. And that was a little weird. And then the same student wanted to know if we liked Judas, but he didn’t say “Judas”, he said “Juda,” which left the Westerners in the room confused. And then I had to explain that not everybody knew Judas because not everybody was Christian.

Do you like the United States? Most students said yes. One said no. (Telling. I’d love to have that conversation, too.) But all three of the English-speaking teachers went to the middle, undecided part of the room.

So when we got to the part about expressing opinions, there was no confusion. The answer was echoed across the room:

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Working with a partner: Mirror me!

One of the most tried and true theater games is mirror, where one person leads and the other follows, with the object being to be so in sync with one’s partner that an outsider cannot tell who is leading. A lesson plan for it can be found here. This game calls for concentration, focus and body awareness.

We’re still working on this, as you can see from the mirror game we played:

This day’s focus was varied. We did so many things, such: color tag, where the students had to touch a color in the room before being tagged by whoever was “it”; mirror; invisible ball, in which we threw a pretend ball to each other demonstrating size and weight; invisible box with invisible clothes, for which we pantomimed putting on while naming; and shake-out, where we shake our limbs to get us warmed up or to get our blood flowing again in a low point.

Activities Ms. Susan brings into the classroom reflect the content that I am trying to teach. They need to know clothes to be able to describe themselves and others. They need to know colors to help describe the clothes. They need to know opposites to help describe the world and people around them. So many things in such a short time.

For What Did You Do This Weekend?, we shared one activity and then found a way to show that activity to a partner. Then, to make things a little more difficult, we introduced using pronouns he and she to describe what our partner did (past tense). We’re still working on using complete sentences, so this was a much needed activity:

At the end of class, we worked on stating opinions, a skill that is reflected throughout the common core, but is not normally a skill for beginning speakers. My goal is to build this into “because” statements to help provide the beginning workings for eventually defending a theory, a skill needed across the curriculum. The sentence frames, shown in the picture above, were to help students choose what activity of the day that they enjoyed most.

Although I always introduce the negative, we never hear the negative. I can count on the fact that everybody in the class is good/OK/fine every day. Even though I model my own varied moods, which seem to follow weather patterns.

The sweetest thing happened, though, and I’m not sure you will see it in the first short video, but one student was helping another with recording his video. He is brand-new and just didn’t understand the concept. So he got directions in Nepali and then she demonstrated:

I just love it when my students take care of each other. Oftentimes it shows up within a language subgroup, but through my work with Flynn artists, we are building a caring community that crosses language subgroups.

It makes me so unbelievably happy to work with these students when I see this kind of empathy in action!

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Politics hurts

On the wall in the room where I teach, the social studies teacher has a political continuum that has been up since about a month before the election. Students had noticed and asked about the display. I told them as much as I could without getting political. I don’t think it’s my place to dictate ideologies.

But my student, who speaks very little English, and who also happens to be Muslim, pointed at the picture of Donald J. Trump on the wall and said, “No like. Not good for Muslim.”

On the day after the election, I was distraught. All of my students are immigrants. Many are Muslim. And my students asked many times during the day if they would be sent home. It wasn’t just the Muslim students asking. It was everybody.

It’s hard to process feelings when there is little common language. I think my students understand that our fair city is one that has in the past and will continue to welcome refugees. I tried to explain that as legal residents, they would not be sent home. I tried to allay the fear.

But it’s hard to learn when the ground beneath you feels like it’s moving. To learn, students must feel safe. They must feel loved.

And right now, that’s a little hard. When you don’t know what the political landscape is going to look like, and you have dozens of questions, and nobody can tell you.

I asked them to send me songs in response to the email I sent them, asking them to help me smile.

In the end, it’s my hope that music will heal all.

 

The culture of holidays

IMG_4757.JPGPumpkin pie was definitely not a hit on Oct. 31. Students who normally eat EVERYTHING ran to the trash can to spit it out.

img_4785Pumpkin seeds were OK, but not overwhelmingly approved of.

We had a small party to teach some culture and share a bit of candy. And we learned shapes to draw faces on pumpkins.

A week before Halloween, we had a preview. Students learned about masks and about trick-or-treating, about jack-o’-lanterns, and about how to keep your porch light off if you don’t want to give candy.

They were so funny with those masks. They already love to take selfies, but they really went to town with masks and moustaches.

How strange this must seem to have people you don’t know coming to your door in strange outfits, expecting candy when they knock.

I wonder how much they know about Christmas and our secular tradition of bringing a tree into the house. Seems kind of silly out of context…

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