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Waiting for my groove

Man, this has been a tough year. And we’re not even halfway through.395513826

Teachers in my district voted to go on strike. It lasted for four days. And that created a huge work stoppage in my class.

We hadn’t even finished a full week of school when this hit. And I’ve been struggling ever since.

My students are primarily former refugees, who now are trying to make their way in the U.S. school system. The problem is that most were not fully literate in their own languages when they came here. The theory of transfer has a tough time taking hold in our school.

So the secret disguised goal of my introduction to computers class–which I’m teaching for the first time ever to offset the great inequity of a lack of training for late arrivers subjected to a 1:1 program (what Alan November refers to as a “$1000 pencil” initiative)–is to teach what the my department lovingly calls “schooliness.”

Schooliness is the package of behaviors that help students succeed. These skills include:

  • showing up on time and attending regularly.
  • taking notes.
  • using English when possible while still taking risks to expand academic capabilities.
  • relying on first languages to negotiate meaning, then returning to the target language.
  • advocating for themselves in social and academic situations.
  • understanding how to find meanings of unknown words.
  • doing homework.
  • being self-sufficient and self-driven.

And I’ve been working with my little group to do this. Yet when I had to go home sick yesterday, I could tell they, for the most part, had done little to nothing relating to classwork.

So it’s time to put on my hard hat (heart hat) and start handing out invitations to stay after school, because I love them so much and don’t want them to fall behind.

At the end of last year, my colleagues and I talked about handing out heart-shaped detention slips. Not because we want to be punitive, but because we want them to succeed.

I’m to present on my experiment at #TESOL18, on an intersection panel. I wish I had great things to report about upending student apathy. I feel as though I have learned a lot from this experience of taking on this new class and new challenge, I also feel like I’m not quite there…

 

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My colleague’s swimming ventures

New-Americans-swimming-YMCA-Bishop-20170612In my first full-time job in Burlington, VT, I was teaching alongside a colleague who taught me much.

Here’s a story about her class and how they are learning about swimming. It’s the same program that brought my YES class to the Y. She’s been bringing little ones to the Y for quite some time, through a program that teaches water safety to 2nd-graders.

I can’t wait to see where this goes… for both of us. Take a chance to listen.

It truly does take a village.

YES Day 9: Time for a show

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On the last regular day of classes, we spent our morning at the Flynn Theater with Stacy Raphael, associate director of school programs. 

The Flynn has been kind to us over the years, and the outreach to my students in particular has been outstanding. We’ve benefited from grant programs, from Flynn artists in residence and from opportunities to attend theatrical events. And this year, Stacy outdid herself in catering to our particular needs. We went first to the gallery, where we spent a few minutes looking at Abenaki clothing on display. One piece she pointed out to us is jewelry made from the bark of trees, with patterns created by biting repeatedly.

We went to the dance classroom to talk about classes that are available at the Flynn. After that, we went on a tour of the main theater, spotting the fiddleheads in the artwork on the walls and in the woodwork. We also hunted for phoenixes in the light fixtures and patterns all around us. We went up to where the spotlights and stage lighting are controlled. She took us on the stage to take the opportunity to look out on the audience seats, as countless others have before. She took us downstairs to the makeup room and showed us the giant fan that runs the heating and cooling for the building.

Finally, students went on a treasure hunt, discovering how to decode where to find a seat: evens on one side, odds on the other, and high numbers down the middle. We were rewarded with chocolate and then went on our way, having had one final glimpse into what Burlington has to offer its residents.

Big, big thank yous go out to Stacy. It was more than I could have ever hoped.

After lunch, we put together our final projects. And later that evening, I put it all together into a video we showed to a small group of students who came to see what we had done. One student who will begin his fourth year with us in the fall lamented that he could not take Welcome to Burlington. “A field trip every day? That sounds like a lot of fun!”

Tune in tomorrow to see our final project.

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful.

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…

As promised, a view of our walk

This video shows the pictures my students captured of field, forest and beach, a short walk outside our building.

I asked them on Monday what their reactions were to this course in general were overwhelmingly positive.

Nobody wanted to fill out the sentence frame that said, “I didn’t like EXCEL this year because…”

And that feels nice.

 

A reunion to facilitate testing

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Testing is never fun.

We are in the midst of a testing window, where we have to test every English Learner in all four domains: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

And for speaking, we can’t do more than 4 or 5 at a time, because otherwise the microphones will pick up the other voices in the room.

It’s a pain for us and a pain for our students.

But last week, Ms. Susan, our Flynn artist, came to play with us while my colleague Kevin was testing his class. He’d send the ones who weren’t testing to me while he grabbed a handful and put them through their paces.

Kevin’s kiddos, with very few exceptions, used to be mine. But their fluency improved and I sent them on to greener pastures.

The object of my class is to get students used to school and to bring them to a speaking/listening level where they can actively participate in a beginning class. They know basic directions. They know how to have the beginnings of a conversation with memorized phrases. They don’t look at you with that “deer in headlights” stare. When they are ready to leave my class, I know, because when the teacher says, “close the door,” they get it. When directed to turn to page 52, they know to grab their books. When they are asked to open their Chromebooks and check their email, they know what to do.

When they leave me, they go to Kevin, who begins focusing intensely on getting them to write, whereas my whole goal is speaking and listening.

All I can say is that I am so happy that we had a little time to play, to break through that frustration that comes with testing that is relentless.

We got to giggle a bit because some students (who were not with me, or not with me for long) have not figured out how to be silly in English. It all seems to be more than a little strange to dance and move and repeat words like “smooth” and “rough” or “fast” and “slow.” They get there, but in order to learn a language, you really have to be ready to let go of all those things that make you self-conscious.

And the same is true for drama in the classroom. If you can let yourself do things you normally don’t do, you can be brave.

Laughter lowers what is known in ESL circles as the “affective filter”: that barrier that gets in the way of learning. When the filter is high, it manifests itself in the need to close up your ears and run away. And that’s what we’re fighting.

Be brave, my young friends! Be brave by being silly!

final-bhs-ges-graphicHaving this big group back in my room was so delightful. We supported each other in making shapes, in putting movements with voice, in moving in silly ways. We reviewed the five senses and we talked about our emotions. Sort of.

This is really what the Flynn involvement means to me: It’s a bridge to loosen up the tongue. It’s learning to fail and try again. It’s supporting strangers in a room who quickly become friends as they work to complete silly tasks. It’s being creative. It’s being brave.

When we look at graduation expectations (or GXs), pretty much everything we do helps move this group along the path. I should be sharing these videos with them as artifacts that they can show for meeting expectations:

  • EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: We all have to talk to each other as we complete dramatic tasks, even if that task is as simple as a handshake or an introduction.
  • CURIOSITY & CREATIVITY: Students try to come up with their own ways to do a handshake or put movements with their names. They have to be different than those that came before. Just like in language learning, we start by copying, just instead of words and phrases, we copy movements. But eventually, we make it our own.
  • PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: With bravery comes fluency. You just can’t help but be more comfortable after playing with the same people week after week.
  • CRITICAL THINKING & PROBLEM SOLVING: On this day, we had to make groups build shapes. How would your group build a shape? Who would be the leader? Does this really look like the shape we’re trying to make?
  • CROSS-CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING & CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: There are so many languages and cultures going on in that room at any one time. And there is always the issue of us doing some movement or saying some word that means something a little randy in another language… We are building understanding in the classroom so we can carry it over into the cafeteria. What could be more beautiful than that?

Check out the video below. I invite you to look for evidence of the graduation expectations I’ve noted above. The faces will change, but the activities remain the same. And the movements change, even if only slightly. Every change is leading to something that is uniquely their own.

It’s all about the baby steps.

The key to helping students with interrupted or limited formal education (SLIFE) move forward is to take what they know and add to the complexity. And that’s what we do.

The most beautiful part of this whole afternoon is how students resisted going to testing because they didn’t want to stop what they were doing. They really wanted to be there. Even if this doesn’t look like school to them. Even if it seems a little silly a lot of the time.

I’m grateful every time for the opportunity to make this magic happen!

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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