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Part of getting one’s message across is using gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. And that’s what we’ve been working on in my class, with a little help from Ms. Susan.

The game below, called “Do you know your neighbor?” is an awesome way to have my English learners use non-verbal communication in a non-threatening situation. But how is that learning English? Because gaining confidence (“willingness to communicate” or WTC in the research world) helps break down what language teachers call the affective filter. Researcher Stephen Krashen was the first to name negative emotions associated with language learning and production with that term.

Here’s more explanation from a site called ELD Strategies:

When the affective filter is high, individuals may experience stress, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence that may inhibit success in acquiring a second language. On the other hand, a low affective filter facilitates risk-taking behavior in regards to practicing and learning a second language.

In this game, there are one fewer chairs than people. The person in the middle asks, “Do you know your neighbor?” The response is always, “Yes, I know my neighbor.” While this exchange is happening, others sitting in the circle exchange glances, nods, waves–whatever it takes–to exchange seats without the person in the middle noticing. If s/he does notice, the person who is “it” tries to intervene and steal a chair from the two trying to exchange.

Simple, right?

But to play, the people sitting have to be brave and take risks–exactly what teachers want to see from their students who are learning a new language.

It was hard to get my students to speak in complete sentences. It’s something we’re still working on. But it’s getting better. And these kiddos need to laugh.

A lot of teaching English is just getting people comfortable in their own skins. My voice is foreign to me when I speak in German or Chinese. I had to work to make it sound like my own. And these are the battles my students are fighting as well… So anything we can do to just make them interact with each other and feel comfortable in the group is helpful, such as creating a handshake:

…Or doing silly things to teach opposites, such as dancing HIGH and LOW.  Teaching them movement in this way not only teaches language, but elements of dance and movement.

We also have been working on using ordinal numbers. We learned that when giving the date, we have to use them. And they are tricky to say. So Ms. Susan brought an idea for us to sequence three events in our mornings. Again, full sentences are called for. So it’s an exercise in remembering patterns.

Next week, we’ll be playing with Susan and friends from Vermont Commons School.

Where is the compassion?

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


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.


From the Big Deal Book:

Jan 16, 2017

Funding & Recognition

Digital Innovators Program

Educators from across the country are encouraged to enter the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Program. Entrants are asked to submit a 60- to 180-second “mini-presentation” video to show how they’re using resources from PBS LearningMedia, the free media-on-demand service for classrooms from PBS and the WGBH Educational Foundation, along with digital technology and tools in their classroom, to enhance their teaching and inspire a love of learning in their students. Entrants will also be asked to complete a profile and answer a short essay question. A panel of judges will select one educator from each state throughout the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia as PBS Digital Innovators. The Digital Innovators will receive a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to San Antonio, Texas, June 24–26, to participate in the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Summit and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. All PBS Digital Innovators will also receive ongoing professional development opportunities, including virtual trainings focused on digital best practices, access to resources from PBS LearningMedia Custom, invitations to special events, a free PBS TeacherLine professional development course, networking opportunities, and more. In addition, PBS Digital Innovators will receive ongoing support from, and opportunities to work with, their local PBS member stations.

Deadline: February 13, 2017, for entries

These girls rock!

They spoke at the women’s march in Montpelier on Saturday. We should all be proud!

I love these girls!


This year, I have started working with Susan Palmer, a teaching artist from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. I had tried to get a grant to fund a yearlong residency, even though my class rosters are constantly changing. It’s a tough gig for a teaching artist.

But my grant failed.

So I’m taking a class. The class guarantees me at least seven sessions. And seven is far better than none.

My students generally move from my class, where the focus is on listening and speaking English (essentially gaining self-confidence and vocabulary, memorizing phrases and learning how to communicate in this new culture), to English 1, where the focus turns to writing, the toughest domain for language learners.

My theory is if you can say it, we can teach you to write it. But it’s really hard to write it if you don’t know what you’re saying.

And I think drama and movement is the best way to get students to that point, where they can say what they want to say and can get started on expressing themselves with purpose and confidence.

We will be meeting for seven weeks, and the first happened recently. At the top, you can see one of my volunteers playing a movement game with one of my students. The game is called 1-10. The idea is to create a static picture. Each person takes one turn while saying the next number in the sequence, and the idea is to create a picture, like a statue, that is aesthetically pleasing. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to be an audience member, as you might have seen in this video.

We’ve put new technology in the hands of young people who have never had the chance to take selfies before. And even though these students are not NEW new, they are still relatively new to the school and to this culture. And so sometimes, we need to set firmer boundaries.

Another way to do this would be to have the student who is not watching become the documentarian, which is what needs to happen next.

Another activity we tried was to show what we did this weekend. The language points in this were to use past tense and to communicate meaning.

We had to act out what we did during the weekend without saying it, and then others had to guess. Like a simple game of charades.

Although this may not seem like academic work, expressing these ideas for these students is more difficult than you can imagine. It’s simple to say in their own language, but words escape them often. Even phrases we’ve practiced over and over again become lost in the weekend or even in the course of a day.

Here’s what that activity looked like:

It doesn’t seem like much, but even these simple forays will be essential as we work to build confidence in English learning.

We will be meeting Mondays through February. I can’t wait to see where life takes us!

Every year that we take this plunge, I feel like I’m getting better and better at helping my students push themselves to be a little braver in their English acquisition.

My hope is they will be brave enough to ask the hard questions when they need help. And who doesn’t want a student who can self-advocate?


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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.

This is how it should be…



This week, Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada (the guy on the right), named a former refugee, Ahmed Hussen (the guy in the middle), to take over the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. It’s so awesome when people who come from such a difficult beginning can step into leadership of the nation they claim as their own! Just makes me smile!

Check out the story here: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/01/10/former-refugee-ahmed-hussen-takes-over-immigration-ministry.html

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