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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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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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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!

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…)

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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.

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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!

Around mid-May, I always get a bit anxious.

School is winding down and I always see what I didn’t get to, trying desperately to make sure that my students have been exposed to knowledge that I believe they need. Students are checked out. I feel unfulfilled. My own children are feeling done with school and bring that anger/fear/anxiousness back home. My husband is winding up his school year and is ready for us to go on vacation, despite the fact that, for me, there is another month to go.

Everybody is in a nasty mood.

And the weather doesn’t help.

Rain.

So much rain.

And if I hear any more about how that will bring spring flowers, I don’t know what drastic measure I would threaten to take.

This time of year is just awful.

I tend to neglect what I should be doing because of my sour mood. But there comes a time when you have to catch up. So that’s what I’m going to do now. The next few posts, which will come in rapid succession, will show the past month in our time with Flynn artist Susan Palmer.

So hang tight. We’re in for a flurry of posts!

 

Last week, after more than a month hiatus, our Flynn performing artist came back. And it happened to coincide with one of the most beautiful days our little Vermont town had seen in a long time.

The sun was shining.

And we all needed to get outside.

Susan had a list of plans, but she had sent a last-minute email. And I was so antsy to have the sun on my face after a week of clouds…

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So I handed out the stress balls to everybody and told them to grab an iPad and we were heading outdoors with Ms. Susan.

It was a nice opportunity to ease back into using theater games in the classroom and also to re-introduce the idea of cooperative fun.

We looked for signs of spring on our way down to the shore of Lake Champlain, a 10-minute walk from school. But because most of these students have never seen spring spring here before, they didn’t quite know what to look for.

Susan and I found ourselves trying to show them: See? The tree is budding. The snow is melting. The mud is here now. There are birds. Do you hear them?

But if you’ve never missed it before, you don’t know what is new and what is returning. And so we went to the beach and played.

We threw balls to each other (though sometimes it felt as though it was at each other), calling out names, making eye contact, and pushing all to keep everyone involved. When one would wander off, another would bring that student back.

Even on the way back we were continuing to break off and chat and play.

It was so beautiful to see these students from such disparate cultures reaching out to each other to enjoy an hour in the sun.

Even if it was a little chilly.

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.

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