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Power to the Arts! Help spread the word!

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My project at DonorsChoose.org!

I LOVELOVELOVE DonorsChoose. It provides an opportunity for teachers to try to bring projects to their classrooms that otherwise would never happen.

I have written such a grant, one that otherwise likely wouldn’t happen. It’s really big, but I really so much think my students deserve this opportunity.

I want to have artists in my classroom next year. Every week.

And an anonymous donor has matched my grant by half… but only if I can find another $2,419 by August 22.

Now, why is this important?

Most of my students are former refugees. All of my students are high poverty. All of my students have low proficiency in English. And … they need a little time to laugh and learn.

Bringing art and drama into a classroom helps with that. This is learning like they’ve never learned before.

But I also want my classroom to be a lab to help local artists learn how to teach students with low proficiency in English. I want this to be a mutually beneficial program… I will work with artists to help them bridge language gaps, and they will help me bring an exciting program to my students.

My partner teacher Suzy and I did it two years ago, with the generous support of an anonymous donor at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It was amazing. We built community across cultures. We invited tons of people into our room to talk about how life in high school is just so very different than the “normal” path for these students. And we laughed.

It was amazing.

So here is how you can help.

Got $5 you would like to throw at my class? Go to the link above and pledge!

Or, if you don’t feel like parting with your Lincolns, share my project widely. You never know. Maybe your neighbor, or your friend, or your boss or someone who is only marginally connected with you, might see this project and decide THEY want to give.

Heck, my section leader from my college marching band at the University of Kansas just threw some money my way! Thanks, Doug!

Anyway, I’d appreciate your help!


Headaches and more headaches…

2teaching_and_learningYou know it’s the end of the term when the trees get leaves overnight, everything has a dusting of pollen on it, sneezes and itchy eyes greet you each morning, your throat closes up…

Oh, and then there’s the grading.

And the students needing help RIGHT NOW.

I wish there were a way to get my mainstream colleagues to see how our students function on immediate relevancy. And how giving them a month’s notice doesn’t really help them on their journey toward graduation.

That’s a hallmark of Students with Limited or Interrupted Education–or SLIFE. It’s a new catchphrase. I just wrote about it last week at the training.

At one session at MATSOL, I heard that Massachusetts is moving toward not just making sure that these students get a suitable education, but also naming them as SLIFE. Not just EL (English Learners) or LEP (Limited English Proficient, the unfortunate federal code for our students). But SLIFE.

What makes a student SLIFE? Here’s what WIDA has to say in a recent focus bulletin:

SLIFE usually are new to the U.S. school system and have had interrupted or limited schooling opportunities in their native country. They have limited backgrounds in reading and writing in their native language(s) and are below grade level in most academic skills (Freeman & Freeman, 2002). Students who have these characteristics could be refugees, migrant students, or any student who experienced limited or interrupted access to school for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, isolated geographic locales, limited transportation options, societal expectations for school attendance, a need to enter the workforce and contribute to the family income, natural disasters, war, or civil strife.

So I’ve been helping bunches of students hurry up and get stuff done before classes end on Monday. It’s been exhausting. And headachy.

And what’s worse is that we could avoid this end of term rush, if we were all addressing these students needs in a culturally appropriate way. What we call procrastination in students who grew up here and should be able to respond to forward thinking assignments is really an inevitable thing for these students.

It has to be relevant. Now. Tomorrow will come tomorrow.

It’s all about the relationship. If you know me and I know you, I’ll work for you.

It’s all about moving them from the oral to the written, from the collective to the individual.

These students all come from collectivist societies. I just read last week that 85% of all societies are collectivist. Only North America and Europe are not. And Australia. Can’t forget Australia.

We are individualistic. We all need to fight our own way. It’s a dog eat dog world. If you want something done right, do it yourself. We all need to earn our own grade. We simply have not been taught to sink or swim together, whereas our students might have to miss school if there is something more pressing at home.

I’m going to be working toward becoming a MALP trainer in the fall. That’s Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm, a plan created to move these students more toward our version of academic thinking.

Maybe then I’ll make some headway in helping people bridge this gap. Instead of spending every free moment of my spring sneezing and talking students through assignments that mean nothing to them.

They grow up so fast…

This is Zahra. I knew her when she was so much smaller. She did this talk last year. Had I known, I would have attended.

But I guess I’m just not that plugged in to my little city.

Who knew that she was facing so much turmoil at home?

Who was there to help her?

We teach so much better when we know our students intimately. But most of the time, we don’t know them much at all.

Something to think about.

It’s great to get a little love…

I just love presenting.

It’s so much fun being able to share with people what I’ve been doing and to have them talk to me about what they are doing and puzzling through…

Today I did two presentations at MATSOL.

One, with my good friend Shelly, was on bringing academic talk in mathematics to the classroom. More than 50 people crowded into the room and played our reindeer games. I made them do some Whole Brain Teaching stuff from Chris Biffle. It was nice to think back on the days when I used to use those in ExcELL, when we had enough students. Such a nice way to get kids to repeat words again and again, and to get the class to have joy in followiIMG_0252.JPGng directions. I just love that stuff…

And it’s great to have dedicated time to talk to colleagues about professional experiences. I was able to share what I did eons ago with my students at the elementary school, the year I was teaching math to try to cover two years in one. That was interesting…

The girl on the left is now a sophomore in high school. It’s been a while…

We shared a room and were able to talk about our math experiences. It gets me hungry to work on next year, since this one is almost over.

seesaw-script-icon-comboAnd then I presented on SeeSaw, software that works across platforms to create digital portfolios. I just found this app this year, and I am in love with the possibilities.
It’s very simple to use but not simplistic. And it could be so powerful if we let ELLs create the kinds of assignments that would get them to see their learning in context.

The greatest part about today was that I felt like an educational superstar.

About half a dozen people followed me from the math presentation to the apps presentation. I was glad I had not scared them away. When I said as much, I was told that they were fans. How great is that to hear?

I had one woman start this conversation with me: “I don’t know if you remember me, but I went to your session on dance and movement last year at this conference.” She told me that the session made such an impression that she was running into others at the conference who had attended the same session and they recognized each other, just from that one encounter.

Another woman who was eating lunch at the same table told me that she was in a WIDA class that I did about four years ago. She reminded me that she had sent me multiple emails about an activity that we had done because she wanted to do it with her colleagues.

It’s just nice to be remembered. And appreciated. And to have those rich, rich conversations that make us all better teachers.

So happy to be a teacher. And happy that I get these opportunities.


What happens when I’m gone…

WDF_1883973I’m at TESOL in Baltimore.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s wonderful to be here and to reconnect.

But back at home, I’m missing out! My students went to the Flynn today to connect with Evelyn Glennie, who will be performing on Monday. My students will have a small part in the performance.

I hope they are excited.

So here’s what I missed. Kudos to my babies for being brave!



Prepping for Survival

I stepped into Minecraft a couple of times this past week… I built a house with a rooftop garden. I let my daughter spawn all sorts of horses and chickens. I built a henhouse. And I flew.

It was fun! It was zen. It was addicting.

But while I was there, I was chatting with another participant who had only played survival mode.

And I got scared.

There’s no flying in survival mode.

I thought I should give it a shot, just to see what we’re heading into this next week. So I tried playing on the ipad.

I drowned. Before I even figured anything out. I fell in the water and watched my life slip away.

First, the air bubbles.

Then the little hearts, marking health points, disappearing with little >>pop!<< noises. (Or maybe those were just in my head).

Then I went back to the laptop and tried again. Twice. I died the first time, again, and then I started dipping into the internet and finding people smarter than me. I learned how to make tools. I built an underground house. I am getting attacked by weird things. I died twice. But now it’s not so upsetting. I know I’ll respawn. I’ll try again.

So this is a great exercise for grit, the new word we’re supposed to be fostering in kids. They are just missing grit.

I think my students have that, but they also don’t like to just have things be out of control. They’ve had enough of that.

So I still need to get to the bit about language learning. I have read what people have said. I have seen some instances; but I still think this works a whole lot better as EFL than what my kids are facing.

Anybody have curriculum-based examples you’re ready to show me?



Knowing the Learner

This past week, I tested two different kinds of learners. One didn’t know much English at all, and the other, super fluent.

The way things work with English Language Learners is that we have to test everyone who has something other than English on the Home Language Survey. In this way, we make sure we hit everyone entitled to service.

There was no question about the first. It was simple.

The second, though…

So this student spoke practically as though English were the first and only language at home. Turns out that it was a bilingual household. But the primary language, for school and home, was Hebrew.

So what does this mean?

A little research brought me to this page, which explains the differences between English and Hebrew. Handwriting? Really poor. The student even thought so. Anxiety surfaced around spelling issues. I said just practice was needed. Not to worry. I’m not going to look at spelling.

The relative who was at the meeting also got to glance at the writing and was sure this student would need ELL services.

But it’s a good thing I didn’t try to pass judgement before having read it. Even though the handwriting looked very rough, the words chosen were appropriate for on-grade-level writing. Words like justice and representative and excellent. And text wasn’t copied.

It was beautiful.

And it shows how easy it is to judge without knowing all the facts.

And it highlights how important it is to know your students well. To know that what this student’s issue was was not expressive language at all, but rather the fact that the language of school was one that was curvy and is written from right to left. English is composed a lot more of sticks–straight lines that cross each other. And if you’re not used to writing left to right, well, that has to be really disconcerting.

So… One more tip: Know your students’ first language. It can help keep us all on the right track!

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