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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!


Resources come up short for deaf Bhutanese


Last year, partner teacher Suzy and I met up with a lot of Bhutanese parents who, we were told, were deaf. We wondered why. Nobody could tell us.

Turns out, nobody knows. Some were sick. Some were born deaf. This quote from a recent Seven Days article is just fascinating:

Among the population of 16,000 Bhutanese refugees still living in camps in Nepal, nearly 5 percent have a disability of some kind, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Half of those disabilities are classified as hearing or speech impairments. Untreated ear infections may be a factor, but no scientific study has been conducted to validate this or other possible causes, said Deepesh Das Shrestha, an assistant external relations officer with UNHCR in Kathmandu.

The article describes American Sign Language classes that are being offered through the Howard Center. I’m so excited that Madhu Neupane got this started. He used to be a liaison for the school district. We truly missed out when he moved on to the Howard Center.

He has brought so much good to the Bhutanese community. I miss him.

Anyway, this article is amazing. I really wish I could meet Stephanie Cramer, who is cooking with these women and teaches both ASL and Nepali sign language. And, Seven Days says, she’s the only one in Vermont who has that skill.

We have so many students whose houses we have gone to who have caregivers who have been described to us as “disabled.” Nothing else. Just “disabled.” But that doesn’t help us as teachers.

Do they not hear us? Do they not understand? Are they unable to understand in any language? How can we bring parents in when even the guardian doesn’t really talk to the biological parents while we are in the room?

When we pressed at the beginning for clarification, we met with resistance. It seemed to be an uncomfortable question to ask.

Research tells us that parent involvement is critical when dealing with at-risk students, which is what all of our students are, honestly. I have so much still to learn about my students… Communicating with parents is critical if we are to really help these new Americans move ahead.

We may be in for a tough journey.

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.

Math Minded…

Getting ready to collaborate with my good friend Shelly. We’re doing a presentation about math at MATSOL in May.

That’s a mouthful…

AND, we’re cutting it close.

There are lots of things people can do to make math more manageable for English Language Learners. Things like…

  • word walls (my favorite)
  • anchor charts crediting students’ thinking
  • connecting with students’ lives…
  • Sentence frames

Here is a lovely page I found on sentence frames by Angela Stockman:


This particular flier talks about sentence frames that go across content areas. And they may be a bit too grammatically complex for people who are worried about ELLs, but the idea remains the same.

Whatever you want to hear coming out of their mouths, you have to give them. They need to see it, practice it and have an opportunity to make it their own.



Here’s what I’m doing tomorrow night…

The embed code is not working, but the Burlington Free Press has a video of what my students got to experience on Wednesday.

My kiddos learned a lot while I was gone. And tomorrow night, Monday, we all get to go to the Flynn and do it for real. SO EXCITED!

I can’t wait.

Thanks, Evelyn Glennie, for taking the time to work with my babies!

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!



Time to reflect…


I am afraid of skellies. More than anything else.

I have the sound turned up for evil creatures.

I know I can kill a spider.

I know I can whack a zombie.

I can usually outrun a creeper. Or my cool armor protects me from the blasts.

But the skellies have an unfair advantage. They shoot arrows.

I am not adept at fighting. I keep accidentally picking up the wrong tools. You can’t kill a zombie with seeds. Or wheat. Or a block of sand.

But I did find out today that if I’m at high enough elevation, I can build guard snowmen. How cool is that?

And I can block myself in. As long as I have a torch.

The most important lessons I’ve learned is to never venture out without an extra set of tools and some torches. It can be deadly without them.

It’s more fun to fight when there are more people around.

I’ve never considered myself a hermit, and yet I built close to resources because I needed to survive the night. I would love to build a second home in the city, reflecting on my own desires to be close to someplace where things happen. And now that I have a compass, I won’t get lost.

I didn’t think I’d be won over as a Minecraft devotee. I took this EVO class because I didn’t see how it could possibly help with language learning. I could see social studies. I could see math. And maybe even some science/biology. But not really language.

Articles I had read talked about communication. But..

  • Talking to each other through texting works the same way as regular texting. There’s no control over how poorly I write.
  • If I set up a way to talk, my students tend to hang out in language subgroups and often default to the first language, so I didn’t buy into that either.
  • Writing books or signs takes time and resources. I still haven’t manufactured my first book. And, really, how is that different from texting? There’s not a whole lot of room to write, and therefore, not a whole lot of writing to assess.
  • And then there is the time to reflect, which is what I’m doing now. But why do we need Minecraft to reflect? When I was working with a second-grade teacher in her classroom a few years back, it was all we could do to have kids write about their real-life experiences instead of what Barbie or their favorite superhero had done. I really don’t want to read stories about roving mobs.

But I wanted to try. I wanted to give the class a chance to win me over.

Now, I see I have a lot to learn.

And I’m gravitating more to the “soft skills” we want students to develop. These soft skills include teamwork and cooperation, effective communication and patience. Creativity. “Outside the box” thinking. Resourcefulness. Planning. These skills are not innate. And usually we learn through trial and error. But sometimes when you are dealing with learning a new language, culture and school all at the same time, it leaves little space for refining soft skills.

All of these skills, however, are essential when working in Minecraft. And you learn that you can’t just throw things together and make them happen. Tools must be built in a certain pattern. To accomplish one feat, you must first do three other things to make it happen. Knowledge and tools and experience can be shared and passed on.

Recently, I listened to a podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain.  It talks about how we are motivated not so much by success, but by almosts or near misses. And constructed video game designers know this. It’s what makes people come back. Just one more try and I’ll make it. But this concept is also inherent in Minecraft. It’s what gets us to come back. If I try something THIS way instead of THAT way, maybe I can make it work. Maybe I can create something even better.

In our school, our ELL population is primarily former refugees. My colleague and I have been working on a class for new students in the past couple years to build community, so that students feel comfortable eating lunch with people who don’t necessarily speak their own language. They know they have friends. They can work things out with other people. We fail and try and practice in a safe community. We learn to play and dance and breathe together.

But we miss those whose English proficiency is beyond beginning. What a better vehicle is there than Minecraft? Low stakes. Low commitment is necessary, but it’s addictive. You want to come back and see what else you can do. What else you can build. What else you can discover.

I can see so many possibilities.

Thanks to my EVO compadres for helping me see the light. I’m a newb who is really ready to dig in deeper.

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