Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Nepali Karmic Circle of Generosity

It is the year 2072 in Nepal, one week after a devastating earthquake and aftershocks. Nestled among India, China, and Tibet, Nepal abounds with rich dichotomies and unparalleled altitudes. 8 of the 14 highest mountain peaks in the world are found in Nepal (a country barely larger than the state of North Carolina), crowned by Sagarmatha, “Mother of the Earth”, better known as Mt. Everest.

As many of my readers know, it was two years ago that I was able to visit and work with Govinda Panthy and his SAV School, as well as Chan Shrestha at a  Buddhist monastery, and with the Volunteer Society Nepal.

Despite life steeped in tradition, new and forward thinking abounds, and from mythical Yetis to tiger preserves, it is a land of contrasts. It is home to 92 languages and dialects. It is a land where Hinduism and Buddhism coexist, a land where there are “as many Gods as people”--incredible and tangible evidence of spiritual harmony. There are nearly 300 temples, 1200 monasteries, and altars on even the remotest ledges--it is about the puja, the honor with which they thank their Gods for what they have. They are people who are deeply spiritual and culturally proud, and astounding in their awareness.

Govinda Panthy is one Nepalese man whose entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. With 500 species of butterflies in his home country, it’s not surprising that he understands and embraces change so deeply.

His journey began decades ago with a vision. He envisioned a school that would motivate all kinds of learners and he began his work amidst crowds of naysayers. His determination led him to begin teaching in a single room schoolhouse and rebuilding 2 more times. Please read his story in depth here.  
SAV School
Just this year, he has nearly completed his latest school in another village where he feels he can be of even more service--he is a man who never quits. He seeks and finds opportunity in the most unlikely of places, and with the events of this past week, his new school has become a refuge for those in need. His newest school has larger classrooms and each room can hold about 30 students; one more classroom was scheduled to be built in June. The new school year just began in mid-April; his goal is to have more than 80 students this year. Knowing what I do about him, he will find a way to meet that goal, then exceed it, in spite of the latest odds.  

Right now, though, his school has another purpose. A haven and refuge built through generosity and courage, now provides the same for others.  
Govinda's newest school. 
Tripur Kinder Academy
One of the new classrooms--carpet and lots of space!
Govinda’s persistence makes me think of the Greek poem ‘Ithaka’, and about Odysseus’ journey home from Troy.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
So you’re old by the time you reach the island,
Wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way.

Govinda’s personal experiences, and those of his family are not yet done. His journey has taken him places he had never imagined, and just like a sherpa, he’s braved challenges that many cannot fathom. But yet, he carries others through sheer optimism, buoyed by the knowledge that helping others is what truly matters.

Although Govinda is Hindu, one of my favorite rituals to witness in Nepal was the spinning of the Buddhist prayer wheels. Generally, the wheels are spun clockwise to mimic the movement of the sun across the sky. As the wheels are spun, prayers are sent out to manifest wisdom and good karma, while destroying the bad karma. After spinning the wheels, if you have any “extra” good karma, please, do as the Tibetan Buddhists do, and dedicate it to others who may need it.

I am trying my first fundraiser--and although it makes me nervous to ask others for money, this is for such an important reason, and for people who will appreciate it. Please visit my GoFundMe site to donate.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Setting Goals: We're Not Done Yet!

We are not done yet! We still have a lot of learning to do, and in our next unit, you will be working harder than before. We have talked about setting goals, and this is a good time to talk about it again.

Think about what you have already accomplished this semester. What are you most proud of doing in school? What are you most proud of doing outside of school?

Think about what you want to accomplish this semester. What are two things you plan to do better? What is one obstacle you anticipate, and how will you overcome it?

At the end of the semester, what will SUCCESS look like to you?

Answer in the comments space below.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Balancing the Task with the Tool:

I don't know about you, but with the glut of edtech tools, it's always a toss-up as to what is useful, and what adds to the stress of my students actually learning. With beginner ESL students, the additional challenge lies in explaining how to use the tech tool, along with incorporating their learning task(s), language expectations, and some relevance to keep them motivated. At the same time, it provides an authentic vehicle for them to learn English, as they follow instructions and ask questions during each step. (I must give a shout-out to my colleague, Sarah Troester's unwitting inspiration, who created her own SpanTech class years ago, to teach Spanish through technology!)

 ThingLink is one tool my students enjoy learning, and I wanted to share one way we assessed their knowledge and understanding through a deceptively simple student-centered, tech-integrated task. To review their knowledge of rooms in the house, items of furniture found in specific rooms, and imagining what "could be", then putting it all into words and sentences, students uploaded photos of their Dream Homes into ThingLink. From there, they found images of rooms and furniture, and as you can see, their interests certainly drove the creation of their product. It was exciting for me to watch them work and find "just the right" image to align with the vision in their mind.

 When I wonder about the applicability of tech tools and whether the effort to use them will transform their learning, I refer to the SAMR model. Kathy Schrock has a bevy of charts and tools here to help guide those of you who are in a similar questioning boat. One of my favorite images on the webpage was designed by @jenroberts1, and is entitled "Tech". I've included it at the end of this post, but please check Kathy's website for TONS of other SAMR links and images.


How do you balance the task with the tech tool in your classes, especially with new language learners?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Analyzing Images with Student Artwork from Poland

Analyzing images is not only a great way to introduce and use vocabulary, but also to practice finding evidence "in the text". Here's how we learned copious amounts of vocabulary for different values in our beginners ESL class this week:

Recently we received a package in the mail, and inside were pictures and artwork from students in Poland! Once again, through the work of Connected Classroom's ArtLink program, we exchanged pictures based on a shared theme. This year's theme was "Picture the Moment". The premise was to use brushes, paint and art materials to create a snapshot of your life. Think of it like an artist's rendition of a selfie, snapchat, or instagram image!

What would YOU include as part of your special image? Which moment would capture the values, people, and/ or places that are most important to you? And how might it be captured differently without technology?

Well, students in Poland were asked the same question, and we recently received their work. (They had received ours in December)
1)  As part of our vocabulary acquisition, first we talked about different values and divided up a list of common values, concepts and more tangible things that were important to people.
2)  Students jigsawed the list of values, then found synonyms and translations for each word with their groups.
3) Each group shared their findings with the class, taught each other their words, and answered each other's questions for clarification.

Simple guide for students to keep track of
values and clues for each piece of art.
Finding synonyms and translating values.

Now it was time for the analysis of the pictures. What values did students see represented in the artwork? And even more importantly, how did they know? What "evidence" in the pictures spurred them to consider that particular value?

4) All of the artwork was numbered and set up around the classroom, gallery style.
5) Students had a piece of paper with two columns simply labelled "Values/ Clues", and were tasked with listing 3 values they felt each piece of artwork represented, along with at least 3 clues that made them think that.
6) Students had 3 minutes per station/ piece of artwork.
Analyzing images for the values they thought
were represented. 

Once they had done the analysis, it was time to evaluate our findings.

7) We picked a few (not all of them) pieces of art and shared the values students had determined for each, comparing responses. Many were similar, but there were a few differences. Landscapes, for example, were considered "distractions" by one group, but represented "peace" and "quiet" for other groups. When explaining the choice of "distraction" they said landscapes and nature "distracted" their brains from other things that were bad. This is why image analysis can be so fascinating to me--students have such immense background knowledge that deserves to be tapped into!
8) Each group tallied their top 5 values from all the artwork.
9) Lastly, the class as a whole tallied the top 5 values overall. Looking at the art samples below, which values do you think they found represented the most?

So, after tallying each group's top five, the class as a whole determined that these are the top 5 values represented in the artwork from Poland:

1) Traditions (clothing, holidays, symbols, etc.), 
2) Love and Respect, 
3) Peace/ peacefulness, 
4) Family,  
5) Freedom (as depicted through landscapes and nature)

Do you agree?

And this activity leads nicely into talking about family and homes in our next unit of study!

*Logistical notes: Each group had approximately 10 words to learn and teach others.  These lessons took 5  45-minute periods. (2 1/2 90-minute blocks, actually)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ELLs and the Common Core: Cross-post from EdWeek

Response: ELLs & The Common Core - Part One

(This is the first post in a two-part series on this topic)
An educator who wishes to remain anonymous asked:
The CCSS hold a big challenge for ESL teachers, but at the same time, give us the freedom to choose appropriate materials, strategies, etc. So my question is: How can the school/administration make sure that these ELLs are getting quality (services) education?
Wendi Pillars has taught language learners in ESL/ EFL for 18 years, in grades K-12, both stateside and overseas. She is a member of the CTQ Collaboratory and serves on the leadership team for the Teacher Leadership Initiative as a cohort Facilitator:
Before considering how to address CCSS with ELLs, above all, invest in the time and effort to get staff and colleagues on the same page and realize each others' strengths--because in-house support for curricular shifts is irreplaceable. Working together to understand the rationale behind CCSS and inviting dialogue about its implementation and desired impact for your school are crucial next steps for success.
Administrators, once discussion is on the table, your role is to encourage teachers to try new things, to take risks, and to veer from the "way it's always been done." If teachers don't believe you have their backs, they're going to default to their old norms, the comfort zone. Some aspects of CCSS will be considered "disruptive" with measures of learning not effectively determined by any multiple choice assessment. Transparency and support must be available. Teachers will feel an incredible pull between multiple choice testing results (aka, teaching to the test) vs recommended assessments based in writing, presentation, argumentation, and instructional strategies like document-based questioning or project-based learning.
For teachers new to CCSS, this may be a tremendous change. For others, not so much. The key point here is to delve into CCSS together, and support the deep exploration of each standard. Compare CCSS to the "old" standards and show them how much they're already familiar with. Have honest discussions about areas of dissent, especially in light of the media onslaught. Having staff well-informed is priceless, particularly when they are the ones explaining it to parents.
Then take what's new (may be different for each individual) and prioritize a focus area in each of a language learner's domains--reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Emphasize the fact that each domain is represented for a reason, and that ALL learners will benefit from explicit instruction in each area. It's important to keep scaffolded and differentiated instruction and assessment at the crux/ core of any discussion--specific examples of what scaffolding/ differentiating standards look like in action provide a valuable hook for teachers' own practices. The more grades and proficiency levels exemplified, the better.
Discuss ways to emphasize explicit vocabulary instruction and what literacy looks like in all content areas. Then, together, in grade level teams or content areas, plan as many ways as possible for students to generate knowledge and express what they know. Discuss what success will look like for this work, and create common feedback and grading plans.
Having this type of CCSS foundation among your staff, while fostering the relationships so necessary for collaboration among specialists and content teachers, is critical to the success of CCSS--whether it's for ELLs or non-ELLs.
The thing is, taking the time to learn what CCSS is, how its implementation can benefit your students, and working as a school team to develop common approaches for instruction, output, and assessments, are all investments that demand time, thoughtful intent, and a holistic vision. No one said it would be easy, but you certainly can't expect teachers to go this one alone and get it right.