Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bilteracy--what's your experience?

We recently began what will be a yearlong professional development ("we" being the ESL and dual language teachers in our county) about the aspect of teaching biliteracy, reading and writing in two languages within US classrooms. Although not an entirely new concept, our presenters and the authors of the book  Teaching for Biliteracy, Karen Beeman and Cheryl Urow formalize the idea of purposefully bringing two languages together in what is known as The Bridge--the formal comparison and contrast of languages.  (Fascinating stuff, personally!) 

They promote the idea of learning something well, with an outcome of only needing to learn something "once", no matter which language--and for me, that idea really gave me pause for reflection. 45 minutes of teaching a concept in Spanish should transfer as readily to English as if I'd spent 90. In turn, this flips scheduling a bit on its head since 45 min of Spanish + 45 min of English are as effective as 90 minutes of each!! What would you do with that extra 90 minutes?

I'd never considered my own instruction and my students' learning through that lens:  was/ am I teaching a concept solidly enough that they will NOT have to relearn it in their own language? If not, how can I change that to optimize their cross-linguistic strategies and transfer abilities? 

Academic oracy--students' ability to express themselves and their understanding of a variety of concepts, well. It is this, that is the essence of their successful biliteracy. As for success, it rarely comes without a struggle of some sort, but as Beeman quotes: "There are no mistakes, only approximations." And this, in the world of learning among languages, reminds us that each of their approximations has a reason behind it. Use those "mistakes" to inform your instruction and look upon your students with an "asset" (here's what they can do--how can I use that to leverage their learning) mentality rather than a "deficit" one. (they can't do this...)

Use content to generate bridges -- create anchor charts that are unit-based, laden with meta-linguistic elements, speech events with differing underlying cultural norms, etc. Make sure the students are GENERATING language as frequently as possible, and create codes (whether with colors, visual markers, specific spaces in the room) to simplify their mental gymnastics between languages.

Speaking of mental gymnastics, explicitly promote their cognitive flexibility--as bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural learners, our students are pretty darn amazing. We want them to listen, read, write, and speak at grade level, in both languages, ideally. How often do we promote their native language(s) in our classrooms? Perhaps some of you would love to debate the question: Why should we promote their native language in our classroom if they are in the United States? (I'd love to hear your comments below!)  Think, too, of how often your students are immersed in English. That percentage of time immersed in English (or not) has a tremendous impact on academics--so what are we doing to minimize that gap?

There are several strategies when teaching language, and the Language Experience Approach is one opportunity to approach reading, writing, listening, and speaking naturally. Oracy (speaking and listening), once again, the oft-neglected portion of our classes, is the cornerstone of literacy.
Oracy leads to literacy! 
Get students to generate language, teacher friends, and let us know your successes down below. Always wear your formative assessment cap, too--observe and listen--then mine that Big Data to inform your next steps.

Talk to us and please let us know how you honor what your biliterate/ bicultural/ bilingual students know? I'd love to hear from you.

(All #sketchnotes #edusketches were done by me, Wendi Pillars, so they are my photos.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Read this to get ready for the new school year!

I just read an exciting announcement this morning--a new book on teaching English Language Learners is forthcoming in Spring 2016 by one of my favorite teacher-authors, Larry Ferlazzo. In case you haven't heard of him, he's a community organizer-turned teacher and his classes range from Newcomer ELLs to IB Theory of Knowledge. Talk about a range of learners and experiences!

This is why his books are such valuable resources. Personal classroom experience makes all the difference in practical academic books--and this one is no exception.  He addresses common classroom challenges--from teaching ELLs to classroom management and motivation, and turns them into practical, do-able lessons, complete with standards. His lessons include multimedia resources from his extensive blog and website, which every teacher should visit thanks to his many, many resources.

I really have NO idea when this man sleeps, and for him to churn out another book on the heels of this last one, well, he's on a roll. He has a LOT of ideas to share! And if it's at all similar to his other books, I plan on having a stash of sticky notes at the ready to help me take notes and plan my own lesson sequences.

I read his most recent book, Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners, as one of my academic book goals  this month, and I deeply appreciate it. Reading it has gotten my mind ready, excited, and full of ideas for the new year. Mr. Ferlazzo really has a bead on the pulse of what teachers need and want, and often solicits suggestions and ideas for his EdWeek Classroom Q&A column, and is one place he gleans common questions to respond to in this book.

If you're looking for resources and ideas that are backed up by research, and run the gamut from teaching students about goal-setting, physically active learners, and flow, to motivating readers and writers, this book is for you. How about classroom management, you ask? Absolutely. One of my favorite chapters is that of learning transfer. I realized I've never explicitly taught that before, nor did I know about Backward Reaching Transfer vs. Forward Thinking Transfer. Let me just say, I can't wait to teach my students to "Be Like James Bond!" (yep, you'll have to read it to learn about it!)

Happy reading!

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Modern-Day Alchemist Inspires With Peanuts


Normally, that sort of cry at a baseball game resonates only when you're actually in the mood to have some peanuts. Otherwise, it blends into the glorious background noises that comprise a gorgeous summertime evening of Durham Bulls baseball. One would think that amid the great hits, diving catches, and 6 or 7 foul balls hit into our seating section alone, that vendor cry would go unnoticed completely.

Not so at the Durham Bulls baseball field in Durham, North Carolina. Watch this man in action--20 seconds is all you need to understand his appeal--and his ability to divert attention from the main attraction.

Full disclaimer: I have never met this man, and know nothing of his story, but he's an icon at the park, and memorable beyond compare. I don't know his background or what his "day job" is, but I imagine he has a few tales to tell!

This man doesn't know his "clients" like I might know my students, but he engages and entertains, and models what I think of as "generosity of the spirit".  A modern-day alchemist, he tweaks what many might consider an ordinary job, to make his work extraordinary. Much of that extraordinariness (isn't that a word? :-) ) stems from his relational (as opposed to transactional, where others feel used) interactions, witnessed in how he ensures people feel valued in the process of achieving his results. ("PEANUTS!")

He creates participation through actions, simple though they appear. I see a man who is creating value for others, without costing the Durham Bulls an extra penny--an incredible skill in the 21st century. I see a man who has learned that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary lies not in the tangible things, or the structures, but with people. I see a man whose work is both inspired, and inspiring. And I am reminded once again, that relationships don't occur with organizations; instead relationships--hence, inspiration and value--occur with individuals.

As a teacher, I want to know how to develop the extraordinary in my students, as I strive to do so within myself.  So I ask myself: What are three small tweaks I can make that will improve my value to others? How can I invest in myself to better serve those in my life? How can I ensure I will never fail to try? Something special exists in all of us--how can I bring that out in others? What step can I take today toward my goal of developing the extraordinary?

Readers, what about you? How do you ensure that you provide value to others--without spending a single extra penny? How do you make sure the world is never again the same because you came this way?

And to the man who sells peanuts in an extraordinary way, thanks for the burst of inspiration.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer, by the numbers

What does summertime really look like for teachers? In my world, there's a lot of learning going on, not necessarily all academic or book-based, but enough to know there's so much more!

Here's what has happened so far, by the numbers:
5 books read
4--my son's All-Star team finished in the top 4 at the State Tournament! (all you baseball parents know how much time led into that run)
3 workshops--slavery and sketching
2 more to go--teacher leadership and ESL
1 final book draft--COMPLETE!!

As I take some time today to start planning for the new school year, I also want to plan for the next 3 weeks of summer.

But you know how it is. There's. So. Much. To. Do. So many books to read, so many sketches to create, so many water balloon fights and evenings playing weekends, friends to catch up with, parents to visit, first semester planning...So, I'm going with the belief that thoughts become things, and making a new numbered list of "must-dos" to include in my days:

5 more books read (including 2 cultural/ historical, 2 academic, and 1 fiction)
4 trips, including a kickoff meeting in D.C., and an ESL conference in Greensboro; plus a visit home to my parents, and one TBD (thinking coastal here)
3 sketches a week
2 letters a week--yep, the handwritten kind
1 new activity that both my son and I can do together...thinking parasailing!

I've always learned that to keep your goals, write them down. I do, but never publicly--this is a first. In doing this, you can see that I have more non-school related activities than not, and the two workshops I'm attending will be inspiring, so I look forward to them. I've emphasized getting back to my creative side,  and although these activities may not seem like much, the work with my hands will help my swirling brain slow down. Script lettering, sketching, and reading are all things I can do, but haven't made enough time for them. So, thoughts become things, and putting it out there publicly helps me stay accountable.

Thanks, readers, for coming along on the ride. Stay tuned for updates. And please, if you have ideas on how to relax your mind before school starts, I'd love to know your thoughts!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some creativity ready to burst forth.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Visual Note-taking in my summertime classes

Some of you already know that my first book, entitled Visual Notetaking for Educators: A Teacher's Guide to Student Creativity is nearly ready to be published. (!!)  That doesn't mean I've stopped learning, though, and this past week, I created two sketches from my own learning at two very different workshops. As I synthesized my learning and takeaways from each workshop, I also noticed a distinct difference in how I approached them.

The first workshop, "Crafting Freedom", focused on the African American experience during the era of slavery. Not your typical history classroom teaching, this 5-day workshop distinguished enslaved blacks from free blacks, and highlighted their incredibly important roles. Many were "freedom crafters", craftsmen and women who used their entrepreneurship, creativity, and business acumen to subvert what is considered the more typical black history that we are wont to teach.
The Crafting Freedom website has a treasure trove of in-depth information, lesson plans for different age groups, multimedia resources, and a vetted bibliography. These are fascinating pieces of American (and World!) history, and we are doing a great disservice to the efforts of these historical figures, as well as to our students if we neglect to share these other perspectives.

The second workshop was a one-day exercise in sketchnoting, led by author Mike Rohde. This was the first time I had ever worked with a professional sketchnoter, since I am self-taught. Thanks to grants from my school PTA and NEA, I was able to attend this workshop in Chicago. It was an intimate setting, with only 8 participants, so we sketched, shared, and sketched some more. We reflected on our own and each others' styles, layouts, typography, and representations. We also sketched during a live Q&A with Basecamp founder Jason Fried, so we sketched an array of different inputs--from podcasts, to prompts, to live interviews. It was lighthearted and easygoing, but sketching all day can be mentally exhausting!

So, here's what happened. These two workshops were virtually back-to-back, and as I was synthesizing my notes and experiences, 3 things really hit home with me:

1. Visual notes have tone. I really wanted to honor my experiences at Crafting Freedom, and as I sketched, I realized that I wanted subdued colors--bright or primary colors didn't "feel" appropriate for such a serious subject. Nor did whimsical typography or flourishes. Definitely no stick figures, even though they're my standby.
2. Color matters. I mentioned the subdued colors and how they "felt" appropriate or not according to the subject. I also tried my second sketch without color, then added a single color to parts of the sketch. Just playing. I like the "clean" look of black and white, but adding a single color can add some pizzazz without overdoing it.
3. It's more fun to share. I feel like it's even more important to share our work as visual notetakers, particularly from a mutual experience. Others comment how helpful it is to rehash the week, or even the day, and when I know others will be looking at them, I tend to pull in other information that I noticed resonated with larger groups of participants--i.e., shared humor, quotes from speakers, etc.--rather than just myself.

If you haven't done so yet, I encourage you to try visual notetaking (I call it edu-sketching!) for yourself, for your students, or with your students, and see how new learning unfolds.

Below are the sketchnotes mentioned above. What differences make the sketches stand out? Which elements of style do you think work better for various content areas/ topics? Have you ever tried asking your students to synthesize their learning experiences with visuals? Can you imagine the collaborative efforts as your students create something like these?

Notes from Crafting Freedom Workshop in June 2015. Created by Wendi Pillars. Note the different typographies
between this sketch and the next, the cleaner lines, the set-up for possible student notes...What other differences
do you notice?

This was my recapture for an approximate 48 hour whirlwind adventure. As simple as they appear, there was a lot of
sifting through my thoughts as I determined the highlights to include. As you can see, I included not only elements of
our learning, but also some notes from my lightning round of tourism the night before the workshop. 

Here you can see how just a touch of color can wake up black and white sketches. I frequently stick to a 3-4 color scheme
(including black), but am working on how much negative space (white space) remains at the completion of my sketches.
Thanks for stopping by! Please share YOUR experiences with visual notes in your classroom or for your own personal use!

(available for pre-order now on Amazon and through W.W. Norton)