Sunday, March 27, 2016

We love collaboration like this!

As an ESL teacher and frequent co-teacher, I love it when a good collaboration comes together, but we had never done this. Watching our students, who collectively represent 12 nationalities, work over the course of a week, we couldn't help but question over and over--why hadn't we done this earlier? Why hadn't we teamed together with our Spanish language learners?

What did it look like?
Spanish II language learners working together with English language learners (newcomers to level 3/ developing), discussing values, getting to know one another, and navigating their way through language with renewed -- and real -- motivation. This was, in so many senses of the phrase, collaborative teen magic.

The big picture goal? Create an artistic representation of your values, with a written description of both art and artist. These pieces would in turn, be sent to students in Guatemala (via Creative Connections, one of my favorite global education partners), in exchange for art from them. To up the ante a little more, we will skype with the students, too, and we will share our mutual analyses and thoughts about our artwork.

How did we get to that big picture?

Beginning with the first day, students introduced themselves in the language they are learning. Some were more adept than others, many had to overcome shyness and a bit of embarrassment. BUT, once they saw that others shared their discomfort, and lack of fluency, I swear there was a collective sigh of surprise--then relief--as it dawned on them that hey, I'm not alone in my struggles here.

Over the course of 5 days, here's what students worked on:
  • Compare and contrast  dislikes, likes, and values, with English learners writing in English, Spanish language learners writing in Spanish. Students used each other and dictionaries as resources --but no Google Translate! No computers. Just each other.
  • Descriptions of themselves, their goals, their likes, and other personal information--again navigating their way in English and Spanish, using each others' strengths, and learning more conversational vocabulary. 
  • Creating art to represent themselves, particularly what they value, in their family, their community, or in general.
  • Oral presentations to the class to share their art and what it represented.

As for assessments? They were ongoing. The other teachers and I could constantly float from one group to the other to ask questions, clarify vocabulary, extend thinking, and simply strike up small conversations about what they had written or had drawn. All domains of language learning were in full play: listening, speaking, writing, and some reading--definitely lots of thinking going on. 

Students were motivated, and looked forward to working together. They were even willing to take a later lunch so that schedules matched up! (Teenagers taking a later lunch...say it ain't so!) 

But, don't take my word for it. Have a look at pictures of bilingual collaboration in 2016.

Brainstorming together, in Spanish and English 

Creating their art together

Sharing their values through art

Even though we'd never done this before, you can be sure we'll be doing this again! And a HUGE shout-out to my colleagues who can take an idea and make it grow!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I have a name. I have a face. I have a story.

It began with a tweet. A what if...?

Then we experienced Ms. Gaby Pacheco's intrepid spirit, via Skype, mere days later, highlighting just how transformative a simple "ask" can be in the world of social media. In the world of using technology as a global tool. Good stuff, right?

But here's the really good stuff.
Gaby, easily engaging with, and responding to, student questions.
For those of you who might not know about Gaby Pacheco, she is a tremendous force in the arena of immigrants' rights, particularly those who are younger. She is a DREAM Act leader, well-known for her Trail of Dreams, a 1500-mile trek from Miami to Washington, DC. Her efforts aimed to put what had been an elusive human face on the multi-faceted immigration debate. This woman walks the talk, in so many ways. Obviously.

And here she was, spending an hour and a half of her time with our students.

Other students were with us (our fearless language learners) today -- students learning Spanish. Gaby was kind enough to present in BOTH languages, so each group could have some stealth L2 practice. :)  (Shh...bonus learning time!)

If you've ever heard Ms. Pacheco talk, you know she speaks from the heart, and that her insights come from hard-earned wisdom. Her long move from Ecuador to Miami, being trafficked in North Carolina, and turning a "NO" into a "thousand yes's", all demonstrate a life of being determined.

She has never been afraid to ask for help because she knows she's not the only one. Thought-provoking how putting yourself "out there", opens the doors for so many others to do the same. "If she did it...then so can I".  Quite a lesson there: Taking risks yourself and making yourself vulnerable, can ironically empower others.

She was unhesitatingly frank, advising our students that everything they do will be difficult, and there will always be obstacles, from the financial, to the social, and emotional. Different people struggle in many different ways, but just because something is a law, it doesn't mean it's right. She struggled through many obstacles, and there have not been any she's been unable to overcome.

I loved this: "At first, yes, it might be a brick wall...but when I really look, that brick wall has a knob." How many of your brick walls have knobs?

After all of her struggles, her brick walls, she continues to fight for others. She wants her family and people in her community to have the same access because she doesn't want them to have to struggle as she did. (Building your future by building up others' successes and knowledge? #MakesSense #WhyIsThisRevolutionary)

Speaking of success, here's another of her quotes I loved:

"If you climb the ladder of success, remember there's now a ladder behind you. Don't take it with you. Leave it for the next person, turn around, and help them up, too."

She prodded our thinking with several questions, including these, which really made our students think:
What is the "right" way to immigrate? If we consider our ancestors who came through Ellis Island, all they needed to do was stand in line, show their names & minimal paperwork, and "not look sick".
Why is immigration not acceptable today? 

Lastly, she answered several of our students' own questions, including these:
Why are human rights important to her? She has a tremendous love and respect for human beings. She realizes we are here for a finite amount of time to do good, to do well, and it's important for us to see each other as humans, respect even those whose ideals we may despise, as our brother.

What was her biggest struggle? Her biggest struggle is that people don't know the power we have to make a difference and to overcome obstacles.

What was school like for her? She was always bullied in school, particularly for her weight. So she counteracted that by joining the cross-country team. Even though she finished last or close to last in every race, she was determined to prove that she was worthy of being there. She later joined the basketball and track/field teams. *Fun fact: She became the strongest person in the school, and even embarrassed the football team. :-)  Power manifests itself in many ways. #GirlPower

Some of her advice the students liked? "Don't be afraid", "Give 100%, always", "Asi se puede", "Poquito poquito mejorando", and "look for help".

Check out some of their other takeaways:

"I have a name. I have a face. I have a story. "
Words we would all do well to remember. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Best Student Response Ever

Ever wonder if your students are learning enough? And if their learning is relevant? Helpful to their lives?
Yep, me, too.
All the time.

A major goal within our class is to ensure that students are speaking academically every day. In reflection, though, I'd realized pretty quickly that extended discourse honestly didn't happen consistently or in any organized manner. I needed to change that if my students were going to become the confident, "think-on-their-feet" learners I envisioned them to be.  Here's how I approached it today, the gist of how it all went down.

Today, our mixed-level class (from newcomers who have been here 3 days, to learners who have been here 3 years)  tried new learning strategies, hybrids all. Just like those of us using them.

We began with a pre-writing activity that served as a review of the biographies they've been reading. Snagged from LiteracyTA's idea for gamifying writing fluency, we tweaked one of their activities (1 page, 3 paragraphs, 10 minutes) to "1 x 3 x 15":
1 paragraph
3 facts
15 minutes

This helped students reflect on their learning, write without support, and extract key ideas and details from memory in a challenging amount of time. Lots of opportunity for formative assessment.
They then had 6 minutes to formulate 2 questions for other groups since each group had studied different people.

Those who finished these tasks well ahead of everyone were asked to jot down a couple of interesting facts they could use during the discussion to enhance their responses.

The discussion rules were simple: 

  • No adults would be engaged in the discussion. 
  • Notes were absolutely encouraged. 
  • Talk to each other; pretend no adults are in the room. 

The set-up:

  • Students sat with their collaborative groups. (5 groups of 3-4 students each; each group had studied one particular "Rabble Rouser", but none had shared more than a sentence or two about their person with the other groups)
  • One student sat in a "hot seat", with the rest of his/ her team behind them. 
  • Students in the hot seat asked each other questions they had written, and responded accordingly. 
  • Notes and text were encouraged to enhance responses AND add detail if desired. 
  • Language support was provided by teammates, as students rotated through the hot seat. 

What I witnessed blew me away.
I saw students hesitate to begin. Look at their papers. Shuffle their feet. Look out of the corners of their eyes...
Then one boy began with a question.
Sure, sentences were stilted, but blossoming. We listened to their grammar, their evidence from their reading, their questions, their responses...

But then, there were the unintended results.
I was witnessing that this classroom had become a space where students felt safe, despite the fact that speaking out loud, and in academic settings, is so very hard for them. Our classroom had become a space of encouragement, turn-taking, and support for each other, without a single word from adults. Our students knew how to honor each other's efforts, when to praise, and when to remain patient as newcomers sounded out their sentences one word at a time. Our students gently prodded each other to "please repeat that" when a response was whispered. I saw students turning to each other and asking for evidence in the text, "where to find ___".  I witnessed smiles borne from new-found confidence after some participated in this type of conversation for the first time! I saw sweaty palms being wiped on pants after speaking, but also during--which meant they were nervous, but still they kept on.

In essence, what I witnessed was the integration of social skills with academic content, and it made my heart full.

Sure--my dear readers, you know me well--there are many things I'd like to add, change, and build upon the next time we do this. But the best feedback for me today was the students' response:

I'd say questions of "Can we do this again tomorrow?" pretty well summed it up.

(fist pump ensued, once students walked out, FYI)

For those of you interested in using more intentional conversation in your classroom--which you definitely should!--then this article by Jennifer Gonzalez at the Cult of Pedagogy (one of my FAVORITE resource sites, btw) is the perfect place to start. You can try one discussion strategy or try them all, or you can do like we did, and create your own hybrid from a couple of them.

We would love to know about your discussion strategies, AND we are always looking for other classrooms to connect with, so we can practice conversations with other students! Please drop us a note or comment below. We'd love to hear from you.

PS--I think this might be my first post without pictures. I just didn't want to "ruin" the flow today, plus I was videotaping parts of it--and the students had forgotten I was there! (bonus)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How do our values manifest themselves in our daily lives?

Today our Essential Question asked: 
How do our values manifest themselves in our daily lives?
Our goal was to learn and be able to use new vocabulary and concepts orally and in writing, using the concept of values as our vehicle. (90 minute block)
Students first realized that there are at least 3 meanings to the word "value"--monetary value, mathematical value, and value as something important to you.
All of this currency and coinage was sent to us from UNC World View/ Carolina Navigators/ Center for Global Initiatives. They have many different culture kits that teachers can use for FREE. Sign up
online if you live in NC, and they will mail your requested culture kit to you.
Use it for 3 weeks, then return! Simple, and a wonderful way to bring culture
alive in your own classroom.

Some of this money needs to be deemed
as art. Seriously. The artwork is stunning.

Next we looked at a list of common values of kids around the world, as compiled by Creative Connections, our Art Link host. Students found values they already understood, translated cognates, and chose 2-3 values that they had themselves. Working in small groups, they were adept at navigating meaning, helping each other translate, and decipher pronunciations. This is truly a case of students understanding the concepts, but needing the vocabulary to express themselves. 
Talking about values is always challenging, but I always underestimate my students' ability to grasp some of the concepts. (#StillLearning #RealityCheck)

Here is the list of cultural values we used:
  • Family
  • Spending time with family
  • Tradition and customs (preserving roots)
  • Love of music
  • Fast-paced lifestyle
  • Care for elders
  • Sports and games
  • Friendship
  • Collaboration and working together
  • Love of animals
  • Love of nature/protecting the environment
  • Peace
  • Work and contributing to the family income
  • Coexisting and respecting any culture
  • Loving yourself
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Generosity
  • Being responsible
  • Role of the mother and her love
  • Patriotism (love for one’s country)
  • Love of city
  • Solidarity
  • Consuming moderately
  • Diversity
  • Religion
  • Our ancestors
  • Equality and unity
  • Order in one’s day
  • Respect for cultural differences
  • Feeding one’s mind
  • Gratitude
  • Doing one’s duty
  • Communication
  • Independence 
Next, students listed values they held, but were then asked to demonstrate how they show those values. If your family is important to you, if you value your family, how do you show that? Do you eat together? Travel together? Go to church together? If you value nature, how do you show that? What actions demonstrate that value?

Together in their small groups, they filled in a simple T-chart graphic organizer (values/ how do you demonstrate them?), then shared out orally, asking each other "Which values are important to your group?" "How do you demonstrate that?".

Then came the application. Luckily for us, we live in NC, so we were able to acquire a currency kit from UNC Worldview/ the Center for Global Initiatives. (Please see the link in the caption above!) They sent us various currency and coinage to use in our lessons, for free, for a determined amount of time. They also have many, many other types of culture kits, with lesson ideas--so please check them out if you live in NC!)  Once you finish, you simply mail it back to them.

Our EQ wondered how values manifest themselves in our daily lives, and using the currency from all over the world, we could see several values the government holds in high esteem:

History, sports, culture, tradition, patriotism, love of nature, solidarity, and even religion, were represented on the different currencies.

After exchanging handfuls of currency, we then applied our understanding of how values manifest themselves daily in our personal lives, by using art work from our sister school in Hiroshima, Japan! Students analyzed the artwork through the lens of what students their age value in another country and culture.

Here are their top results for student values in Japan:
Friendship, care for elders, responsibility for the environment, A LOT about peace (which interested the kids since their Japanese peers are in Hiroshima), love of nature and religion, spending time with family, maintaining traditions and customs, and learning.

Overall, I believe the lesson went ok, and was super excited about the vehicles through which students practiced using their new vocabulary...they wrote sentences and responded orally with accuracy, but I don't have a solid feeling about what students walked away with. I was excited to incorporate the artifacts because I felt they lent themselves to the idea of values organically, so perhaps my hopes exceeded my expectations.

Some things I'd like to do differently if we had more time:
Have students compare the results of the personal vs governmental values. Which were the same? Different? Why? What would you change? Design currency to reflect personal and community values. Research the history behind the symbols and artwork depicted on the currency....

I'd also like to have more discussion starters, or even a pinwheel type discussion in which students shared their knowledge more orally, with evidence from the "non-text" texts of currency and student artwork. For our language learners, having visual evidence to support their thinking can be both a practical and interesting scaffold.

For today, though, they were able to at least list several values for different currencies and artwork. Tomorrow I will follow up with their takeaways on how our values manifest themselves, before they continue writing their brief autobiographies. They will be asked to include 2-3 values they have, with explanations of how they demonstrate their values in the autobiographies, so they'll see this vocabulary again.

I would love any suggestions to tweak this lesson.
(This was done with a mixed class of newcomers to level 4 according to WIDA proficiency standards during a 90 minute block of time.)

Thank you again to UNC World View/ Center for Global Initiatives, Creative Connections, and our partner highschool in Hiroshima, Japan for helping us bring the world into our classroom!