A few days ago, a new student arrived in my EAL class in Peru ( EAL- English as an additional language.). The new student speaks Korean and Japanese, and has studied a bit of English; all of the classes, though, are taught in English, except the Spanish class. So, picture yourself in that situation: You are new to an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country; you are about 12 years old; you speak two languages that have little to do with where you are now. Difficult, to say the least.
To begin the class, I asked students to introduce themselves to the new student. My students are very welcoming so this was easy for them. They clearly tried to make connections with him as they mentioned music, games, and other cultural ideas that he might be interested in. Then, one of the newer students introduced himself saying something like, “I am also new here, not quite as new as you, and I found it easy to make friends here. I hope you also are able to make friends. I will be your friend.”
I will be your friend.
Imagine the world if this is how everyone received new people, immigrants, refugees, the stranger, the unknown. It could happen.
I will be your friend. This gives me hope.
Sitting down for the reading-of challenged my sense of balance. The wobbly table in front of me offered no support for my arthritic hands. And I feared that any movement of the table would knock over the seven wax candles that flickered atop. The high-backed wicker chair where I was to rest seemed to be held together with strings and rags. Still, I sat. Slowly. Carefully.
Marcia entered cat-like, brushed her flowing robes aside and sat in front of me on a stool that I had not seen. Her long white hair covered her eyes, but with her back to the candles I couldn’t have seen them anyway.
Without saying a word she reached forward and took my cold hands in hers. They were warm. The room was warm. The room lit up, transformed, no, I was in a big city, on a busy corner. Was this New York? I looked down at my hands and they were young again. The pain was gone. I looked up at the kiosk and newspapers held a date years into the future.
I reached my right hand up to inspect a magazine from the kiosk. A stab of agony. I was cold. As suddenly as I had left the room, I returned to the age and the pain and the darkness and the flickering candles.
Slowly she whispered, “I have read-of you. You have seen.”
As she rather floated out of the room the candles extinguished. I slowly stood, in the dark, but I had seen a light.
Do your students say what they want to write before they write it? Whether it is a short exit ticket, the resolution of the conflict in a narrative, a lab report, or something else, there is a lot of power in oral rehearsal at every age.
An easy way to do an oral rehearsal with your students is to do a think-pair-share. You may have heard of this strategy where students take a moment to think about the answer to your question, and then turn to a partner who is near them to share the answer. To complete the cycle, have students write what they shared.
Another way to set up oral rehearsal is for students to have writing partners. Before writing, partners can share what they will write about based on the instructions for the day. After they write, they can share their writing and get some feedback from the partner. I like to set up partners for the length of the unit so that students can build that friendship that good writing partners need.
Yes, all of this takes modeling and practice.
This week I did a small experiment with two of my students who are learning English. I asked them first to write about a movie and I gave them five minutes to write. Then, I had each one tell us about a book that they liked. Here is a picture of their answers. I added a word count to each text.
Sure there is lots to work on with their English, but look at the difference in language production! Oral rehearsal is definitely worth the effort.
…and then wait for the answers.
Teachers, at times, argue about silly things. Years ago I walked into a classroom and into heated discussion that pitted Bloom’s Taxonomy against Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. (Really, I did!) While there were teachers on either side of the discussion, they were all arguing for the same thing: Good Questions! After listening for a while, our literacy coach wondered aloud, “How about using both to get the students think in lots of different ways about many different ideas?”
That’s the ticket! Let’s use the ideas of Bloom and Webb to motivate student thinking, speaking, and writing. If you haven’t revisited Bloom and Webb in a while, now might be a good time to review the questions you ask, think about your wait time, and consider who does most of the talking in your class. (Someone once told me that the person in class who is talking is the one who is doing the learning. It was probably that same literacy coach).
The resources (click on the pictures) are tools to get you thinking and to get your students thinking. Have high expectations for your students and they will rise to the challenges that you scaffold for them. All students can and do learn. We can help them.
Today is Election Day in the United States. Please vote. And when you vote, please consider your beliefs, your values. When I vote, I tend to think about the greater good. I think about the people who have not had the luck, the blessings that I have had. I consider the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor, the impoverished. Who would create conditions and policies that would favor them?
I also think about welcoming the stranger, the migrant, and the children. Which candidate will create conditions at home and abroad where all feel welcome and safe? No one wants to be forced to leave home, but sometimes it is necessary for reasons of health and safety. Who will be welcoming while helping to create a world where migrating is a choice, not a matter of life or death?
I think about education. When quality education is available for all, possibilities emerge, futures are possible. Education never stops; we never stop learning. Which candidate will create conditions so that life-long learners have the opportunity to think critically? I want people to think deeply and from various perspectives. I want people to see the world in shades of grey while avoiding dualistic thinking. We weave the tapestry of the world with many colored threads. That beauty is diminished with either/or thinking.I think about the future. When we care for the world, the air, the water, we will preserve the world for future generations. No one wants to breathe dirty air nor drink contaminated water. Which candidate will promote healthy development so that the future is better for all? We know that some resources are non renewable. How are we preparing now for a future without those resources? Which candidates will help us create a better world for the future?
The world I long for, I try to help create everyday, sometimes with more success than others. In addition to the above, I think about rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work, health care, peace, and solidarity with the most vulnerable. My vote can help create that world. I will do my part.
Please do your part and vote your values, hopefully for an inclusive world built on solidarity, love, and hope for all.
In Peru it is National Teacher’s Day–Happy Teacher’s Day to all of the teachers out there.
For most teachers, I believe, teaching is a vocation. (Yes, vocation, not vacation.) I am sure there are some who teach so they can have summers off, or because they don’t know what else to do. The majority, though, teach because it is part of who they are. They love building the relationships with the students, building the enthusiasm in class, and building the knowledge/skills/wisdom of their students. It is our way of making the world a better place.
Does it work? I like to think so. One of the challenges of teaching is that you never really finish. An architect opens the building, a baker tastes the bread, a programmer runs the code. A teacher is never done; this year’s students move on, and the next year comes with new students. Occasionally we get a glimpse of our work when we see a former student on TV or in the paper (hopefully for something good). Occasionally, we receive a letter from a former student saying hi or saying thank you. Usually, we never know.
I was reminded of this recently when I received this picture of blueberries. About eight years ago my wife and I planted some blueberry bushes in the backyard at our house in Minnesota. These bushes take a while to grow and produce fruit. About five years ago we sold our house to a friend when we moved to Lima, having not tasted the berries. Today, that friend sent this picture and said there are more blueberries that she will soon harvest. That is wonderful! Who knew?
I knew when she wrote and sent the picture. If you are looking for something nice to do, try writing a note to that former teacher. Let him or her know that you are well, that you remember, that you are thankful. Your former teacher would love to hear from you, especially on this National Teacher’s Day, even if you are not in Peru.
Today marks day 100 that Peru has been in quarantine. In that time there have been more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 8,000 deaths. Peru even made it to #6 in the world of confirmed cases.
This is nothing to celebrate.
Through their actions, though, Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra, and his cabinet have probably saved many lives. For that, we can be thankful. The decisions by the leaders haven’t been perfect, nor have the actions of many citizens as they evaded or disregarded the precautions. In general, things could be much worse. The struggle continues.
As we mark day 100, my school year is ending. In 25 years of teaching, this is the first time I have been at one school for four consecutive years–actually 4 1/2 years. (I was in the St. Paul district longer, but at many different schools.) Ending a virtual semester brings the joy of accomplishment and the sadness of goodbye in an odd fashion: we’re not together in person. I miss being with my students and colleagues. Most of them I will see when we begin again, again virtually. Stay tuned to see when the quarantine ends and we go back to the brick and mortar.
A fond farewell to those who are leaving. I will be here. Online. Stay in touch.
It could always be worse.
With the arrival of the coronavirus, Peru is in lockdown. All schools are closed until Monday, March 30. All people in Peru are in quarantine until the same date. No one leaves home without official permission, or a very good reason. Police and the military are stopping people, asking questions, and detaining them if necessary.
If all goes well, schools will resume on that Monday with a flattened coronavirus curve. Because some people are not following the directive, an overnight curfew will be implemented beginning tonight. From 8:00 PM until 5:00 AM no one leaves home. No one. Starting tomorrow morning, no personal cars can be on the roads. None.
During this crisis, I am teaching middle school from home. Thankfully, my students have been wonderfully flexible as we figure out online learning. Kudos to them, their parents, and the team of adults from school that make this possible!
I remember three years ago when heavy rains caused landslides that filled the rivers and closed the water processing plant for Lima (los huaicos). At that time, the schools also closed. If I had to choose (and I don’t want to), I think I prefer being locked down with water to living in Lima with no water. Maybe a couple of weeks like this will change my mind. I will let you know.
For now, Zoom lets us keep classes going and allows for other gatherings, such as a St. Patrick’s Day Zoom with family in Minnesota. And I am at home, unlike my fellow Minnesotans who are stranded here, waiting for flights home. With patience and good humor, all will be well.
All will be well.
Today Martin Vizcarra, president of Peru, made the decision to close and/or not open schools until March 30, 2020. Most private schools in Peru had already begun the school year (my school had already begun the second semester); public schools were scheduled to open in Peru on Monday, March 16, 2020. This is to say that my middle schoolers will not be coming to school tomorrow as the teachers move classes online for the next two weeks. If the situation warrants it, I am sure that schools could remain closed.
Is this a good idea? Perhaps an over-reaction? In Peru there are now 17 cases of coronavirus. Considering population of almost 33 million, 17 cases seems pretty small. The problem is that not all schools have the conditions necessary for students to stay virus-free. According to one article, 10% of the schools in Lima do not have water. If students cannot wash their hands, the virus spreads more easily. Such a statistic begins to explain the decision.
While I would much rather have students come to school, I understand the decision. So, I will look forward to learning more about online teaching as I practice it for the next few weeks. I completed my M.A. in Teaching Writing from John Hopkins online; I have some experience as an online learner. Three years ago school was closed because of the huaicos in Peru so I had the chance to get my feet wet in online teaching. This time I will only get better.
If you have any suggestions for online learning, please let me know.
As I teach my 6th graders, I will sometimes create in the style that I am teaching. When teaching limericks, write limericks!
Lorenzo he searched for a book.
“I wonder which one of you took
The book that I had
And made me feel sad.”
Saw Ian and called him a crook.
Said Emma to Luke here’s a dare:
“When Erick sits down take his chair.”
But Erick was wise
To the not-nice surprise.
Said Luke, “It’s not fair you’re aware.”
Miranda thought, “Class is a bore.
“I can’t stand to sit on floor.”
She talked and she sighed
And she shouted with pride.
So Finlay he showed her the door.