Remember the Reader: a note to our student writers

Many years ago, I heard a talk given by Heidi Jacobs at a NESA Conference in Bangkok.  Before she began, Heidi introduced us to 2 empty cream colored padded dining room chairs behind her on the stage.  Heidi went on to explain that those chairs were there to remind us that our target audience is always our students.  (Today I’d put out a row of them.)

I was reminded of Heidi when I viewed  Daniel Pink’s Pinkast on the empty chair.  He explains that the empty chair represents the “most important person in the room who is not in the room.”  In Heidi’s case it was the student, of course.  Pink then goes on to explain that an empty chair can be useful in our work, especially when we write.

I was intrigued.

So I went online and ordered a  box of plastic miniature chairs.

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The next writing class, I viewed the video with my ELLs but paused it after Pink talks about the empty chair in meetings.  It did not take long for my ELls to understand  that the empty chair represented their reader.

Next, they eagerly and energetically chose a chair and got back to work.

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So now, when conferencing, all I need to do is point to a chair if I am confused or need clarification.

By the way, pease notice one student’s reader, rubber duck , strategically perched on his chair.

World Read Aloud Day

Our librarian, Ms Ilana, helped us celebrate World Read Aloud Day.  As we are reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, Ilana chose to read us Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah.  My high school ELLs often think they are too cool for a story.  However, they sat quietly and heard the uplifting story of a young boy from Ghana who overcomes his deformity, realizes his dream  and  fights for the rights of the disabled in his country.

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I had begun our lesson by showing the moving Nike ad: ‘RE2SPECT’, in celebration of Derek Jeter’s career.

I wonder if my students got the connection?

 

Using Art to Teach Theme

I was always very proud of my hanging files of laminated images of clothing, climate, and food which I used when I taught French as a foreign language.  Back in the day.    I never thought twice about showing a print of a Matisse painting to practice creating dialogues on hobbies.

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However, although I decorate my class room with various prints, postcards and original student art and photographs; I hardly ever use them as a springboard to discussion in my intermediate to advanced ELL courses.

Until I read the following:

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By the way, over the years Jeff Wilhelm’s ideas have greatly inspired my teaching which, of course, benefit my students’ learning.

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We are currently reading American Born Chinese by G.L.Yang,  and Wilhelm’s lesson plan on visuals and identity seemed taylor-made for our discussions on growing up.  The  students completed a see, think, wonder chart,  and I was surprised at how much guidance they needed in ‘close’ reading of an image even though we’d already practiced noticing detail in photographs.

My takeaway was obvious.  There is a need for more analysis of visuals.  I have chosen several images to promote thinking and writing on how culture shapes who we are.  I am looking forward to a lively discussion. My students from countries such as France, Spain, Angola, Russia and South Korea are well aware of the small changes they have had to make in order to fit in to an American international school.

Students As Teachers

We know that learners make effective teachers. However, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised when my 9th grade ELLs created a compelling introductory lesson to the plight of the refugees.  This was part of our broader unit based on the purpose question of ‘Why do some people survive?’

I gave the students some relevant links as well as guidelines for designing an effective lesson such as a hook and  engaging activities.  They divided themselves into groups with each one taking responsibility for one part of the lesson.

They introduced the topic with  a TED ED video, and continued with a slide show.

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They concluded the lesson with  a handout of a Venn Diagram to check whether we understood the differences and similarities between refugees and migrants.

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The students exceeded my expectations, and I told them so.

I will close our long unit by reading aloud the powerful The Journey, by Francesca Sanna,

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and the stunning, award winning book hiding behind it, Shackleton’s Journey.  Actually, it has occurred to me as I finish this post that this book will make a powerful paired text to London’s The Call of the Wild which we have read as a class novel: dog/man against nature.

Thanksgiving: a celebration of gratitude

Thanksgiving is full of rich learning experiences. This year my high school ELL class sat in the cozy, colorful elementary school section of the library.  Some even dared to relax on the carpet.

“Are you sitting comfortably”? asked Ms Ilana as she showed us the cover of The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper.  I , meanwhile, experienced a flashback to the welcoming, warm opening of the BBC’s ‘Listen With Mother’…

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The students settled into a quiet, listening mode as our narrator told of the grandfather who explained to his grandson the universal meaning of kindness.  We did not discuss the message, but held on to our thoughts as we completed thanksgiving cutouts on what we are thankful for.

On our way out, we stapled our gratitude to the thankful  tree.

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The idea for the next part of the lesson  came from McGill’s timely post ‘An Open Mind’

I asked each student where she or he is from and as  I teach in an international school the replies were diverse.  While viewing  ‘The DNA Journey’, the students jotted down ideas on an index card to help them articulate ideas for the discussion and written response.

My ELLs were shocked and intrigued; pointing out that we are so quick to define our differences rather than our similarities.

As one student responded:

“Just by spiting in a tube you can know where you are REALLY from.”

 

The end of something: a reflection on retirement

It didn’t take long for Al Pacino’s definition of retirement: “death with benefits” (Righteous Kill) to put me off the word.   It is not an action verb as far as I’m concerned.  I prefer to think of the following quote by F.Rogers via Time Ferris’ The 4 Hour Work Week

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else”.

However, as a pessimist, this is not easy for me.  But I am trying  hard to believe.

Last month I handed in my notice after over 30 years of teaching.  I am fortunate that I am not burned out.  I have decided to leave because I feel it is the right time both professionally and more importantly, personally. A very dear friend once told me to leave with a smile on my face, and that is just what I’m going to do.

The desire to learn from others, keep up with my YA reading and integrate new activities into my lessons are as strong as ever.

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In my posts, I will continue to reflect on my teaching learning until next June.  However, I will sprinkle the posts with some musings and wishes in preparation for the new beginnings.

I know the transition from the school schedule to my own will be hard.  However, almost everyone I know who has left the classroom is enjoying their new freedom.  As a wise friend who began his retirement by reading War and Peace wrote to me, “I don’t know how anyone has time for work.” I wish that feeling for myself.