Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lights! Cameras! Action!!! Films are being created in room 115!

Today, Ben and Caitlin are helping my students really start making our Pearson/NEA Foundation videos! Yesterday, we started with a few ideas, but today was very exciting!

First, all the students had to brainstorm. What IS it about my teacher that I like and that makes our class special? I was blushing at my desk and added that the movie could be all about how learning language and culture is so special!!!

We decided that it would be great to make a funny movie with a point. Sure, I'm a nice lady, but what is it about learning language and culture that makes us sing with joy???

Every student has access to video cameras which are palm-sized and numbered. This way, we can see what movies were made by whom. One of my students - Fred - has a camera of his own so he can upload the student footage to a hard drive and create from there.

Every pair or triad is making a movie and shooting footage and then there will be one coordinated movie which combines it all into an artistic whole. I could feel the air fill with excitement as students engaged in this process. I think that what they liked best was ordering me around!

"Hey, Maestra - walk there! No - this is the background, a little to the right!"

It's hysterical! They are up out of their seats and walking around, finding things to shoot and scenes to make.

Tomorrow, we have two senior classes and a free period which will help us get a lot done. The kids are in charge! I know that they can do it with the help of the Pearson team!

Monday, November 29, 2010

NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence - Making movies!

Ben and Caitlyn, from the Pearson Foundation, came to my classroom today! They are a teaching film crew sent as part of my NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence. Pearson and the NEA Foundation partner on this part of the award.

My students will learn digital arts so they can learn an important tool while making a movie about me. We have four days to make this happen!

This wonderful award is sponsored by the NEA Foundation with support from the Horace Mann Companies, NEA Member Benefits, the NEA, and the Pearson Foundation.

The award program is called “The NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence" which is what all state winners receive. The next level up are “The Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence” which I received along with four other teachers in the country! In February, we'll all find out who has received “The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence”. This is the national award which will be given to only one of the Horace Mann recipients.

This is the reason that my students are getting digital arts training and my colleagues will have professional development later in the week.

I have every confidence in my students. I've left it in the hands of my trusty seniors who have taken on this challenge with great gusto. Today, period 2 walked into class after a four-day weekend and looked a bit worse for the wear. Hoodies were up and a few looked bleary eyed!! Oh, no!

Luckily, they picked up steam as the project got underway. Ben and Caitlyn explained how the job was to be done and the students got interested and excited about the digital learning. I'm so happy that an award I've won will help my students learn.

I have a cold today so I wasn't in my best stride. Still - it was thrilling to have these guys visit and take over the classroom. What an interesting and privileged experience!

The first thing they did was have the kids brainstorm exactly what sort of movie they would like to make about me. I admit that I felt a bit shy as Ben and Caitlyn told the students what an honor I had achieved. My only hope is that my students - who so well know me as a real-life person they see every day, will see that achievement is in their hands. Maybe they will get inspired to reach for some dream that they wouldn't have without having lived this ride with me.

The other thing that the Pearson folks said was that they want the movie to be made up of largely student faces. In years past, there have been many administrators and staff talking about the teacher, but this year - they want it to be youth voices that speak loudest and clearest. I am interested in seeing how we pull this together in a few days. I am planning on making a movie of the movie with my flip video. This would give me a reflective experience which could document what we are doing! Maybe it will help other teachers who are creating a video project in their classrooms. I hope so!

Tomorrow is day two! I'll keep posting about this on the blog as we go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

ACTFL - a gathering of language professionals!

I am in Boston at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Conference! There are 7,500 people here learning about how to teach languages better. They are meeting, talking, presenting! All though the hallways of the Sheraton and the Hynes Convention Center, you hear the sounds of many languages. People come here from all over the world and create connections. The place is hopping!

I came here and was given the ACTFL Northeast Regional Conference Teacher of the Year Award. Clarissa Adams Fletcher is the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year as well as the Southern Conference on Language Teaching, Teacher of the Year! (Clarissa is in the middle of the above picture). Martha Pero is the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language, Teacher of the Year. Amy Velasquez represents the Pacific Northwest Council for Languages and Stephen Van Orden is the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching TOY.

We TOYS got to know each other really well over the past few days. To apply for the award, each of us, had to create a 50 page portfolio, replete with recommendations from colleagues, students and supervisors, samples of student work as well as a 30 minute film clip of our teaching.

Once we got to Boston, we had to individually meet with a panel who asked us questions about language and culture. The hardest bit was when we had to give a "mock press conference" to talk about issues of importance in language. We couldn't have notes at all and had to just launch into it.

I prepared by writing out my thoughts the day before and then, just before going to the interview, finding the seven words that would help me remember my sequence of ideas. I then looked for silly pictures to connect with those words to further assist my mind in retrieving information and thought. It worked! I am a visual learner and the pictures brought the ideas right into my head.

Yesterday morning, all of us were gathered on the stage in front of an audience of 3,500 people! The atmosphere was electric as each one of us walked across the stage, our pictures flashing on two giant screens. We didn't know who was going to win so each of us had thought about what we would say to the audience if chosen.

Our ACTFL staffers said that it would be a good idea to write a few words down, but where to put these words? I was wearing a fancy suit with no pockets at all. My solution was to stuff a piece of paper with my speech up my left sleeve and to hold my eyeglasses in my right hand, sort of stuffed up my right sleeve.

My great fear was that it would all drop out of my hands and sleeve onto the stage - crack, step, slip! In the end, it worked out and it turns out that I didn't need to say anything anyway! Clarissa kept her words to the audience simple, but sincere so she didn't have any Magna Carta in danger of slipping out of her clothing. Good for her and a lesson learned for me!

If I am in such a situation again, I will say something nice with no paper, look at the people, smile, pause and never try to stuff papers or glasses up any sleeves! Eeee gads!!

You learn something every day, even little things that make you laugh at yourself in moments of apparent glory!

Friday, November 12, 2010

It’s a Friday and I’m done my work, but am just sitting here for a bit. Grades are out and another chapter begins. I hear the kids cheering on the field outside and my colleagues clicking down the hallway to go home. After a while, you know which clicks belong to which person. People all have a particular beat.

The end of a marking period often seems exhausting for everyone - it can like an interruption of our regularly scheduled program, rather than something that joyfully demonstrates progress. When it goes well, it’s an opportunity for meaningful feedback. It should help a student find his direction, determine her strengths and weaknesses, plan for future growth.

Well, for some students it does, but others are saddened by that missing half a point. I want to tell them that this half a point will not define them.

They will be defined by whom they love and who loves them back, by finding their favorite foods and work in the world. They will be defined by thousands of actions seen and unseen. Some of what they do will make them feel proud of themselves and some things will later enter the realm of the regrettable.

Things like…

the white lie to a parent about something trivial, that - when remembered, burns their lips,
the party they should have left earlier,
the friend who betrayed them,
the friend they betrayed,
the child they didn't have time for,
the batch of cookies they ate by themselves,
the invisible kid they didn't befriend,
the teasing they watched, silently,
the words they wished they had the courage to say,
the words they wished they had only thought,
the lesson they ignored and now need,
the story from a grandparent they brushed off and now crave,
the story they were afraid to write…

So many things that will define them and none of them include the half point. The half point is a snapshot and there will be so many more such markers which will become part of the flow of their well-lived lives.

They will look back and savor…

the taste of ice cream with friends,
the win on the soccer field,
the way the bat felt in their hands,
the first time a girl or boy liked them in that way,
the Eagle Scout award,
the first time they took an unpopular stand they believed in,
the time they wanted to cheat, but didn't,
Thanksgiving Dinner, with all of their relatives,
loading their favorite songs onto an ipod and sitting back and listening,
leading a school activity that people came to,
realizing that their parents were once kids too,
making mud pies with their little sister,
the taste of pizza at lunch, after starving all morning,
the feel of the steering wheel when they got their license,
a first kiss
becoming student of the week,
running down the street with soaking wet hair, in a summer rain,
the smell of apple muffins,
earning their first dollar,
helping someone learn to read,
ladling out soup in the shelter,
sleeping on fresh sheets under a soft comforter..

I look outside and see that the sun is still shining on a triad of orange, crimson and yellow mums. Time to go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Moments of grace

Time doesn't move at an even pace. Sometimes it seems to halt a bit, allowing us to watch what's happening more closely.

In one of my Spanish classes, students are reading a story called, "El vendedor de globos." They need to work together to create a picture sequence of the story's main events.

Our rule in class is "no English" so it's fun to see how the kids negotiate meaning to get the job done.

I typically bounce from group to group to offer encouragement and information, but today, I see that they are fine on their own for a while so I sit down and watch them interact.

Everyone is speaking in Spanish: The comment about the state soccer game after school, the question about information from page four, paragraph two, the request for a pencil - all in Spanish.

"Globos, muchos globos de muchos colores!" "Lots of colorful balloons," says one girl, grabbing a bunch of markers. "I'll do it!"

They are busy. The girl in the Highlands t-shirt is checking meaning and the boy wearing shorts in November is at the dictionary. "Good," I think, "use the tools we have in the room."

They forget I am here when they get involved in the task.

"Did the man die in the end?" says a lanky kid with a mop of blond curls to his partner. "I think he dies because the white balloon floats up. It's like his spirit floating up." The other kid shrugs and nods while sketching what he is saying. He is translating the Spanish words into pictures.

Good stuff.

But that's not the best part. What I like about today is watching my students interact. They don't fully know how wonderful they are. They are living in this classroom, on the sports field or stage. They write poems or make movies, participate in clubs, dance, work a part time job. They go home to a nice dinner in the evening. Their lives are busy, but they have big dreams. Everything is possible and the future is a vast expanse.

And I have a ringside seat.

I watch a new language bloom in their lives. I get the first surprised look when they understand something in Spanish that they once thought was impossible. I see them become super heroes of culture, masters of communication, intrepid ambassadors who understand how connecting communities is our most important modern work.

Next to watching your own child take its first steps, there isn't a more privileged job to have.

It takes a lot of trust in both directions. I know that they will learn. What they don't get today, will come tomorrow as long as we keep giving them tools, enrichment and strategies. It will definitely happen.

They trust me to know how to lead them to knowledge, culture and new words to speak their feelings and thoughts in Spanish.

The class leaves and I stay a while after school, to read journals. Grades are due in a couple of days so we are down to the wire.

I read about six journals when I get to Carla's: "I like learning so peacefully and being happy in this class."

Sounds like a good place for me to end my day. I close the black and white composition notebook and run my fingers over the marble design before I put it in the bin.

I shut the door to my classroom and go to my car, parked at the far end of the lot. It's already dark outside and the parking lot lights are on. I hear the leaves rustle under my feet.

Time starts to speed up as I think about sizzling some salmon and tossing a salad at home for my family. Switching gears.