Just Relax!

Ms. Denise from the Center for Mindful Learning stopped by our class today.

IMG_0131Before she showed up, we decided to shake up our seating, though. Complaints have been made… Whispers of cultural isolationism… And so we’ll fight it head on. Some students whose language is in a noticeable minority in our classroom feel as though they are swimming through a sea of Nepali. The discussions are pervasive. And though we believe in second language use in the classroom, we also believe that our room is a room where it should be safe to practice English, to make mistakes, to try and fail and have it be OK.

One of our biggest hopes for our students is that they become independent learners, unafraid to face the world and ready to leave the comfort of their language sub-group. And if we have to force the issue, I guess that’s the way it is.

Yesterday was the first day for three new students. And it happened to be a Lida day. They must have felt so off-center. I can’t wait until they have a little more English so we can ask: What were you thinking? Did it really make you uncomfortable when we had to touch strangers’ knees before trying to move to another seat? Did you like it? Did you hate it? So much I want to know…

I was talking to my friend and colleague Nijaza, who asked if we forced our students to participate. And the answer is yes. Kind of. We didn’t force the new students to touch each others’ knees. But we do expect it from the group that is already here, already part. We’ve explained that in this space, it’s OK, even if you know that outside it would not be normal to touch someone of the opposite sex. It’s learning. It needs to be safe.

So today, we took new seats. Suzy put out sticky notes. They had to find their spots and then introduce themselves to a new table. We introduced ourselves to people we don’t normally sit with, talked about our ages, wrote them down, then put them in order. BIG PICTURE we’re working toward being able to put items on a scale.  The particular scale we are moving toward is the Wong-Baker scale that maybe you’ve seen in the pediatrician’s office. wong_baker_faces

Once students can figure out that they can put coins in order of value or size and can compare ages, we want them to be able to measure their pain. And then to be able to talk about it.

When I was at the doctor’s office last with my own daughter, she must have been asked four or five times to put her pain on a scale of 1-10, by the nurse, the doctor, the intern… It’s a very important skill to have.

Anyway, back to Denise…

We started by using the sentence frame “My name is _______________ and I feel _________________.”

I find us relying a LOT on the written word, and thankful our students can access that information. At least to some extent.

31Zjf72EdfL._SY300_Some were happy. Some were sad. Some were tired. One was angry. And this is OK.

Where do you feel these things?

I feel tired in my head. I feel tired in my shoulders. I feel sick in my neck.

And where do you feel relaxed?

In my feet. In my knees. In my hands.

We started tightening and relaxing our bodies. We talked about how our bodies felt after we tightened and relaxed. And then she did something that really helped get the concept home.

Denise asked Suzy to play arguing with her. Denise froze, in the middle of an angry gesture, then said: “What should I do?” And one of our students who will soon be transitioning out said: “Relax.”

We watched as two brave students play-acted the scene again, and we counted 3 and called out, “Relax!”

We watched as Denise walked feverishly, saying she was thinking too much. We counted 3 and called out, “Relax.”

We practiced walking fast, then walking slow. We talked about how our body felt after we did that.

Then we listened to music and relaxed. It was still a bit bumpy. But it was good.

I think we’re hitting a stride. This just might help.

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