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Winding Down

Group PhotoIt’s been a year.

And now we’re nearly done.

We went outside last week to take a picture to give to all the amazing people we have been working with this year.

Lida got her poster on Friday, as did two of our volunteers who have been faithful companions through this year.

It’s been wonderful and amazing and heartbreaking and and and….

I wonder if we will continue next year. The journey is still uncertain. I’ll be posting still to this site to show all the other things that have happened in this whirlwind month. Like going to Cirque Mechanique with our small class. And playing with Lida (three times since I’ve last posted!!! I’m not keeping up.).

The most amazing thing has been that we have seen students grow and learn. The amount of change, the amount of community building in this group has been phenomenal. We see students sitting together in the cafeteria, crossing language sub-groups. We see them as a welcoming cohort, bringing others in with an easy smile. We see them as young people who really needed help, and for the most part, are ready to move ahead.

Our posts will continue through the YES program (year end studies… a fairly new program at BHS that allows students a chance to explore with adults) because I will be leading some of these people on a “Welcome to Burlington” tour. We’ll be exploring all sorts of sites in and around Burlington.

It should be fun.

But I’m still not done with our class.

So stay tuned, dear readers. We’re not done yet!


Noisy Focus: Be Mindful of the Beat

Lindsay has been teaching us this year about maintaining focus.

And what is that really?

We are so incredibly focused on multitasking that we just can’t focus. It’s crazy.

And so we’re working a little bit about how to undo that.

When we are breathing, we try to pay attention to where our mind goes. We try to focus on different body parts, and when we lose focus, we notice it, and refocus. Lose focus? Breathe and refocus. Get angry? Breathe and refocus.

It’s really about trying to figure out what should have the biggest chunk of one’s attention at any given time.

And if you’re a teen-ager, it’s even harder.

248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_I walked into the room just this morning, saw four boys sitting at the back tables, each glued to his iPad. They had focus all right.

And now, back to Lindsay.FullSizeRender 4

We did breathing, brought in a little creativity as we all came up with our own movements to breathe, and then we played this game.

One of our students got so excited of learning the pattern that she ran around the room and asked to play the game with almost everybody.

One student knew it would be a challenge, so she tried, and then she hid.

But the important thing is that she tried.

And all successes are just that: successes!

Classified: My Frought Journey Into Little Boxes

Now here is a great blog post. It really gets to the heart of what I’m struggling with now.

This view of  kind of describes the turmoil I put myself through in trying to create a lesson for students on describing family members. In order to say what our family members look like, we have to draw lines. Is he short, or is he tall?

To give our students the words they need to be able to use English to describe their friends in the cafeteria, we really have to draw those lines. If there are few choices, we are severely limited. The blog post above, A Simple Lesson on the Social Construction of Race, shows how limited choices lead to really harsh lines in many areas, not just height:

“Skin color is like height.  If we just look at three groups with very different skin colors, there appears to be a significant and categorical difference between those three groups of people. But, if we consider a wide range of people, it becomes clear that skin color comes in a spectrum, not in categories (such as the five from which U.S. citizens are forced to choose on the census).”

And therein lies my problem.

When I am asking students to describe how they look or how to compare themselves to a family member, it’s all so sticky when they don’t have much of an English word bank to go on. And giving them lots of choices is also not very productive.

Suzy did the lesson while I was off teaching Kevin’s class. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

I avoided the skin tone issue on the word wall I put up, but students asked. Suzy tried to introduce the concept of “light skinned” to a Congolese student. The student ended up associating “light skinned,” a concept she was not familiar with, and “white skinned,”


Now to deal with this, we would have to try, in very simplistic terms, to get into skin color and what that means. So we’ll cross that bridge later.

Here is the amazing work that Suzy got our class to do:


  • I can say what I look like
  • I can say what someone looks like
  • Able to use basic descriptive words (pretty, ugly, tall, short, young, old, big, little)
  • I understand basic opposite terms
  • Able to identify family (father, mother and so on) and their relationship to me (older sister)and whether they are in school or no
  • I am able to sort items into categories

Celebrating the end of testing

I won’t really get the tests ready to go until this week, but last week, IMG_0231we did a little celebrating. It was important.

Testing this time of year, particularly when it is overlapping with other testing, too, is brutal. So we brought food and drink and added that to our shopping trip booty, and we had a nice little party.

Sometimes, you just have to take a break.

We also taught our students the art of photo-bombing. Such an important skill in a classroom where everybody is issued a camera…

Check out Ms. King with another student in the background of this picture!

So cute…

So check out our party. We had a great time!


How fun! There is an awesome article about our Flynn artist Lida Winfield on the KidsVT website. This is the picture they Winfield with ExcELL students at Burlington High School - MATTHEW THORSENused of our class.


I think it’s great that such a wonderful teacher is getting such good press, and it’s even nicer that she’s taking us along for the ride!

Looking forward to another great Lida day on Friday!!! Body parts and using rating scales to compare things like family sizes, noise and pain. SUCH GREAT WORK!!!

Grant to fund Math

As we start thinking about next year and this group, we are noticing that we need more to make math concepts tangible. If you are a fan of our work, I’d love for you to consider giving to my DonorsChoose project to get primary math manipulatives to help these students learn:

Hi Friends,

I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed, so I just created a request for my classroom at

Making Concepts Touchable

Give to my classroom by March 27, 2015 and your donation will be doubled thanks to Just enter the code SPARK on the payment page and you’ll be matched dollar for dollar (up to $100).

If you chip in to help my students, you’ll get awesome photos and our heartfelt thanks.

Thanks so much,

P.S. If you know anyone who may want to help my classroom, please pass this along!

Push and Pull of Learning English

Lida came last week on Friday. She’ll be here again tomorrow. And we are psyched!

We LOVE LOVE LOVE working with the Flynn.

If you take just a few minutes to watch the videos, you will see smiles and hear laughter. It’s just so lovely.

Picture yourself in a new country where everything seems just not comfortable. How open would you be to learning? The idea of being ready to learn is foundational in learning to be a teacher of English to speakers of other languages.


This is part of Stephen Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis, which, in a nutshell, says that when you are under a lot of stress, there’s not much room left in your brain to learn.

I think we’ve all been there… worrying about something else while sitting in a class or trying to read something and realizing that we’ve not understood a single thing.

Now imagine that’s your life.

And now, imagine it with Lida, who is asking students to do silly things. We laugh. We play. We learn.

And it’s all good.

Check out the page where we talk about last week’s class. And be sure to tune in next week to see what we do tomorrow! So excited…