We LOVE Multilingualism!

IMG_1933We’ve been learning the names for body parts in our class. We drew silly pictures of ourselves (I drew Ms. King… Can you see the IMG_2923resemblance???) And we labeled all the major body parts in English.

School board member Brian Cina came to visit that day. His picture was really life-like!

To reinforce, we used sticky notes and labeled each other. I don’t have those pictures yet, but if I get them, you can bet I’ll post.

And then, a few days later, we took those same posters and connected them back to native languages.

For English Language Learners, it’s imperative that we help to make those connections from what they know to what they need to know. That’s called scaffolding. I’ve been reading an amazing book–Multiple Pathways to the Student Brain by Janet Nay Zadina–and she says that one way to learn new material is recognizing patterns, repeating until it’s just known. And recognizing patterns releases dopamine (!), the feel-good chemical.

So we asked our students to repeat the names again and again, label the pictures, label each other, and then, just to bring it home, asked them to bring it back to the familiar.

And we made a DISPLAY!!! (Cue trumpets!) And the students really took pride in their work (something else that Zadina says brings the learning home).

So take a look! (We were also still playing with the new math manipulatives that we got recently… Fun in and out of the classroom!)

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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!

We get by with a little help…

I’m going to start by saying thank you. Thank you to my sister and to my two sweet friends without whom I would not have the tools I desire to teach.

DonorsChoose is an AMAZING tool for teachers that allows us to ask for what we want and for people who love us to help us get it.

And we just got toys.

Yep. Toys.

Money, paper and plastic coins.


Fraction circles.



TONS of math manipulatives. And we let our students play.

What must it be like to grow up where school is memorization? Where 60 students in a room is not unusual?

And we get to change it.

In the words of my mother, also in her time a glorious supporter of my hairbrained projects, “Isn’t it just grand?”

Yeah, Mama. It is!

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Solution to testing woes? Party planning!

We are in the middle of the WIDA ACCESS testing window.

And this test is a bear!

boardEvery student on our caseload must be tested individually in speaking, then there are group tests for reading, writing and listening. The writing test alone is supposed to take an hour.

It’s killer.

So what’s the antidote? Especially after such a long, harsh winter?


We just finished a unit not long ago on money, learning the names of coins and their denominations. We added, determined coin values, compared values… It was great.

Then we started testing. It was sad. Students who know they know stuff in their first language were discouraged. We got through it, but not without hard feelings. And that’s not the community we have been working so hard to build this year in this classroom.

Last week, Suzy had them write invitations to teachers they wanted to invite to the party. And all the students who graduated out of our class would be coming as well. They were asked to send an email to me (I was in Toronto at the TESOL conference… more on that later) to ask me if I would be there and to ask what I would bring.

It’s so important teaching them how to write emails and how to respond. It’s no longer expected that this is a new skill… It’s just expected.

So Monday, we sent emails answering the question, “What will you bring to the party?” They had to search for and send a picture of what they would bring so we could show the class. We made a list of things we should buy for the party. We teachers each pitched in, and we instructed students that whatever we bought had to inthestorecome in at less than $60. We had to think about all the things we needed, then find the prices. We went to the local supermarket’s webpage and searched for the items, then we reported out costs.

So on Tuesday, we went shopping. It had to be a quick trip, because Lindsay from Center for Mindful Learning was coming. We sent students off to look at the signs in the aisles and locate the items on our list, keeping in mind our budget and our guest list. When one student came back with 25 plates, we had to remind them that maybe we would have more than 25 people, and we might have to use some plates for serving. So they went back to find a bigger package. The same thing happened with plasticware.

So much fun!

I’m gathering pictures to talk about the party…



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 DonorsChoose.org:

Making Concepts Touchable

Give to my classroom by March 27, 2015 and your donation will be doubled thanks to DonorsChoose.org. 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…