Tag Archives: cml

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!


Even breathing is sometimes hard


Partner Teacher Suzy was out Tuesday at a meeting. So I had to go it alone.

Kind of.

Lindsay from Center for Mindful Learning came, which meant I wasn’t alone. But she always comes at the end.

IMG_0387For the biggest chunk of time, I was having students deal with money. We had tried to play a game called I Have… Who Has... dealing with money. Great game, but hard when you don’t know the coins.

We tried it on Monday, but it took a really long time, so we tried again on Tuesday, with the hopes that it would go better.

It didn’t.

It takes an awfully long time to learn money and coins. And so we’ll be working on it again tomorrow, and probably going at it again after break.

So hard.

I remember the first time I went to another country. Currency all seemed like Monopoly money. I really didn’t pay much attention to coins. Only the paper seemed to matter. And the first few days visiting the market to buy chocolate, I remember just thrusting a handful of German coins into the cashier’s face, hoping that I had enough to by my Kinderschokolade. And trusting that she would only take as much as she needed.

I had no idea.

And I don’t want my students in those shoes.

moneyNot when money matters.

So this is our next project. I found some price tags online, and students will come up with the way to make the right change. Then they will have to say what coins they used.

We’re using Explain Everything, so eventually the picture on the right will be narrated by voices telling me what those coin pictures are.

It’s hard to say the names.

Hard to remember what they are.

Our Teaching Assistants–who are really just students with study halls who we recruited to be in our classroom–have been really amazing. They need to be instructed on how to help rather than to do for the students they are helping. But they pitch in and do things, even when they feel a bit silly. Some we chose because they were bored in study hall. Some we chose because they really need more exposure to English. And some we chose to keep out of trouble.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

But  Lindsay told us a few weeks ago that mindfulness seems to be the most difficult for the students who need it most. And that was completely apparent on this day.

One student who gets so angry, with justification sometimes, wanted to walk out. He said he had a stomachache and needed to go to the bathroom. We made him stay. Only 20 minutes. (The money game ate into the time. Lindsay stood and watched while we struggled.)

But he stayed. And he breathed.

We tried to play a game where we made our faces look like our emotions. And a new emotion emerged: I don’t know.

We have a couple of new students, though, and one is having difficulty showing any sort of affect at all. Smiles come only rarely. Though one came when we repeatedly were asked to tighten our faces. I think Lindsay was just doing it so students would look at me…

And laugh.

But that’s not so bad.

Muddy Feelings

I love it when it’s a mindfulness day.

IMG_1777It seems like we are all in such need of mindfulness, of shutting off all those things that are keeping us in a bad space during the day…

There are so many things that can throw us off. On this particular day, Suzy stayed in the class and made valentines, found Teal a place to meet with a couple of our students who have followed the Buddhist traditions, and then started working with Lindsay on mindfulness.

I was outside for a long time. With three of our students and a liaison to help them express their frustration with our educational system and the classes we have chosen to put them in.

But that is another blog post. For another day.

For right now, I want to talk to you about the part of the class that I got to see.

IMG_1772Lindsay was talking to students about things they think about and emotions they feel every day. And then we went through this amazing exercise:

She asked them first how they felt, using the list that is at the top of this post. And when they said what they felt, they put a scoop of sand into a jar of water.

Personally, I felt sick. And tired.

And one of the girls I had been talking to felt angry. And that’s OK. It’s so important to let our students know that whatever they are feeling, it’s OK.

It’s OK for me to be tired. It’s OK for her to be angry. It’s OK for us to feel tight and happy and sad and scared and all of that.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

And so we all put in our scoops, and then we all took turns shaking it up. This was a metaphor, done in the most artful of ways. Our emotions shake up in us all day long. We feel lots and lots. And only when we stop to breathe can we really calm down, like the sand that sank to the bottom of the jar.

And that’s why we practice. So we can know what to do when we are feeling all those feelings.

We are so grateful that Center for Mindful Learning is working with us.

We have no idea what these kids bring with them.

We have no idea how that affects their learning and their lives.

And that’s why we need to take a moment to be quiet.

And let the sand settle.


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Yes, I can relax.

Today, Lindsay came by from Center for Mindful Learning.

I did my homework.

It was to do our breathing exercise one time before we see Lindsay again. I did. And I think it helps.

248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_I have just started the 10-week course from CML that we will be modifying for use with beginning level English Language Learners. I made my daughters breathe with me. Just once.

They thought it was weird. But they are game.

In class today, we talked about how we can use breathing when things are not going well, or even when they are. But it’s a way to improve our focus. We can focus better when we breathe.

First, we asked who did homework. If someone said they did not, there was no public humiliation. It was met with positive thoughts. “So next time.”

Then, we breathed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. (We’ve been working at tempo, so we don’t hyperventilate.) After one time around the circle, with each student leading (student participation is a HUGE part of the work we are trying to do), we tried it again.

But this time, a little differently.

We asked each other: “Can you breathe and relax?”

We answered: “Yes, I can do it.”

So after doing a circle of affirmations, we then just breathed, and then each said in turn, “Yes, I can do it.”

What an awesome message to send with students out into the world.

So simple.

So powerful.


Counter-remedy to testing… BREATHE!

Today, we had to give a common assessment in writing.

It is SO frustrating when you don’t have a whole lot of language for someone suddenly to say, “Write!” And then for you to have nothing to write about, because you don’t really know what this person wants.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

I’ve been thinking, though, this morning about how we might be able to use theater games to make our pain lessen… But that’s a post for another day.

After putting our students through torture, I left to see what was going on in Kevin Cross’s class. Where we did torture again. But I was sent an audio file after class was over.

One aspect of the mindfulness work that we are doing with Center for Mindful Learning is to get students to lead. We need to make them speak individually and to understand and own the task. So today, it sounds like what they did was breathe. And perhaps, after such an amazingly difficult task, that is exactly what they should have done.

I talked to Suzy after class, and she told me that the mindfulness work they did was just as challenging as the writing we did–just in a different way.

First, they did some positive talk. “Can you relax for five minutes?” Answer: “Yes, I can.”

After that, they tried to focus and concentrate on being relaxed for five minutes. Suzy said the atmosphere in the classroom went from being antsy and jittery to a really calm calm feeling. Lindsay was talking them through it, asking if they were staying focused, letting them know that if they weren’t, it was OK. They could find that focus again.

Afterwards, they talked about how hard it was, measuring with their hands. They put their hands close together to show it was easy for them, far apart if it was hard.

Suzy said as a teacher, it was difficult to NOT worry about managing behaviors. For her, it was not an easy task.

So we all have stuff to work on. And sometimes, it’s just giving up that bit of control. Wanna join us?

Take a minute or three.

Sit up straight.


Changing up the faces

soryupicLast week, Center for Mindful Learning’s guiding teacher, Soryu Forall, came to our class. He had never been and didn’t know quite what to expect. He came a bit late. Our school is big. And some days, parking can be at a premium. And so he came a bit late.

He and Suzy know each other. He was expecting to see her. But he saw me instead. We had met briefly at a gathering last summer, but I apparently made no lasting impression.

But he was here. And it was good. We got the room in a circle and we started talking about feelings. And what it means to be proud.IMG_0148

What a word, “proud.” How do you explain that? You can give situations in which one might feel proud, but how do you explain that? Without words? Without context?

It’s hard. Soryu said it was when you felt good about what you did. And that’s right. But it’s still kind of nebulous.

He has a fabulous mind for names. He remembered everybody after having gone around the circle once. That’s an amazing feat: to remember names that sound so different from those we are used to hearing. He confessed to me afterwards that he was able to do that only when the names were not of the culture we’re used to. He had such an easy way with banter around the students. It was awesome.

He made one great connection, with a student who happens to be Buddhist. He thought Soryu was a lama. He’s not. But he is a teacher. And he has a great laugh that shook the room.

He talked to Suzy afterward and relayed that for mindfulness, we need to be able to differentiate positive and negative feelings, and be able to say what you do to help you get through those negative feelings: When I am angry, I breathe. When I am frustrated, I relax.

We have that sentence frame down. But I don’t think we’ve got the whole concept of positive and negative feelings down. Nor do we really have that causal relationship solidified in English.

We’ve been trying to get students to mimic the sentence, “When I am cold, I wear _____.” But I don’t think there is necessarily a causal relationship present in the construction of the phrase. Rather, it’s causal that the teacher says it, so I say it back.

It was good to have a fresh set of eyes on our class. And it was good to feel like we have a direction that will help us move forward.