Empowerment through Language...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beautiful Learning Minds

I have ended my school days this week with a self-contained class of children with special needs, just four, plus their teacher and aide. When I walk into a classroom, I have no preconceived notions and when I am scheduled for special education classes, I have to assess the potential and adapt my lesson plan or activity on the spot. I am fortunate that I have a skill for improvisation and response in the moment. It comes in handy in any teaching circumstance, actually.

First, let me say how much I appreciate the commitment of these two educators to their students. I do not mention the teachers I work with by name, nor the districts in which I am working, in order to protect the identity of students, and I wish I could break my own rule and call out the teachers. But let me, instead, just say that the primary teacher is in her second year and I see her exhibiting so much authenticity in her relationship with the students in her room.

My first visit, of four scheduled, I realized very quickly that the four young faces before me wanted to be a part of my activity but I needed to change my approach quickly. I knew that we had to move, do something kinesthetic, and I took cues from the teacher. We made a river with the words in the Alphabet Poem, after the search throughout the room for the letters they needed to find.

The teacher was able to see her students recalling the learning they had achieved this school year so far from a perspective she never gets to have, as participant observer. They kept giving answers that showed they got it. The teacher and aide were totally surprised at the responses. And encouraged. Then we did some dancing and all of us had an opportunity to laugh and stretch together.

Day 2, the students showed how much they remembered from the day before and it exceeded our expectations again. We danced like animals in the poem, we danced like birds flying over rivers, streams, ponds, we danced like we were waves hitting the beach. Then we all did the hula, at the prompting of one of the four young ones. Again, the teacher witnessed her children in moments of great success.

Day 3, we started by reviewing the Alphabet Poem to talk about other words that started with key letters. As the students started saying what they know about words, the sentences they spoke were so poetic, I started listing them on the interactive white board, realizing that we were writing a poem together. It turned out so wonderfully. And the teacher and I taught each other new skills on the board as wel cpatured this poetry from the lips of the kids. We did happy dances as each of the animals we discussed as we composed our poem. Again, the teacher was surprised and delighted by the responses she heard.

Today was my fourth day, I returned to the classroom to four eager learners. We read their favorite dinosaur book together. We surprised the aide returning after a day off with the poem that illustrated so much achievement. We celebrated the poem and then we sat to draw the illustrations of what each remembered of the poem and the pix were fabulous. I cannot download them for some reason this evening so it will have to wait until tomorrow but I promise you will see some terrific art!

I left them to return to their routine after 4 days of play with words, movement, joy. But we won't forget each other and by my just joining them for a few days and changing the focus, we all saw these beautiful children as beautiful learning machines. I hope that they saw themselves as successful as well.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Little Miracles Every Day

My busy season has started. I am blessed with bookings from January through mid-April and perhaps more will unfold. I lost a couple of weeks that were in the plan due to a school rethinking its budget but I will still be ok. I also have gotten a handful of smaller opportunities that replace a portion of that income so all will work out, I am sure.

This is the way I live now, independent and with trust that all is well and the highest good for all involved will unfold. The pace of my life is still busy often but not frantic as it was and I have more time for life in its fullest. I am learning how to pace my income and outgo to get me through the times with no work and it is remarkable that it has worked.

Tomorrow I finish my current residency with 6th graders and a teacher I love working with so I can spend 2 nights in my home and head out of town again to another school in a different part of the state. I have to say goodbye to about 75 students who have given me their trust and respect. They have also truly engaged in the creative process that I have invited them to share with me. This has been a great experience for us all.

I have seen children who never apply themselves in class produce poems they are proud of, stay focused, and complete tasks. I have seen a student offer to partner with a student with seeming cognitive challenges during a peer review session and not receive input herself, just to be a good classmate. I have witnessed young men who rarely share their emotions write of the death of their beloved grandparents, their favorite pets, the challenge of their own chemotherapy in facing cancer. I have watched as young ladies who have been witnesses to domestic violence speak openly in verse and somehow strengthen themselves in the process.

These students have been patiently investigating a single poem by Nikki Giovanni with me for 3 days, unfolding meaning for themselves and learning new skills. They have learned how the brain will interpret language in a completely different way just because a series of line breaks have shifted a sentence into smaller phrases, making way for breath.

And they have laughed with me as well as at me, which was always the appropriate response. I will leave them tomorrow and we will all be sad for the parting. But I trust that I leave behind something of value and they have all given me treasures I will hoard for those days when I think I haven't accomplished a thing. Thanks to my host teacher for the amazing educator she is and for inviting me to gain so much from her students. I am honored, grateful, and blessed beyond all comprehension. This is my life and livelihood. Imagine that!