Category Archives: ESL

What Exactly Do We Mean by Safe?

9/11/01 was a Tuesday.  That year, I met with my 5th grade class of gifted students every Tuesday.  We had just begun reading the The Giver, by Lois Lowry, when another teacher beckoned me to the door and whispered to me about a plane that had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Even then, as sadness overwhelmed me, I had no inclination of the far-reaching consequences of that day’s events.

At the beginning of The Giver, the fictional community is surprised by the sound of an unexpected plane flying overhead.  The inhabitants, unused to surprises, are fearful – until they are assured by a disembodied voice over the village loudspeakers that the matter has been dealt with and, “Needless to say, the pilot has been released.”

Readers do not find out until later that “released” is a euphemism for extermination.

As I walked our dog through our neighborhood the evening of 9/11, the eerie silence of the skies overhead in my own community near the airport chilled me to the bone.  Many people had been “released” that day in a way most of us could never have imagined.  Everyone I knew felt bereft, confused, and deeply frightened. I thought about the dystopian world of The Giver, where everything was safe but there was no freedom or emotion.

“This is how it begins,” I thought.  Fear.

When I ask my students how such a community as the one in The Giver, where people cannot even choose their own spouses, could ever come to be acceptable, they are often surprised by this question.  Because this is a fictional story, a fictional world.  It came to be because an author imagined it, and for no other reason.  It is incomprehensible to them that anyone could accept such an existence without rebellion in the real world.

We have a lot of discussions about freedom and safety and the barely perceptible line that separates the two.  I explain to my students some of the events of World War II – how hate and fear caused so much suffering around the world.  Those who haven’t heard of concentration camps are stunned – and many of the students are even more surprised to hear that we had Japanese internment camps in our own country.  In hindsight, it seems so unbelievable that the United States, defender of human rights, could also be guilty of stripping away those rights.

In Lois Lowry’s Newbery award speech for The Giver, she describes one of the many events that contributed to her story.  She was with her daughter, and had just heard a news story about a mass killing, and asks her to be quiet so she can hear the details.

“Then I relax. I say to her, in a relieved voice, ‘It’s all right. It was in Oklahoma.’ ( Or perhaps it was Alabama. Or Indiana.) She stares at me in amazement that I have said such a hideous thing. How comfortable I made myself feel for a moment, by reducing my own realm of caring to my own familiar neighborhood. How safe I deluded myself into feeling.”

I have not felt safe since 9/11.  It is not the terrorists who make my stomach knot. It has been the slow erosion of freedom that has become our new normal as we desperately attempt to avoid ever experiencing that horror again.  Every year, as I read The Giver with a new class of 5th graders, I consider how much closer we are to becoming the willing inhabitants of a community like the one in The Giver – safe from terrorists and natural disasters, safe from starvation, and safe from uncomfortable emotions.

No, the people who live in that community have no need to fear any of those things.  Their only threat is the one they don’t see – the people who lead them.  Those leaders – who protect them so rigorously from the menaces that lurk within a free society – will not hesitate to eliminate within their community anyone who might disturb this environment of safe predictability.  By ruthlessly removing anyone weak or different, they are able to maintain equilibrium.

In The Giver, the protagonist, Jonas, has to make the decision to leave the community in order to save it.  His best friend must remain behind to help the community to help it deal with the consequences of Jonas leaving.  But Jonas wants his friend to leave with him, and blurts out that he shouldn’t care about the community.  He immediately regrets his outburst.

“Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”

And so, in this post I want to say that I care.  I care deeply about all humans and their rights, not just the ones who look like me or think like me or live near me.  There are evil people in this world who I fear, but I refuse to believe we must combat them by hurting millions of innocent people ourselves.  I care about the refugees fleeing desperate situations, the men and women whose live are in danger because they allied with our government in foreign countries, and the people who come here for an education so they can return to their countries and make them a better place.  It is wrong and cowardly of our country to turn them away because of fear.  I refuse to remain silent about policies based on prejudice and bigotry.

I am an educator.  In my classroom, it is my duty to remain neutral about politics.  But I refuse to be neutral about human rights. I spend much of the time teaching my students about our global community and the importance of embracing different cultures, and I decline to be a hypocrite.

If you believe that policies that discriminate and punish people of certain races or religious beliefs will keep our country safer, you are wrong.  Instead, we will lose allies and generate more hatred  – endangering us even further.

“I liked the feeling of love,” Jonas confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”

Personally, I think it’s far more dangerous to live without it.

Love Trumps Hate
image from Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr

 

 

 

Standing Ovation for DC Public Schools

Tameka Petticolas – the subject of one of DC Public Schools’s Standing Ovation videos

It is quite obvious from looking at my blog stats that a lot of people on the internet are searching for inspirational videos for teachers.  During this time of year, when many teachers are returning to the classroom to begin a new school year, there is, perhaps, a desire to find some material that will help to motivate and invigorate these educators.

One source for inspirational teacher videos that I discovered recently is a YouTube Channel for DC Public Schools.  On this channel, there are several videos that spotlight Washington D.C. teachers who have won D.C.’s “Excellence in Teaching” Award.

Watching each of these teachers in their classrooms, and their obvious dedication to their students, reminds me of the reasons I went into Education – not for the glory of winning an award, but for the absolute delight exhibited whenever I help a child to reach his or her goal.

From what I can tell, every one of these featured teachers embody the principles of Universal Design for Learning, making them shining examples for teachers all over the world.

The video for one of the teachers, Eduardo Gamarra, is embedded below, or you can go to this link:  http://youtu.be/vy42aoC49LQ

Talk Typer

Talk Typer is a website that works best in the Google Chrome Browser.  Without installing any software, you can choose from several languages, then speak into your microphone, and Talk Typer will print the text of your speech.  You can then look at what it produces, make any corrections you would like, and then move it into the bottom portion of the page.  In this second level, you can e-mail it, tweet it, or even translate it seamlessly into another language.

This free tool could be so useful for ELL classrooms, foreign language classrooms, and even regular classrooms where students might use this as an aid or an extension.  For teachers who are looking to incorporate Universal Design for Learning into their classrooms, I think this resource is essential.

(Here is a link for speech to text options in OSX and Windows 7)

Tap Into the World of Comics

Tap Into the World of Comics is a Slideshare presentation by S. Hendy.  It not only gives examples of sites for creating comics, along with their links, but also offers 26 suggestions for ways to integrate comics with the curriculum.  Presented in the form of a comic, the slide show is visually interesting as well as a creative and valuable resource for educators.

Digital Differentiation

In her post, Digital Differentiation, Susan Oxnevad provides interactive graphics powered by Thinglink.  The “Flexible Learning Paths” graphic is the one with the most resources, providing links to examples of Digital Tools that could be used to help with addressing the needs of many different types of learners.  Almost as interesting as the message she is delivering is the way that she chose to display it.  Thinglink appears to be a powerful tool in itself.  In this age of Pinterest, appealing graphics that can also contain a lot of information are definitely the way to go.

Spelling City

I am not a huge fan of spelling tests, particularly when everyone in the class is responsible for the same words.  However, this site has some amazing tools that will allow you to customize lists for your students.  There are also fun games that they can play to practice those specialized lists.  The site is free, although you need to register.  There are some perks for purchasing a premium membership, but it can still be a valuable tool without all of the bells and whistles.

Stick Pick

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Stick Pick is an iPhone/iPad app with great potential as a teacher tool. The teacher can add one or more classes within the app. To each class, the teacher adds individual student names, determining the type and level of questioning to use for each student from the following categories: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, or ESL. Once all students are entered, their sticks appear in a cup from which the teacher can randomly or purposefully choose names. As each student is chosen, a list of question stems from their particular assigned level appears on the screen. This is a wonderful way for teachers to customize impromptu questions based on ability.