Saturday, September 22, 2012

More light!

Here are some of my recent favorite EFL activities. 

          We managed to finish the ‘Personal Excellence’ bulletin board just in time for Back-to-School night.  We ended up writing a list of adjectives. It was easier for the students to understand when they thought of it as a fill in the blank activity. For example, “I’m showing personal excellence when I’m (brave, generous, kind, etc.).”   We started applying these qualities as we worked on our first fiction and non-fiction language arts unit on pets. Our journal topic became, “What personal excellence qualities do you need to own a pet?”  As you can imagine the list they each came up with was long.  Afterwards they enjoyed talking and sharing their ideas.                      

I’ve also been watching intently to see when the student’s energy rises and when the joy starts showing through their eyes and faces.  Naturally, this happened as they talked about their pets.  Since I wanted them to experience more this year I knew I had to have a “pet day”.  I asked them to bring in their pets if they could (pictures if they couldn’t) and share their pet stories with the whole class.  It was just plain fun learning and sharing!  Thanks to help from many parents, we had many dogs, birds, hamsters, a python, two bearded dragons (that's one of them on the right), turtles and tortoises.  No cats, because of student allergies.  Next week we have to practice our 5 paragraph essays complete with introduction, body, conclusions.  The topic will, of course, be PETS to make it less painful!

    I must say that sometimes the rise in energy and joy catches me by surprise because their interests are so varied.  For example, in attempting to make history more relevant for them we went over the meaning of the phrase, “We are who we are because of what we and others did in the past.”  For homework I had them bring in an “artifact” (one of their vocabulary words) that was personally significant from their past, that had made an impact on their lives.  It could be a personal or family item.  I learned so much about each student from this activity.  I found one girl’s intense interest for antique typewriters!  Her eyes lit up as she brought in and shared her 1917 Corona typewriter and talked about the other two that she had at home.  Another student who I thought was already struggling academically went into a 5 minute detailed scientific lecture on all she knew about the trilobite fossils that she and her grandmother had found.  As she talked all her self-confidence came out with the passion she felt about the subject.  I learned so much along with my students!

    With EFL I  know instilling a sense of service is important. I’m helping to start a service project for the 6th graders this year, usually this has been provided for only our 7th and 8th graders for some reason.    A handful of teachers and I are helping the students start an environmental program and turn the school into a Green Ribbon School.  The students need to help make the school energy efficient.  They are tackling the waste produced by our cafeteria.  They are setting up recycling,waste, and even compost bins with clearly marked posters that they made.  They also take turns standing by the bins and helping their classmates figure out where the different leftovers go.  This is a big job since we have around 400 6th graders!
    The last experience I want to share this time is about one of the things I talked to the parents at Back-to-School.  As I shared some of the new ideas that I had learned through Education for Life I talked about the week long field trip that we always take in 6th grade when we go to Outdoor School.  We go live in the redwoods near the California coast and attend an environmental education program that teaches about the different eco-systems in our region.  It’s definitely experiential and it also costs $315 per student.  This year I knew from studying EFL ideals (specially Nitai Deranja’s examples) how important it is for students to participate in raising at least a percentage of the fee for a program that is for their own personal benefit.  The school does provide a fund raiser where the families sell gift wrap and the students get 40% of what they sell towards their $315 fee.  This year I encouraged the parents to let their child earn part of the money as well as take direct part in the fund raiser.  The students came up with quite a creative list of things they could safely do as eleven year olds to raise money like garage sales, car washes, lemonade and cookie stands, working for family businesses, dog walking, pet sitting, lawn mowing where among the top choices.  We go in March 2013 so they have a few months to raise the money.

    Since I’m making this up as I go along this year,  I have to gauge the energy of my students before I know what will happen next.  I have lesson plans but where they will take us depends a lot on the students.  I will keep posting the most interesting experiences.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Second Week and Having Fun!

I am officially enamored with all my students now, with all of them in their full spectrum, from light.  Even the heavy students have so much potential that shines out from time to time.

 Some of the EFL inspired activities of this week:
The students kept writing 3 things that made them smile or gave them joy daily as I try to help them develop the habit of looking for the joy even in little things. Here is the JOY bulletin board where they put the sticky notes on their way out of class.  It makes me smile every time I glance over and see it. 

I was happy to share one of my favorite quotes with the students as we continue to talk about qualities of one’s personal excellence.  “The true nature of anything is the highest it can become.”  This has been attributed to Aristotle but I have never found the source of the quote, maybe it was when he wrote about ‘potentiality’.  We had a great class discussion on what attaining one’s highest means.  They are also looking forward to studying more about Aristotle and the ancient Greeks later on in the year in Social Studies.  We continue to work on our Personal Excellence bulletin board.  It is almost done!

Now that I have read all the letters that the students wrote to me and have started to get to know them in class I can identify many of their predominant tools of maturity.  I’m starting to rely on my ‘physical’ student to let me know when it is time for us to get up from our desks and move.  They are the first to start getting squiggly and when I see that, I know we have to take a break and do something physical like a stretching activity.  For example, I tried some of the ‘movement break’ activities from Calm and Compassionate Children by Susan Usha Dermond that require some concentration and focus as well as movement.  I gave them directions like, “Stand up and reach your hands to the ceiling, touch your toes, touch your right knee with your left hand, touch your left knee with you right hand, jump ten times, walk in place, and sit down at your desk.”

As I attempt to get the students out of their seats more often the funniest ‘movement break’ happened when we were looking at ‘specialized vocabulary’ in our history book.  It mentioned that history had special vocabulary like ‘archaeology, era, BC, or BCE,’ etc. just like in ballet you use words like ‘pliĆ©, barre’ and in football you use words like ‘sack, quarterback’.  My students know the football words but only the dancers (girls) knew the ballet vocabulary.  I asked my two ballet dancers in the class to lead us all in a pliĆ© exercise.  It was great fun to see the football players and others try these exercises.  They had a great time trying to do it, although sometimes they were laughing too much to do a very good job.  The expert dancers loved being the teachers and yes even I was trying it!

One of the big challenges this year will be to get the students experiencing more.  Already they have had their first standardized pre-test in language arts to gauge the level of their academic knowledge.  Perhaps during Social Studies I will have more time and freedom.  I will keep trying to find ways and I will report and share any successes.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Week with EFL

First Week:
    When I walked into my classroom after being gone all summer I realized that the whole seating arrangement needed to be changed.  All the desks were facing front with the emphasis on the teacher.  I realized I needed the focus to be more on the students.  Seating arrangement was a challenge with 31 desks.

    I started to think about all the things I wanted to change in my class. I came to the conclusion that what I am attempting is a change of habit in myself.  The habit of how I teach and help my students.  Habits are hard to change as we all know.  It’s like when I started meditating.  At first I could not sit down for a 3 hour meditation right away.  I had to start small with 5-10 minutes and build from there.  After some consideration I’ve decided to not just go in and change everything and cause myself a lot of stress.  I’m going to start small with the things that push my teaching in the direction I want to go, with the things that feel expansive and joyful to me.  Challenging is ok but not stressful because then I know my joy level goes down.
    Considering this, I decided to focus on having an “expansive” and “experiential” classroom.  Expansive in every sense of the word but mainly focusing on the Progressive Development of each individual in the classroom.  That not only includes students but also the teacher, me.  I know that if I’m “light” I can teach and help my students more. My own personal daily meditation practice is and will be my main energy source and boy am I going to need it!  By experiential I of course mean getting the students experiencing more.  This year, I want to keep a good balance of book work and personal experiences for my students.
Some of the EFL inspired activities of this first week:
  1.     With this in mind I started the first day greeting students at the door, shaking their hand, and introducing myself.  Looking each student directly in the eyes from the beginning told me many things about their energy as they came into the room.  I did this with the 31 students in the morning class who are with me, as their advisory teacher (like a homeroom teacher) for three periods the first month of school.  I also shook hands with the 31 students in my afternoon class that are with me 5th and 6th period.  It was lovely to see many sparkling, bright eyes curiously looking back at me. 
  2.     Besides all the getting acquainted and school introduction activities I introduced my classes to the concept of “Personal Excellence”.  I asked them what they thought it meant and what kind of qualities this included.  We brainstormed a list of qualities first in small groups and then as a whole class.  We ended up with a list of words that they got to pick from.  They picked one word to take home and decorate for our Personal Excellence bulletin board for next week.  (For a journaling activity they can pick three qualities that they want to work on in themselves this school year.)
  3.     At the end of the day they wrote three things they liked about their day on a sticky note and on their way out they stick them on  the bulletin board.
  4.     I asked each student to write me a friendly letter telling me about themselves.  This is an old idea with a new twist.  I now have them focus on the positive things in their life.  This helps me to get to know the important things in their life and helps me start to identify their Tools of Maturity.
  5.     We started having a class discussion about feelings this week. I told the students that it is important to check in with themselves so they are aware of how they are feeling. That way, they are not going blindly through their day, reacting to life without knowing what is really going on with them.  Together, we came up with a feeling chart complete with a smiley face feeling guide and one of the artistic students agreed to make a poster for the class over the weekend.  In looking at what was available on the web I also ran across this helpful web site.
  6.     One of my high priorities as I am getting to know my students in these early days is to identify the leaders in the class.  Who do the students pick as leaders, who steps up to the job of being a leader, and where on the Progressive Development scale are these leaders.  From four days of being around them I have already identified two girls (very light) and one boy (ego active light).  It’s also interesting to see when a student I’ve identified as “heavy” all of a sudden lightens up at the mention of Egyptian pyramids or stone age tools of all things. 

One last comment about this week. I had an impromptu talk with my principal.  He came in to say welcome back and ended up sitting down for a very enthusiastic chat about having an “expansive and experiential” classroom.  He understood what I am trying to do and supports it. Yes!