Manipulating Our Words

Physically manipulating our words to form cohesive sentences. Our sentences have to make sense. I started the lesson by holding up a word for the students to read. They enjoy a little friendly competition so whoever said the correct word first got that word. After all the words were read and distributed, we began arranging them in different ways and then rearranginging them until all the words fit just right. If they were able to make one sentence, then they needed to see if they could make another. The words on the tiles were limited so the sentences got a little creative and sometimes vague. 

This activity took several tries before any correct sentences were made. It was great to actually hear the kids sounding out the words for once. They always look to me for help with stretching out words, but for this I too was making sentences from the leftover words, so they knew we were each working independently. When each student completed a sentences, they were to read it out loud to themselves to listen if their sentences makes sense. This has been our biggest challenge due to the students not willingly reading their work aloud. This isn’t normally an issue, but whenever I ask them to read a sentence like this they become unsure. I always emphasize how important it is to read and re-read our own work for fluency and correct language. Often times it’s a little word or an “s” that needs to be added in; other times it’s a whole sentence of grammatical errors. When we read out loud, we are more prone to hearing and figuring out these wiring mistakes on our own; its part of self-correcting and being aware of our writing. 
This activity also brought up a good time to refer back to those parts of speech. These particular tiles we used are color coded for each part of speech. (Of course the kids didn’t pick up on that).  We talked about how we can enhance our writing by adding adjectives, words that describe, into our sentences. So “my cat” was transformed into “my old brown cat.” We often refer to this as first grade writing versus third grade writing because third graders write more and use more details in their writing rather than how we were as beginning writers. These students being apart of my third grade group.


Willie Cole: A Visiting Artist

“Anything is everything and everything is anything. I can make anything into anything…Everything inspires me, even you all inspire me right now.” -Willie Cole

Since August our school has been studying recycling, inspiration, and works of art created by New Jersey native Willie Cole. Our arts team, principal, partners with Columbia College and the University of Missouri have been working to bring this transforming artist to our school over the past few months. Today he greeted us in our auditorium and shared some of his work from across the States. Cole has found inspiration from the world around us and has spent his life’s work finding ways to manipulate everyday objects into sculptures, masks, prints, and even digital media presentations. 

Listening to Willie Cole speak about his inspiration process and how he creates his art was truly inspiring in itself. The fact that “anything is everything” is running through my head as a constant. The concept to grasp is that every little thing, whether it’s proven it’s worth to you or not, has some kind of purpose and “life of its own” to be lived. Cole believes he was an artist in a previous life. He says he’s been an artist for a very long time, 1,027 years even. He believes that every object has its own life and purpose. The way an object looks is how it was made and reflects that purpose. If a red satin high heel shoe has a striped sole and leather back,  then that’s the way it should be. When he creates these sculptures he doesn’t change the objects in any way other than by transforming them into something else. He doesn’t take paint or tools to his sculptures, he just plays with them until they fit together, how he sees them…how he wants to see them. Sometimes they need to be held together with string for extra security. If he wants his shoe sculpture to be larger than life, he recreates the shoes out of metal to withstand weathering. 

Willie Cole’s masterpieces can be found in various galleries and studios across the United States. Here at our local art museum we currently own eight of Cole’s masterpieces. It’s such an honor and a privilege to be able to bring such an inspiring and resourceful artist to our school as well as to our community. 

(Below are some pictures of Willie Cole’s sculptures that he shared during his morning presentation. These pictures were taken directly from Willie Cole’s website, http://www.williecole.com)


Sharing the Pen

This phrase is so familiar with me as it’s always ringing in my head. Different ways in which we can share the pen with our students to encourage side-by-side writing. Every time I pull a group, we start with the same question, “what is today’s date?” Depending on the group’s abilities, the students help me spell out the day, month, and year. I demonstrate how we can stretch out words to help with spelling like Feb-bru-ary. This breakdown allows us a better chance to hear all the sounds in each word. We take turns whether I right out the date or if a student writes it.

We share the pen in other ways too, especially with my beginner students. One strategy we use of sharing the pen is that physical exchange of the pen. I’ll write a sentence on the whiteboard and then hand over then pen for a student to copy. I write a sentence, we read the sentence, and then take turns writing it out and reading it on their own. When the students take the pen, they are more aware of their writing. They notice where the letters should be touching the lines on their paper, capitalization, and punctuation. These students are still very new to us as well as to the United States. As they progress, our writing turns more into them forming the sentences with some scaffolding by giving them a word list, writing prompts, and their own illustrations to encourage more structure and fluidity in the writing process.



Lunar New Year: EXPLAINED

After a week of making decorations, writing calligraphy in black tempera paint, and stringing handmade paper lanterns across the school we started to hear murmurs of questions as to what the celebration was for. By telling students “It’s for Chinese New Year,” simply isn’t an exaggerated response. Students nod as they “ooh” and “aah” through the halls at all the embellishments and take the answer they are given.

But of course we took it a step further. We couldn’t exactly do a whole new school takeover with the Asian Invasion but we could further the discussion with the ELL students. I did a little research online and printed off two short articles about New Years traditions. I found a great visual element to match perfectly with the discussion-Chinese/Lunar New Year compared to American/English New Year traditions.

First we read through our reading materials and highlighted the important facts. We highlighted as a group to ensure we were all on the same page with our reading and our discussion. (Learning to highlight just the facts can be a reading focus lesson on its own.) The kids shared fun anecdotes about the celebration from their homes as I shared some of things we do to celebrate here in the USA. This, of course, involved sharing a video of the giant ball dropping in New York City’s Time Square.



Defining Our Words

With each new book we pick up we come across unfamiliar words that we don’t know how to read or even pronounce. A lot of times when we come to a word we don’t know, we find ways to sound out the word, stretch it, or seek out further support. We usually perform a matching activity to where we match our new vocabulary with its corresponding picture. With the more advanced students we match vocabulary words with their definition.

Today we decided to do a Google image search of our vocabulary words, instead of just giving the students pictures and vocabulary words to match. I set up my iPad in the middle of our table and wrote out four words to be copied down. We scrolled through different images and chose our favorites to illustrate our words. Unlike most of our vocabulary words, all of these words could easily be drawn. This language strategy helps to further instill the meaning of each learned word as well as cement a defining image into the brain that corresponds with it.


Outside the Classroom

It’s a different world from outside the classroom. I’m in a position where there’s hardly room for the ELL teacher to have an office and shared teaching space. So to add basically another teacher to the mix, there’s simply no room. My teaching space is in the hallway where we hear and see everything that happens between third grade, the counselor, SPED, the focus room, and the teachers lounge. A lot goes down in these hallways, but we are here to work. 

Outside the classroom and into the hallway is a whole new space. A space we normally think of or walk about when getting from one room to another. This space is often narrow and crowded with students walking in single file lines. Student work and bustling bulletin boards line the walls and empty tables with empty chairs strewn across the hall. Walking down the hall of the third grade classrooms, you’ll find me somewhere between the teachers lounge and the SPED room. You’ll find me silently walking back and forth, up and down the stairs, every thirty minutes. I remove myself from the small chair I’ve sat in as I remind my students to push in theirs. And we walk back to their respective classes as I gather myself and my students for another small group lesson.

As an ELL Instructional Aide at a school of over 50 English learners, I only work one-on-one or in small groups. Some aides have a chance to push into classrooms to further support their students. In this environment we have found that our students benefit most when we can work with them on an individualized level and focus on their specific needs. My largest group consists of 3 students and we do work.

We work in the hallways filled with student work. We work in the hallways filled with students slowly wandering from the okay water fountain to the better water fountain at the other end of the hall. We work in the hallways filled with unhappy campers finding their way to the focus room. We work in the hallways with high pitch squeals and closing doors. We work in the hallways on a new language while hearing that language being abused by others. We work in the hallways that everyone walk. We work for a better understanding, a better knowledge, a better future for ourselves. We work in the hallways to one day understand why the child at the end of the hall is so unhappy at school. We work in the hallways to put all of our attention into a new world. We work in the hallways to divide our attention from the chaos that surrounds us and learn from that.

We learn in the hallways to thrive in this new world and to thrive in this new language. We work hard in the hallways so that we can work hard in the classroom.