I Was Here First

My adult E.S.L. students were assigned presentations to help them with their verbal fluency.  Through those presentations, I learned about a range of new topics including cooking native dishes such as Persian Potatoes Kuku, growing bean sprouts in the manner which Vi, a Vietnamese woman, learned from her mother.  Teresa brought her binder of coupons and several large bottles of shampoo and explained to the class how she had purchased those bottles at no cost using manufactures coupons as well as store discounts.  She immediately had their attention when she explained that she spent no money to buy the large bottles covering the desk. When asked why she needed so much shampoo she explained that her purchases were very much appreciated when given to friends and family in Mexico. Her presentation was among the most appreciated by the students, most of whom had no idea how to use coupons.

Asal, a young Afghani woman, shared with us about the beauty of her hometown in the Bamiyan Valley of central Afghanistan where ancient giant Buddha statues destroyed in 2001.  Many of us in the class had followed that event when it happened but listening to someone from that geographic area speak about the devastation to her country with such deep sorrow was moving.

Mateo shared about his travels from Cuba to Ecuador and then up north through Central America to Texas.  He brought in a handmade map drawn for the purpose of showing us his journey. He told us about the challenges of working as an immigrant in Ecuador and the difficulty of earning enough income to survive.  Mateo spoke about the generosity of strangers who provided him with food and invited him into their homes during the long journey.

Unfortunately, when he finally arrived at the American border in Texas, he was astounded at the poor treatment he received from American border patrol agents.  Their accent and appearance indicated that these border agents were Latino and definitely they were native Spanish speakers.  They were rude and seemed to go out of their way to make it clear that they were not impressed by his pursuit of American citizenship. They treated him as if they were not themselves first generation children of immigrants.  He left us speechless and brought us to tears.  Those who were of Latino origin knew exactly the cultural experience Mateo described.

He shared the interactions that transpired between himself, an immigrant who quite literally sacrificed his life to get to this country, and the first Americans he met in the United States, descended from Latino immigrants.  He was treated as an inferior, not worthy of respect.  His will, his sacrifices and his steadfast focus on attaining his goals demonstrated a strength of character that thankfully most of us will never have to draw upon.  Mateo saw the irony of the border agents who were treating those who followed in their fathers’ footsteps as if by negating the experiences of their parents they were more virtuous than someone recently arrived.  Despite politics, immigration laws, and job duties, there are ways to treat others with civility and kindness.   Mateo asked, “Why they cannot have compassion for someone who is like their parents?”   It was a question to which there could be no satisfactory answer.


Every day brings something good!

So what is the “real main idea” here, Miss?

At the beginning of each unit, I present my mini-lectures on reading skills. It never fails that as I am talking I suddenly focus in on my students’ faces and think, “Really, Cindy? Do you think they really care about the main idea (etc.)?” Just this semester, I have a student whose 12 year old sister threatened to commit suicide, a student who was “working 2 jobs totaling more than 60 hours, taking care of her sick father, and taking 4 classes,” a student who “just wants to play baseball,” 2 students who told me they “are just here to play football, nothing more,” and a pregnant student who feels sick all the time. (I’m sure you have the same “stories” sitting in your classroom.) And I want to talk about main ideas! I feel Charlie Brown’s pain!


So let’s talk about the “real main idea” here:

I just read a book called Mister Owit’as Guide to Gardening: How I learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart; an unexpected gem because it happened to speak to me in my life right now. Through his work in her garden, Mr. Owita teaches Carol a thing or two about life. An unexpected friendship develops and the two help each other through personal crises and to reach a greater understanding of how to deal with what life deals us. Yep, sappy! Long story short, the book ends with this line: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good!

As I finished the book this morning (Tuesday, 3/9), I stepped out into our back yard and thought about my teaching day ahead. Aargh, 4 more days and then spring break! TG! Then, as I glanced down, I saw a rose bud on my brand new yellow rose bush called “Easy Living.”

YellowRose The main idea: In every moment there exists a lifetime. Every day brings something good! I can’t wait to answer my student’s question!


Reflections on Literacy


One of my students’ favorite projects is the Shoebox Literacy Autobiography Project.  They collect at least five artifacts related to their personal literacy story and describe the artifacts via a short oral presentation in a small group setting.  They follow up with a short written reflection on what they learned and how they felt.  For children’s lit, students include at least one children’s book.  For CRE101, they include at least one book.

I model the process by sharing my own story of literacy and explain how literacy in our family has been passed down through modeling from the older siblings to the younger ones.  This photo is of my father’s family.  He’s the one in the short pants.  The older ones helped the younger ones be successful and go to college.  It was a group effort to help the members of this farm family rise out of poverty and achieve success.

Collins family

By sharing a bit about ourselves early in the semester (usually by week 4 or 5), students tell me they feel closer to their classmates and have a deeper understanding of  literacy in their day-to-day lives.  Here are a few comments that came in this week:

By then end of my presentation I realized that reading has been a big thing in my family. My mom’s parents encouraged her to read, not just for fun but for her own good.
Something that I learned from this experience was that we are all different in many ways but at the same time we shared some of the same sentimental items. One thing was that we all shared a picture of a love one and how they impacted our lives as literate human beings.
The interesting thing in this book is that it is written in two languages, English and Spanish. They learned a few words in Spanish. I still remember their happy faces when reading.
Even though not everyone is a big reader we’re all connected with literature one way or another.
I have always known that I am privileged to be able to say I am as educated and literate as I am, but telling other people about the process of how I got to this point of literacy in my life made me realize a few things about myself.

Learning is hard work!

In “Enhancing Rigor in Developmental Education,” the Scaling Innovation team discusses productive struggle: “the ultimate goal of instructional activities that require productive struggle is for students to develop a healthy disposition toward uncertainty in their pursuit of skills and knowledge they will later revisit and apply in other contexts.”

My favorite story of the week exemplifies productive struggle.

Students were to read about critical thinking and define the 15 critical thinking terms used in the article. My goal is to have them start using the language of critical thinking. Not surprisingly, they returned with 15 dictionary definitions that did not mean much! My next goal was to get them to use the dictionary to learn all they could about the words (as opposed to just copying down definitions they didn’t understand.) They read through dictionary entries and found new synonyms, learned how to use the pronunciation symbols to figure out “how to say it right,” discussed etymologies and how knowing the word history helped them remember and understand how the word came to mean what it does, realized how knowing the part of speech helped them use it correctly in a sentence, and argued about the “appropriate definition for the context” in the article.  Sounds boring but they were engaged and admitted that maybe is not always the best option for really learning new words.

When we were finished, a  student said, “Teacher, when I came in here I thought I knew everything but now I know I knew nothing!” I asked her how that felt and she replied, “It feels great! There is SO much to know!”

Learning is hard

Getting students to work hard is hard work! From the grumbling gentlemen in RDG081 who refuse to justify their answers to critical reading students who can’t write in complete sentences, it takes me several weeks to get them to struggle productively but it is beginning to surface that they are learning and that it feels good!



Coke and a Smile

I’m a bit of a Coke-Cola nut and one of my favorite ads of all time is begins with, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”.   As a kid listening to that song I couldn’t think of anything nicer than to share my favorite beverage, sing, and do kind things for other people.  Yes, yes as a child you can see that I had some “coke bottle” thick, rose colored glasses, but really what would our campus look like if each of us were intentionally more kind?  If we started going above and beyond to spend our days showing kindness to each student, staff, faculty, and administrator we come into contact with, what would the possibilities be?  Would we see more smiles, more openness, and even more successes!721382f18bc997290421999a15d6cdfd

If you’ve taken time to read this post I challenge you (as I’ve challenged myself) to focus each day to be kind to those you encounter.  I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences over a Coke…on me.