Letters to Malala Yousafzai

A group of my seventh and eighth grade intermediate ESL students  felt shocked and outraged after reading an article about the Taliban’s attack on 14-year-old award-winning activist, writer, and student Malala Yousafzai. They decided to write her letters in order to wish her a speedy recovery and to ask questions and express their feelings.

Quddus’s Letter to Malala: “I felt sorrow, I was weeping for your recovery.”

Diligence’s Letter to Malala: Human Rights

 

Muslim student Nadira felt compelled to explain the differences between her understandings of Islam and the images conveyed by the Taliban via the media. 

page 2 of Nadira’s letter

Angely’s Letter, page 1

Angely’s Letter, page 2: asking questions about regret

Mariah’s Letter to Malala: I think the Taliban should suffer.

Angel’s Letter: “You are like the second governor.”

Change Agent: Aminata Keita, Stunningly Accented Teen Poet

As Aminata Keita performs her poetry slam version of her original poem “My Accent”, published in her 2012 book Struggles of a Dreamer, a tear wells up in my eye, cleverly disguised behind my thick black sunglasses. I can remember Aminata’s first days in my 5th grade classroom in the fall of 2007, when, as a student new to the United States, she felt extremely frustrated by the combination of her acute intelligence and her lack of English.

Aminata recalls: “I should have been in the 8th grade, and when I had to go to 5th grade, I was really upset. It was a frustrating time, but I’ve learned to control my temper.” Changing grades wasn’t the only struggle that Aminata faced that year. In immigrating to the United States in order to learn English and improve her educational opportunities, Aminata left behind her mother, friends, and family in her native Guinea-Conakry.

Aminata (right, center in brown and pink jacket) and her 5th grade classmates on the first day of snow in December of 2007.

Now, at age 15, Aminata is the author of two volumes of poetry: Sentences of the Heart and Struggles of a Dreamer, both published by Books of Hope.  Sentences of the Heart is currently out-of-print, as its first edition sold all 100 of its copies. “My sister and I would hustle people at [Somerville High School] soccer games. We would tell them it was a really good book and worth the $12,” explains Aminata as she signs the copy of Struggles of a Dreamer on a late August Sunday inside Davis Square’s Diesel Café.

Aminata signs her latest collection of published poems at the Diesel Café in Somerville.

As we head back to Aminata’s home in Somerville’s Mystic Project, she tells me about the education and the opportunities that Books of Hope has provided for her. When Aminata attends her Books of Hope sessions in the Mystic Project Community Center on Mondays and Wednesdays, the instructors present the students with a social justice topic, such as homelessness or World AIDS Day, for discussion. Then, the students participate in writing exercises, “to get your mind moving”. Finally, the students create performances to present to one another. These in-class performances have led to the formation of a slam poetry team that includes Aminata and other Books of Hope students. The team has performed in Somerville and Boston as well as in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York City, including a stint at the Harlem Book Fair.

Aminata and her fifth grade teacher Mrs. Dines pose inside of the Mystic Project Community Center, where Aminata attends Books of Hope writing workshop sessions.

Aminata attributes much of her successes with writing and performing to the dedication of Books of Hope Director Soul Brown. “It’s in the way she helps me and the other kids,” Aminata says,”She gives us hope at becoming authors. She treats us like her own children.”

When asked how an immigrant student can become a published author, Aminata offers the following advice: “Stay focused. Life is what you make it. Try to do something positive. With no knowledge, you’re probably nothing unless you plan on working at Dunkin’ Donuts or Stop n Shop.”

Aminata (center) poses with her book and her family: her brother (left) and her cousin (right).

Perhaps Aminata’s shift from frustrated English Language Learner to confident and serious student can best be understood in her poem “I Used To” from Struggles of a Dreamer.

I Used To

by Aminata Keita

I used to 

Love dating

Love eating

those amazing steak & cheeses

Hate myself

Hate him

Love to party

Love going out

Like music

Love skating

Liked trying to fit in

Love flirting

Love cookies

Hate people who are trying to save me from myself

Like sleeping while teachers’ are explaining

Until one day I woke up and

Realized 10 years from now,

Those characteristics are not going

To be paying my bills

But my knowledge and habits will…

Pearl Teaches Us The Parts of an Informal Letter

Pearl wrote a thank you letter to her grandmother who lives in Massachusetts. In this video, she explains the five components of an informal letter, and then she reads her letter.

Expository Writing: How To Complete a Word Search Puzzle

Pearl and I used shared writing to compose an expository “how-to” writing piece. In this video, Pearl explains her steps for solving a word search puzzle using her written piece as well as the word search puzzle itself.

Pearl’s Personal Narrative

Today Pearl and I completed her personal narrative, titled “The Day I Almost Drowned”.

Mrs. Dines: Hi Pearl. Can you tell me about what you did today?

Pearl: I made a plan.

Mrs. Dines: How did you make a plan?

Pearl: I made a list of plans.

Mrs. Dines: What was on the list?

Pearl: Stories.

Mrs. Dines: Then, what did you do?

Pearl: Picked one of the stories.

Mrs. Dines: Then, what did you do?

Pearl: Organized it. We were writing the story again and making a video. We made a movie, and we were done.

Mrs. Dines: Was it easy, medium, or hard?

Pearl: Hard because I had to write a whole passage.

 

“I Am From…” Poetry By Pearl

Pearl is my 9-year-old student here in the Dominican Republic, where I will be for the next two and a half weeks. She is participating in Mrs. Dines’ Writing Bootcamp. Today we wrote a poem together called “I Am From” using this template. Although Pearl knows a lot of English from her family, she has never attended school in English. This is her first poem written in English, and it was accomplished through shared writing – Pearl told me her ideas, I wrote them down, and then she practiced the poem and read it for the video camera.

Mrs. Dines: So, Pearl, how did we make this poem together?

Pearl: First, we made a plan to write a poem and make a movie. Then, we posted it on YouTube.

Mrs. Dines: Why did we write a poem together?

Pearl: To make a movie.

Mrs. Dines: Was it easy to make a movie?

Pearl: No because I had to repeat it and repeat it over and over again.

Mrs. Dines: How do you feel that you made a video for YouTube?

Pearl: Good because I had a little help.

From ELLs to MELTs: Mr. Santana, Mr. Lara, Ms. Crispin, and Ms. Morrissett

I spent the past five weeks teaching the Catapult Learning Mathematics Level 6 program at my school‘s summer English Language Learners program. My students have transformed from ELLs to MELTs…Mathematics and English Language Teachers. As part of their final examination for the course, I required students to teach a problem to the class.  I have so much respect for my students because they are able to explain an abstract and complex cognitive task while speaking to an audience of their peers in a second language. In these videos, you cannot see the audience, but as an eyewitness, I can tell you that their listeners were fully engaged. So much so that they didn’t even notice when school ended fifteen minutes late, and neither did I.

Mr. Santana 

I have worked with Mr. Santana since he entered the 6th grade two years ago. Mr. Santana was able to engage the class through his sense of humor, eye contact, and clear demonstration. I love his emphasis on order – he even writes it on the board; isn’t that what mathematics is all about?

Mr. Lara

When I first met Mr. Lara at the beginning of the summer, he told me that he did not like me because I want to have everything my way and “that is just not always possible”.  I found his statement compelling and insightful. After all, it’s true that I cannot be in total control of other people, even my own students. He actually sounded just like me at his age. I told Mr. Lara that he did not need to like me, but he did need to meet my expectations in the classroom. Guess what? Despite some issues with tardiness, Mr. Lara turned out to be a wonderful student – smart and interesting. He made me a better teacher because his statement caused me to reflect on how I could let students have control of the classroom while maintaining a focus on the academics at hand. Mr. Lara’s video shows his capabilities with providing a clear and succinct explanation using academic English.

Ms. Crispin

Ms. Crispin began the last school year in a classroom for SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) students. Her video clearly demonstrates perseverance – although she was nervous and shy, reverting to informal English when her confidence waned – she got through this presentation. After the recording ended, she was so surprised when I told her that she had demonstrated the problem correctly. Ms. Crispin spent a lot of time studying the multiplication table this summer, and I am proud of how she integrated this knowledge into her presentation of division. Interesting Fact: Ms. Crispin loves anime, and she can speak some Japanese!

Ms. Morissett

Sometimes when I see myself teach, I feel really sorry for my students. I know how demanding I am, but I feel like I get great results sometimes. Ms. Morissett came into my class this summer with very limited skills, but she studied, studied, studied, and here she is teaching…after a pretty harsh warm-up. She is the very definition of persistence – even when she struggled and had some incorrect calculations, she was able to recover and self-correct. I absolutely love her determination. Watch out, world…here she comes!

In other news…

Rozzie Reads Poetry is TOMORROW! I will be reciting “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes Check out my ad: