We Need Your Help – Building Tetrahedron Pyramids to Build Community in ESL

Update: This project was fully funded on September 1, 2018. Thank you to all of our generous donors! 

Dear Readers: Please consider making a donation to my classroom via Donors Choose. Click here to donate and to get some very good karma! I need your help!

Support Our Tetrahedron Pyramid Project!

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Inspiration – a beautiful tetrahedron sculpture build by the Alexander Hamilton Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio

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Flashback Friday – Tetrahedron Building with students in my classroom back in 2013.

My students need paper, markers, tape, and colored pencils to create and connect tetrahedron pyramids that show their identities. The books will supply background knowledge about pyramids and provide reference for symbols.

My Students

I teach middle school ESL to students new to the United States. My students are highly motivated to learn; they are eager to learn all they can about the English language, as having proficient academic English is a marker of success in their new American lives. A challenge I face is ensuring that each and every student feels connected to the classroom and school community, as my students are completely new to the United States and the English language. My students come from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Somalia, Cape Verde, and Vietnam. They are typical middle school students – energetic, funny, and eager to figure out who they are. Our school is an urban 6-8 in a large city school system. It is a loving place where the staff does all they can for the students, and the students work hard to achieve success.

My Project

My students will draw symbols to represent their personal identities on the brightly colored paper, which they will fold to create tetrahedron pyramids. The small pyramids will then be connected to one another with tape to create a sculpture.

The pyramid sculpture that the students create will become a classroom display representing the power of community and teamwork that is necessary for all students to feel comfortable in a new country and language.

As I get new students throughout the year, each one will add a tetrahedron to the sculpture. Through building something as monumental as a pyramid, students will recognize that they are an important part of the classroom community.

The books about pyramids and symbols will serve to build background knowledge about pyramids and pyramid builders, and the book about symbols will provide ideas for drawing.

“She anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.”

Do you like to read aloud to your friends and family? I do. And this week, a trio of articles served as a catalyst for discourse and especially for wild gut-busting laughter during some family car trips.

The Article: How We Are Ruining America by David Brooks

The premise of this piece is that upper middle class Americans deliberately move their families away from the other half (read: “the poor and less educated”) and therefore limit opportunities for inclusion. This essentially bars class mobility. Basically, it is a caste system – locking out the untouchables, with little access to the upper classes. Education is a key part of this, and the system for college admissions is rigged to prioritize children of parents who are wealthy enough to play the game.

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While Brooks’ premise is aligned with my experiences with my own education and my profession as an educator, he makes a BIG MISTAKE – a paragraph so distracting that it is ripe for parody, and, well, just pretty dumb.

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Here it is – in all its glory:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

This is a lesson in writing – reread and ensure that your discourse is aligned and on message. The paragraphs before and after are written with on message and with academic language that fits the tone of the rest of the article. Brooks attempts to use a personal anecdote to connect with the reader – but it is an incredible distraction from his message and drew enormous critical responses about this single paragraph (see the fun part below). The poignant parts are forgotten as America reacts to the mention of delicatessen.

Also interesting to note that Italian is perceived as sophisticated (a change from just a century and change from when Italians were outcasts and even lynched) whereas Mexican is clearly just a step above a Miller High Life,  a bag of pork rinds, and some stale circus peanuts.

And now for the fun part…

Exhibit A: From the poignant blog The Outline, an  op-ed piece by Alex Nichols

Stop patronizing the working class: Why are pundits obsessed with Applebee’s and farm workers?

BOOM! Here’s the question on everyone’s miss after reading the sandwich shop story:

“First of all, how does someone so stereotypically provincial manage to befriend a high-profile Times columnist?”

And the following paragraph (definitely read this one aloud to a friend!) rips the equally-obsessed-with-how-the-lower-castes-handle-food columnists anti-gay conservative Rod Dreher and Bloomberg columnist Meghan McArdle a new one:

There is indeed a pattern here, but it isn’t that working-class Americans universally break out in hives when confronted with food other than hamburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese — it’s that no one wants to go out to lunch with any of these pompous hacks.

BOOM! Ain’t that the truth!

Exhibit B: From The AV Club‘s Sean O’Neal

Explaining David Brooks’ column to a stupid coworker who’s scared of fancy meat

This article is an absolute gem. And a single sentence had my husband and I laughing so hard that my daughters all laughed along with us:

“Indeed, I said single-malted-scotch-ily. I explained how this column serves as yet another clarion call alerting us to America’s slow sinking into a morass of cultural decline, which David Brooks and others like us—we who thoughtfully chew our piquant charcuterie while brooding over the Proustian reveries of ourselves it inspires—can only look upon it sadly, gazing down at our bologna-smeared consorts and lamenting the many bloviating, condescending, overpaid butchers of language and meat that are driving us apart.”

“Single-malted-scotch-ily” – who writes like this? Amazing. Just meet a friend for lunch (antipasto, anyone? or maybe just a gas station pickle in a bag)  and read this article to them. You are giving them a gift, seriously.

 

My Zero-Dollar Designated Creative Space

I wanted to write everyday, but it was impossible to get to a coffee shop or library to do so. It involved a baby-sitter or husband/daddy getting in my scheduling loop. The library has great study carrells, but the hours are limited. And it is just a nerve-shattering act to try to do something uninterrupted at a coffee shop. The general public simply has lots of questions for you once you are seated. Quite frankly, these questions were wearing me to a nub.

“Can I use this chair?”

Obviously! I’m not patrolling the chairs, people – I’m trying to construct a sentence.

“I’m just going to sneak by you.”

Umm…do you even know the meaning of the word “sneak”? It has to do with STEALTH, and you clearly have NONE!

The reality was that I needed to find a way to cope with writing in the house. As the omniscient yet mythological “they” say, necessity is the mother of invention, and thus the Dines Family Designated Creative Space was born. Here are the 2 steps I took to birth the Designated Creative Space:

  1. I made a sign that included the expectation around maintenance of the DESIGNATED CREATIVE SPACE!
  2. I cleared off the table. While the pictures below show the table top in plain view, it was previously covered in high chair trays, junk mail, kids’ clothes, and a myriad of chargers for various devices.
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The Sign – Note the use of the adorable but underused little verb “shall”!

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The Space is prepared for my writing time with my journal, book, and laptops.

I was very careful, deliberate, and strategic about not having The Making of the Designated Creative Space become yet another project. My projects are my written pieces. I don’t need to have 5 kinds of highlighters and different choices of paper. Or a special kind of seat. Or a unique style of seat cushion. Or a Hemingwrite (which I have considered purchasing about 1000 times but never will actually buy).  All I need is a place to put words in print or in a computer document. Simple. Minimal. Clean. Clear.

This space is not just for me. My husband uses it for his reading and graphic design work. My daughters use it as a supply table and drying rack when they are art-making in their high chairs. And we all make sure that the space is spick and span after it is used.

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Right now, my husband is cleaning up. The baby is sleeping, and the twins are watching something on tv. And I’m sitting here, writing, right in my own kitchen. This table is my own little nook of the universe, and I feel perfectly at home.

I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Be The Light: My Personal Anti-Racism Action Plan

On the evening of Wednesday, September 16th, I will be walking in Be the Light, a candlelight walk of solidarity and support in response to racism and racial violence in America. I encourage you to walk with me alongside adults, children, families, students, and all Boston-area residents to who choose to act against racism.

I must admit – I feel nervous to participate in this event. I am not one for crowds or demonstrations; I prefer quiet to noise. And who do I think I am anyway? I am a white woman; my face may be considered the profile of an oppressor. Yet, as an educator, parent, and friend who works, raises children, and maintains relationships in a multi-cultural setting, it is my responsibility to take this public stand against racism.

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 While considering my participation in this event, however, I felt the need to clarify my own commitment to racial justice. Yes, I can walk alongside member of my community for two hours; this act is bold and powerful on its own, but I wondered: how can I be deliberate in serving the cause of standing up to racism and racial violence in the long-term?

While large events are far outside of my comfort zone, I feel quite at home in front of a notebook, organizing words into sentences and molding sentences into discourse. Guided by the Action Planning Worksheet in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, I decided to craft a personal plan of action that enumerates three specific ways in which I will work to combat racism in my life as an educator, as a parent, and as a friend.

Below, you can find my action plan, and I strongly encourage you to create your own. Your action plan may use words in sentences, like mine, or it may use lists, poetry, images, movement, or music.It can take any form that expresses your personal commitment to racial justice.You may want to keep this action plan to yourself, or you may find it powerful to share this action plan via social media.

If you would like support to craft or to publish your personal action plan, please contact me at jenniferdines@gmail.com. I am happy to publish and publicize your work on http://www.literacychange.org or to help you publish and publicize your anti-racism pledge in another online format. You may wish use the hashtag #BeTheLight in sharing your plan online.

Jennifer Dines: My Anti-Racism Action Plan (PDF Download)

As an educator, I commit to combating racism by keeping children, including children of color, engaged in the classroom because I know that each move to the hallway or to a school disciplinarian is one step that a child moves closer towards the streets. In order to achieve this goal, I must take the time to collaborate with my colleagues in the Boston Public Schools in creating and implementing curriculum that engages the students in our classrooms in meaningful and relevant ways. I must also maintain a healthy body, mind, and spirit in order to have the energy to sustain myself and my colleagues as we must engage in deep and thoughtful problem solving. I will measure my success when I witness children sharing personal pride in scholarly acts – reading, writing, speaking, researching, creating.

As a mother, I commit to teaching my three daughters how to recognize and respond to racism. I will begin conversations with my children that center around issues of race in books, media, and real-life situations. I will continue to seek out children’s books that portray diversity to share with my children, and I will continue to encourage, maintain, and respect the friendships that my daughters have made with children of other races and cultures. I will be deliberate about teaching my children about discrimination. In order to achieve this goal, I will revisit it as my very young children grow and develop. I will discuss this goal with my husband and engage his support in following through on this goal. I will measure my success when I witness my daughters engaging with my husband and I in dialogue about race.

As a friend, I commit to being my true and authentic self when engaging with people of other races. I used to maintain more neutrality in expressing my opinions and beliefs when in discussions with people of other races for fear that disagreement may be considered racist. However, as I have developed long-term professional and personal relationships with people of other races, I have realized that authenticity is not only possible, but preferable in my interactions with other races because it gives them a chance to know me and understand me for who I am, not as simply a guarded version of myself. In sharing my true self with others, I believe I invite them to share their true selves with me. Taking the risk of being real is worthwhile because there is the possibility of developing an authentic and deep connection across racial boundaries. In order to achieve this goal, I will recognize and reflect upon how race impacts my words and actions when engaging in relationships. I will discuss my reflections with my close and most trusted friends. I will measure my success when I witness the engagement of my authentic self, through words and deeds, in cross-racial communication.

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Please Vote for My Idea: Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities

Update: Thank you for your votes! Voting is now closed, and my idea ranked #1! I am looking forward to the Boston Teach to Lead Summit in February, and I hope to see some of you there!

Dear Readers: Teach to Lead is holding a Teacher Leadership Summit in Boston in early February. I have submitted an idea titled “Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities“. The text of the idea is below. I would like you to please take a moment to create a profile, log in, and vote if you like my idea! You can click here to view my submission and vote. Again, thank you so much for supporting English Language Learners with Disabilities! Happy New Year, Jennifer Dines Logo

Writing Across the Curriculum for ELLs with Disabilities

The Boston Public Schools has a significant population of English Language Learners with Disabilities (ELLSWD). ELLSWD often face a significant challenge in producing writing in all areas of the curriculum. Yet, the ability to write is essential for both functional literacy as well as college preparation. Additionally, the ability to write enhances the experience of learning as it offers the opportunity to create sophisticated records of thoughts and ideas. For this project, teachers across the district will explore the strengths of and challenges for ELLSWD in creating quality writing, and they will research and implement best practices to enhance their abilities in teaching written expression. Educators will begin by reflecting upon their experiences in working with students of all ability levels in writing. Educators will then create a list of questions specific to ELLSWD, and they will investigate those questions in their classrooms. Students will benefit from being better able to explain their thinking in writing by creating and reflecting upon permanent records of their learning, allowing teachers to better assess student cognition. Teachers will publish their findings and reflections on a public blog or website, so that educators around the world may access the findings of the work.

Receiving the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award at World Education’s Annual Dinner

Last Friday evening, I had the honor of attending World Education‘s Annual Dinner at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in South Boston, where I was the proud recipient of the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award. It was an incredibly energizing feeling to be a part of an event full of humanitarians dedicated to global education, not to mention the abundance of food and drinks, the futuristic gallery atmosphere, and the rhythmic live music.

I was really stunned when I visited the World Education offices a few weeks ago, and Erin Doheny and Danielle Klainberg presented me with an invitation to the Annual Dinner and asked to recognize me for my #Pages4Progress Summer Reading. Reading is an absolute pleasure for me, and it was not at all difficult to log my pages. However, receiving this award certainly made me feel validated that writing about my love for literacy on this site is, in fact, making an impact. I also think that, in my work with K-8 students, it sets a great example to show them that, just because of reading and writing, I was able to connect with people and attend an incredible celebration. Thank you to World Education for making me feel so proud!

Here are some of my favorite photos and even a video from the event!

My Husband, David

Thank you so much to my husband, David, who always picks up my books from the library. I would not get all this reading done without him.

Literacy Selfie: David Dines and Jennifer Dines (me!) – We were so happy to be out on a Friday night!

Artists for Humanity

Artists for Humanity is a Boston-based organization that provides underserved youth with arts-based employment. Their LEEDS-certified Epicenter felt modern, spacious, and airy – and absolutely full of life!

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Proudly Holding Up the Program at The Artists for Humanity Epicenter

Group Saloum

Afro-Pop band Group Saloum provided the evening’s soundtrack.

Table Eight

David and I were seated at Table Eight with some wonderful company.

I was so happy to see a familiar face – Pamela Civins, Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education. I have had Boston Partners tutor volunteers  in my classroom. They always treat my students like gold, and the students always look forward to the day when their special tutor comes ! My students and I have also been fortunate enough to participate in The Big Cheese Reads.

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Pamela Civins (left) and I (right)

We also made some new friends!

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Me and Dr. Thomas Winters of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network

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Me, Lori Winters, and Nanette Brey Magnani

World Education Award: Mr. Abdou Sarr

The evening’s primary honoree was Mr. Abdou Sarr, Country Director of World Education Senegal. The audience was disappointed to learn that Mr. Sarr was unable to personally attend the event because his visa had been denied due to concerns regarding Ebola. Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepted the award on Mr. Sarr’s behalf. Although Mr. Sarr has established and developed an array of social and economic programs in Senegal, I found it most interesting to learn about his work in supporting women in radio production, journalism, and community discussion.

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A video of Mr. Sarr was presented in lieu of a personal appearance.

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Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepts the World Education Award from Shirley Burchfield, Vice President of World Education’s Africa division.

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I was so nervous to go up on stage in front of all of the extremely accomplished in the room. However, I just put on my biggest smile, and I tried to stand up as straight as possible. I felt so inspired by the incredible accomplishments of Mr. Sarr. As I accepted the award, I thought: “There is so much more work I need to do!”

It was especially humbling to meet World Education President Joel Lamstein, an incredibly accomplished humanitarian who was in fact present at John F. Kennedy’s announcement of the creation of the Peace Corps in 1960.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from  World Education President Joel Lamstein.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from World Education President Joel Lamstein.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

There’s No Place Like Home

After the big event, David and I returned home to find our little girls sleeping! Before going to bed ourselves, Dave had me pose once more with my award. We plan to hang it in our home next weekend. Thank you, World Education, for giving us such special memories.

Standing Proud Next to the Piano

Standing Proud Next to the Piano