Thursday, February 4, 2016

Make Room for Joy

Have you ever known a teacher who didn't seem to grasp the fine art of selective feedback?  As an instructor of LINC literacy, I feel it is SO VERY IMPORTANT to create a safe space in which we are all free to make mistakes without fearing that anyone is going to chastise or pick, pick, pick on us for every uncrossed T or undotted I, figuratively speaking.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I've spent many hours in the same room with a teacher who could not resist correcting every single imperfection.  I do NOT want to be that teacher.

When a foundations literacy student joins our class, ze is given space to adjust and is granted a silent period. The learner will let me know when ze is ready to be called upon to go to the board. Ze will begin to join in various activities when ze's feeling at home, comfortable and confident. I'm the same sort of second language learner. I understand the need to stand back and watch a while before jumping in.

The conditions under which I teach ESL literacy are not ideal. I wish we could have a separate class for foundations learners, but we don't. Instead, I do my best to differentiate the lesson and offer the foundations learner(s) the support of our teaching assistant--either in class or in another room while the phase I learners are with me in the main classroom. Like I said, it's not ideal.

Currently I have one foundations learner in with eleven Phase I. So I do my best to set expectations for her that are attainable and within her Zone of Proximal Development. This week I hope she can begin to distinguish between small O and small A, both in reading and printing. While others unscramble sentences about our house, she will copy a few.

Well, why am I going on about this? I'm prompted to blog about this today because of something that took place in the classroom yesterday. For three weeks we are building skills toward being able to communicate needs and complaints to the landlord. This week, module three, we are learning the rooms of the house/apartment and what can be found in each room. In teams of two, one team assigned to create each of six rooms in the house, students were snipping pictures out of magazines and taping them to large sheets of construction paper.

One recent newcomer to Canada, a darling young woman who is a Karen refugee, looked to me for approval before pasting into the bedroom a photo of an elegantly dressed woman seated at a grand piano. Without thinking, I made my silly doubting face--the face that says, "Hmmm, think again. Are you sure about that?"

But then I looked down at the collage this student was making with her husband's help. The orange bedroom was overflowing with all the things this young woman might be dreaming that bedrooms in her future life in Canada can hold--plush kingsized beds heaped with brocade pillows, velvet floor-to-ceiling drapes, a Victorian vanity topped by fancy lotions and colognes on a silver tray.

I felt a sharp pang of regret as I saw the delight fade from her sparkling eyes.  How fast and how seamlessly could I backtrack???

YES, Muchi, of course it's okay. If you want a piano in the bedroom, by gosh, put a grand piano in the bedroom!

She laughed. She inferred not only that pianos don't usually go in bedrooms, but also that I was trying hard to save face for her. She laughed some more. (Golly, I love Karen people!) Then I laughed, and soon everyone was laughing.


Next time, I'll not be so quick to squash a newcomer's dream of a grand piano in the bedroom.

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