Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gratitude in any language

Long ago I read a quote and have kept it handy but I don't remember the source.  

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

As the participants came into the conference room today, they were abuzz with activity.  There was a big package that was a surprise, several containers of food and a lot of smiles.  Mitzi began by reviewing the homework related to reflection and reading comprehension.  I went over the importance of planning (again) and gave some starter and summary ideas for lessons. I reiterated that the busiest time for teachers should be the planning and that during the classes the students should be actively engaged.  We then put people in groups as they rotated through eight different stations for learning creating an activity at each station using the materials provided.  We noticed a new confidence in their ability to “think outside the box” and use their imagination.  For example, with a pile of markers we fully expected them to just draw a picture.  Instead, several groups used the markers for forming words.

The participants were so full of gratitude and displayed their enthusiasm for becoming better teachers. Some examples:
*  Dania mentioned that she realized she had been teaching wrong all this time.  Mitzi was quick to affirm her in her dedication to teaching and that we are always striving to improve.  
*  Johanna’s daughter was in a serious motorcycle accident on Wednesday and yet she came for the end of Friday morning because she wanted to learn about the final project and to participate in the celebration.

* Aracelly was always reluctant to share her ideas and yet she was the spokesperson for the entire class in expressing their appreciation.
*  Ligia mentioned that she realized she could make so many of these materials that we had mentioned and she could make them fit her students.

* Yessica hoping that her recovery from back surgery is quick so she can get back to the classroom and start working on some reading and vocabulary with her students.

* Miriam being intrigued by the idea of Multiple Intelligences and that she could start seeing "smart students in a different way.  She could use UDL to reach all of them.
*  Several others commented on how they now realize they need to be more attentive to the whole reading process and to make it enjoyable.

*  Each person who has access to Facebook wants to be part of a group where they can continue to share ideas and support each other.

These are just a few examples that they have a lot to offer these students.  They can use what they have and it will be more than enough.  They began with a lot of confusion and have seen some clarity over the last five modules.  They planned a lunch but it quickly became a feast.  Rosa spent hours cooking in her home—making delicious cannelloni with some salad (and rice, of course).  :-)  They were so joy filled to be able to provide this meal... this feast of thanksgiving.  
Reynaldo and Johanna brought us special desserts
 because Mitzi mentioned them yesterday.

Aracelly spoke for the group and thanked all of us for our sacrifices to be with them.  Because of us, they are able to go out and make a difference for their students.  They know we left our families and have had to pay a large portion of the expenses ourselves.  They also know how hard it is for us when we don’t speak Spanish effectively and yet they appreciate our attempts.  

Then, Daniel brought us our “surprises.”  Daniel teaches carpentry to students with special needs.  His Deaf students made these model rockers for us, all the participants chipped in to buy them and they gave them with deep love and appreciation.  I have always wanted a rocker from Nicaragua—I just thought it would be bigger!   :-)   He showed such pride in his students and he just knew we would love it! 

Gratitude is an understatement for how ALL of us were feeling and we were/are feeling the fullness of life.

Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.

A beautiful view from the top of the Cathedral at Calvary church
and the amazing chain of volcanoes in Nicaragua.  Looking forward to being back in July!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Light Bulb!

As one who really enjoyed the movie Despicable Me, I (Julie) couldn't help but think of Gru today each time the participants had these "aha" moments.  Mitzi continued the hard work of providing strategies for teaching reading comprehension. This is no easy task for any of us.  For our Nica teachers, we are asking them to consider such a paradigm shift in the way they teach that it must be very frustrating for them.  Yet, when something finally clicked there was a collective "sigh" in the room and a lot of smiles.  "Light   Bulb"

Dania teaching a reading strategy to Margarita
We had 97% on time attendance this morning which was amazing!  The one person coming in late was only 10 minutes behind which is still early for Nicas.  Their homework last night was to read an article about a teacher in Mexico and to pay attention to their own reading processes.   Several of them commented on the inspiration of the article and how students of any age need to be controlling their learning or they won't learn as well. (The article is in both English and Spanish here: ).  Drumroll....... 100% of homework was returned today!!

Reading the Spanish story on the projector
Reading to think about reading can be exhausting!

Requiring them to present their lessons from Module 4 gave us so many teachable moments!!  We have
been able to refer back to their examples as we introduce new material which has been a great connection to their own work. There was a lot of classification used in lessons but no reading.  This is common because the primary methodology at all levels in Nicaragua is rote memory and copying from the board. Mitzi was teaching the "Think Aloud" strategy and the confusion on the participants' faces was so palpable.  After a few more examples, they were able to make the necessary connections. "Light Bulb."

Graphic Organizer
 While reviewing the final projects for Module 4, I began noticing more detail in many of the projects.  There was a new level of pride for many of them-- which goes back to the higher expectations.  Several people included more formal covers and others followed the highlighting of UDL that Kris & Beth taught.  It was impressive enough for me to take notes on each person's project to use tomorrow in describing their next assignment.  (I was primarily reading nouns and only used Google Translate four times!)

Fancy Cover-- even included the UNO symbol
Created her own crossword

Tonight was interesting.  Mitzi and I were walking around town finalizing plans for tomorrow.  A woman stopped, turned around and said "you speak English?"  Turns out she and her husband are from Canada and just arrived in Leon.  They bought us juice at Jugolo as we explained some of the places to go see.  Hopefully they are able to work with Julio!  While sitting there, one of our participants came in along with her daughter Leonella.  I first met Leonella at Los Pipitos in 2008 and it is so amazing to see her maturing.  I love the feeling of being in Leon, Nicaragua and running into people I know.  Being able to use Nicaraguan Sign Language was a bonus!

Things are very bright here... but, it's time for this "Light Bulb" to be turned off for the night.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mitzi y Julie la Exploradora

We took our knowledge of Dora the Explorer to a whole new level today.

Teresa made the letter "a" using her chewed gum.
 First, we watched the last of the students present their lessons today.  There was one lesson in particular that was outstanding!  Johana told all of us "8th graders" that we were going to the zoo and it was going to be such an awesome trip.  Of course, Jenifer just happens to have a poster of a zoo in her magical bag of re-purposed teaching supplies--- I told her it is like Hermione's bag!  Once we all stopped laughing, Johana told us to put our heads on the desk because it would be the best zoo ever-- because it was going to be in our
imaginations!  We then acted out some of the animals we saw and told the class what we learned.  Seeing the gorillas was priceless!  Mitzi and I "saw" penguins and bragged about our Omaha zoo.  We reinforced the Multiple Intelligences and Universal Design for Learning and how they really work together.

On the next adventure, Mitzi led the group in some basic reading strategies.  It was definitely exploring--- exploring what they didn't know about comprehension and finding that reading fluency is really what they
check.  It's truly a difficult concept to consider reading comprehension and the various strategies but Mitzi started them off by connecting it to their own experiences.  They didn't really realize they were using strategies other than sitting in a comfortable chair.

Julie went on an adventure to make copies.  There were a lot of people but I was able to visit with the owner of the store. She is very concerned about her children's education and pays a lot of money to send them to a private school.  There were 51 students in her son's 7th grade classroom this year for just one teacher and she pays nearly $40/month in tuition.  The average teacher earns about $200/month so this would be 20% of a family's monthly income to pay for a better school.  Very expensive.

Then, after everyone left for the day, we truly became exploradoras.  Mitzi wanted to go to a part of Leon
 that she had not seen yet so we kept walking.... and walking. We crossed a dirt bridge, walked along a dry creek that functioned as a barrio dump, saw a woman cutting a tree to cook supper and we kept walking.  We walked until the very end of the Subtiava neighborhood and found quite the surprise.  There is some hidden mansion that at one time had a very significant gate at the entrance.  There is now a dog as the guard so we didn't venture any closer.  Seeing kids
playing soccer using bricks to measure out the goals reminded me how much I love soccer.

We eventually made it back to la casa and Ulises had no idea where we had been.  I'm so thankful he is using his talents for his U.S. Embassy project.  He has developed excellent critical thinking skills and has a passion for learning.   We visited about so much untapped potential and the importance of building relationships with people of a different culture.  However, a GPS he is not.  As expected, he had no idea where we had been today.

Looking forward to more exploring of reading strategies and Nicaragua tomorrow.

-- Julie la exploradora
We walked through Subtiava and found this at the end of the road.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inspirational People and Places

 Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mitzi and I are in Nicaragua for module 5 of the diplomado.  But, before all the work we had time to ride the zipline at the Mombacho volcano.  It was spectacular!!!  There’s approximately 2000 feet of cable and 17 platforms all situated above the Cutirre coffee plantation.

We spent some time in Granada and Masaya then picked up this hitchhiker along the road.  It was Ulises!!  :-)   It was great to visit with him all the way back to León. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Proud brand new homeowner
Julie and Ulises by the washboard.
Automatic washing machine soon?
We did some preparation for the modules before going out to lunch with Ulises. Then, we had the privilege of seeing his new house in the suburbs of León.  With his new job, he hasn’t even had time to move.  We are mostly concerned with his massive book collection that will most likely become his kitchen table and bed. 

We rode the very packed ruta bus back into town

On our way back to la casa de protocolo, we found a natural juice place which has quickly become Mitzi's little slice of heaven.

Monday, January 20, 2014
Mitzi explaining that we are shifting
more of the responsibility to them this week

There are so many quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. that inspire me.  The one that kept coming to me today is:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” 

Some reminders of human progress for me today:  seeing the enthusiasm of the diplomado participants as they returned for another week of education during their summer vacation; reflecting on what we value as teachers; observing pure joy as a student taught her lesson; graciously accepting a package of crackers from a participant as her way of expressing her gratitude and especially, witnessing the teachers’ pride in explaining their successful use of some of the diplomado strategies they have learned.  It’s the starfish for me again.  This requires sacrifice and a bit of a struggle but it also requires passionate concern for the education of the next generation of Nicaraguans.  We need to start somewhere and I believe that education is the best place to begin.

We had students answer three questions:

1. what they value most about being a teacher;
2. why they decided to participate in the diplomado;
3. what has motivated them to continue attending the modules.
 Another activity was having the students teach their lessons from Module 4 (Kris & Beth) that incorporated UDL concepts.  One student, of course, had nearly a complete teacher supply store in her bag.  She lives and works in a very impoverished port town and yet she has an innate gift for teaching with anything. Very inspirational!

Mitzi and I also had a conversation with Indiana about expectations.  While we understand the differing cultural norms, we also feel strongly that we must challenge the teachers as much as possible.  If we continue to expect less out of the diplomado participants, they in turn will have lower expectations for their students. 

The most effective ways to move out of poverty are with education and people to mentor.  
Fortunately, we get to do and be both!

At the end of the first day, we went to Barbaro to get the fancy coffee drink to celebrate.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Maria is back!!!  It just didn't feel like casa de protocolo without her. 

Many of the participants were early today-- eagerly anticipating teaching their lessons.  It was beneficial for them to actually "teach" as if it was a second grade classroom.  We were thankful Jennifer brought her big bag of stuff and also that Daniel didn't bring his carpentry tools.  The entire morning was spent with the participants teaching their lessons and the two of us providing feedback and support.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon focusing on Multiple Intelligences.  There is such a sense of pride in their culture as they so easily break into song and dance.  I know they have a much better foundation than in 2008 because they were able to come up with some quick activities for each intelligence related to Nicaraguan history.

Another inspirational day, beautiful weather and now an evening sitting outside doing work... listening to the parade outside and thanking the geckos.

- Julie