I get all kinds of questions about the Pulsera Project, and I thought this video might help!
This is the question everyone asks me. They all want to know what I did. Did I help someone? Did I build a house? Install a well? Teach English? Teach in a school? Well, the short answer is that I didn’t do much–but in truth, I did quite a lot. I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I visited. I learned a whole lot more. And, the only actual product I made were some lessons, along with the other teachers there on the trip. Here is what I wrote upon coming home:
It was definitely NOT a mission trip! haha! I tried my best to share that as much as possible. It was an educational trip for teachers who have worked with The Pulsera Project in the past. We learned more about the organization, the other partnerships they have, the people they work with and employ, and the culture, economic systems, history, business climate, and language nuances. Then, we took that information and collaborated on lessons that will be used in nearly 2000 schools here in the United States that participate in the project. It was a whirlwind, entirely exhausting, and completely exhilarating.
In a conversation I had after returning home, another person observed that it was nice that we made lessons that would be used in Nicaragua. I corrected him by saying that The Pulsera Project believes we are the ones who have much to learn–and that the lessons would be used here in U.S. schools. He replied by asking, “And after your trip there, do you still believe that?” I gave him a resounding YES.
What more do we need to learn?
One thing we shouldn’t be doing is focusing on how poor other people are so that we can revel in our own comparative richness. Humble gratitude is something we could all stand to continue developing, however focusing in on the lack of resources that other people have as a method of producing gratitude is sort of a sick twist on that (in my opinion).
I’d like to show you what I mean by this.
These two houses are right next to each other. The woman in the photo owns them both. In fact, the mud and bamboo construction was her original home, until she received a grant through the housing project at the Pulsera Project (available to the people employed by them as an employee benefit), which she used to build the brick home she is pictured with on the right. The grant has to be used for housing, but it is up to them what they do. They can improve their homes, buy land, add walls, add windows, or build a new structure. She chose to use the money to build this brick addition. I want you to notice something here. She did not tear down her mud and bamboo home. SHE ADDED TO IT. She did not tear it down. I’ll repeat myself again here: she did not tear it down.
I’m guessing here, because although I asked her a ton of questions, it did not occur to me to ask this one at the time. But, one thought I have is that she isn’t ashamed of the house. I took the picture because I was amazed and impressed with it. I was in awe of it. She talked to our group about “re-taking” her heritage when she started weaving as a young woman, and re-taking is right! During a previous repressive government, indigenous traditions, including the style of weaving her group is renowned for, were not permitted. This home should not be the backdrop of some fifty-cents-a-day orphan commercial. This is a source of pride for her family. And I look at it now and I am amazed by the intricacies and skill it took to build.
I don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I feel sorry for a single person I met while I was there. I did not come back and hug my leather couches, though I thanked the Good Lord for air conditioning, because I’m a wimp. Rather than looking down on someone for what they don’t have, or giving others our pity, maybe what we should feel is righteous, justified anger that perfectly capable, well-educated humans don’t have access to the resources they need to implement the solutions they already have.
One of the Pulsera Project staff members related his experience owning a restaurant in Nicaragua and struggling between the “western standard of hospitality” and the Nicaraguan standard. He realized that the goal shouldn’t be to provide a western standard of hospitality, but to provide the appropriate cultural standard to their guests unapologetically. He said that when he stopped trying to fight the culture, his job got so much easier.
I believe we can all learn something from his story. We can’t fight their culture, and it isn’t our fight anyway. Our standards don’t apply, and they really shouldn’t. While we can all learn from each other, it should be just that: learning. What they do with it is up to them. And, in the end, we should be focused on helping capable people have access to the resources they need to create their own paths, not the paths we think they should follow.
So, 1200 words later: what did I do? I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I worked on some lessons designed to help students think critically about language, culture, and global citizenship.
I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:
Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.
Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.
But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.
I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.
I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.
I’m throwing a quick end-of-year sale in my Teacher’s Pay Teachers Store with some useful items for the end of the year in Spanish 1. Check it out! The sale runs from 5/25-5/28 this week!
Products on Sale:
As I was cleaning the kitchen, a thought occurred to me: “Write me a problem whose answer is 4.”. What an amazing application this type of backwards learning has in math.
Scaffolded: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1.”
Scaffolded again: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1 in more than 3 steps.”.
Again: “Draw me a line with a slope of ___ and write the equation (f(x))”.
You may have noticed that I’m not a math teacher. But I am. And, if you are a language teacher reading this… chances are, you are too.
I hear from parents (and students) all the time: But, my child is SO good at English! Well, that’s great, I reply, but the problem is, learning a second language has more in common with Calculus and Algebra, than it does with English Class.
Sure! I teach transition phrases and how to write a paragraph or how to write a sentence instead of a fragment (where is your verb?!?!?!?). Sure! We read literature and analyze it and look for cultural connections. Sure! We do all of that. In Spanish.
BUT, you see, we also look at grammar. Sometimes, explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Those explicit moments are sometimes needed, but often, they are the reason kids end up hating their language class as much as they hate their math class. And, they can’t figure out why.
This is why. A new theory is on the rise in the world of linguistics, that, as far as I have researched, I happen to agree with. It is the mathematical analysis and comparison of linguistic structures to the math of the world. You see, math makes the world work. Science is math applied. Math makes it all make sense. Languages have to end up making sense in order to communicate a message, and it turns out, that is a job math can do. Grammatical sentences are complex formulas, and just past that equal sign (=) is the message you communicate. When your formula is bad, your message is too.
All of these revelations and random thoughts of math while I clean my kitchen, bring me to a few points.
In each of the above examples, we give the kids a product, and they must fumble with the pieces to come up with an answer. Like in math, we give formulas, functional chunks, that kids use in the gap to achieve the task.
What do you think?
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So, there are some basic struggles that teachers with high standards are battling these days, and I find myself deep in some WWI style trench with a helmet on, trying hard to hold on to my principles. After a week like the one I’ve had, the tiny coward in me is asking if its worth it. I’ll clarify now and say: Yes. I know that it is.
Today, in a “high stakes” world where parents want the “high standards” diploma for their kids and the grades that show their kids meet the high standards… I’m finding that this does not necessarily mean that these same parents and students actually want to meet those standards. They just want the paper that says they did.
My thinking is that it doesn’t work that way… except that for many of them, it does, and it has for many years. These are students and families encountering instructional integrity (across the board) for the first time. I’m not saying they’ve never had good teachers. I KNOW they have. I’m not saying they’ve not learned anything; on the contrary, they are some of the more prepared students I’ve ever taught. What I am saying is this: They are finding that grades are reflecting their effort and learning truly, for the first time in their educational careers.
In the past, there was this idea that kids who did their work got an “A”. Kids who did most of it passed. Kids who did nothing failed. Believe it or not, that is not how it works–at least that is not how it should work.
So, I’m battling parents of “A” students who are used to this philosophy, wondering why their student did the work and got a B. Well, they did not demonstrate a complete mastery of the skills. Or, parents who want to know why a kid who passes every test still did not get a “B”–Well, said child or children, did not turn in any daily work. Or a complete journal. Or participate in speaking activities.
A grade is a dynamic, holistic thing.
The struggle isn’t just this. It is that the pressure for these high standards is driving my perfectly capable, perfectly intelligent, and amazingly equipped students to cheat, plagiarize and translate assignments in an effort to achieve the “grade” the “high stakes” world demands of them.
These are kids who’ve never been allowed to fail. Heck, they’ve never had the chance to suffer a “B” or a “C”… and now, I have a girl in my room after school saying to me, “I, um, I’ve just never not passed a test. I’m not sure what to do.” When asked if she studied, she said she didn’t think she had to. When asked if she studies for my class at all, she lists about a half dozen other things she does, “so she can get into college”.
Plagiarism has become such a problem that I’m literally considering not assigning homework at all anymore because I’m so tired of it. Every single homework assignment I assign gets passed around and copied and it makes it nearly impossible for me to a.) grade anything without wanting to throw a kitten and b.) give kids the language practice they need.
What is a teacher to do? Stop assigning out of class work–which compromises instructional integrity by not providing needed language practice… or Continue on the path, making cheating harder, but knowing that I can’t stop it…. and still assign about 5,000 zeros weekly.
Will it stop? Will I deter it? I honestly think not. I thought 11 weeks of this battle would prove that I was serious, but it hasn’t. In fact, it has picked up.
So, I ask myself, am I teaching the material? Yes. When I ask the students themselves, they tell me I did, but that they “ran out of time” to do that work, or that they didn’t understand, but their 16 sports and 2 jobs prevented them from coming to one of my 13 available tutoring slots per week.
What am I to do?
I’ve learned over the past 2-3 years, as I’ve moved from proficient to fluent in Spanish… that everything i’ve learned is wrong.
Not everything, but a lot of things. For instance, lots of the “rules” that we teach kids in Spanish, aren’t really true. Not every sentence that starts with “Ayer” has the preterite. Not all of the rules we learn and teach fit into spoken, normal, everyday Spanish.
Recently, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting a lady who is a true genius and actually re-wrote Spanish grammar to reflect simple truths about Spanish. Her book is called “Spanish Grammar for the Independent Learner”. I intend to use it with my upper level classes next year, and in the future, from the beginning in any class that I teach.
As teachers, let’s not perpetuate the reasons that kids hate Spanish/ Foreign Language.
Another great read, kind of a “pep rally” for Foreign Lang. teachers is Chapter 2 of this Texas Framework.
No matter the subject area, no matter the school, no matter the class or the individuals in it, as teachers we realize that students have different goals for their learning, and we have different goals for their learning too.
Don’t get me wrong: The standards are the same. I just mean, that maybe we know a kid needs to work on a certain skill, or maybe we know where he wants to go in life, or how he is motivated, so we cater to that in our instruction.
One way to do this is though differentiated assignments. For instance, assignment “menus” where students pick various tasks within the menu to complete to demonstrate their competence.
One neat idea I’ve toyed with in the past, but actually go to use for the first time this school year is the idea of tiered assignments. The fact is: students learn language at different paces. Sure, we can aid that pace, but we can’t completely control it. This year, I had to come to grips that I had to provide (with 22 kids in the room) the same, somewhat modified, instruction to all of my kids (sure, i could supplement in small groups, etc.) knowing that half where native speakers of Spanish, and half were not. …and knowing that the content of the instruction was vital knowledge for their learning.
I had to come to grips with the fact that after a reading selection, the summaries of the native speaking 2nd graders would be full, developed, grammatically “ok”….while my non-native speakers at different proficiencies could do, well, various things. Some of them could tell me, some could draw it, some could write it…but not well, some could give me a better paragraph than a native Spanish speaker could.
In order to facilitate learning and gradable assignments, I started using this idea of different levels of assignments that targeted the same skill but required different levels of language proficiency to complete.
Taking this from a content based 2nd grade Dual Language classroom… back to secondary next year… here’s what I’d like to do:
Teach AP Spanish in the same classroom with my Spanish 3’s. I’d like to give them the same/ similar content…but, give them tiered assignments. You see, what happens a lot in smaller AP Spanish programs is this: the AP kids get stuck in the back of a room and do “independent study” aka: automatic “A” & probably not gonna pass…….
Instead, I’d rather teach them all–but then modify the assignments to meet them where they are in their proficiency and assess their progress that way.
It worked with 2nd graders… ask me next summer if it works with AP 🙂
A trick I learned from a friend when I was in college about Spanish pronunciation has come in handy for me in the last few years.
The trick is: after learning the sounds that the Spanish vowels make, to practice pronunciation, try saying normal English words in Spanish.
…its not very easy… but it has two effects: 1.) practice 2.) understanding why some Spanish speakers say certain English words in a specific way.
I’ve been using this on my husband… and he’s having fun with it, and it is helping him say words better in Spanish 😉
Brush up on your Spanish Vowels here:
Hope this helps!