REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
Classes have finished for the year and that means that all the final units and projects are complete! In the Advanced English II class, it also means we say good-bye and congratulations to the graduating students. In the Comics class, to graduating students made their own comic, a culminating activity after a year of reading, narrating and analyzing the comics of others. In this final challenge, as a follow-up to reading the fantastic graphic novel, American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, students are asked to think about their favorite Japanese folk tales and examine them for the lesson, or moral, of the story. They then choose one such folktale to update in comic form.
This year, students chose the story of Warashibe Choja, "The Straw Millionaire." In this story, a poor peasant who is a devote worshiper of the god Kanon finds great fortune through simple acts of kindness. Everyday, he goes to the temple and prays to Kanon with a meager wish for shelter and work the following day. Impressed by his modest wishes, Kanon tells the man that the next day, the first thing he touches will bring him great fortune. The next thing he touches is a piece of straw. What follows is a series of generous trades, in which the man gives of his gifts and receives something even more valuable in return, until eventually he is married to a beautiful wife and has a farm of his own. I love the story. It has been compared to the One Red Paperclip project, but the stories are actually quite different. In the One Red Paperclip reality, a man traded one red paper clip for various other objects of ever increasing value and had adventures in the process, making Japanese television news, a blog, and a book. But, the goal was to trade up and to have this adventure. However, Warashibe Choja was just a man with humble wishes and a generous heart, who was willing to give up the things he had to help others.
Now, my students shifted the focus a bit, their title revealing that in their story "fortune comes to an honest person." They tried to keep the trade aspect, with strict limits on story length. Over about 8 hours of class time, students first brainstormed their story outline and page plots, then I transcribed the script as they dictated to me, telling me when the text would be in a caption, thought bubble or speech balloon, and generally what would be in each panel. Next, one student focused on fine tuning the script with me while the other, chiming in when needed, worked on sketching out the design. They both worked on the final touches, adding text in pencil and then going over all their work with black markers and color. The results can be seen below. A great accomplishment for a first comic!
In my second year classes, we finished the year off with a unit entitled "International Agent Training." In this unit, students learn the names, geography, nationalities, languages, capital cities and landmarks of various countries around the world through partner activities and information gaps. At the beginning of each class, students go through customs to a new country, where they fill out a visa form in their passports outlining country facts and then practice greetings in that country's most common language. We also review the present perfect vs. simple past when talking about experiences. The final assessment is a peer "job" interview where classmates interview and score one another on their ability to be international agents. First, students must write out a "resume" of their experiences in training. They are encouraged to think about the countries we visited, the languages we'd learned and spoken, but also to be creative, to imagine what sort of difficult and exciting experience real agents have had. Then, after a few practice runs, they start their interviews. I love to listen to these as students are asked "What's your international experience?" and respond with "I have spied on the Pentagon" or "I have swum the Pacific Ocean." I think probably the aspect they like most is playing the senior agent doing the interview. They get very into their roles as interviewers. One student this year, unimpressed by the lack of adventurous experience of his interviewee, said he did not recommend him for an international agent position because "playing tennis" was not good experience. Of course, I check all of their scores after the fact via recorded replays to make sure they scored fairly.
As part of this unit, I had been searching for a good book to do a choral read aloud to review the grammar point of present perfect. Last year, I had found a children's book titled, "Have you ever...?" that was set to rhyme but, I couldn't find again this year. I decided to make my own read aloud story in PowerPoint. I thought it would also be fun for students to see some of my travel pictures and hear about my experiences. Travel is a passion of mine, and it's a good to share this. Maybe I'll inspire some of my students to travel too. Below is the PowerPoint I put together.