Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Rabat American School
ESOL is for amateurs at Rabat American School. Here the norm is ETOL or EFOL -- English as a third or fourth language -- or more, I am reminded as we come together to find our poetic voices how students in the USA (me included) suffer from not having access to more than one language. Here the students and teachers flow easily from Arabic to French (two languages most common in Morocco) and then to English. Many students have even another native tongue -- Russian, Korean, German, whatever from wherever. The music of their speech is magical to me as they confidently confer like well-seasoned chefs with one another in their native tongues and then serve up similes in English. I wait like Oliver, spoon in hand, thinking, "more, please."
Last November at NCTE we heard Dr. Nancy Johnson observe that second language learners naturally speak in poetry -- reaching for images to explain concepts for which they have no words. If I don't know that thing on the door is called a knob, I might describe it as a door hand or a button for turning. Pure poetry. Voila! I think this is what makes primary kids naturals, also. Could it be that sophistication in language, spending all our lives mastering English, is really a handicap to writers? As I write with the students of RAS, I become more convinced that it is. I've decided to adopt a new phrase when I go home to talk to young writers in the States: if you were from another country and you didn't know the word for that skateboard, how would you describe it? What would you call it?
Michael and I had opportunities to write with all the middle school students, many of the high schoolers, coach performance skills, and I even got to have library chats with several of the elementary grade classes. After I went directly from a high school assembly to talk to kindergartners, the principal asked me if that gave me whiplash. We both laughed. But the truth is, all the kids were so steeped in thinking in images at every grade level that the age-diverse audiences had more similarities than differences.
Many many thanks to upper school librarian Lora Wagner and assistant librarian Rhonda for all their work in preparation, toting us around and making our stay in their library a joy. Thanks to ALL of the teachers for their enthusiastic participation. Thanks to Paul and Patty for the lovely dinner and reception at their home. Warm thanks to Janane (sp?) who took us on a small tour of Rabat on Wednesday afternoon while the teachers were in professional development (which didn't seem fair at all, but sure was fun). And special thanks to Cynthia Ruptik and her husband Woody for housing and feeding us, offering candlelit laughter and a nurturing exchange of ideas while hosting us at their cottage by the sea. And thanks to all the kids who wrote and then shared their poetry in class and at our grand finale poetry night. Great respect and admiration to you all.