You've Got Mail!

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By Mary Nolin and William (Bo) Dean

With the COVID 19 pandemic forcing many adult education centers to pivot to virtual learning platforms, many teachers needed to find creative ways to engage and connect with their students. William ‘Bo’ Dean, an English as a Second Language (ESOL) instructor at Salem Adult Education, had the idea of mailing books from the Connections program to his students to teach English and issues around the environment through children’s literature.

Bo selected a series of books focused around the environment since many of his students had expressed interest in this topic. The class learning themes this year are ecology, environment, and man’s impact on earth. The first book he mailed to students was Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts and its impact on surrounding towns and landscapes.

"During this difficult and unique time, I thought that our students would enjoy receiving a book in the mail. I wanted them to know they are important to our program and that we had not forgotten them. Plus, all of us enjoy receiving gifts."  ~ Bo Dean

Student response was overwhelmingly positive. They were thrilled to have received the books by mail!  Pictures started flooding into the class ‘Whatsapp’ group, an international texting app. Students sent pictures posing with their packages and books.

Bo used the book in a variety of ways. All students had the opportunity to read portions of the book aloud. This practice continues to be an effective tool for English language learners, especially on the Zoom platform. They also focused on new, thematic vocabulary to understand what these new words meant in the story, and particular time in New England. Connections books naturally lend themselves to teaching vocabulary, reading, writing, and grammar in English. However, they are also a powerful and accessible way to about learn US and New England history, and to practice conversation while discussing current events around the environment.

ur favorite activity was identifying our favorite illustrations in the book. Many of the students reflected on memories that the illustrations generated. The discussions and comments about the illustrations were very engaging and lively.”    ~ Bo

Bo and his students will virtually connect over three more books in this series including Wangari’s Trees for Peace by Jeannette Winter, One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul, and Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Once his students get settled into their virtual classroom routine, Bo plans to invite a Connections facilitator to his class to lead more book discussions on new topics. He is hoping his students realize the power that reading, and storytelling can provide. In these trying times, never underestimate the power and joy that can come from a children’s book, a handwritten letter or care package, or the desire to learn and share idees through any means possible.

“Overall, the entire process with the book was uplifting and unifying for the class. The sharing of the book allowed the class to coalesce again in a special way and start the year off on a positive note.”  ~ Bo