Sunday, November 2, 2014

A letter to Helaine Hager

Dear Ms. Hager,

I am writing to follow up on your "Hands-on Learning" workshop at the Promising Practices conference on STEM yesterday.  It was so interesting to see your take on learning, and what resonated with me was our conversation before class about teaching students who do not speak English.  Your transient population of immigrants from many cultures at Hope High School sounds fascinating and like a real challenge.  The fact that you have a handful of Mexican students who speak a rare Mayan dialect is in itself a challenge, coupled with students of so many other cultural backgrounds.  As a Spanish teacher, I feel like I am in a similar situation, albeit far less challenging than your own, when going about introducing new grammatical concepts to a non-Spanish-speaking predominantly white population.  Although our content areas little in common, some of the strategies you introduced yesterday made a strong impression on me.

I liked the way you teach by backwards design and do not reveal your learning goal in your daily objectives.  That strategy of letting the students arrive at their own conclusions is smart, and I like your deliberate lack of information as to what students will be seeing at the beginning of the lesson.  Although I believe in "no secrets" teaching and always project my own learning objectives, I can understand how your strategy would work well in a high school science classroom.  It was also fun and engaging how you conducted experiments before our classroom and we, your "students", hypothesized at potential outcomes of how water would flow from different points in a soda bottle.  Your lesson on air and water pressure was fascinating, and the fact that you handed out the information after the lesson is a strategy that I will use in my classrooms.  You engaged us and made us do the work versus handing us the instructions first and letting us tune you out.  It was outstanding.

In your second experiment on warm and cold fronts, I was mesmerized by the way in which air flows from hot to cold.  I didn't understand those meteorological maps before yesterday, but since conducting my own experiment with the red and blue blocks, I better understand how air reacts to heat and cold.   I specifically liked how you did the experiment and then we did our own experiments using your step-by-step directions.  Again, it was very helpful in learning the process, and as a result of your workshop, I am thinking of new ways to engage my own learners by having them do the work first.

My follow-up question as a result of your workshop harkens back to our discussion before class about your non-English-speaking population.  As I was sifting through your information packets and finding myself lost on some of the advanced math topics, I was wondering how the learning takes place for students who don't speak English. You mentioned that some students are able to translate for each other (particularly some of the Spanish speakers who also know the Mayan dialect), but what about those students who have no one speaking their primary language?   How do you measure learning for those kids how have no English at all?   I can't imagine that they would be able to fill out your packets, but I would like to imagine that their lack of English language skills would have no bearing on their knowledge of science.   It's fascinating to me how concepts are communicated via visuals and hands-on experiences, but at the same time, is it enough to ensure that every student receives a strong education?  I have no doubt that you are doing all that you can to reach and teach every one of your students, but I would love to learn more about other ways in which you measure learning for non-English speakers.

Amy Mahoney

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Race, Ethnicity, and the Adolescent

In a powerful chapter entitled Ethnic Identity Development, Michael J. Nakkula and Eric Toshalis disassemble common societal perceptions, particularly among the white majority, that race and ethnicity are one in the same.   The authors use many poignant examples of some of the students to whom they introduced us in past chapters to show how many minority adolescents, on top of struggling to negotiate their different identities among their peers and families, have the additional burden of being associated with stereotypes of "race" as opposed to "ethnicity."

As Nakkula and Toshalis and as most people understand, ethnicity is a much smaller subset within the larger category of one's race.  As a white Irish woman, I may choose to celebrate my Irish ethnicity when listening to Irish jigs and reels with my family at our numerous gatherings.   My family can reminisce about our visits with our Irish cousins abroad, celebrating ourselves and our traditions in the privacy of our own home or at large gatherings on St. Patrick's Day.   At the same time, to people who meet me, I am a white woman who is presumed by my last name to be Irish and Catholic.  I'm not Catholic though-I'm an Episcopalian- something I can choose to point out or not point out.  Without knowing my last name, I could be Scottish or English or almost anything- I am white, and I am in the majority.  There are no pejorative connotations with being white in our larger society.  Within other non-white ethnic groups, I could be scorned, but overall, I hold cultural capital because of the the color of my skin.

Interestingly, as the authors point out, there are connotations and stereotypes that are affiliated with one's race, particularly when one's race is "anything but white."  For Asian people, as Korean student Steven Chang quickly learned, the assumption is that one is "Chinese" (both ethnically and culturally incorrect) and that he and other Asian students "like him" will excel in school.  The authors write, "If he bothered to correct their ignorance and identify himself as Korean, someone would invariably ask, 'You're from Korea?' to which he'd have to correct them again and say, 'No, my parents are'"(p.167) Steve learned at a young age when inviting a white friend for dinner that he was "other"  His family's food was perceived as strange and repugnant to his young white companion who left without eating dinner.  Steve, on top of juggling becoming "masculine" to impress a girl, needs to factor in his race and how he will negotiate being Asian and "normal" among his white peers.  His race puts him in a position of being force to examine himself with respect to his peers; how he chooses to identify himself, whether strongly or weakly with his Korean ethnicity, strongly or weakly with being "Asian", or strongly or weakly with being the majority of his white friends is something that Steve needs to consider and his white friends do not (p. 161). Steve must undergo an additional level of self-searching by virtue of being in a cultural minority.   In reading this segment about Steve, it made me reflect on some of my "Asian" and "Arabic" students who face similar stereotypes.  It makes me wish that I had addressed ethnicity in a unit on racial stereotypes.   It also makes me want to design my units of study around my students' own cultures now that I'm realizing that "race" is too big of an umbrella.

Lorena faces similar challenges as a "Latino" adolescent woman.  She feels comfortable speaking Spanish at home, and to her, English feels like "somebody else's language" (p. 159).   She is forced to endure racially charged situations; she lives in a Chicano-Latino community but increasingly hangs around with "gringas" through rowing.  She, like Steve, needs to consider her race and what it means when she disassociates with her community expectations.  She worries about how to negotiate the prospect of going to college without abandoning her "family" in the community in which she was raised.  

Julian, a Haitian-American, most poignantly for me demonstrated the true angst one can feel with being labeled as simply a Black or African American.  When Antwon harasses Julian for not calling himself "black" but rather, "Haitian," I immediately realized that there are stereotypes among African Americans as to what "blackness" means.  "In making distinctions between themselves and what they considered the stereotypical Black American to be, Water's research subjects described 'the culture and values of lower-class Black Americans as including a lack or discipline, lack of work ethic, laziness, bad child-rearing practices and lack for respect for education'" (p. 172).  Well-meaning teachers like myself may bring conversations about culture into our classrooms, but until we ask students to speak specifically to their ethnicity as opposed to race, we are inadvertently promoting further identity withdrawal.  I want now to know where all of my students are from; what are their traditions and values; what else do they want to find out?   Until this chapter, I had felt that I was doing a great job breaking down stereotypes among my students.  After reading it, I realize that I need to do much, much more.   

I was in the emergency room all day and night yesterday with my son Kevin (the trumpet player) who broke his wrist skateboarding.   I had about a million different things going through my head as I wrote what I just wrote and what I didn't write because race is so tremendously prevalent-- so  much more than ethnicity.  We circle "white" or "Asian" or "Hispanic" or "black" on forms; we see a myriad of races and social classes of people in emergency rooms in city hospitals like Hasbro, and throughout the day and night, Kevin was treated by white paramedics, Latina receptionists, white female nurses, white male nurses, a black female doctor, and finally, a white orthopedic surgeon who set his arm in his cast at 2 in the morning.  My point is this; I'm tired and overwhelmed and behind on my work, but I really appreciate the diverse and exceptional melting pot that is the United States.  At the same time, I am sickened and disheartened by all of the stereotyping and lazy "clumping" of people into groups.  It makes me mad that last night (prior to reading this chapter today), I was intently observing and chatting with people but not truly noticing them.  In a way, that is the point of being an adult; people respecting people at face value.  But at the same time, I wonder what drove each of the diverse adult professionals with whom we interacted to become the professionals they are today.  Did somebody celebrate their ethnicity along the way?

Here's an awesome link I just found on racial stereotypes, but don't use the "Black men are well-endowed" one in your classrooms!!!!!      Top 10 Racial Stereotypes

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creating a homespace at school: How do teachers combat prescribed gender roles?

In their chapter "Gender Identity Development", Nakkula and Toshalis introduce a litany of contradictions about the prescribed roles of females versus males in today's society.  They argue that in their adolescence, students learn to acclimate to societal expectations of what being a boy or a girl means; how boys and girls "should" behave in order to be accepted by their peers.  While hormones play a limited role in shaping young men and women, "Much of our gender scripting is implicit.  We internalize gendered norms for masculinity and femininity that are picked up through family life, in the neighborhood, and throughout the media," state relational theorists Sapon-Shevin and Goodman in describing how gender stereotypes become learning guides (p. 100).  When I read and subsequently reread the chapter, I found myself not only nodding in agreement, but also sorting out the myriad of terms the authors introduced with respect to the gender identity "scripts" for girls and boys.

Steve vs. Lisa
As the authors contend, "gender-appropriate" behavior is a force that is already defined for boys and girls by early adolescence.  Freshmen Steve Chang and Lisa Prescott learn quickly in high school to "hide" their true selves in order to conform with the cliques that surround them.  Steve learns that being "cool" means making homophobic slurs, an action that the authors cite as a pervasive part of male scripting (p.111).  On the other hand, Lisa, an intellectual, finds that her attractive physique rather than her intellectual capacity is what is valued by both her clique of girlfriends and many boys in her high school.  Nakkula and Toshalis argue that Lisa, like many young girls, learns "what others want her to be, and in that sense has lost an opportunity to become the person she might have imagined"  (p. 107).  Subsequently, both Steve and Lisa begin to shape their public persona into those of the stereotypical "homophobic boy" and "ditsy girl" in order to conform with their peers. This leads to the next set of contradictions that exists, "going internal" versus "going external".

Going internal vs. Going external
Nakkula and Toshalis show how adolescent girls like Lisa are engaging in a process of going into psychological hiding, or "going underground" (p. 103).  They describe the inward flight of outgoing, predominately white, middle- and upper-middle-class girls; girls who may have confidently soared through middle school academically but feel the need to repress their talent and intellect; to be refined, less outgoing, and less aggressive.  The closing off of oneself or going internal, just as often happens with homosexual students who prefer the refuge of being "in the closet" as opposed to facing public ridicule, denies adolescents of their flow.  Girls, according to the authors, are taught to "act" within their prescribed "supporting roles" (p. 103)  "The energy to hide is lost energy," state Nakkula and Toshalis (p. 114).  It is literally exhausting to play the role of someone you aren't, as I learned myself in my own inward flight as an adolescent female.  I was a tomboy who was initially isolated by my peers school in eight grade for being overly confident, and then at home for being too feminine in the eyes of my doting father who felt "betrayed" by my new feminine conformist identity.  Something has to give, and in the case of Lisa, it is her academics as she exhausts herself socially.

On the other hand, society prescribes that adolescent boys should "perform" as strong, emotionally-controlled leaders (p. 104).  Sadker and Sadker define the "prescriptions of patriarchy" when they show the role of "boys in action" and "girls' inaction" in classrooms.  They argue that value is placed on boys' academic contributions and girls' social skills (p.105).  The authors suggest that boys are preconditioned by society to show toughness; a hyper-masculinity that overshadows showing any sort of vulnerability.  It is a fear that showing any signs of compassion or sensitivity is a weakness, or even worse, feminine or homosexual.  Among of the greatest insults I have seen on Twitter is calling a guy a "faggot" or a "girl."  Using one's gender or sexuality a negative stereotype is not only detrimental to the group being slurred, but also to the psyche of the recipient of the slur.  It is, in effect, the stifling of one's true self, one's dignity, and one's ability to achieve flow.

Interestingly, the same gender stereotypes for middle- to upper-middle-class white girls do not necessarily apply to African-American girls, according to the authors.  In fact, the authors say, a subset of African-American from Philadelphia were shown to feel strong leadership roles in the home environment.  Those girls who tended to drop out of school because they possessed real-life competencies to raise and provide for their families were perceived to be stronger than their in-school counterparts (p. 106).  This example made me think that perhaps the young black girls in this study were not provided with enough power and leadership opportunities in school.  The educational system itself along with culturally-prescribed feminine roles is to blame for these young girls' unwillingness or inability to stay in school.

"Schools themselves are gendered spaces" (p. 105)
Because school have inbred gendered roles as defined by the contradictions above, it is incumbent upon teachers to create "safe spaces" or "homespaces" where the stereotypes can be explored and dismantled.  I felt somewhat heartened by the authors' description of Janie Ward's homespace as "not so much a physical place within a particular system, whether family, school, or community setting, but rather a collective psychological space designed to promote healthy resistance to oppression (p. 110).    From previous chapters, we know that learning requires a certain amount vulnerability in a space where it is safe to take chances and make mistakes.  We are given examples by the authors; mothers read to their children about real world examples of people overcoming oppressions.  Teachers give their students texts and ask them for five-paragraph interpretations followed up by comparisons to their own gender roles and upbringing.  To me, as a female, it seems easier to create homespaces for girls at school.  

The authors admit that most homespaces for boys, whether in athletics or at home on videogames, breed homophobia, male dominance, and uber-masculinity.   As I write this blog, my eleven-year-old son Kevin is practicing his saxophone in our dining room.  He is also a proud member of his middle school chess club and cross country team.  It breaks my heart that Kevin will likely be subjected to ridicule at least once in these formative adolescent years because many "mainstream" boys consider playing music with the school band a "gay" activity.   The arts are perceived by uber-masculine boys as "gay" in many high schools, including my own.  It is evident that football is more valued by mainstream New Englanders in Anywhere, Southeastern Massachusetts than the members of the marching band or the cheerleaders who accompany the players to every game.  I worry that my son Kevin will be faced with abandoning his true self for a conformist, mainstream persona.  I worry as a female white teacher that my solitary homespace in school is not enough to combat mainstream homespaces like the school bus, the locker room, and Twitter, where societal messages of being homophobic prevail.  Kevin, my amazing little intellectual, is embarking on the cruelty of the adolescent society, and I just hope that I help him have the confidence to be who he is; to run, to play chess, and to play the saxophone with passion.   It is something that as a teacher and a mother I find frightening.  As an educator, I feel the authors fell short of providing good examples of how to effectively combat the hyper-masculinity among adolescent boys.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tracking Lorena: Chapters 4 and 5 of Understanding Youth

Michael J. Nakkula and Eric Toshalis demonstrate how tenth grader Lorena Chavez comes to find her "flow" in chapters 4 and 5 of Understanding Youth.  What becomes apparent as the chapters unfold is that hope is the essence of what many high school students lack when it comes to the possibility of passing standardized graduation tests.  The questions lingering for educators in the subtext of these chapters become apparent: How can we foster hope in students who have "checked out" of school?  How can we provide support and a sense of possibility for students, even in areas other than academics, to foster confidence?

Lorena, a born leader whose "confidence" got her through elementary and middle school, finds that she is faced with having sub-par writing skills in high school that make passing a standardized test a seemingly impossible task.  Lorena acts out in inappropriate ways during school, but two teachers  who see possibility in Lorena advocate for her to receive counseling in lieu of expulsion.  Lorena is then steered down a path of self-development through the help of her school counselor, Maggie.  

 My nagging questions:  What happens to those kids who lack the athletic ability or charisma?  What happens to those "unlovable" souls who don't have an adult mentor to stand up for them?  How can we ensure that every child has an influential adult in the school setting looking over their shoulder?

Lorena confides in her adult mentors that her father was recently laid of and her mother was battling cancer.   Had those teachers not taken an interest in Lorena, realizing they were "losing" her , quite possibly to the streets, they may not have found out this crucial element of information.  This harkens back to Julian in the first chapters; when we take the time to get to know our students, we understand the many pressures pushing and pulling at them all day long.  How can we get our students to confide in us when crises are impacting their ability to learn?

Michael Nakkula's 1993 initiative Project IF: Inventing the Future and his subsequent research at Harvard's Graduate School of Education encourages educators to focus on students' strengths and possibilities rather than their weaknesses.  But, as the authors write, "Whether in the classroom or the counseling office, the shift from prevention and intervention to invention (also, at times called promotion) implies a great deal.  In implies that prevention work, although critically important and a key step forward from treating problems after they occur, is still a course of action fundamentally oriented toward student difficulties rather than their strengths" (Nakkula and Toshalis, 67).   

My question:  Is my own high school's "Freshmen Academy" and this year's brand new "Sophomore Academy", which are aimed at a small cohort our under-served student population, in fact mislabeling students who have a myriad of strengths, some of which are beginning to take shape academically? Or, would these two groups of students have been "lost" to dropping out had some concerned guidance counselors and teachers not advocated on their behalf?   From which side of the coin should we view invention and promotion?   And when exactly does that heartbreaking shift in adolescence occur from when nearly every student imagines he or she can be a doctor or lawyer, yet, later in high school, loses all hope of even graduating?

Nakkula and Ravitch argue that if students are presented with possibilities, their skills will ensue. It all comes down to educators fostering a sense of hope in our students.   We need
to show students how to view the world through the lens of possibility.  "We must nurture high-end skills just was we must help students develop in areas of relative weakness" (Nakkula and Toshalis, 70).   

As we see with Lorena, her involvement with a local college's crew team provided her a sense of pride, and her teamwork skills and confidence transcended to her academics.  She learned to "relate and negotiate," to "trust her teammates and her coach," and "to be in a relationship with her peers" (Nakkula and Toshalis, 80).  Subsequently, her academic achievement began to rise. She found her flow.  

Psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan argued in the late 1950's that the deep and emotional "bond of chumship"  could help adolescents reinvent possibly "damaged" childhood upbringings.  Selman takes the concept of "chumship" to the next level in asserting that counselors and therapists could even "utilize peer relationships and friendships to study moral development...and promote such development through these relationships" (Nakkula and Toshalis, 87). In this context, the role of peers as well as adult mentors become equally important in shaping adolescents.  While neither peers nor teachers should "replace" parental roles, both can become "mentors" to struggling adolescents.  

Toward the end of Chapter 6, Mr. Harrison, a true "mentor," helps Lorena and her lab partner, Steve, to come to a consensus about their lab project.   He listens carefully to their arguments, encourages them to list their own ideas, allows for a day of reflection, asks the two to reconvene and read each other's ideas, and ultimately, walks away as the two reach a compromise.   This was the highlight of both chapters for me, and it is an approach that I plan to take forward in my teaching experience.  Mr. Harrison, in effect, promoted a genuinely reciprocal friendship between students who were, in spite of appearances, not all that unalike.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mental overload= My own learning "crisis"?

Looking back on this week after an intense Wednesday evening class, a revisiting of  Kolb's learning styles, an analysis of my own teaching style as it pertains to Kolb, a sixteen-minute interview with my student, Julia, and two highly complicated chapters of Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators, I need a space to process all that I have done and read in the past five days.   I can honestly say that I was about as stressed as I have ever been about coursework.

Ever since Wednesday night, I had been perseverating about ways in which I can bring diverging, assimilating, and converging learning styles into my teaching since, as Kolb proved, I am very much an accommodating learner.  I made a point on Thursday and Friday to vary from my normal routines and push myself outside of my comfort zone, essentially letting my Spanish IV honors dictate the pace at which they began to read and process their Jorge Luis Borges excerpt.  I was particularly nervous because my student teacher from Wheaton College would be observing me.   I asked her to feel free to offer me her ideas and join in conversations as I conducted the class. She did!   I found that instead of my worst fears coming true (utter chaos and minimal learning), we had rich discussions entirely in Spanish for an hour-and-a-half block, laden with many side conversations and group analysis of a good chunk of El Otro.  We strayed from "academics" for a few minutes to point out that my teacher, Haley, was only a few years older than them at 21.  I worked hard on being patient and open-minded.  I tried not to lead and I tried instead to learn, and the result was a terrifyingly powerful experience in that Spanish IV class.  What was even more surprising to me was that I saw one of my students after school at a volleyball game, and he kept the conversation going in Spanish!  That, along with my yoga class on Friday, was the highlight of my week. 

I wish I had read Chapters 2 and 3 of Nikkola and Toshalis prior to conducting my interview with my student, Julia, on Friday afternoon.   I cringe at times when I listen back to my sixteen minute interview where I occasionally interrupt or proclaim "Great!" at other times.  School psychologist Mitch Guillermo's handling of Julian's identity crisis with compassion, lack of judgment, relationship building, and listening made me feel grossly inadequate in my own tendency to clump learners together according to what I perceive to be their learning styles and personalities.   After this week, I started to think that I need to recognize that no two students are alike, no matter how much I might think to myself that Student X is a young me and Student Y is a younger version of Student C that I taught two years ago.  I realized that I am quick to jump to conclusions about people, relying heavily on instinct and not spending nearly enough time carefully observing and culling out information about my learners. 

I loved hearing Julia's voice on my phone.  I realized in the 7 or so times I played back the interview how grossly inaccurate I was in my preliminary judgment of her.  If that's how I feel after interviewing just one student, I cannot imagine how bad I am going to feel when I face these kids tomorrow.

That is the moment that it occurred to me mid morning today that perhaps I am in my own state of crisis right now.  I am thrown off kilter about everything I knew to be a truth about my teaching (I have good relationships with my students) and now need to consider that maybe I need to work much harder to get to understand my students as learners.  It is a tough nut to swallow.   I have nearly cried and lost a lot of sleep over this and another graduate class that just started up last Tuesday, but I am realizing that this "crisis" will likely lead to a new and improved self-identity as a learner.   I feel so keenly aware of how taxing it is for adolescents to negotiate so many identities during the course of a day (p.33).   It brought me back to having just been there myself, on the cusp of contemplating suicide one day and feeling amazing the next.   I will also look for strategies to create safe risk-taking environments in my classroom and the school community.  On a bright note, this hard work and identity crisis of my own will hopefully help me when it comes to being a mother to my own sons who are quickly approaching that adolescent age.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mixed signals in the classroom

How many times have I thought that a student who was angry at me was being insubordinate?  If I'm being honest, many times.  Whether or not I have chosen to engage or ignore that child has varied through the years, but without a doubt, I've been guilty of mixing signals and not pursuing why some students have been frustrated, overwhelmed, or sad in class.

The below video of a white female Spanish teacher losing patience with her African American students makes me cringe for many reasons, aside from her American accent.   I would like to think that I would never talk down to my students, compare their lack of achievement to the successes of my other classes, and suggest that they are unable or unwilling to learn, as this young woman does.  If I'm being brutally honest, I have given similar speeches to my classes, particularly when I was new to the field.  The condescending tone of disappointment in this teacher's voice irks me because it rings true for my younger self as as new educator. Her attempt to stay with the curriculum, but the clear panic/aggravation in her voice is all too familiar.  When her supervisor steps in to "help", the scene worsens. After a couple of minutes of watching this video, I had to look into myself introspectively and think if I have had or could avoid similar moments like these.  The answer to both is yes.  Yes, I have not been at my best as a teacher on every day with every student, but yes, I have worked and will continue to work to get better.

In Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators, Nakkula and Toshalis center the first chapter around an internal battle between seasoned teacher Danielle Peterson and her student, Antwon Saladin.  The authors demonstrate that aside from the subject content, classic learning about student/teacher roles is taking place each time Antwon brushes Ms. Peterson off and Ms. Peterson views Antwon as a trouble maker who is "choosing to fail."  In the chapter one scenario, Antwon is tremendously worried about failing the graduation exam and is struggling with his peer group.   Nakkula and Toshalis urge educators to delve into the troubling student behavior when they write, "Think, for example, how differently Antwon and Ms. Peterson's relationship would be unfolding were Ms. Peterson to become more transparent about her motivations, interpretations, and even her fears and expectations, depending, of course, on how such information was shared." The authors suggest that teachers are coauthors and co-constructors in all of our adolescent students' lives.  We must understand our impact on our students in their development, just as our students influence our own teaching and learning.

A wise friend of mine who retired once told me that when students are acting out, ninety-nine percent of the time, it has nothing to do with me.   Still, it is hard to face angry students without feeling defensive and hurt.   Nakkula and Toshalis implore teachers to take action and accept their co-responsibility in authoring the classic learning that takes place in my classroom.  They remind educators to scrutinize the intrinsic messages students are receiving through our actions and interactions with them.  A message that resonated with me toward the end of the first chapter is as follows:  "Ms. Peterson is teaching much more than literature-she is coauthoring Antwon's self-understanding and co-constructing the meaning he makes of his relationship with her."  If Ms. Peterson continues to ignore Antwon's cries for help, he will likely fall out of his peer group and potentially fail out of school.  I strongly feel that it is up to Ms. Peterson to take the next step in salvaging what is left of her relationship with Antwon.   I hope that the young teacher in the above video has viewed it; has scrutinized it; and has looked introspectively to find better ways of inspiring students and promoting learning in her classroom.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Liberating the Curriculum and Beyond

In the second half of To Teach: The Journey, In Comics, Ayers and Tanner demonstrate how what happens in the classroom is not necessarily determined by curricula, frameworks, lesson plans, standardized tests, standards, and whatever newfangled "system" that Departments of Education deem to be effective. In fact, as they illustrate, learning is unpredictable and uncontainable; it is so much more than what these buzzwords label it to be.  They show how learning is not neatly packaged and is contingent on the learners. They take a classic stance in the spectrum of learning and go so far as to rebel against traditional educational models that parallel official theories.

A Tale of Two Visions shows how there are conflicting viewpoints in learning: a classic view which contends that learning is intuitive, interest-driven and effortless; and the prevailing official theory, which maintains that learning entails hard work, rote memorization, and testing to ensure mastery of subject matters.  In this article, the author suggests that learning is not and never should be "hard work."   It should be pleasurable and memorable and subsequently, life changing.

I assert that there is a fine line between what these authors are implying and sheer anarchy.  Yes, learning should be learner-driven, and yes, it should be "boundless" and uninhibited to an extent, but as a creature of the old-school educational model, I feel that without requirements and some testing, we would be living in a less globally-competitive society. 

When the fictitious cartoon Ayers stand on his soapbox and declares, "...anyone who tries to bracket thinking in any sense is, in essence, killing learning," I want to cringe. (p. 74)  On the following page, he mocks the state of Illinois kindergarten standards when he states, "I don't want to bow down to the almighty lesson plan, and I don't want to lose the importance of having a teacher in the classroom who is a thinking, feeling, unique individual." (p. 75)  To Ayers, I would counter that the state of Massachusetts has made amazing educational strides in consolidating our frameworks and implementing them across curricula.  I would argue that my teaching now is so much stronger than it was 15 years ago before I was held accountable for my plans and required to post them for my students and their parents.  I would also contend that it is not hard at all to write good plans with spaces for learners to demonstrate and create knowledge in every class.  

To me, it seems lazy and irresponsible, even, to dismantle almost all of our traditional educational system.  Yes, learners should be at the center of all learning, even in subject matters that don't necessarily appeal to them.  In order to grow as human beings and adults, I would argue that you can't have it your way all the time.  You may hate history or Spanish or math, but you still need to take and pass it.  These things called "tests" ensure that some knowledge about the subject matter was acquired.   However, maybe we should revisit our "tests"... must they be so... well, traditional?   Why can't we reconsider as educators how we measure knowledge?   For as much as Ayers maintains that he has a fun, learning-centered, investigative classroom, I would ague that his own student, Quinn, could not have delivered such an eloquent and reflective graduation address without having had a vocabulary quiz or two along the way.  And of course, as Ayers contends, all assessments should be free of socioeconomic biases.

There has to be a happy medium.  I fall in the camp of the classic view of learning within an official theory structure.   I believe that there need to be guidelines, plans, assessment, and hard work as well as vicariousness, growth, social activity, and freedom of expression without punishment in appropriate venues.  If the end assessment is called a "test", a "project", a "paper" or an "assignment," it should in some way demonstrate academic growth.   The "test" could be as simple as having a conversation in the target language, understanding a joke, or watching and understanding a mini-series in Spanish, but without some sort of "test," I  believe that students may not feel accountable.  Frankly, I wouldn't. 

 When, on page 98, Ayers shows how he practices "creative insubordination" but cutting the wires to his intercom, I lose some respect for him.  Insubordination is also a slippery slope; we are trying to inspire learners, and we must do so by example.  As a parent of two boys, I think he sends the wrong message in being creatively insubordinate.   Rather than rally the troops, as I believe he intended to do, I felt like deserting the camp.   Like Ayers, I believe that teachers can change the world, but I believe we can do so in a civilized and respectful way.  I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the first half of To Teach:  The Journey, In Comics, but I was left with fewer warm and fuzzy feelings in the second half of the book. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflection on To Teach: The Journey, In Comics from one teacher in a community of learners

"This is a community of learners, and you must treat everyone with respect and compassion- especially when it's hard to do."

How poignant this quote from William Ayers is for me!   In this segment of a comic within a comic, Ayers grabs a few sage words of wisdom from his son Malik's fifth grade teacher.   In a flashback frame on page 38, we see a kind looking mustached-man  - Malik's teacher  - addressing an astounded group of ten-year-olds as he establishes three rules: 1) you can chew gum; 2) you can wear hats; and 3) the aforementioned quote that will be posted prominently in my own classroom this year. 

Chapter Three calls for taking a step back from the daily grind; the constant interruptions from the intercom, unexpected walk-throughs and technological glitches, and general classroom management.   Rather than focus on the negative, says Ayers, we should take into account the positive message that we as teachers want our classrooms, our daily mantras, and every single interaction that takes place within our classrooms to reflect.  Ayers challenges us to find strengths in all of our students, and to utilize those strengths to make the community within the class cohesive and high-functioning.  He uses a metaphor of an empty box, which symbolizes a void that can be filled with life. His empty box represents the unlimited possibilities that I have in making a comfortable niche for every one of my diverse learners.

There are so many heartbreaking images in the first five chapters of Ayers' graphic novel; we see parents on the edge of their seats anticipating a horrible report about their "troubled" child; we see administrators shaking their heads about poor lost causes, and we students being unfairly labeled by other students in the classroom.   Every teacher has at least one of "those students"; the troublemakers, the unseen, the "at risk," or more aptly coined by Dr. Janet Johnson "underserved" kids.  Ayers implores teachers to find "spaces that speak and work for us," and in doing so, to create safe and comfortable environments so that EVERY child has a voice.

It is so hard at times to treat everyone with respect; especially in a classroom full of 30 students, 7 or 8 of whom are traditional "troublemakers."  There are invisible students, highly visible students, academically outstanding students and academically poor students in any mix, but as teachers, we try to reach all of them.  I have always believed that we must work to find the good in all people, but Ayers challenged me to take this goodness to the next level.  He calls for action; he shows how we can utilize every student's strengths and talents to promote student-to-student teaching.  It seems so simple- so obvious, even- yet, somehow, I missed it!  I want to draw on my students' interests to encourage creativity and spark new lesson ideas.   I hope to use my students' strengths to help them find a valuable role in the classroom.  

That being said, there is always a fair share of heckling and animosity that I detect from student to student, year to year.  This is why this quote speaks to me.

 On Friday, I received my first email from guidance asking that I not seat Student X near Student Y in one of my classes.  This email didn't sit well with me when I read it on Friday, and after reading Ayers' graphic novel, it infuriates me even more.   Of course, I will honor the email for the time being, but I will be focusing some of my attention on team building among X and Y.   I want X and Y to treat each other with respect and compassion, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT'S HARD TO!   I will be actively working to create a respectful, kind environment where every single student brings value and a voice to a table.  I will be focusing on these two kids and looking forward to any ideas and suggestions from our cohort!  


Friday, July 11, 2014

My Reflection: The Written Assignment

This has been a career-defining year for me in many ways.  Last fall, I began to think about my own pedagogy, a term I had never heard of prior to entering the ASTL program at RIC.  I defy the traditional mold in some ways because I am an example of a teacher who "came off the street" (actually, a state government job as a legislative liaison for the welfare department) and stepped into a classroom with no formal education training: my degrees were in Spanish and journalism.  My career has been defined by trial and error, and fortunately, quite a few successes (thank God) along the way.  Of course, I enrolled almost immediately in a MEd program at Framingham State University, where I took only one education course under Dr. Marcel LaVergne, the university's director of World Languages, that provided me with a plethora of ideas and activities that I still pull out of my hat, fourteen years later.  Dr. LaVergne was funny and creative, and his pedagogy of creating authentic language spoke to me as a Spanish teacher. This legends project evolved from his inspiration to have students craft their own versions of stories; to explore themes and create unique versions of the past.  The Spanish literature courses I took at Framingham State were very high level, and subsequently, not relevant to the craft of teaching. After having my sons Kevin and Sean, I put the whole thing, including teaching, on hiatus for seven years.  It was so hard to leave the classroom, and I was heartbroken for a while.  Thankfully, I got hired back by my district just as my boys were entering elementary school full time.

I think my pedagogy has always been to incorporate my students' voices into their work and to encourage speaking, even if it isn't always grammatically correct.  Now, I also bring social justice issues to the forefront of my practice.  Prior to this class, my legends project was a written product.  The digital content I have added makes this project much more tangible and hopefully, memorable, to my students.  The first two pieces that I made on Google docs are excellent devices for providing a social justice and historical context to the text.  They allow for collaboration, editing, and revision, as well as visual graphics like maps, pictures, and charts.  I know that I too will be learning more about Aztec myths and legends as students engage in finding information together.  I hope that this sparks a great in-class conversation about princess culture; I want to elicit conversation from their informed perspectives.  This could become a mini-unit in the context of the dull grammar and vocabulary of my traditional textbook.  (After taking this class, I might be changing that too through Digital Online Books.)  The final piece, which was traditionally a creative essay, will become either individual or group assignments where students will showcase their creative modern legends through digital comic strips, videos, videoscribe, written pieces with links, or Prezis to the class, either on a website or in presentation format (which I will determine as this comes together).   I hope to be able to capture a creative spirit (my pedagogy) through collaboration and the exploration of a digital tool.    I will have to set aside the written grammar as this will tend to be a primarily spoken project with less written text.  In letting go of some of my traditional teacher values, I hope to see more engagement and excitement from my students, just as my classmates and I experienced all week long in taking Curriculum 501.

My shift toward incorporating social justice issues into the classroom began with reading Lisa Delpit, who for the first time made me think about the way in which white people are viewed by minority populations who proclaimed, "They just don't listen."  I began to think about stereotypes of all people, particularly the Hispanic population whose language and culture are often criticized or demeaned by my white students.  I try use my teaching to combat negative stereotypes, including the issues we SCWAAMPed about in class, as they arise.   In Privilege, Power, and Difference, Allan Johnson  made me think of the umbrella under which I live; I am white, middle class, female, able-bodied, straight, and Christian.  According to Johnson, those with the most cultural capital are straight white Christian men.  It took me a while to wrap my head around that until I realized that I truly do not "have" to consider my race when I get up and go to work every morning.  I don't need to prove anything, unlike my Dominican and Mexican colleagues who are constantly fighting uphill battles.  I decided to bring SCWAAMP to my classroom and was met with resistance initially, but ultimately, understanding and appreciation from my Spanish IV honors students.  

This project will provide me with an amazing opportunity to SCWAAMP with my sophomores next year in its connection to gender stereotypes through princess culture, as illustrated by Linda Christensen.  I enjoyed analyzing Frozen and Brave, and can even envision analyzing Frozen in Spanish (it exists!) with my students as an activity.  What I like is that this project takes me to a new level of thinking and opens the door for greater and more in-depth analysis of stereotypes; it is forum for a dialogue I hadn't considered when I taught Spanish III honors several years ago.

Michael Wesch brought the technological vision together for me; he demonstrated how irrelevant the traditional teaching style of teacher in front the classroom is for students today.  I have been working on modifying and updating my curricula this year to incorporate more technology (Twitter, YouTube, online research), but this project is a new level of technological use for me.  I am invigorated anew; I can't wait to start this and hopefully many similar projects in the fall with students across my curricula.   It has been a phenomenal experience to add tools to my own digital backpack.  Hopefully, the Spanish legend Los novios will seem more relevant and enjoyable to my Spanish III honors students through the use of technology.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My techno-constructivist project

After completing my project, Bringing Legends to Life Through Technology, and first ever Pecha Kucha, I feel like I a real technocrat.  I felt sheer exuberance upon completing my first ever Google doc, and even better about myself when the second one was easier to replicate.  I explored technologies that I didn't even know about just over a week ago.  I will be bringing my new-found technological savvy into my classroom in many aspects of my planning and execution of plans, and I am forever changed as to how I view the world through my students' eyes.

Even though I "feel" like a technocrat, I believe my project positions me well as a techno-constructivist.  I have explored many technological tools and am asking my students to complete their projects in mediums I myself have not used.  I've personally never made a Prezi, but after this course, I know I could.  My group made a stop-motion video, but I was not manning the camera.  I'm in the process of exploring and utilizing technology that is still new to me; I'm on my way, and so too will be my students.

My first Google doc is a graphic organizer that I will use in Spanish 3 after students have read the legend.  It asks them to summarize the beginning of the legend in three sentences, the plot of the legend in 5 sentences, and the end of the legend in three sentences.  They will use on-line dictionaries to produce a myriad of adjectives to describe aspects of the legend and justify their descriptions.  They will examine male and female protagonists and their societal roles.  Finally, they will add links to any relevant pictures, maps, or images to justify or reinforce their descriptions.

My second Google doc is a legend analysis piece that I added to explore the greater context to this and many other Aztec legends.  In it, students will explore Aztec gods, common Aztec legends, Aztec beliefs about humanity and nature, and examples of Aztec influence today in Mexico.  In the final column of the organizer, they will compare and contrast Aztec beliefs with those in American society, and below, they will add links to maps, images, and charts to substantiate their research.

My Mexican legend project requires my students to create a legend to explain a phenomenon, such as why the sky is blue, or why dogs have tails.  It requires them to use a variety of technological mediums to explore creative venues to present their projects to the class.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Turkle versus Wesch: What do we do with all this technology?

Sherry Turkle and Michael Wesch approach technology's role in communication from two different vantage points:  Turkle suggests that technology inhibits human interactions and conversation, a dying art in this day and age, and Wesch seems to be in favor of fully embracing technology as a platform for dialogue and interaction.   Neither professor condemns technology, but they do appear to take opposing standpoints as to what it does to face-to-face interactions.  They also vary greatly on the way in which they approach solutions to the problem.  

Turkle notes that people are intrinsically linked to their devices and seem to have lost the art of having conversations as well as being alone.  She points out how when we are alone for more than a few minutes, we instinctively reach for our devices.  She says that we tend to look at little "sips" of online conversations through social media and texting as combined gulps, when in reality, people are scripting a artificial personas online; we edit our posts, we are limited by characters, we choose how to portray ourselves through the photos we exhibit, and we essentially make it easier NOT to communicate authentically with people.

 She uses the example of a man who claims that people in his office don't want to be bothered, but after a minute of self-reflection writes, “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”  I can't tell you how often I have been that man, not interested in engaging in conversation because it is easier and "safer" to text.   She points out that young people, as in the case of the sixteen-year-old boy she mentions, would like to "learn how to have a conversation."  As a remedy to this problem, Turkle argues that we must have technology-free zones in our homes or cars, and take a stance for a no-technology day (or even hour) in our classrooms or offices, from time to time.  I wholeheartedly agree with Turkle's advice.   It is nice to put aside the Words With Friends once in a while for the sake of genuine conversation.  I worry for my two boys who are ten and eleven years old; I want them to be able to share stories and forge friendships and relationships in conjunction with their online personas.   I want their memories to consist of real life experiences versus the virtual reality they already have through their iPod touches, XBox, digital cameras, video cameras, and laptops.  I don't want to shield them from technology, but I want them to be able to function apart from it.  So far, they seem to be okay doing just that.

Wesch agrees with Turkle that connecting with people, especially our students, has become more arduous in this day and age when the primary questions being asked in the classroom are non-substantive ones such as "Is this going to be on the test?"  He shows how the traditional teacher-at-podium class lecture model no longer works with our students who simply tune out and shop online, text while looking directly at us, or catch up on Twitter and Facebook  as we teach.  

He says that we need to change the physical layout of our classrooms and rid ourselves of the old mold; we need to recreate a community where we are all on our devices simultaneously together.  In this way, he directly contradicts Turkle's notion that we are "alone together."   He says that educators need to think of ways to inspire our students to ask thoughtful questions, so why not use a medium with which they are comfortable?    Just as we would never articulate, "some students are just not cut out for learning," we should approach teaching from a new perspective; his self-coined "anti-teaching."   In other words, we need to create interactive digital space in the classroom to get the dialogue started.

I believe that both authors share valid and equally important points.  There is a time and place for technology, and, as Turkle states, there is a time and place without it.  These professors show two sides of the coin, and I actually feel that they would agree with each other if they were to engage in a dialogue about their points.  They are both right: why not make our technology a means of creating dialogues when we use it, and why set aside times for authentic, "old-school" conversation?   Both authors offer smart approaches for utilizing technology appropriately.  Both are interested in preserving the dying art of asking and answering thoughtful questions, regardless of whether in person or on-line.   Although I personally am more of Turkle's school philosophically, I absolutely agree with Wesch that it is imperative to make my own classroom relevant to my students' lives.

Gender Stereotypes video

Gabe, Graham, Mary and I put this video together in about an hour.  As we discussed during class, our lack of experience with stop motion film technology inhibited us from recording the full script; this could be a problem that any of us would encounter during class with our students.  In spite of this minor setback which we were able to address when Mary presented and explained our project to the class, we all agreed that this was a valuable experience and one that I will definitely be repeating with my Spanish students!  I enjoyed the process as well as the learning; we were able to take a topic and make it our own.  I think that this kind of activity has an important place in the classroom!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Seventh Graders and Sexism: one teacher's attempt to analyze media stereotypes in class

In her article Seventh Graders and Sexism, Latino author and teacher Lisa Espinosa brings her own experiences of having grown up in a traditional Mexican family with ingrained gender stereotypes to the forefront of her classroom discussions with her seventh graders in Chicago's South Side.  Espinosa, who had her first child as a college freshman and a total of four children in the eight years it took her to complete schooling, noticed a trend among young Latino women like herself who become teen mothers.  She asserts that expectations in her community were different for boys and girls; boys were expected to be independent, strong, and heads of households while girls were expected to obey authority, cook, do chores, and be nice.  If in this scenario, "authoritative" figures were developing Mexican male teenagers, it is no wonder that so many young girls in Espinosa's community were becoming pregnant.  As a third year teacher, Espinosa noticed similar patterns unfolding with her own male students who used derogatory language like "gay" and "faggot" to display their masculinity, and her female students who aspired to "find a guy to take care of me" or "get married," as she writes. Subsequently, she decided to design a language arts unit around gender biases.

Espinosa began to create her own classroom text by gathering resources with the help of the bilingual teacher and through research of articles, many of which were complex and subsequently read during class time, with a set of vocabulary to augment the words for her mainly Spanish-speaking class of 31 students.   She found an excellent resource in a magazine called REP, which is published by Men Can Stop Rape. They engaged in activities like a mini-SCWAAMP where her students made and discussed posters defining how to "Be Ladylike" and "Act Like a Man."

When in-class discussions did not seem to provoke deep critical thinking and conversation from her seventh graders, Espinosa began to encourage ungraded "free writing" where she saw true reflection and analysis from her students take shape. Formally graded narratives began to reflect fictitious stories with graphic descriptions of hateful stereotypes, but with student-created resolutions to the problems at the end of their stories.  Some stories, "although fictionalized, seemed very autobiographical."  Espinosa's regret about her own teaching is that she didn't encourage more formal essays. 

Finally, Espinosa had her students collectively make collages to either counter or reaffirm gender stereotypes.  Using magazines that she could find and incorporating as many with people of color, groups of three to four kids worked feverishly to clip out images and words to fit the assignment they were given.  For example, one group portrayed men in untraditional gender roles.  If students found images to fit another group's assignment (say, women in traditionally subservient roles), they would eagerly share their cutouts with each other. 

The message of this article, for me, was to take Espinosa's ideas and shape them into my own way of targeting gender stereotypes among my predominately white middle class students at Norton High School.   As a relatively new teacher, Espinosa was able to help students who mirrored her younger self reflect more deeply on what drives them to follow or defy stereotypes.  I would be interested in a follow-up to this article:  What happened to those kids?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disco Mickey Mouse

As a tomboy, I have very few memories of ever watching, much less liking, traditional Disney movies.  I distinctively remember my first movie theater movies, none of which fit the "traditional" mold of children's classics.  They were Barbara Streisand's Yentl with my best friend and neighbor, Arthur, and his mother Lita who took us (we were about 10); A Coalminer's Daughter, with my ex-aunt Debbie at a tiny movie theater in downtown Attleboro (maybe I was 7?); and Star Wars with my father when I was about five years old.  I remember the smells of the theaters, the glamour of the experience, and most of all, the adults with whom I went and our ensuing discussions after each movie.  It's strange in hindsight that I had exposure to sophisticated adult themes like cross-dressing, severe alcoholism and poverty, and space wars (well, that's not as sophisticated) at such a young age.  I don't really recall the themes of the movies as much as the music, the dark movie theater lighting, the vaguely musty smell during A Coalminer's Daughter, and the feeling of being very glamorous and sophisticated.  My earliest Disney exposure was actually through music; my first record:  Disco Mickey Mouse.  I was obsessed with not only the title track featuring Mickey himself, but also "Macho Macho Duck" featuring Donald.  I just LOVED that song and would dance around my cellar to the uplifting and badass lyrics saying something about Donald being a "keen and a real sensation," or whatever they were mumbling because I didn't really understand it.  In fact, I was totally bored by the girly songs and any girly princess movies back before princesses were really a thing.  For me, they weren't even a part of my life until I joined an area moms' club when my boys were one and two, and every other mom in the group had little girls obsessed with princesses.  I absolutely HATED it, but I couldn't quite pinpoint why.  My two younger sisters, on the other hand, grew up loving all things girly including the Disney classics (maybe we saw Snow White but I honestly don't remember), My Little Ponies, and Strawberry Shortcake. I was more interested in playing cops and robbers and "office" with my best friend and all of the neighborhood boys.   I loved imagining laboratories and received presents from Santa such as Giant Ant Farms, Capsella, and microscopes.  I never felt traditionally girly until I was about thirteen years old and discovered makeup. My image insecurities began to develop as a young teen when I "betrayed" my father by becoming a girl, and somehow became less worthy, even trustworthy, in his mind.  My becoming a young woman was the beginning of the demise of my deeply instilled confidence from a young age; it was almost like a vice that wedged a divide between my father and me and began to gnaw at my self esteem as I realized that physical beauty was more greatly valued than intellect in my small world at thirteen.

Linda Christensen points out many hidden messages in mainstream Disney movies, including my personal favorite, Peter Pan, which I probably saw for the first time on and old VCR player as a teenage babysitter.  I loved the music and the pirate scenes, but I didn't at the time read into subliminal messages teeny tiny Tinkerbell was portraying with her own self loathing or the negativity/"darkness"/plumpness equaling negative depiction of the pirates.  Actually, before reading Christensen's article, I thought of Peter Pan as a benign princess-less tale and a really cool ride in Disney World, which my family and I visited twice in my formative years when I was six and then thirteen.  Christensen's former student, Lila Johnson, further illustrates the grave danger involved in typical princess culture; white, fair complected, light-eyed, impossibly adorable and lovable women who exuded happiness when presented with their perfect princes.  Even though I wasn't specifically exposed to the Disney movies at length as a kid, I still valued those same ideals that I wasn't:  I wasn't blonde enough, blue-eyed, stick skinny (even though in hindsight, I was thin), or traditionally beautiful with my Irish pancake knees.  I always felt like I didn't measure up to the stereotypical perfection that I saw on Doublemint Gum commercials, every TV show including "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island," "Three's Company", and my favorite, "The Dukes of Hazzard", and in the eighties, MTV.  I felt like an outsider even within my culture of power as a white Christian female from a middle-class suburb.   I felt, well... less worthy.

Seeing Brave this afternoon was better than I anticipated but still somehow demeaning to me in its message. It was Disney's attempt to undo the harm of their princess culture; to explain the traditional virtues and behaviors of a "princess" and to reverse the stereotype through its protagonist, Merida.   I admittedly watched it from a cynical perspective knowing that this princess culture has skewed many children's views of themselves, even now that we're adults.  I also had taken an advertising and media course as part of my undergrad studies at UMass Amherst where professor Sut Jhally pointed out hundreds of instances of subliminal objectification of women and minorities and brand placement in movies, advertisements, videos, and television programs.  As Christensen's students asked her, we asked Professor Jhally, "Can you look at tv the same again?"  The answer is a resounding no.  Even in watching Brave, as a non-princess-kid, I was aggravated with Merida's education of a princess's role.  Regardless of her rebellious nature, the film continued to instill the concept of "this is what a princess is to do."  As a mother, I was offended by Merida's wish to change her mother rather than the societal image of women as objects to be won over.  It bugged me.  I also didn't like the gratuitous violence among the men; the machismo which was clearly belittled by Disney (men were objectified as well) but nevertheless instilled thoughout the film.  I didn't feel like there were too many instances of bravery as the title proclaims, but rather, circumstantial happenings that were fortuitous.  I know that the message was intended to be good, but somehow, it didn't leave me feeling invigorated.  Maybe I'm being too cynical because Brave is certainly a step in the right direction and also entertaining, but I was left feeling underwhelmed by the attempt to strengthen the role of the female protagonist who happens to be a princess.  True to my tomboy nature, I suppose, I still don't like princesses.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where I stand in the digital world

After watching Mike Wesch's video "The Machine is Us/ing Us", I felt a sense of simultaneous awe and dismay at how much we are able to do with technology.  As Wesch flew from phrase to link to HTML in the course of four intense minutes, I watched with admiration of the process, but with a sense of foreboding that I am unable to race from screen to screen, understand embedded language, and manipulate web pages with such ease and grace so as to quickly reformat information in my own blog.  Prensky would likely point out that Wesch's video is attuned to the mind of the digital native who multitasks, no longer reads linearly, and is easily bored by the traditional "lecture"/textbook format that is not relevant to their lives. While watching Wesch's video, I instantly thought of the "techies" in my life, NONE of whom are my students.  I pictured two math teachers, a debate coach, and my professor, Dr. Rudolf Krauss, from last semester.  I picture Wesch as an adult; a middle-aged white male, even though I've never seen him.  After reading chapter 7 of Danah Boyd's It's Complicated, I began to think even more about the term "digital native" and its implications on today's youth.

I wholeheartedly agree with Boyd's thorough dissection and analysis of the digital native- the term used for young people raised in a technological world and are often assumed to be able to navigate the technology at their fingertips.  Boyd points out that technological savvy may vary greatly from teen to teen; not all teens are necessarily proficient with technology and even fewer truly understand how to navigate the internet while being aware of biases.  First and foremost, technical proficiency depends on access, and not all students have the same level of access to computers and laptops.  If access is limited to public places like schools and libraries, how is that a level playing field compared to students with unlimited access to the internet in their own homes?  How can a student with no home computer in an impoverished school district be compared to a student in a wealthy district where every student is issued an iPad at the beginning of the year, as has been in Weston and Dover Massachusetts?

Boyd shows just why it is important for us as educators to help guide our students.  She writes that some students knowingly go on "forbidden" websites to cite information that they know their teachers will likely not check. Boyd uses the example of the oft-reviled Wikopedia as a teacher-labeled "untrustworthy" source of information because it can be edited.

I actually was reprimanded by my own students this year in Spanish 2 for using Wikopedia to provide background information on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.  I was thinking that everything seemed valid, however, I cross-referenced all of my information with other websites just to ensure I was providing accurate information.  I was actually impressed with Wikopedia's explanation of Kahlo's volatile marraige and bisexuality- it was valid.  Boyd shows that the admonition of Wikopedia may be premature; in fact, the site provides multifaceted view of historical events which are direct critiques of traditional textbook renditions.  It is both stides of the coin verses one side, and it is and evolving document. Wikopedia has an edit page containing histories and explanations behind edits.  Furthermore, they post their most common hoaxes.  Boyd demonstrates that Google, teachers' "trustworthy" search engine, is often skewed based on your search history.  I imagine a liberal college debate student being led to liberal websites that resemble past searches. Similarly, a staunch republican college debate student may be led to different sites based on his or her previous searches.  In other words, it is a manipulation of what Google thinks we want to read; it also can be biased.

Whether we are talking about the teenagers we teach or the colleagues with whom we work, it is imperative that we not only use the media wisely, but help to navigate our students and colleagues through sites while understanding and keeping in mind the hidden messages in the media.  Just because our students may use Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram like pros does not mean that they are computer experts who know how to find and even produce relevant information.  But as Prensky points out, our students want information easily and are used to acquiring it quickly via the internet, a quick Google search, and through the instant gratification of accessing friends online 24/7.  The assumption that students are "digital natives" is often oversimplified; they are born into a world of technology, yes; but does that give them a "native" instinct as to how to use it?  In my mind, the answer is no.  Again, the "digital natives" I picture happen to be middle-aged white men who work with computers as part of their livings.  Maybe these men are "immigrants", but they've mastered the native language as well if not better than most "natives" I know.  I would hate to be an imperialistic immigrant who squelches the culture of my digitally native students.

I am a digital immigrant

dork : Goofy senior woman head and shoulders portrait   Stock Photo
"I love using the Tweet!"

I am certain that I am a digital immigrant in spite of trying to be "cool" with technology. (Clearly, I am totally outdated, but I try!!!) I find that the more I try to use technology, the more it backfires, but since I have some nice new updates with our recent renovations at Norton High School, I've taken on more than ever this year.  We now have Smartboards in all of our classrooms, and once I got past reaching for my whiteboard markers instead of my digital marker, it started to go uphill.  For starters, my students signed me up for Twitter, and now I am obsessed.  I have the kids tweet me their favorite Spanish songs, links to latino authors and artists, and provide feedback about their homework.  The problem is that I tweet all day and all night long, much to the chagrin of my husband and two boys.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I got my first iPhone, and now I have other exciting social media outlets like Vine and Instagram.  I try to take one picture and end up holding down my camera's button too hard, snapping at least 36 pictures at a time.  It takes me forever to post on Instagram, but I've managed to put up a smattering of pictures of flowers and my family.  The nice thing about being an immigrant and teaching in a high school is that the kids really help me with all things digital.  They also keep me posted on the necessary lingo, such as thot (that hoe over there), sus (suspicious), and being huud.   I find that it's nice to be an immigrant; I don't really want my passport into the full technology world.  It's a lot of pressure and very time consuming, as "using the Facebook, the Tweet, the Instagram, and the Vine" have shown me.  I like being an "InstaGrandma."  When I was driving a former NHS student- our most spirited graduate- home from the senior play this year, unbeknownst to me, he recorded me for his nightly YouTube video.  (Well, you hear my voice.)  That's about all the publicity I can handle at this point.  I can't seem to link in that particular video, so here's another one instead of our famous weather magician, Peter.

SED 501 Summer 2014

Hello!  My name is Amy Mahoney and I am excited to be taking this Media Literacy course with Dr. Bogad.  I majored in journalism and Spanish at UMass Amherst, and I love learning about anything media-centered.  I'm an avid "tweeter" on Twitter; it's a fun way to connect with my students outside of class, and it's actually encouraged by my administrators at Norton High School, where I teach Spanish.  This is my first every summer graduate course; I'm in the ASTL program with the Fall 2013 cohort, a.k.a. #TheCohort.   In fact, Dr. Bogad was my first professor here at RIC; I am taking this course because I had an amazing and eye-opening experience with her already.   I hope to be spending all of my "down" time in Narragansett with my family, but I'm taking another week-long class in Norton in late July.