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.