Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection on Our Conversation: The Leftovers

Whew! Graduate seminar facilitation - check! What an awesome feeling. As Brian and I mentioned briefly last night, it was incredibly difficult to decide what we wanted to do in class...not only because we were working together (which wasn't really the hard part), but because we each had different ideas, all of which we wanted to include, but knew we wouldn't have the time for.

In response to some of the comments from last night, I guess what we figured was that if we didn't get to all of the different videos and things we wanted to share with you, that would be stuff that we could easily upload to the blogs and share them with you all anyway...whereas the conversation in class couldn't really be reconstructed online. That brings me to two points: 1) We understand the capabilities and limitlessness of our technology and value the connections we can make through that technology, and 2) We also understand the importance of and value face-to-face conversation. For me, that is what our Wednesday nights are all about - the conversation, the discussion, the weeding through theories and pedagogies and articles together, out loud, sometimes rich, sometimes messy and demanding - always fulfilling, enlightening.

I'd like to think that Sherry Turkle would have enjoyed our discussion last night. We didn't bash technology and its implications on our students and classrooms, but discussed the "need to remember - in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts - to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another." These are the moments in which we allow ourselves to be human, have feelings and reactions and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. They allow us to be present in the moment.

While it was nice to read everyone's virtual check-in and tie that into our discussion, there was a level of anxiety I felt, rushing to read everyone's and respond to them, and then read other responses as well. I also felt a strange sort of disconnect from them, and found it hard to remember who had had a sunny day and who was feeling cloudy. I like looking at people when they talk and share things about themselves and their day, I feel like I am making a deeper connection with them, even if we just make eye contact and share a knowing smile. Emotions sometimes carry themselves differently through technology...and sometimes they're hard to pick up on. Words carry different meanings when they are just demonstrated hysterically in this Key & Peele clip...

The one thing I wish we had really had more time to show and discuss was something I think may have enriched our discussion, and tied the two texts together in a unique way. I think we do need to have conversations with our students (and teach them how to have these conversations) about racism, sexism, social injustices, as well as conversations about their day, their opinions, their feelings. I also think that we need to get comfortable with technology in our classrooms, especially as a way to enhance, not our teaching, but student learning. There are so many opportunities for our students to be connected to information, ideas and other students that they might not have had the opportunity to be connected to before. So why are we shying away from this? Wesch argues that "we are all interconnected" and that we should provide for our students the opportunity for an "important and meaningful exploration of the world in which we live and co-create." We have to find a way to use technology with our students, so that we all may learn from it.

In his TED Talk, by posing a unique analogy, Todd Rose asks educators a question that Turkle and Wesch (along with us, too!) would have several cups of coffee over as he discusses flexible learning environments created by technology...."So the question isn't do you want the technology - it's already here, you've already paid for it - the question is, what do you want it to be?" What DO we want technology to be? How will we make it become that? How can we best incorporate it into our daily lives, in order to enhance the conversations and questions our students voice?

Final thoughts: I wonder what would happen if we were to put our technologies away for a couple of days, and can't wait (Jenny, I think you mentioned how excited you were for this, too!) for Brian's day of Social Media Silence. How long could we keep it up? A day? A week? A whole year?! Guess what - someone's done it. Could I do it? Could my students? Should we even want to?

We ended class last night by discussing "magic," those moments in teaching that sometimes happen when we feel the whole universe aligns and we have the best class or "teachable moment" ever. We can't wait for those moments, for the universe to align, for the technology to update, for the opportunity to present itself...we have to plan and prepare for it, we have to make learning happen; we have to make the magic happen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cranky with a Chance of Passing Giggles

So it's been a very "off" day. I just don't feel very loud, bright, cheery...which tends to worry people. I wore new shoes today, which was totally a terrible idea. My feet hurt before second period even started. Thank goodness I'm a mess and keep spare (forgotten) flats in the trunk of my car.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of coverage in different classrooms in my building, and have been having a very tough time accepting certain differences. I wish I had covered the isolation classroom before I wrote my paper, but both days I left school very troubled, and describing it to Josh on Monday night I started sobbing. How can twelve different students walk into a classroom and right past their classmates, who have special needs, without even greeting them or acknowledging their presence? How can they spend twenty minutes of advisory huddled in a corner of the room so far from the kids that are "different?" It's just not fair and I really want to change some things. Can I? Where do I even begin?

I think that's why I've been sort of down the past few days, and my classes have certainly brought giant smiles to my face. We've seen fake teeth, funny masks, and shared giggles that seem to erupt out of nowhere very quickly. I'm hoping tonight perks me up a bit, Wednesday nights usually do.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Here's the link to the Wesch reading! It's actually a PDF you can find right on this website.

Melissa, you set the bar super high for us! Great job :)

Sunday, October 19, 2014


From Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest (1999)
Patrick J. Finn

Finn was a new reading for me, but felt familiar, with bits and pieces of our other readings sprinkled throughout. It was as if I could hear their voices through Finn's work, emphasized even more clearly than they had been before. Combined, these voices can be more powerful than Superman, but we have to be willing to listen, and willing to let our own voices be heard.  

I heard Johnson's voice, prominent throughout, as Finn argued that "the status quo is the status quo because people who have the power to make changes are comfortable with the way things are. It takes energy to make changes, and the energy must come from the people who will benefit from the change" (Finn xi), much like the way Johnson described the rainy climate we live in. How will the cycle best be broken? Do the people who have the power to stop the rain want to stop it? Or will they hand out umbrellas to stay dry? The systems of privilege will only continue to re-create themselves if the Executive Elite schools teach their students that they must remain in control, and if the working-class and middle-class schools teach their students that they will grow up to take orders and become the machines by which those in the upper class will succeed. 

I heard Lisa Delpit's Aspects of the Culture of Power as Finn explained that "all of us - teachers and students - were locked into a system of rules and roles that none of us understood and that did not allow for much in the way of education" (Finn 5). Both would argue that the Affluent Professional schools embrace the "special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds" (Delpit 46) among teachers and students. Because of the culture of power, are odds set for students when they first enter schools in these drastically different systems, as Finn suggests? 

I heard Armstrong and Wildman, urging us to embrace color insight and look for the "me" in each individual student, much like during Finn's experience in an affluent professional school where the principal began staff meetings by saying, "we are here to consider how we can best serve the whole child in each of our students" (Finn 24). I think they would agree that "this recognition enables the construction of bridges between individuals across identity categories and deeper recognition of the role of privilege in all of our lives" (Armstrong & Wildman 73). As educators, we need to be considerate of constructing bridges between all of our students, so that they may know their potential, regardless of their race or social class. We are able to create in our classrooms the kind of learning environment in which all students will learn to question the status quo and want to make the world a more equal playing field for everyone, regardless of their social privileges. 

I heard the persistent voice of Ira Shor, arguing that participation allows education to be something students do, not something done to students, while reading Finn's reflection of his early teaching years and naive pride of the assistant principal's approval of his obedient classroom. "...but I look back on it now with chagrin. It would have been more accurate if he had said, 'so they could see what could be done to our students'" (Finn 5). Education needs to be an active, engaging dialogue, providing for students the opportunity and means to think critically about the world around them, so that they may someday change the world. 

And then there are our voices, voices of transforming intellectuals. Each Sunday on our blogs, every Wednesday in our seminar, day after day in each of our classrooms. We are "self-consciously critical of inequities in our society" (Finn 156). That's why we're here in this cohort together, isn't it? We have formed our own culture circle, much like the one Freire created, but we are here to discuss how to engage our students in their own...."The group's culture is its own. It is created by them. It is engaged in by them. It can be modified by them. They can step back and think about it and how they create it and engage in it." (Finn 165). I thought of us and our powerful, inspiring discussions that take place every week. 

And then I thought about our students, and how their power to change the status quo lies in their literacy abilities. "The literate are powerful," states Finn. We need to teach our students how to read and interpret, not only texts and media, but the world around them. For our students to want to improve the quality of life of all individuals and groups, we need to connect learning to their lives. Like Peterson, Bigelow, and Christensen, we need to create classrooms for "equity and justice," in order to empower all students. Our voices, supported by the voices of Johnson, Delpit, Armstrong, Wildman, Shor, Finn, and so many more transforming intellectuals on the side of democracy and social justice, have the power to make literacy dangerous again. Let's make others listen. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

What is the true role of schools - and where do we fit in?

From Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change - Ira Shor

I think you've all hit the nail on the head in your responses to our reading this week (sorry I'm a little late!)...what amazed me most, however, was not the fact that the themes and pedagogies brought up are ones that we believe in and aspire to create in our classroom every day, but one single statement Shor pulls from Giroux (1988): "Schools need to be defended, as an important public service that educates students to be critical citizens who can think, challenge, take risks, and believe that their actions will make a difference in the larger society"  (16). Wow. How true this rings at a time like this, when it seems like everyone but teachers has something to say about what goes on in our classrooms (or what should go on) - worse yet, instead of defending schools (and teachers), people have started attacking them. What would he and Shor say now?

If we, as teachers, are trying to shift from a traditional curriculum to an empowering pedagogy, why are we being blamed for students' negative outcomes? The students should have more of a say now than ever before in the classes, subjects, concepts, and methods of learning they are a part of. Shor discusses the fact that traditional education causes curiosity, intrigue, and social instincts to wither away, until students become "nonparticipants." As a middle level teacher, I am stunned and saddened by the students who have already lost their love for learning.

If we are to teach kids "to fight for a quality of life in which all human beings benefit" (16), we need to emphasize true student participation and collaboration, along with the list of values Shor recommends for an environment in which empowering pedagogy lives and thrives. This means allowing students a say in what and how they learn...of course. It is our job to "respect and rescue the curiosity of students" (18). We need to rescue their curiosity by allowing them a chance and a reason to change the way the world works. A lot of our discussions have been focused on the culture of power, who holds the rules and codes of the culture of power, and how we can change that by allowing our students the chance to make a difference.

If we are teaching students simply so they can do well on the PARRC (similarly to the way teachers had been teaching students to do well on the NECAP and every other standardized test before), we are not allowing them to make connections with and meaning from their learnings. I think Shor and Silberman would agree that these tests simply reinforce the traditional curriculum that "tilts toward authority rather than to freedom, participation, and mutuality" (18). I am reminded of Brian's last blog post from ReThinking Schools, in which the teacher and her students together created an environment in which all students felt safe, protected, and empowered. I am willing to bet that those students learned more about life, and the ability they have to change or respond to things that are not right, not by taking a test on right and wrong, or Civil Disobedience, for that matter, but by existing in a space where they created rules, norms, and expectations for themselves and one another, and following them even when their classroom teacher was not present. This classroom is a true example of empowering pedagogy. It was not something "done by teachers to students for their own good, but something students [codeveloped] for themselves, led by a critical and democratic teacher" (20)....that exemplified the idea that "when education is a participatory sphere of public life, meaning and purpose are constructed mutually, not imposed from the top down" (22).

These are the classrooms, and those are the students, that will tilt the scales of the culture of power. We are the teachers that need to make this education shift, way too many years after Shor's writing, that will lead to empowering pedagogy becoming the norm. Education needs to be something students DO, not something done to students.

So yes, schools need to be defended as an important public service....and yes, the structure of the classroom needs to change. Teachers matter, now more than ever, not because we hold all of the answers to the test, but because our students are living and will continue to live the test when they leave our classrooms and our schools, and they need guidance on how they will interpret, analyze, and respond to it. School is the place to discuss and practice a participatory environment, so our students may lead and become important members of a society in which all human beings benefit. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Judging America"

Came across this Huffington Post photo series last night about American Stereotypes....take a look when you have a couple of minutes.

See you tonight!