Monday, October 19, 2015

Falling Between the Cracks - When Declaring an Identity Does More Harm than Good

While I have read Nakkula and Toshalis before, and contemplated gender in the classroom (and in my research project last year), I feel as if this time around, I am left with more questions. This book does an excellent job of breaking apart the different bits and pieces that make up a person's identity - one of the major components being societal norms and expectations, and what they mean for human beings. "The players are lost to the play itself" (Nakkula 100) seems to be a perfect analysis for what "defining gender" means for adolescents. As humans, we are all in some sense "playing a part," but, for some of us, that "part" comes more naturally than for others. Some of us don't feel the need to modify or break out of the mold that society expects us to fit into, while some can't fathom trying to fit into the mold. So what does this mean for our students? What does it mean that they are trying to define something that might not need to be defined right now? Why can't society allow children and adolescents to "try on" gender, masculinity and femininity, instead of making a definitive choice? What would that even look like/sound like/be like?

Tillett Wright is an activist, speaker, writer, photographer. In her TedxWomen talk "Fifty Shades of Gay" (which I found both captivating and fascinating), Wright brings up her childhood, and the notion that we, immediately upon meeting people, put them into "boxes" because acceptance means there is some sort of bonding going on. She then talks about how these boxes are both limiting and dangerous - and I wonder if our students feel that way when asked to try and define themselves. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on "finding oneself" or "discovering who you are" when instead we should be focused on "try it on" and "see how you feel." Most importantly, Wright talks about the support she had from her parents no matter who or what she decided to wake up and be - she "wasn't asked to define [herself] at any point, just allowed to be." She then felt this weird shift when asked to pick a side - boy or girl, gay or straight. She said she knew deep down that she was none of those things definitively, and because of that, she "fell between the cracks." 

How many of our students are "between the cracks" right now, especially at a time when labeling or defining oneself as "gay" or "transgender" can be seen as a heroic act of courage. What about those students that truly don't know what or who they are, and don't feel like they should have to decide one or the other, but are being asked to do so? I know we have talked about the genderbread person, and the masculinity/femininity spectrum....but why should our students have to pinpoint exactly where they fall? I think our fight needs to be redefined and fully understood in this way: "Gender identity work in our schools is the work of freedom fighting. It is a fight for the freeing of authentic expression, for the full presentation of all our students. It is the fight to help our students be fully present as learners, as classmates, as the people they see themselves to be" (115). 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Windows and Mirrors: Outward Relationships Lead to Internal Identity Development

In the depths of Nakkula and Toshalis's chapters four and five, I found myself remembering why I had groaned a little bit when Julie told me the book we would be using for this class. While I think the stories interwoven with the theoretical explanations of adolescent development really drive certain points home, I also think that there is A LOT packed in here, maybe even too much. It is as if Nakkula and Toshalis are providing us with a synopsis of each educational theorist that has ever had something to say about adolescent development (so, pretty much all of them). Anyway, while I am slightly overwhelmed and having a hard time keeping track of each theorist/theory and how they are all intertwined, there are countless key points that are crucial in attempting to understand the adolescents that walk through our classroom doors every day.

"We come to see and understand ourselves and others - in and through relationships" (94). I have always thought of relationships as both windows and mirrors - they provide us an insight (window) into someone else's world, while allowing us to look inwardly at our own worlds (mirrors). When I think about understanding myself through relationships, I think about the relationships that have forced me to think about what I truly believe, what I think, and what I know. These are not the "easy" relationships. These are not the simple conversations in which we will all agree on everything all of the time. The way our class is set up - a safe place to share our thoughts and disagree with one another, respectfully - is a perfect example of Margaret J. Wheatley's "Willingness to be Disturbed," in which she (much like Duckworth) eloquently states, "what might we see, what might we learn, what might we create together, if we become this kind of listener, one who enjoys the differences and welcomes in disturbance?" What might our students see, what might they learn, what might they create together, if they learn to become listeners who enjoy differences and welcome disturbance, allow themselves to be vulnerable? 

How am I pushing my students to become listeners, thinkers, creators - and how do I emphasize these concepts through their relationships with each other, and they relationships with me? How do I incorporate a space for students to be "disturbed" or put into a state of disequilibrium, in order to enhance their growth and development of identity? These growth-promoting relationships are "characterized by connections in which each person's needs are considered and enhanced, where each person's identity is known and actualized as the self they understand internally" (95).  Slowly, I've been finding a balance between taking the time to get to know them and share a lot of things out loud, but there are also times that I've had the students do some things in small groups that feel a little new, a little different, and a little uncomfortable. There are several students in which I have noticed a slight push from peers will lead to a greater internal push - an adolescent developing understanding of himself through a relationship. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Teacher : Student :: Rafiki : Simba

Nakkula and Toshalis really cram a lot into these chapters of theirs! I had completely forgotten just how jam-packed this text was, but I had also forgotten how much sense it made. As I read Chapters Two and Three, I thought back to several past students and the challenges they encountered as they struggled to piece together their own identities, and find a balance between their colliding worlds...and then thought of the students that sit in those same seats this year, each with pieces of their own puzzle to put into place. 

Erikson conveys the significance of identity in a way that has stuck with me for years: "in the social jungle of human existence there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity" (20). Of course - how can we be alive without being someone...but what happens when our students don't know who that someone is? What happens when they don't have a person to guide them or to help them put the pieces together? 

The first time I read this text, I was immediately reminded of a childhood favorite, The Lion King, when Simba struggles to understand himself and his place in the world. Most importantly, he struggles to understand how his past and his father are a part of who he has become. Rafiki serves as a powerful mentor throughout the film, never giving Simba the "answers" that he is looking for, but pointing him in the right direction of where he might find them. Erik son argues that "identities are only formed after the threat of role confusion is addressed, after an identity crisis is resolved" (24). . . . Marcia argues that there are identity statuses, which one can loop through again and again, which supports Ayers's notion that we are always under construction, "always in the process of becoming" (39). Simba, in this scene, is guided by his past in order to determine what his present self should be. His father argues that he has "forgotten who [he is]," but I'd like to argue that he never really knew who he wanted to be. He hasn't figured it out quite yet, but he is on the path of discovering it through the experiences offered to him. Our students are currently struggling with who they are - as students in each of their classes, as parts of their families, as friends to their classmates, as people in the world - and sometimes it is difficult to explain that they don't have to know it all right now. 


Perhaps that is our role as teachers, then, to serve the purpose that Rafiki does - to "resist the urge to answer outright and instead open space for them to begin to answer those questions for themselves" (34)? How do we ensure that this space is in our classrooms and in the conversations we have every day? Like Brittany mentioned last week, as ELA teachers, it is easy to include writing and story-telling into our curriculum that address a multitude of identity topics. It isn't easy, however, to get students to open up about their past, their fears, and their struggles - even if that is what they will learn from, how they will become more "themselves" every single day. 

I think one of the things that I want to start incorporating into my classroom (which I should do but don't) is writing and sharing with my students. I remember being an adolescent in middle and high school thinking my teachers had it all together, and that they knew everything and that life must be so wonderful as an adult to have everything finally figured out. Little did I know that I would be sitting here a decade later, with some of the same questions swirling around in my mind: who am I, really? I wonder if I would have had these misconceptions had my teachers shared the fact that they were co-constructing their identities as we were co-constructing ours. 

"Adolescents will go where the opportunity to create exists, where they can risk novel ways of experiencing and presenting themselves" (53). The only way they will know that this opportunity exists is if we offer it to them. We must guide them to the place where they can look inside themselves and consider the different worlds that are colliding within - and then be there for them to help them make meaning from their experience.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What did Ahmed learn?

Thinking about our readings and our conversations (both in class and online), I can't help but wonder what your thoughts are on Ahmed and his clock. What did he learn from this? How about students everywhere, constantly making things, creating and concocting, thinking with their inquisitive minds? What other "handcuffs" have students been put in because of thinking differently instead of like everyone else?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Learn More, Become More

"As long as I live I am under construction" (Ayers 121). I thought this a most appropriate way to end the novel - it was also my absolute favorite line, the one I deemed most truthful. Of course we are always under construction - what would we be living for if not to become better. At different times in our lives, this could mean so many different things, but it will always remain true: we are never "done" or "complete." As a teacher, I think it is crucial for our students to see and observe the same - that the adults in their classrooms are like those Ayers describes in Chapter 5 - they're not perfect, don't know everything, and are still longing to learn.

It is part of our job to remind students, and to allow them to learn, that their learning experience is what is the most important part of being in our classrooms. So often, I imagine classrooms where students are trapped, listening to a stream of noise as a teacher lectures endlessly...who is growing from this experience? Neither the teacher nor the students are gaining anything truly valuable, and "students need to know that their presence in the classroom is both valued and valuable" (Ayers 81). This is why I strive to offer a vastly different experience in my classroom. Simply by paying more attention to how my students learn best will result in more productive class time, and a more accurate portrayal of students comfort zones. It is not my job to make sure they stay there, but rather, push them outside of their comfort zones with the support and resources they need.

Carol Dweck emphasizes the power of the word "yet"....when used as in "not yet"....and how influential those words are when discussing possibility and improvement. How can we get more teachers on board with this mindset, though, instead of taking the "easy route" of allowing students to stay where they are comfortable?

This transitions into Nakkula and Toshalis's view that adolescence itself is something that is constructed. "When adolescents implicitly ask what kind of person they should be, who their friends ought to be, in what or whom they should they should place trust, or what kind of world they should make, the answers we construe and imagine with them help co-construct who they become and the way they approach the world, even if those answers are patently rejected." (Nakkula & Toshalis 3) I read this and thought of our first class this semester, and the words of Frank Smith, when we discussed that students are always learning something, whether it is explicitly taught or not. They are always learning and always becoming...more. That is all we can ask of them, because that is all that we are able to do on our end as well. Teachers and students alike need to learn more in order to become more. And we will always be under construction.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Students have the answers - but is anyone asking the right questions?

Throughout our time here in the ASTL program, I have been amazed at how often the texts we are assigned seem to relate seamlessly to whatever I happen to be feeling/thinking/seeing in my own classroom, my students, and myself. I constantly find myself nodding in agreement as I read, highlighting words and phrases that I swear I have thought of before in my head - and Ayers' To Teach: the journey, in comics was no different. I feel like although I have been "teaching" for several years now, each year is a year of firsts for me. My first graduating seniors during student teaching. My first long-term sub position. My first long-term sub position in an urban school. My first real, permanent (albeit part-time) position. My first year starting school on the very first day. So much of Ayers' teaching philosophy aligns directly with mine, with the students and their learning right in the center: "We must open our eyes, always, to the true children before us: dynamic, 3-dimensional, trembling, and real" (19). So many times, even in the past few years, I have heard warnings and cautionary tales about certain students...and each time I hear one I can't help but think to myself that maybe, just maybe, there was something missing from the equation. Maybe, just maybe, there was a learner underneath all of the labels and student database comments. Maybe nobody knew how to get down to the center of that one student, maybe nobody knew how to interest him in the learning or knew how to figure out what kind of learner he was. Maybe nobody wanted to think about that student's "specific, individual world" (11). Maybe nobody ever tried.

There have been numerous times that I've talked with other teachers that share the same students. Occasionally, I'll have learned something really interesting or shocking about that student and ask, "did you know...?!" Usually, it leads to a reply of disbelief - "there's no way" that that student does that after school. "There's no way" that the quiet girl who barely says two words all day plays on the boys' football team. "There's no way" that the class clown who never stops cracking jokes wouldn't let his sister go to the bathroom by herself, but walked her there and waited at the door, after reading a book about a young girl that was abducted. "There's no way" that that obnoxious student who just walked out of your classroom in the middle of your lecture has been sleeping on his best friend's floor for two months.

But there is, and the sad part is that we are so caught up in the paperwork and labels and data that sometimes we overlook the most simple act of what we do - or what we should do - as teachers: we learn and we love. We learn for our students, but we must also learn about our students and with our students. We love what we do and we love why we do it. Much like Jenny mentioned in her blog, it is critical that we consider ourselves as "explorers on a journey full of discovery and surprise" (2). Each day really is like an adventure...and we need to be willing to take those steps with our students rather than watching them take the steps alone. I know that we, as cohort members in this program, are willing and ready to do this, but how do we ensure that this adventure is a piece of all classrooms? How do we ensure that we are adapting our curriculum to each individual learner, without getting bogged down in hoards of paperwork and labels and files?

"To name oneself as a teacher is to live with one foot in the muck of the world as we find it - with its conventional patterns and received wisdom - and the other foot striding toward a world that could be but isn't yet" (11). I couldn't help but think of Frank Smith as I was reading Ayers, his voice popping up within the dialogue boxes or text in between. When Ayers described the way kids experience school (36-37), all I could think of was the classic and official theories of learning that Smith explained. These are the conventional patterns and received wisdom that are passed down from generation to generation - the students who can collect the most chips tend to be the ones who do best in school/enjoy school, and then become teachers themselves, unintentionally passing down the same values to their own students. 

But how do we move further? How do we get closer to the "world that could be but isn't yet?" I was always a good student, and I'm sure I had quite the stash of chips - perhaps I still do. Through this particular part of my teaching and learning journey (the ASTL name just made COMPLETE sense to me, by the way, wow), I really want to start focusing on how I can help all of my students, including (especially) the ones that don't have as many chips, the ones that seem to be the most disinterested in learning, the ones that no one else tries to understand. What is their connection to learning? How can I make it accessible to them? How can I ensure that they're along for the adventure? How can the students that have a lot of chips be pushed even further, out of their comfort zones? How can I ask the right questions that they can answer, or want to answer? How can I be the best teacher I can possibly be, so that the most learning that could possibly take place actually does?

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Tale of Two Lesson Plans

Sometimes, I wait until kind of last minute to do things. Okay - fine. Most of the time, I am a very last-minute, down-to-the-wire, working "until the clock strikes 12" kind of person. So Frank Smith's first chapter of The Book of Learning and Forgetting was sitting there waiting for me this morning.

While I always swear to myself that I will "get things done sooner" next time, I seldom follow my own advice. Which is why I sat down this morning to read Smith, and also plan my lessons for the week. For once, I couldn't be happier that I didn't do my planning on Saturday afternoon, like I had originally hoped to do. As I consider my options for introducing Main Idea and Supporting Details to my English class this coming week, Smith's words resonate in my mind: "Learning is not hard work. Something is being learned, whether we want it or not, all the time" (5). I sit back now and wonder how my classroom fosters learning, and whether it lends itself to the "classic view" or the "official theory" of learning and forgetting.

One of the biggest things I think that sets apart a classroom grounded in Smith's classic view versus one grounded in his official theory is tests - something that I don't believe in as a way to measure student learning and achievement. Testing is about memorizing facts and materials for a short period of time, and then forgetting. If the students learn the material for a test and then forget it two weeks later, have they really learned anything at all - other than that negative feeling that sits in the pit of their stomach at the brief mention of the word "test?" Instead, I have seen so much growth in my students' writing over the past couple of years through Writers' Workshop and Literature Circles and Readers' and Writers' Notebooks.

So why do I sit here and beat myself up over not creating a cool worksheet that helps students identify the main idea and how to pick out key supporting details in informational text? Chances are that that worksheet will be filled out per my request simply to earn a homework check (rewards and punishment), and then either thrown out or lost, but definitely forgotten. My students know how to identify the main idea and supporting details - they just need more practice with it. Instead of babying them or "dumbing down" the material, why don't I try to challenge them, allow them to work together, and encourage them along the way?

Smith claims, "we know the likelihood of their becoming like the people with whom they associate and identify most." We've been hearing this for years - but have we truly thought about putting it to use in our classrooms?

Who do our students spend the most of their time with? Their families? Their sports teams? Friends? Us? What traits and tendencies do we want them to carry throughout their lives if we are one of the five biggest influences? Do I want my students to think about a worksheet or test when my name is mentioned? Absolutely not. Instead, I want them to think about taking risks, and challenging themselves, and doing things with purpose. 

I look forward to reading more of Smith, as this chapter was definitely perfectly timed with my already-procrastinated lesson plans...which are now also done, thanks to Smith's inspiration :)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Digital Eight Days

I’m sure you’ve all heard that evolution doesn’t happen overnight; it can’t even happen over a lifetime, in fact. Whoever said that probably definitely never took Media Literacy, Popular Culture & Education with Dr. Lesley Bogad. I feel as if the past two weeks have been a true digital "evolution" in every sense of the term...and I've learned things I never knew I never knew (channeling Pocahontas here).

Once upon a time, I believed in two camps: Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives. I thought that the members of one camp could never (ever) cross over to the other, and that the two would simply never see eye-to-eye. This concept of a great divide between that two made so much sense to me, mostly because I could easily place myself in one category (Digital Immigrant) and my students in the other (Digital Natives). The tension between the two camps was strong: one fighting desperately for tradition, to keep things as they had always been for the next generation, and the other trying to break free, to do things in a new way. Somehow, even though I identified strongly with the Digital Immigrants, I found myself struggling to remain true and "loyal" - I like and am comfortable with the familiar, but I began to wonder if the newbies had a point. 

I have always been a book lover; perhaps this is why I found myself seamlessly fitting into the mold of a Digital Immigrant. I preferred books to my Kindle and iPad, and I was incessantly scribbling away in one of my zillion notebooks. I considered myself an "old soul," and avoided certain aspects of technology, even in my classroom - full of young, inquisitive minds that happened to belong to Digital Natives. I was digitally resistant. I looked at the brilliant young students in my classroom and thought to myself often, "these kids have no idea." My belief was that they were simply too tuned IN to their devices and social media to be tuned in to school, especially boring old English class. I often found myself telling nagging them to put their phones away; that's what my teachers had always done and (obviously) what I had to do now too. 

Along came my knight in shining armor, (more accurately, my Christof) - Media Literacy. Much like Cinderella is transformed by her fairy godmother, so I have been transformed by Dr. Bogad and all of you, my peers. By getting the chance to talk about the opportunities technology offers us in (and out of) our classrooms, and the chance to play around with so many digital tools, I've started to believe something I have heard before (thanks, Cinderella 2015) and now understand in a new way: "Just because it's what's done doesn't mean it should be done." 

I've started to believe that the two camps aren't in opposition at all, and that falling somewhere in the middle is alright. My goal in the English classroom is to work on bridging the gap between Natives and Immigrants, technology and tradition, reading and writing and thinking. My goal is to ensure that we, students and teachers alike, all have a place on (what I'd like to call) the "Digital Fluency Spectrum," similar to Scott Noon's 4 Tiers of Teacher Training. I now believe that we are all part of the same camp: Digital Learners. Dana Boyd poignantly states, "rather than focusing on coarse generational categories, it makes more sense to focus on the skills and knowledge that are necessary to make sense of a mediated world." That's what this is all about, and that's why we're all here - the skills, the knowledge, and the learning. How can we, as teachers, use the ever-changing digital tools and concepts to enhance the learning going on in our classrooms?

Part of the Common Core goals in schools include ensuring that our students are college and career-ready. This means that they will become adaptive problem solvers, collaborative communicators, and digitally fluent. These are skills that even the "Digital Natives" have to learn, develop, and practice. Linda Christensen claims that "if [we] want [our] students to wrestle with the social text of novels, news, or history books, they need the tools to critique media that encourage or legitimate social inequality." Much like I want my students to critique media, I know that they will ultimately create their own. If I want my students to be able to become active participants and producers in a digitally-evolving technological world, they need the tools to critique what is already out there as well as creating their own products. What better place to learn about, talk about, and practice with these tools than in the safe space of my classroom? 

So thinking about all of this during this course forced me to think about how these concepts were relevant even in my own classroom. In a world where my students and I see things very differently, I've decided to start focusing on the things we can do together that will enhance their digital fluency as well as my own. I've also (finally) started to, like Turkle, embrace the fact that technology is a part of our world and our classrooms, and it's here to stay. She argues that "When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters." Unlike Turkle, I believe that parts of these conversations can absolutely happen through, with, and because of technology. These conversations are very much a part of today's world, and I have the chance to help my students learn effective ways of communicating with one another through some of these tools. So now what do I want to do with it?

At the start of this course, I comfortably identified as a (resistant) Techno-Traditionalist. I emailed frequently and used an online gradebook (although that really consisted of transferring the grades from my paper gradebook to the computer). I envied teachers that were able to find creative and exciting ways to incorporate technology and digital tools into their lessons. 

I did try. Last year, instead of my usual journal writing, I set up a blog - which was pretty neat and fun to share with others...until I stopped writing on it. Note that my last post was January 5...oops. But even that blog was never really meant for my students or my classroom, just me. I feared that I would forever remain a Techno-Traditionalist. After the past 8 days of thinking and talking and collaborating and creating and learning, I started to gain some momentum and excitement thinking about what I could bring back to the classroom. I got a glimpse of how others utilized technology to enhance student learning and I started to regain hope...

I'm here today, and I can say now that this is what I believe. I believe that we are all a part of this digitally-evolving world. I believe that we can learn as much from our students as they can learn from us. And I believe that there is no such thing as a Digital Immigrant OR a Digital Native - so I can no longer identify as one and look at my students as the other. Instead, I believe in Digital Fluency. I was overwhelmed by the project at first, and sort of afraid of failing. There were so many tools to choose from and I kept getting distracted by all of the shiny and fun things on the computer. I forced myself to focus and refocus, and think, "what will support my belief about students and their learning? What do I believe?" 

I believe that learning happens when students and parents and teachers are all able to connect in and out of the classroom and carry on conversations from many different places and spaces. Building a community of learners will enhance the education of every single person involved, and sometimes doing that takes risks. So what could I risk, here and now?

I finally started to think about the website I had always dreamed of as an anchor for and extension of my classroom, and knew this was my chance to try and do it. It's very much not finished yet, and it took a LOT of playing around and frustrated forehead smacks, but it's a work in progress I'm extremely proud of. I decided to use Wordpress because I liked the clean, professional look of the sites, and found the customization/navigational tools relatively easy to learn and use. Suddenly, hours had gone by and I had an official class website, which I'm looking forward to working on and finalizing before September comes. 

My goal for myself was to stop looking at technology and all of the opportunities it presented as an intrusion of my book-filled, traditional, "Digital Immigrant" world. My new website offers a meeting-point for my students, their parents, and me to come together, and a starting point for incorporating some of the other tools we've experimented with here. By offering a virtual extension of my classroom, I am offering students (and parents) a new way to connect and build a community of learners. 

Earlier in this course, I talked about my fear of failure. Today, I'm here to promise myself that I will take more risks with technology in my classroom, because I believe learning happens when risks are taken. I will ask my students to take risks for that same reason. I began this course believing that when my students were "plugged in" they were "tuned out" of my classroom. As a newly self-proclaimed (and website-creating!!!) Techno-Constructivist, I believe we can absolutely make learning happen when students are plugged in - we just have to try plugging in too. It is through taking these great risks that we can learn, become better, and, ultimately, grow.

I felt as if Michael Wesch's words could have been my own: "Because I do not know everything . . . . I am in the wonderful but awkward position of not knowing exactly what I am doing by blissfully learning along the way. My job becomes less about teaching, and more about encouraging students to join me on the quest." I'm looking forward to what comes next in my Digital Journey, and I can't wait to ask my students to join me on the quest. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Connecting & Learning

Turkle and Wesch are very near and dear to my heart - in fact, after leading a class discussion on these two pieces in Dr. Bogad's class just last year, I feel as if they are sort of my friends. They just don't know it yet. Some of this is pulled from my thoughts (and blog) from that class, but a lot of it has been enhanced just by our conversations and learnings over that past four days. It's incredible how quickly learning happens when it's fun and meaningful and - oh, yeah...that entire list we put up on the board!

1. Wesch argues that, "most of us know from our own experience, the best learning almost always occurs in the absence of a teacher, for it is then that learners are free to pursue with great passion the questions that are meaningful and relevant to their own lives. Focusing on the quality of learning, rather than the quality of teaching, transforms the entire educational agenda." Our students learn by doing, not by taking diligent notes on long lectures and memorizing irrelevant facts. 

2. Turkle argues that in the midst of this "technological universe," we "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.

Neither Wesch nor Turkle hate technology; rather, they are trying to figure out (like the rest of us) how technology best fits into our worlds and our classrooms. I see them as allies, working from the same camp, trying to bridge the meaningful and relevant pieces of our lives with the technological pieces of the world that are everywhere around us. For Turkle, this means learning how to have real conversations, and possessing the ability to look up from our phones and do life with one another. For Wesch, it means understanding the capabilities and limitlessness of our technology and valuing the connections we can make through that technology.

I think we do need to have a lot of 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 (or our administrators or our school districts) 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? Like Kelly Reed brought up yesterday, technology is simply a tool, like the physical tools that we got to play around with and cut and glue and create. Let's work on making it a part of learning.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Storybird Tutorial

Here's a short tutorial I created this evening that will help you navigate your way through Storybird for the first time! I couldn't embed the video within my email to Dr. Bogad's blog, but I also put up the link to the tutorial in the comment section :)

(P.s. this was my first tutorial ever! Talk about trying new things this week!)

Risky Business: The Politics of Education

"Taking Action Against Disney" -Steven Friedman

As a class, we concluded that one of Linda Christensen's main arguments in "Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us" is the importance of moving beyond developing critical consciousness, and moving students to action. "But what am I teaching them if the lesson ends there? That it's enough to be critical without taking action? That we can quietly rebel in the privacy of the classroom while we practice our writing skills, but we don't really have to do anything about the problems we uncover, nor do we need to create anything to take the place of what we've expelled?" (197) Part Five of the Rethinking Popular Culture and Media book focuses on just that: Taking Action For A Just Society.

One of the pieces that caught my eye, for several reasons, was Steven Friedman's "Taking Action Against Disney" (253). What first drew me in was seeing the words right beneath the title...."A teacher struggles with encouraging direct student action." Instantly, I was reminded of our conversation earlier today about the political-ness of teaching and the dangers that are sometimes associated with that. Friedman describes his dilemma in encouraging activism after discussing the exploitation of workers in factories contracted to Disney with his 7th and 8th graders. 

Why was he so hesitant to encourage students to take direct action, especially knowing he was "on solid ground with respect to the extent of injustices in Disney's sweatshops?" Truthfully, he had already been reprimanded once before and told that he had crossed a line. He was told by his school director that "by becoming a political activist, [he] was perilously close to muddying [his] role as a neutral educator" (254). Teaching is, and always has been, a political act. The decisions a teacher makes in his or her classroom impact so many more people than just those sitting in that classroom. There is no way to remain "neutral"...but why would we want to? Why are we here? We are all here because we want to make a difference - we are all here because we are "sensitive to the importance of letting students discuss, analyze, and make up their own minds about social issues - rather than merely allowing them to regurgitate what they perceive to be the teachers' views" (255). We are here to encourage critical thinking and inquiry, but we are also here to encourage students to DO - to act upon those critical inquiries. Our "why" should always be at the center of our teaching and the center of our classrooms. 

Friedman didn't have to encourage the students to act on his own: the National Labor Committee was organizing an international week of action against Disney. This information was quickly passed on to the students and their families, from whom he got mostly positive feedback. There were some parents, however, that felt he'd "abandoned [his] role as a neutral educator by leading students to protest. They were worried [he] hadn't presented both sides of the story." Friedman argues that sometimes, there are issues (political and social and moral) that do not have two equally valid sides, and it is everyone's responsibility to expose injustices and oppressions within these issues, and, more importantly, to take action against them. For our students to be a part of a movement, to form an opinion on an issue that exists that other people also have opinions about - this is teaching them to stand up for what they believe in, what is right, and what is socially just. That's the center of Friedman's "why"...and I know it's at the center of mine.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The World of Disney Extends Far Past Disney World

I've only been to Disney once, and I wasn't enchanted by it then. I didn't fall in love with Prince Charming or want to wear a sparkly dress with a beautiful tiara because of it. I didn't want Timon and Pumbaa to be my best friends and I didn't pretend to wear a seashell bathing suit and comb my hair with a fork by the pool when we came home. No. These little pieces of me already existed long before that family vacation we took when I was in second grade. I was Cinderella for Halloween three years in a row, and then had to pick someone else to be because the costume no longer fit. In fact, we still have at least twenty VHS tapes of my favorite Disney movies, rewound and re-watched so many times I could recite every single one today, twenty years later.

The first time I was ever asked to critically analyze one of my beloved Disney movies was during my freshman year of college, in an Introduction to Literary Study course with Professor Joseph Zornado. The choice of what we wanted to analyze was completely our own - and I figured what better reason would I ever have to watch Disney's new movie Enchanted over and over again for an entire weekend - as an adult?! (Little did I know that a few summers later I'd get to watch TWO Disney movies in TWO days in a graduate-level actual dream come true!) I'm not so sure I "resisted" the critical analysis, like Christensen suggests many students do upon first viewing (193), but I'm also not so sure that I was overtly critical of the film, rather just analytical. The fact that the film tied in several aspects from different Disney princess narratives in a story about Amy Adams as a princess in real life had me hooked from the start. My very naive and very weak attempt at "critical analysis" was merely a commentary on the differences that Disney was starting to make in regards to the princess/heroine narrative.

It wasn't until I started to study education with Dr. August the following semester that I finally started to question the "social blueprints" embedded within these beloved Disney texts, in turn questioning my own upbringing and beliefs. Much like Christensen's student Justine, I felt some "discomfort with prying apart [my] identity and discovering where [I] had received [my] ideas" (192), but I also knew that I wanted to teach my students to question the world around them...and in order to expect that of them, I knew I would have to do the same, starting with the world I had grown up in. This past semester, I asked my students to analyze several of the cartoons they were familiar with and had grown up watching, using a gender lens. Many of their responses were similar to those of Christensen's students: "I will never be able to watch TV the same way again," commented one of my students, while others were appalled that they had never noticed or been asked to notice/think about/question gender stereotypes...and now they couldn't stop noticing them everywhere. Like Christensen, however, I wondered where I could then take them...

As a group, one of the most interesting things we came across in our critical endeavor was an article about a woman in Sweden who was sick of the narrative that princesses and superheroes impose on young children. What did she do? She created her own set of coloring books, "Super-Soft Heroes" and "Super Strong Princesses," to redefine what it meant to be a hero or a princess (or both!). My students loved telling new stories to go along with the new images they were presented with, and they didn't stop there. I had one student explain gender stereotypes to a worker at Build-A-Bear when her younger brother picked up a pink bear and was told to "go get a blue one because that's the boy bear." Another student came running up to me in the hall to talk to me about the gender stereotypes he noticed in the book he was reading.

Over the years, especially now that I am an adult (and more removed, teaching in a middle school setting), I have come to appreciate Disney's attempt at creating narratives with true heroines, like in Frozen and Brave, fighting for more than a Prince and a sparkly tiara - fighting for, rather, a sister and a mother, fighting to protect the kingdom and individual freedoms. Merida was one of the spunkiest and most genuine princesses I have ever seen (although I think I may still like Frozen a teeny tiny bit more - sorry, Dr. Bogad!), and I felt my heart smiling when I thought of how inspired I felt at 25 watching her stand up to her mother (and tradition) for her independence, imagining how much more influential she would even be in the life of a young child.

I'll admit...I will always love Disney, especially the princesses, and cherish the part of my childhood that they belong to (or, truthfully, that belonged to them). Cinderella is still my favorite princess, and I still get sappy when I think of romantic fairy tales. Blame the romantic in me. On the other hand, I think having conversations with our students and asking them to pick apart these narratives that are so comfortable and familiar to them is crucial to helping them grow as learners and as critical consumers in today's world.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pecha Kucha

Here's my Pecha Kucha! Feel free to let me know if you need any helpful hints!

Natives vs. Immigrants: Ridiculously Complicated

So much of what we had touched upon in class today resonated in my head as I read, watched, and contemplated Boyd, Prensky and Wesch this evening. I think the main divergence among their positions lies in their beliefs of the responsibilities and expectations of the digital natives and those of the digital immigrants.

Prensky celebrates the fluency with which youth (digital natives) engage in the digital world, and argues that digital immigrants will forever be compared to digital natives, but they they will never match up. Sometimes I feel as if the youth in our schools are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of technology and we are struggling to keep up. This thinking led me back to our discussion today about fear and control from the "digital immigrants" that are not quite sure of where technology and media fit into the education system.

Boyd argues that while digital natives are fluent and familiar with technology and gadgets, they lack the critical knowledge necessary to interact productively; Boyd even goes a step further to say that this is a skill that the digital immigrants can share with youth to encourage them to be critical consumers and producers. One of the most interesting concepts brought up in "It's Complicated" was danger - not the danger of technology or moving forward in a digital world, but the danger of assuming that youth are automatically informed and in tune with the digital world that they are so heavily a part of and that is a part of their lives. "Teens may make their own media or share content online, but this does not mean that they inherently have the knowledge or perspective to critically examine what they consume. . . . it is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed. It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer"(Boyd 177).

 Again, I was reminded of our conversation about "control" and the blocking of certain sites. Instead of widening the gap between teachers (mostly digital immigrants) and students (mostly digital natives), why not encourage the conversation that could enhance both the lives and school experiences of teachers AND students?!

Wesch (whose video I watched/used/shared last year) attempts to bridge the gap between natives and immigrants by stating that the power of media and technology together can be dangerous if digital immigrants and digital natives are not working together and having the conversations necessary to go beyond critical thinking. While digital natives are fluent in creating and consuming and finding/sorting/analyzing/criticizing/creating STUFF, digital immigrants can utilize these critical moments with them in order to help them find meaning and purpose. If we are to have a global conversation, we need to be able to first have that conversation right in our own classrooms. Natives and immigrants alike can each stand to learn from the other - and the stuff that we create and produce and consume and create again will be ridiculously amazing if we let it, and if we want it to.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Digitally Inclined

As the youngest teacher at my school, I find that I'm often the go-to person when people need help navigating their Chromebooks and iPads. Luckily, I am a fluent digital immigrant - you could say I'm "bilingual" in both the paper and virtual worlds. I think there is a sort of nostalgia present when thinking of the paper world and an excitement regarding the novelty of the technological world, co-existing at the same time, much like the ability to speak two languages: a familiar, comfortable one that is easy to fall back on, and a newer one that allows you more access but might be a little risky at times. Being bilingual is a concept very near and dear to my heart, as I am fluent in both English and Croatian. My parents are both from Croatia - as a child, I spent most summers there and still visit fairly often. Learning their native language has allowed me the opportunity to forge long-lasting relationships with cousins, relatives, and friends that I would otherwise have no way of doing.

Although I consider myself digitally "fluent," there are small parts of me that I feel will forever remain old-fashioned and somewhat resistant to the digital world:
  • I love the convenience of downloading books on my iPad, especially when I'm traveling (because I tend to ALWAYS overpack), but there is nothing I love more than spending hours in a library or bookstore and lugging home a tote-ful of new finds. My to-be-read-this-summer pile is VERY high.
  • One of my personal goals throughout my grad school adventure so far has been to go completely paperless (minus the agenda/list-making part...hah. I don't foresee that changing any time soon). The Christmas present (MacBook Air) from Josh has definitely helped with that! I've even started tracking my fitness goals using some snazzy new technology, which has been incredibly cool and full of information that I never knew I needed until I had it at my fingertips. 
  • Although I have my phone on me pretty much 24/7, one of my favorite "school supply"/everyday/life necessity items is my Emily Ley Simplified Planner (yes, I have the pineapple one for the upcoming school year and can't WAIT to start using it). I always feel so organized being able to see my day/week/month at a glance, and I seem to remember them better when I physically write them out. Seriously, if you're a planner person, this planner = life-changing. Side note: I also think I may have a slight notebook addiction....I have piles of them for my endless journals and lists and newfound love of calligraphy. 
  • Speaking of calligraphy, that's one of my new hobbies that I have been toying around with. While the art itself is very old, certain techniques and the ability to add a fun/whimsical element to the lettering is relatively new (especially to me!), and one of the most helpful things in this endeavor has been the plethora of calligraphy videos and tutorials I can find readily at any time and/or place. There are so many different ways of doing things, and I find it both relaxing and exhilarating to be able to create something so unique and personal. 
(Not my video, but one of the best quick sample videos I've seen!)

All in all, I do consider myself a digital immigrant - but a fluent one at that. I will always have an "accent" and will probably forever carry around a paper planner. I know most of my students will never carry a planner and think it's a waste of time to write something down when they can just put it into their phones. I understand that the world we are in now, the world our students are growing up in, is vastly different from the world I grew up in, and that we must work with the evolving technologies instead of against them....and at the same time work with our students so that we can learn and grow and create stuff together. 

Re-Introducing Myself :)

Hello, Media Literacy 2015!

It's hard to believe that it's already the end of JUNE....where did the first half of this year go?! Anyway, if you scroll through some of my old posts, you'll get a sense of who I am as a learner and as a teacher (and probably stumble across some puppy pictures of Tucker). 

So this is a little bit of me!

  • This past year was my first year as a permanent (part-time) teacher, so that was pretty exciting, and I loved being able to dive right in and STAY for the entire year! I had sworn up and down that I would never teach in a middle school...after my first week subbing there last year, I was hooked. The energy and enthusiasm in a middle school classroom is tangible and fun and I absolutely love everything about it. The most exciting part of my year was during the fourth quarter, where we analyzed gender stereotypes in cartoons and magazines....I was BLOWN AWAY by my students' thinking and all of the cool things they came up with.

  • In my (rare) spare time, I like spending quality time with Tucker (the puppy), Josh (the boyfriend), and other pretty awesome people, like the ones I'm related to! Summer has been pretty exciting but busy - I babysit, go to the gym daily (sometimes multiple times a day), play soccer, read too many books...and we have so many projects waiting to happen over the next few weeks! You'll be hearing more about those soon too :)

Thanks for reading! Looking forward to the next couple of weeks with you all!