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 :)