Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pecha Kucha

Had a close call where I almost lost my entire presentation, but was able to save it with Dr. Bogad's help (phew).  I am pretty new at the Google thing still, so I'm putting in the 15 second slide link that the website gave me when I published it just in case (only option was 15 or 30 seconds) and the link I am trying with the instructions from your blog with the 20000 at the end. :)

15 Second Provided Google Link

Pecha Kucha (20 sec slides)

Monday, April 18, 2016


I have to admit that this week's reading was tougher for me, because I do not have any experience with testing or public school teaching.  It was disheartening, however, to read about how much of a struggle this testing is for students, especially those with disabilities.  It seems from educators' experiences and observations, that the testing is not productive in the least, rather, it sets students back in terms of their confidence and willingness to learn. Further, through my own experiences, I have seen how deeply and negatively change in structure and routine can affect young students, and the schedule change that is so drastically implemented during testing periods cannot be helping said students.  In addition to this, it is insane to believe that a third grader can sit for that duration of time and type on a computer for timed testing.  I feel, as it seems the educators the authors of this paper surveyed also feel, that it is completely ridiculous for these students to have to undergo such testing.

Furthermore, as the authors argue, I feel curriculum and content that is supposed to be included and taught is probably being forgotten about, simply to try to help children prepare for a test that they have little chance to be fully prepared for; as if it it setting these children up to fail, and still not learn the content they need to actually be learning.  "In some cases, teachers reported that 'whole curriculum projects were put on hold and maybe cancelled because tech was reserved for PARCC.'  Essentially, teachers had two options: speed through content too quickly or skip certain content altogether.  Either way, both situations were detrimental t learning" (10).  I can see how detrimental this can be to all students, but especially ELLs and students with disabilities.  I cannot imagine how difficult and overwhelming it would be for young students who have a tough time with everyday curriculum, to be thrown into testing in this fashion.

I noticed from all of the data graphs taken from teachers answers on the surveys, that is not a small amount of teachers that strongly disagree with the positivity or usefulness of this testing, but rather, more than 80% on all of the questions asked.  If the majority of educators feel so strongly against this testing, why has nothing been taken away from that and changed?  From my own experiences when I was in elementary school, I remember teachers cramming material into us and almost drilling into our heads for weeks before standardized testing; when I look back on all of that, I could not tell you one thing I learned.  It's purposeless to drill something into children's heads all for a test, only to be lost shortly after, in place of teaching them meaningful curriculum that they actually need.

I enjoyed reading the authors' ideas for solutions, and I agree that public conversations with teachers and parents should be conducted to find solutions, and that there should be authentic opportunities for teachers and educational researchers to help plan an assessment system based on the local and diverse student population.  I think this is the most important thing we can do, because it seems standardized testing is not helping anyone in any influential way.

I look forward to reading everyone's blogs this week, because like I said, I have no experience with this, and I know the majority of you all do!  I also found an interesting article mentioning the issue that people assume students actually try on standardized tests, when in fact, many do not even bother.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching Multilingual Children

Similar to how many previous readings have done for me, I found myself seeing a situation in a completely different light from someone else's perspective when reading Aria, Richard Rodriguez.  I have dealt with many similar situations in my own classroom, with young children having difficulties learning to speak English because their family only speaks in their native language at home.  As a teacher, it can be frustrating to have a parent come in multiple times a week asking why their child is not excelling as quickly as others in learning English, when all they do is speak to the child in another language.  I had tried to explain to this parent that it is confusing and extremely hard for a young child who still simply learning their own language, to then learn to translate in their head to learn to speak and understand a new language.  However, while reading this article, I began to see it in a totally different way for the child and family.  The author made this situation feel so sad.  While they all seemed to learn and become more confident in the English language after speaking it at home, they were also not as happy and felt their family had changed, and it sounded heartbreaking.  I don't believe families should ever "abandon" their own language to the point where it is lost, but I can see the troubles with finding the balance with learning a new language, as well.

I actually wish I had waited to do my summaries and interview until after this week, because these readings would have been so perfect with who I interviewed, since she is teaching English to Spanish speakers in Spain and Costa Rica. 

The second reading, Teaching Multilingual Children, is a great reading for teachers who may be having the challenges I just mentioned above.  While the authors present many strategies and implementations for teachers, they also present two concepts: that teachers should be aware of the special kind of speech that mothers and fathers are automatically with their children, and try to emulate this, and that it is critical to be aware of the social and emotional factors which affect the second language learner.  This article presents many guidelines for teaching English to non-English speakers, and it really covers all of the topic that educators may need.  I actually ended up also sharing this with my friend who is teaching those children, because I know it will be very helpful for her as well, as experienced as she is now.  In addition, I printed a copy for my assistant who is still working in my previous classroom, because I know she also had a tough time understanding from the family's point of view when it came to teaching those children English.  This was a very important and helpful read for me. 

After speaking with my friend whom I am interviewing for this class, she sent me a link to her friend's blog that she is teaching with currently, that is unrelated this week, but I thought it was very interesting and really went along with a lot of what we talk about in this class.  Hence, I wanted to share it on my blog. It is all about how she is treated and perceived as a multiracial woman throughout all of her travels. Give it a read if you get a minute!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Seeing Queerly

Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth
Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy

The authors of Safe Spaces create the idea that schools and classrooms should be, as anyone would hope, a safe space for all students; especially LGBT students.  However, "without the deliberate creation of an inclusive atmosphere, what happens inside classroom walls reproduces the prejudices that exist outside these walls: straightness and gender conformity are assumed; LGBT identity is deviant" (84).  I felt the paragraph about teachers and peers ushering the children from their homes and relative protection and insulation of family life makes the reader reconsider just how important it is that we as educators make these children in our schools feel welcome and encourage equality as much as humanly possible within schools and communities.  "If our homes are incubators, keeping our children safe as they grow into the patterns of family life, schools are 'outcubators' --places that introduce new ways of thinking and behaving" (84).
When the authors point out the fact that sexual orientation topics are entirely absent from most curriculum in elementary schools, it opened my eyes to how valid and important that statement is.  I hate to say it, but while curriculum is based solely around core subjects, I do feel these children should also be learning real life situations, and that includes the situations of gender and sexual orientation that they may not be familiar with, but will be exposed to in their daily life.  This entire reading actually made me frequently think of Allan Johnson's piece.  I felt the two were so closely related-just on different topics.  Both express how great of an influence communication can be, yet how negative and demeaning it can also be in terms of promoting or bullying a certain race or sexual orientation, etc.  One of the many ways it very much reminds me of Johnson, is how he brought up the point that we need to "say the words".  In this sense, I feel it is important in this day to "say the words", and talk about what many educators avoid with our youth, which is situations and words relevant to LGBTQ.   Furthermore related to this idea of Johnson's, the authors reference a PBS television in which the children have two moms, where the children just simply state that they love them both very much, but do not ever address sexual orientation; the words "gay" or "lesbian" are never used.  So, just as Johnson argued, avoiding using these terms and beating around the bush as educators or simply avoiding the topic altogether, creates a sort of discrimination: "such a decision kept LGBT people outside the walls of our classrooms and, by extension, outside the canons of polite society" (87).
The authors describe a way a Kindergarten teacher had incorporated such family structures in his lesson on families.  This reminded me of a reading class I took here last year at RIC, and our professor was a strong supporter of the LGBT community.  When she asked us to incorporate LGBT families into a lesson with our early childhood children, many of the others in my class felt very uncomfortable doing so.  While I feel comfortable briefly addressing these topics in my own classroom, and making it known to children that two dads, etc is a completely acceptable family, the other students in class voiced that they felt uncomfortable doing this because of how their students families would react.  Many of them felt that the parents of some of the children would feel upset that they would bring this topic into the classroom at such a young age, and that the parents themselves should be the ones addressing and educating these topics to their children.  Others felt that their children did not discriminate or bully LGBT children/families, because they either did not know about it or did not think it was abnormal, and did not want the possibility of creating the issue.  Again, while I did not mind bringing such books into my classroom (as long as they were developmentally appropriate), I could also somewhat understand where they were coming from, since they worked in some private schools, etc.  This reading made me think of that, and made me curious where some of you would stand in this position, and how you feel on the subject of introducing LGBT to your children.  The reading also addressed that their educators had these same concerns, and the possible arguments that they could present to concerned parents or those who complain about them introducing the topic.
I liked this reading a lot, because I felt it pointed out a lot of possible situations that could arise, and also a variety of strategies in putting out such situations amongst children, and how educators can ensure that they create a safe and welcoming space for these students.  I think this reading is very useful for educators with all types of experience, as many of these subjects are new to the children they are working with.

GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
I LOVE this website! This is a great resource for educators, and really anyone at that.  I love that it has so many resources available for educators to learn about this, how to act on it, how to teach it, and how to provide an inclusive program for youth.  The website offers professional development opportunities, support, events, etc in relevance to LGBT.  This is definitely a website I will be storing somewhere for future use!  I did a little more research on the website, and found an interesting interview with the founder of GLSEN, and the barriers that teachers still face.  It's a good read as well if you get a minute :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives?

Danah Boyd's chapter Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives? tells an informative summary of how today's society is divided because of technology.  Her intro to the chapter speaks about how teens have grown up in a world where internet has always existed, and that from this perspective, "teens are 'digital natives', and adults, supposedly less knowledgable about technology and less capable of developing these skills, are 'digital immigrants'".  However, these teens and students are not interested in learning through the use of technology, rather, they are engulfed in a social media world.  Hence, this term of being a "digital native" is more so a distraction than it is a useful trait.  While there are of course teens that Boyd has interacted with that use their knowledge in technology in appropriate and productive ways, there are also teens that are strictly familiar with social media and can not distinguish spam, or the difference between a web browser and the internet.  Because of this, Boyd argues that is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed, while it also naive to assume that "digital immigrants" have nothing to offer, etc.

The Emergence of the Digital Native
John Perry Barlow, a renowned poet and cyberlibertarian, positioned those who "come from Cyberspace" in juxtaposition with those before this time, dubbed them the "native" against the "immigrant".  Douglas Rushkoff then argued in his book that children should be recognized for their ingenuity.  On this hand, Rushkoff uses the terms "native" and "immigrant" to celebrate children's development in the digital age.  Boyd challenges both perspectives, saying that both you and adults still have a lot to learn.

 "We live in a technologically mediated world. Being comfortable using technology is increasingly important for everyday activities: obtaining a well-paying job, managing medical care, engaging with government. Rather than assuming that youth have innate technical skills, parents, educators, and policymakers must collectively work to support those who come from different backgrounds and have differ- ent experiences. Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environ- ments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowl- edge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and how to look for and interpret accessible information."

 Youth Need New Literacies
Boyd goes on to speak about how youth must become media literate. They need to develop the skills to ask themselves questions about the construction and dissemination of particular media artifacts.   They need to understand the reasoning behind marketing and advertising, and how computer systems work.  It is important for the youth to learn these, rather than how to complete their MySpace layouts, for basic functioning in today's work force and employment.

The Politics of Algorithms
Boyd brings up the example of Wikipedia vs. Google; that Wikipedia is a community source that any one is able to edit, and that most information is from their own beliefs or other sites that are not credible, when Google, on the other hand, continuously alters their algorithms to minimize the efficacy of those trying to manipulate search results.  Algorithms are fundamental to how many computer systems work; it is important to recognize what algorithms are neutral in this case.

  It is important to educate youth on what sites and search engines they should be using and why.  Many students did not actually understand why their teachers did not want them using Wikipedia, for example, or they still used it regardless.  In this case, adults often end up giving teens misleading or inaccurate advice and information about what they see online.

Boyd explains that the problematic frame of the digital native often undermines efforts to celebrate and critically examine how teens do and do not engage with social media.   "I believe that the digital natives rhetoric is worse than inaccurate: it is dangerous. Because of how society has politicized this language, it allows some to eschew responsibility for helping youth and adults navigate a networked world. If we view skills and knowledge as inher- ently generational, then organized efforts to achieve needed forms of literacy are unnecessary. In other words, a focus on today’s youth as digital natives presumes that all we as a society need to do is be patient and wait for a generation of these digital wunderkinds to grow up. A laissez-faire attitude is unlikely to eradicate the inequalities that con- tinue to emerge. Likewise, these attitudes will not empower average youth to be more sophisticated internet participants. " 

Teens are gaining experience and knowledge of technological skills through use of social networking and media, however, they also need the education from adults and "digital immigrants" on how to use such skills and where to apply them appropriately.  Technology will increasingly play an important role in society, therefore it is very important in our youth and future generations. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

We Begin to Know Each Other

While navigating around the Rethinking Schools website, which has an overwhelming amount of exceptional information, resources, and articles, I found one article that I was more intrigued to read than others.  The summary of We Begin to Know Each Other by Maiya Jackson caught my eye and left me wanting to hear the rest of it.
The article is primarily about an 8th grade girl named Laura, who was born a boy.  Laura applied for Manhattan Country School (where Maiya Jackson is director) upon entering the 8th grade because she was being pressured to leave her current school after making the decision to become a girl.  Not ready to deal with the questions that would arise from the community, Laura's current school asked her to leave when she made this decision.
This was the baseline that was explained in the brief summary prior to reading the full article.  While I can imagine that the topic of transgender can be quite a complex one for staff and families of such a young age group,  I could not believe that a school took the initiative to ask this child to leave.  This child had undoubtedly struggled with her identity for all of her life thus far, and had made a bolder and braver decision than many adults have in their own lives to change that.  This is so impressing to me that a child this young can be sure enough to make such an aggressive, and assuringly scary, choice on their own.
Manhattan Country School (MCS), the school Laura would be transferring in, "is a pre-K to 8th grade progressive school in New York City with a social justice mission.  Our student body has no racial majority, and we have a sliding-scale tuition system that supports socio-economic diversity".  The admissions team wanted to trust that the school would be safe and welcoming place for Laura, but was unsure how the wider school community would be in regards to talking openly about transgender identity.  While reading how the community and school felt, I found myself relating it back to the students transferring into Frances Howell in This American Life.  While very different identities, it is seemingly the same situation of bringing students in to a school that may make current students and families feel uncomfortable, but also wanting to make the new students feel safe and welcome.
The mission of MCS is proven throughout the article many times, but mainly because of the way Laura found MCS.  She had found it by attending Cometfire, a citywide group for LGBTQ middle school students and their allies (love that this is a thing there).  There, Laura became friendly with an 8th grader, Sophia, that had been out as a lesbian since the 5th grade.  Again, as a side note, I was very impressed that a child had come out by that age.  I feel that goes to show how serious gender identity can be, and that these children so obviously know this all of their lives (see related video link at end of blog).
After the admissions team met with the school psychologist to talk about Laura's adjustment and how to support her, she entered the 8th grade class that already had three gay families; "Sophia had already blazed a path to talk about gender and sexuality.  The class's 6th grade activism project had been lobbying for marriage equality at a state senator's office; their 7th grade project was leading a campaign to stop bullying of LGBTQ students".  These points that show how unbiased and welcoming this school is is absolutely amazing to me.  This is exactly how schools today need to be, and I wonder how Delpit and the other authors of the readings we have previously done would react to such an outstanding body of students and staff.
As the school prepared for Laura's welcoming and the new school year, Sophia's mother wrote an e-mail in regards to Sophia's gender as well.  She had attended a gender nonconforming camp for kids that summer, and made a transition to being called 'SJ' and living in a masculine spectrum.  It was very meaningful to her, and SJ wanted to continue his transition identity that year school.  Another thought provoking situation for me, because I could not help but respect that this parent was so supportive and open to their child's identity transition, especially at an age where many children do not still know themselves, and go through many phases.
Upon these situations, the school found themselves wondering how to deal with certain situations, such as gender bathrooms.  They opted for hanging signs on the door that said "occupied" when students were using them, rather than having a girls room and a boys room.  They did not want to have only locked unisex bathrooms, because of the potential safety hazard of students locking themselves in bathrooms.
The staff spent much time discussing this with each other and their students, and even did staff development sessions on gender identity and writing exercises of the first time when they were aware of their gender (I found myself briefly thinking of this as well, and finding it rather hard!).  The staff would tell their students on the first day of school while making opening remarks for the school year. They talked about the importance of community, and introduced SJ, who all the students were already familiar with as Sophia.  At first, Maiya reported that the students were rather open and accepting of Laura and SJ.  However, as the school year went on, there were minor issues and confusion for the students attending school with Laura and SJ.  Students brought up issues such as sports, and how they felt Laura playing on a girls team was an unfair advantage having been born a boy.  Some brought up overnight field trips, and how it was going to work gender wise.  The 8th grade girls apparently kept asking a 7th grade girl why she was interested in dating SJ, because he was a "boy" and had a crush on her, implying that she was a bad friend for not choosing to go out with him.  All of these confusing issues with staff and students brought me back to when Allan Johnson said that "people fear the unfamiliar".  At the beginning, everyone seemed fine with it.  As time went on, and questions arose, and the students and staff could not justify their questions with answers for themselves because they were unfamiliar with the situation, they seemed to start that fear he speaks of.  The staff held several meetings throughout the year, and had started with written questions from the students. It seemed the sessions were helpful, however, while reading the end of the article, I believe the most effective strategy for the students dealing with these confusing issues was to hear from Laura herself.  Laura gave a talk to the 7th and 8th grade students at the end of the year, and I felt it even put things in perspective for me.  She explains that she has always been a girl, stuck in a boy's body.  "I want all of you to close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself in the mirror, but instead of seeing yourself as your biological sex, imagine you are the opposite open your eyes. Some may have liked the image they saw and some may have not.  If you did not like the image you saw, imagine what it would be like to live 11 years of your life as that image".  This quote is extremely powerful and I would love to refer back to it for anyone that may be confused or biased against transgenders.
I wanted to include this brief video on Jacob, a 5-year-old child that was born a girl and has already chosen to live as a boy.  I think it is very interesting to see a child at this age be so sure of his identity change, and it proves that children know this far before they even know what gender really is.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Literacy With An Attitude

When first reading Patrick J. Finn's Literacy With An Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest, I found myself thinking back to the Normandy schools that were discussed in the last week's audio.  I feel like Finn is the prototype teacher that should have been teaching in the Normandy school district when they began attempting to reform and improve it. The way he talks about motivating and educating the students in terms of "control" is perfect and logical.  "I had work assignments on the board when the students entered the classroom, and so there wasn't a moment when they didn't have anything to do.  I didn't say to an errant student 'what are you doing?' I said, 'stop that and get to work.' No discussion. No openings for an argument" (4).  This is simple, but a seemingly effective strategy with children; when there is opportunity for boredom, there is usually opportunity for poor behavior.  Likewise, including extra credit assignments is always motivating for such students as well; the work is not required or forced, so if they attempt it, it cannot hurt, but it there is a major chance it will help them.
I found the few pages dedicated to Anyon's studies of the working-class, middle-class, and affluent professional schools rather interesting, but not unexpected.  It seemed to be almost as I would expect from experience or observation myself, unfortunately.  I wonder what would come of the working-class and middle-class students if some educators from the affluent professional schools were placed in them.  "In the affluent professional school, work was not repetitious and mechanical, as it was in the working-class school; it was not knowing the correct answers, as it is was in the middle-class school; it was being able to manipulate what Anyon termed symbolic capital" (17).  The children in this school were able to answer what 'knowledge' is, make choices on their own, and think as an individual.  They understood answers and context of the material presented to them because it was taught in a passionate way, rather than "because the book says so".  One step further, the executive elite school was academic, intelligent, and rigorous. "In the executive elite school the children were developing a relationship to the economy, authority, and work that is different from all other schools. They learned grammatical, mathematical, and other vocabularies by which systems are described. They were taught to use these vocabularies to analyze and control situations. The point of school work was to achieve, to excel, to prepare for life at the top."
I couldn't agree more with Finn's argument that when students begin school in such different systems, the odds are set for them.  A student in the working-class school is not likely to excel in the same way as a student from the excel or elite schooling.  It is very sad, because many children in the working-class schools probably possess the necessary tools and skills to excel, but do not have the opportunity with such poor educators.  My favorite quote from this reading may very well be when Finn states, "I'd like to hope that a child's expectations are not determined on the day she or he enters kindergarten, but it would be foolish to entertain such a hope unless there are some drastic changes made" (25).
I thought Finn's writing was full of knowledge and information, however, it was definitely not as 'spicy' as our previous readings.  While I enjoyed the information he presented, I found it much easier and more engaging to read more opinionated and casual texts such as last week's audio, or such as Johnson's piece.