Posts by BethCTech

I teach full time, mom full time, and write as much time as possible.

Talking Colorblindness with my 12 yr old

What do you say to your almost teenager when an author you both love experiences something neither you nor she will ever experience? That’s the time you open the box called “white privilege.” Today was that day.

To understand just why we had to have this discussion, reader, you need some context.

She wants her mostly white suburban middle school friends to read Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. She’s just as excited as I am that Jimmy Fallon chose it as his #TonightShowSummerReads. She declares that even though the book is YA and will be a part of our #ProjectLitBookClub at the high school, her middle school book club she started just this summer will read it too.

Yes, reader, she started a #ProjectLitBookClub. You see, I took her with me to #ProjectLitSUmmit18 in Nashville this June. At this event, we heard Kwame Alexander talk about the importance of great books for kids. We heard Nic Stone give tips on writing. In fact, we even had Mr. Alexander and Ms. Stone autograph books for us. Mr. Alexander spelled her name right on her autograph, asked her what grade she’ll be in next year, and told her “Eighth grade is cool.” Needless to say, we bought a huge pile of books to take home.

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She was so excited about the event, she decided then and there that she was going to start her own #ProjectLitBookClub this summer. She wasn’t going to wait till school started like I was. So we came home and settled in, and starting reading the books.

One book we bought was called I am Alfonso Jones, by Tony Medina. It’s a graphic novel that I picked up because it’s one of the @projectlitcommunity midlde grade books and because I thought her brother would like it. She read it first. We talked a little about it, mostly her telling me she thought her 9 year old brother might be a little too young to read it and that it was sad. After I read the book and realized that it dealt with police brutality and after I cried, I let her brother read it, too. It’s our world now. We have to learn to live in it.

She shared her experiences with her friends. The book club grew by one, and they got together to decide which to read first: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate or Rebound, by Kwame Alexander. Here they are, deciding.

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They decided on Wishtree. She made a blog. After a few weeks of futile texting, where no one showed up, she added one to her club.

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They were having a blast. Until today. When Ms. Adeyemi shared her story, and my kiddo overheard me talking about it with her dad. She wandered into our bedroom, where I sitting there rage crying, and asked me what happened. I read the tweet thread Adeyemi had shared. She started crying, too, and said, “But the police are supposed to be people who protect us. Why were they so mean? And what does colorblindness mean, anyway?”

So we started talking. I explained that, when people say they “don’t see color,” they are speaking from a point of privilege. That although on the surface it seems they are being fair, what they are really saying is, “Your story is not important. I don’t believe you.” I explained that although neither she nor anyone else in her family is ever likely to have police threaten us in our home, for people of color, every encounter with the police is one where they have to be afraid. And reader, I brought up Philando Castile.

She had never heard Mr. Castile’s story. She didn’t know that even when you do everything you’re supposed to, you can still die after an encounter with the police. And she got mad. She asked, “What can we do about this?” And we talked about the difference between empathy and sympathy.  That sympathy shuts doors between people, and empathy is making a connection, reaching out and saying, “Me, too.” That the only way we can feel empathy for others is by hearing their stories.

Reader, I explained that as white people, we are like goldfish in a fishbowl. Ask goldfish how water feels, and they’ll never say wet, because they don’t know what water is. It’s just there, all around them, protecting them. Just like white privilege.

Reader, our family talks like this all the time. Behind closed doors, and, let’s be honest, behind the closed door of my classroom, I have these conversations with young people. But we are deep in Trump country. To have any chance of understanding the world outside our tiny town, our kiddos must know the stories of others.

So she says, “We are going to have to read I am Alfonso Jones next year. We need to have these conversations.” And I agree.

If you made it to the end of this post, and you want to help the high school students I’ll teach next year to have these hard conversations, consider donating a little to my donor’s choose project.

If you’re super poor like me and want some resources I’ve used with my students,

  1. https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2009/colorblindness-the-new-racism
  2. https://jarredamato.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/proud-to-announce-project-lit-community/
  3. A description of how I convinced my principal to let me start our HS book club
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/06/21/what-the-police-officer-who-shot-philando-castile-said-about-the-shooting/
  6. https://bookriot.com/2018/07/02/tonight-show-summer-read/
  7. http://theurbannews.com/lifestyles/2017/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack/

 

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Giving back: the case study

“I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.” from The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros

I confess. I struggle to see that my voice matters. All my life, I’ve been told that it’s better to be humble. Be quiet, because speaking up is arrogant, and arrogance is wrong. So every time I publish a post, every time I share an idea, I am pushing back against that narrative. Everybody’s voice matters. In the spirit of sharing, here goes:

Every year, I walk into my room and try something different. Often it is a result of something I’ve read, some experience I’ve had, from going to an EdCamp in West Virginia and seeing their flexible seating, to hearing a keynote at a district PD and seeking to read more about it. Last year, my catalyst was two-fold. First, I heard Dr. Corey Seemiller speak about Generation Z, and I checked out her book, Generation Z Goes to College.  Then I attend Inspire 2017, where I learned about LRNG. That’s when I knew that 2017-18 was going to be different.

Because I teach dual-enrollment courses, I knew I was working within the constraints of my approved college syllabus. That being said, I wanted to make the experience more meaningful to my Gen Z students. This first blog post will describe how I transformed their interview analysis paper into a meaningful case study of a professional. Subsequent posts will detail how I transformed their research papers, persuasive projects, and final exams.

As with every school year, step one required me to do some deep diving into who they were as people.

To get to know the students, and for them to get to know themselves, I asked students to take the Holland Code profile test. I grouped students together, based on their Holland code profile. The Holland code is one way to determine which profession is a best fit, and it is one way to explore life after high school.

In groups based on class period and interest, students determined which profession most interested them to interview. They completed this badge on interviewing professionals and went as a group to interview an expert. This interview became the primary source document for their case study paper. Although each group member had the same audio, the papers were very different, based on the student’s own context. This part was successful.

Here’s what went wrong: some students were badly placed with professionals. Others had trouble getting their professional to follow through.  Some found that they could not get detailed answers from their interviewee. Some found the whole experience not as meaningful as I would like. So here’s how it’s going to go differently, next year.

The first problem was the way students determined their future professional interests.  Instead of asking students to take the ONET Holland Code test, I might have students try the Ohio Means Jobs Career Cluster profile, so they could work towards the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. In this way, they are not only preparing for the future, they are hopefully getting a more accurate description of what they want to be when they leave high school.

The second problem was the meaningful connection to area professionals. Luckily, one of my colleagues is looking at having a Career Fair in the fall, and she wants students to be able to job shadow a professional for a day. If my students coupled job shadowing with interviews, then they would have much more meaningful case study papers.

If you would like copies of any of my materials, from the question template I provided to the reflection I had students write about the interview process, please contact me in the comments below.

“From the darkness comes a train, cutting through the myst” by Stefan Insam is shared under a CC by SA 2.0 license

EdCamp Reflections

The Intervention Ziggurat vs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The more you know, the more you realize you have to learn. This was never more clear to me than on June 21, when I attended my second #SpedCampOH. An edcamp is a professional development opportunity where the agenda is set by the participants when they arrive. One session I attended was dealing with “difficult” students with IEPs, which spanned the gamut of emotionally disturbed students to autistic students.  Although it has been a few years since I have taught a student on an IEP, I decided to join this session anyway.

I heard some amazingly helpful suggestions for any student and teacher relationship, regardless of label. Participants brought up the concepts of Restorative Justice to rebuild relationships among students and staff. They suggested administrators allow students and teachers private moments of conversation to rebuild trust after students return to the classroom. They suggested maintaining and sharing places for students to decompress after a confrontation, in classrooms that are not their own. They suggested the importance of observational data, to determine what triggers off-task behavior, and working with students to problem solve issues before they started. But the most interesting I heard that was totally new to me was The Intervention Ziggurat.

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Ziggurat is pyramid shaped and deals with the idea that a student cannot focus on learning new information until they have their basic needs met. Just as Maslow acknowledged the physiological needs of a student must first be met, that a hungry student cannot learn, so does the Ziggurat discuss biological needs. However, unlike Maslow, the Ziggurat acknowledges that some students need their sensory needs met, too. Harsh lights, uncomfortable textures, loud noises, all of these stressors can make learning difficult for some students.

In retrospect, this makes total sense. I know that when I switched off the fluorescent overhead lights and switched on my lamps, with their natural light bulbs, the classroom dynamic completely changed. It helps that I painted over the salmon colored cement block, changing one cement block wall to a dark, midnight purple and the other to a bright, clean white. It helped that I provided floor cushions and pillows, rolling chairs and tables, in addition to my traditional desks. And should it be that I have students with sensory issues next year, hopefully I will have provided a room for them to learn.

If not, I will know to pay attention and determine what is triggering their behavior so I can help them be successful. I’m glad I attended #SpedCampOH so that I could learn how much I still have to learn about students.

“Desk with lamp, pitcher, and vintage books,” by Unsplash, is shared under Public Domain.

KRLitClub Begins!

How do you get your principal who hates rocking the boat to sign on to controversial YA Lit book clubs? Well, let me tell you a story…

My principal and I have known each other for almost ten years. He knows that I love to try new things, from flexible seating to taking students to hear a Holocaust survivor in the final year of his life. He also knows that he’s gotten parent complaints about the new things I’ve tried, like the year I tried to flip my classroom instruction. And he hates parent complaints with a passion.

So when I heard about Project Lit Community and its philosophy I knew two things up front.

  1. My students desperately need to know what the world outside is like. Their parents and grandparents fled Appalachia for the factory rich town we live in, and those factory jobs have dried up. Even though almost all the staff I work with grew up here, our students can’t stay here. Not and have a high paying, satisfying job, that is.
  2. My principal is worried that exposing them to the outside world, with its diverse cultures, would upset parents.

I did what any rebel teacher would do. I did it anyway. And I held my breath, to see if anyone would push back. They didn’t.

It helped I started small, with five books for my dual enrollment Intro to Literature class to choose from: Beloved, The Other Wes Moore, and three modern, controversial books: Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and Long Way Down. The students got to pick. They discussed their choice in small groups, in the last three weeks of school. I listened in, and when they needed some help making connections, I helped them with comments in their required written reflections.

And then I went to Project Lit Summit 18. And I knew I wanted more for my students.

Today was my first day back. And he asked me how the conference went. The perfect time to ask.

His first comment? “Just be careful which books you pick. You don’t want any controversy.”

Well, if you know anything about Project Lit Community, you’d know that they deal with the lives of kids today. That means there are books about LGBTQ kiddos, Pakastani kiddos, Latinx kiddos, African American kiddos, kiddos in poverty, and all kinds of folks my principal would say is controversial. So I knew I work to do.

Luckily, before the summit we had talked about a book I recently read, The 57 Bus. I had talked to him about how rich the informational text was, mixing a strong narrative with LGBTQ concepts. And thanks to the wonderful advice from Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, I knew what to say.

“John,” I said, “you know some of our students are gender fluid. It’s really important that they see themselves in the books they read. They need to know that their stories are important, too. Remember the book I talked to you about? Project Lit books reflect more than the world they know. Our students need to know what the real world is like.  And besides, if their parents object, they can just skip the book for that month.”

It was enough. He agreed! And now, for the planning, the fundraising, the work. And I don’t have to fly under the radar anymore.

Amplifying Student Voice

Three years ago I started teaching College Composition to juniors at my school. The curriculum was designed to mirror a local college’s expectations, which meant that the genre and number of papers were set ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the papers we write and think they are meaningful and connected to workplace and career after college. The problem is that they limit the voice and choice of my students. Something had to give.

Thanks to my time with the Ohio Writing Project, I knew that voice and choice improves student writing. I also knew that authentic audiences and real world problems help students to see the purpose behind the projects. My solution: blogging.

In this third year of student blogs, I have fine tuned many expectations. Students know how to find and cite Creative Commons licensed works so they don’t plagiarize. They know how to tag and categorize their posts so others can find them. They know how to write meaningful comments so they can interact with other writers. They have followers outside of our school that read and comment on their posts. Some, in fact, even blog when it’s not assigned. By teaching them the ground rules and opening the door to whatever they passionately want to write about, I have solved my conundrum.

If you are interested in teaching your students to blog, below are two playlists I wrote for LRNG, a local nonprofit.

Blogging part 1: media literacy

Blogging part 2: creating your blog

I also highly recommend the Student Blogging Challenge over on Edublogs for some great “how to” challenges to help students learn the skills they need in order to successfully blog.

Shout out to some of my favorite student bloggers:

https://creatorcorner.wordpress.com/

https://krcwriting.wordpress.com/ (this one started blogging in Creative Writing in 9th grade w/me)

A previous year’s blog

https://greenteatuesdays.wordpress.com/

Blog” by airpix is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Small moments

A full night’s sleep is that icy cold glass of lemonade on a sweltering summer day.
A lip parted smile complete with eye contact is that first sip of merlot on Friday night.
A whispered, sincere conversation while leaning on the drinking fountain is that gulp of coffee, fresh ground and hot.
Clean socks are that steaming hot chocolate with whip cream mounded high above the rim of a heavy ceramic mug.
A heavy lapful of cat is that mulled cider, redolent with cinnamon and clove, its steam curling up to caress your frozen face.

I am grateful for small moments of mindfulness.

“Hot Chocolate” by Renee McGurk is shared under a CC by 2.0 license.

Daily revels

Lately, I’ve surrounded my classroom with poetry and gratitude. I’ve found that which surrounds often slips into the cracks of your soul, peeks out from under the covers, whispers behind your left ear as you go about your day.

It slides down your throat like honey, soothing a throat sore with complaining. It cushions the hard wooden seat, cracked with fidgets. It is a belt loop bigger or elastic waistbands after a Thanksgiving feast. Or flannel pajama pants after a long day of hose and heels. It is triumphant music that swells overtop the daily grind of what we must do.

February is normally a month of gray mornings and empty evenings. By cuddling up to some silent poetry reading and journaling about gratitude every day, I have renewed my passion to be here, in the moment, with my students. Revel in the everyday.

Person” by geralt is shared under a CC.0 license