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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NCTE Reflections

First of all, if you have never been to NCTE, it is overwhelming. An abundance of choices, voices, options, all of which push you to decide where you will spend your time. My first few choices were teacher-led sessions.

Session 1 was Empowering Student Voice, which fits in with my 2017 One Word Resolution.  I love writing workshop-style classes, but I don’t love a focus on grammar and punctuation. I liked some of the ideas, however, and can see incorporating some of their ideas into my Introduction to Literature course that starts in a few days.

Session 2 was Folger’s Macbeth. After some language play, we broke up into acting companies and tried out 15 minute Macbeth.  I can definitely use this strategy with my sophomores this spring. It sounds like a great start to reading the play. I also heard about Forsooth, a member only group that supports teachers. Needless to say, I joined. I’m not sure it’s worth it, yet.

Session 3 was the Global Kindness Project. I loved it. I definitely want to sign my sophomores up for 2018, beginning on January 15 and ending on Feb. 15. It should fit right into our research project. The steps of the project are:

  1. Kindness
  2. Gratitude
  3. Empathy
  4. Action

Session 4 was supposed to be gamification, mixed with #breakoutedu. The ideas were sound, but sound like you’d need professional actors to pull it off.  My big takeaway? To gamify deeply, you must have a storyline, to provide purpose.

Next, we had our presentation: Using Digital Tools to Level Up the 21st Century Writer. I joined three other teachers to talk about digital tools and how we use them to improve student writing. I use Goobric to track data and Screencastify to provide individual explanations as to their Goobric score on rough drafts, rather than “grading” those first drafts. When students wrote their final reflections, my feedback videos were the number 1 thing students mentioned as most helpful to them.

The last session I attended was Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Penny Kittle. I loved the rainstorm metaphor Kylene shared to parallel Notice and Note: as readers, we first see the clouds, then we use prior knowledge to determine it will rain, and then we act on that information by getting an umbrella. Notice, note, and so what? Perfect! And Bob’s slide, that explains why we might get pushback from society by teaching students to defend their ideas with evidence, was perfectly timed. I also loved Penny Kittle’s question, “So how are you getting started today?” I think this was the first time I understood what writing conferences are supposed to look like.

The biggest takeaway I have from NCTE 17-the people. Connecting with educators, with authors, with folks excited about teaching, really made my week. Every day, I ate with different people, dug into the teaching profession with others, wandered the vendor hall with more, and networked. I came back refreshed and ready to take on the world.

I highly recommend attending NCTE. I hope I get the chance to go again!

How a silent discussion opened the door for my students

I sat with the group, silently observing their small group discussion. Although normally she finds ways around it, on this day,  my student who struggles with stuttering had an almost impossible time getting her ideas out. When she is nervous, the words seem to break apart in her mouth. I know she has amazing things to say, because her blog is thoughtful, sweet, and expresses the thoughts of a deep thinker, but speaking to others while being watched was making that ability to dig deep into a text and pull out the heart of an idea invisible to the others. I knew I had to do something.

Backchannel chat and Twitter to the rescue.

In preparation of a student led, Socratic discussion, students had read almost half of Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. They had close read passages, analyzed them for ethos and pathos, and written countless short answer responses. I had asked them to come up with open ended questions in anticipation of this discussion, but I didn’t think putting this student on display was fair to her. So I proposed a silent, Twitter style, chat instead.

First, I created a free backchannel chat at http://backchannelchat.com/. Then I created an assignment in Google Classroom with the link to the chatroom. I explained the format of a Twitter chat, with Q1 representing the first question and A1 its answer. I reviewed the norms of a good discussion, with interaction between its members, and let them appoint a student discussion leader. Students typed their favorite open ended question into the public comments on the assignment, and the discussion leader added the appropriate Q1 etc. to the question and pasted it in the chat. She monitored when student comments seemed to die down and added the next Q when it seemed to fit.

The chat was a success. Not only did the student who struggles with stuttering have success, but several of my more introverted students shone as well. In fact, if you look at the exchange they had in the above screenshot, you can just see the connections building. It was epic. I will definitely do this again.

Finding my “why”

Do you know your “why”? Your reason for doing what you do? What gets you out of bed every day and helps you know your purpose on this planet?

I’m a dive into the deep end kind of a person. I’m the one who’ll stay up all night, because the book just keeps getting better and better. I’m the one who looks up, realizing it’s been hours since I started playing Skyrim and now I desperately have to pee. (I’m also the Queen of TMI, so sorry about that.) I’m the one with a plate overflowing with work that I just can’t say no to. I’m the one working full time, part time, and attending college classes, all at the same time. I rarely stop to look at the big picture, the why of my life.

Let’s admit it: I find reflection painful, like being asked to look at myself in a mirror. Reflection always makes me see the wrinkles, the silver creeping into my hair, the loose skin and persistent fat rolls that six months of Weight Watchers and twenty pounds of weight loss just doesn’t wear away. Reflect? Ugh. Do I have to?

Well, when two administrators I admire, Bobby Dodds and Neil Gupta, both independently talk about the importance of establishing just WHY you do something, I know I have to sit up and take notice. So hear goes:

The why that is in the center of all that I do as a teacher is: I want to empower students to think and learn for themselves. Knowing my why helps define my purpose going forward.

So, do you know what your “why” is?

Props to Bobby Dodds for sharing the above YouTube video, which I plan to use to help students define their “why” this year.

Image attributed to https://www.flickr.com/photos/editor/

 

Game on!

Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. –George Couros

Ever wondered how to implement gamification into your classes beyond kill and drill review games? Me, too. Last year, I tried implementing Classcraft last year, but it didn’t quite fit. The excitement wasn’t there, and the energy to gamify flagged when kids leveled up enough to get their favorite outfits. I was just debating whether or not to try again when my husband stepped in.

He’s my favorite sounding board, because he believes I can do anything I set my mind to achieve. And when I told him about my epic fail to make the energy spike in my room, he jumped in with an awesome idea: create a storyline that is more epic than merely leveling up.

Some wild drawings later, we came up with this: a massive game of RISK, with students trying to dominate the world of the classroom. With his background in geology and our backgrounds in gaming, he painstakingly came up with a world map for my kids to dominate.

Each Classcraft team begins in a city on the map. They move one hexagon for every assignment they turn in on time. Together, the team is more powerful, but each member can go on their own to explore the map. As they conquer each square, they will uncover side quests that align with the unit we’re about to begin. Some quests will be available only for higher level characters. Each team has a resource they must first find and then protect from the other teams, and teams can challenge each other in a Boss Battle to conquer the world, all while deepening their connects to each other and to the content of the course. Students who fail to complete their work cannot move forward in the game and risk weakening their teams. One team will rule supreme, as kings and queens of our kingdom. After dominating, they can move on to conquer the other continents (that represent the other classes I teach.)

Gaming ties right in with my desire to create deeper connections within my classroom, as well as fits right in with the novel we read this summer, Ready Player One.

Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Photo credit to https://www.flickr.com/photos/94086507@N00/

 

Living the mantra

I believe my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.–The Mantra of an Innovative Educator, George Couros

This is my 18th year of teaching. Some might think that after so many years of teaching, I’d be sitting back on my laurels, dusting off those overheads and worksheets, and sunning myself by the pool this summer.

Anyone that thinks dusty worksheets live in my room doesn’t know me.

I am always trying to find the next, greatest thing in education. I want my students to leave my room knowing they have learned something they can use in the future, to know that their time was well spent. I know that I need to keep my saw sharp, because I know Stephen Covey is right: that 7th habit helps make me a better teacher.

This summer, to sharpen my saw I am:

  1. Continuing with Weight Watchers online (I have lost 20 pounds since March, and I’m looking to 30 more for a healthy BMI.)
  2. Taking tri weekly water aerobics classes and trying for at 10,000 steps or their equivalent
  3. Taking a graduate class from Wright State (I have two more to complete my 18 credit hours, making me officially College Credit Plus certified and bringing me to Master + 25, the maximum education on our contract salary schedule)
  4. Finishing my Google Certified Teacher, level 2 test (I just completed Level 1 this summer)
  5. Participating in weekly #ohedchats
  6. Learning about Voxer and reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

What will you do, to keep your saw sharp this summer?

Image courtesy of Empowering Students to Lead

Video Platforms for Teachers

Have you ever had to miss class for only one period, and didn’t want to have that class fall behind the others? Well, that’s happening to me today. Because I love technology and because I love my students, I often experiment with ways to help them learn. Today in class, we’re reviewing two college style composition techniques: the rhetorical situation, and the academic summary.

Students are fairly comfortable with rhetorical situation, so I used my favorite interact video app for iPad, Touchcast. Touchcast has amazing interactivity, which allows for viewers to click on the screen and interact with embedded videos, websites, and more. Of course, because this video was for later today, I couldn’t get too fancy. I like Touchcast because it is easy to use, edit, upload, and create content. Here’s the video I made today:

The other video creation tool I used was the Snagit extension, by TechSmith. This one is awesome, because it easily creates a screencast. I can’t actually be on the screen, but students can hear my voice, and see the words on the screen. Here’s the video i made, below:

So, which video would be most helpful to you as a learner, from TechSmith or from Touchcast? Explain in the comments below!