Category Archives: #CyberPD

Being the Change: A Cautionary Tale

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One of the challenges of writing a book (and teaching) about difficult topics like social comprehension is the content you need to use to demonstrate your ideas. Presumably, you want to include a breadth of examples so that a wide array of readers (learners) will connect with the ideas presented. I would argue that using a variety of examples provides us with the opportunity to illustrate varying ways of talking about the issues. This just makes sense. And there is no shortage of marginalized groups to access. Some of the more prominent groups include people from the following communities: LGBTQ, same-sex family, #metoo, Muslim, refugee, immigrant, People of Colour, working poor, and Indigenous peoples.

And yet, two of the 10 lessons in Being the Change are focused on Indigenous peoples. More importantly, not one other group is singled out in another lesson that demonstrates the negative way it’s treated in society.

Sure, Ahmed talks through her own lens (Muslim) when addressing students. In “Refusing to Let Others’ Biases Define Us”, Ahmed creates an ‘I am’ statement about being the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants and she tells the students, “This one is not always easy for me to say because it is connected to negative stereotypes about Muslims, but I wanted to share one I feel proud of even though it is hard to share with total confidence” (63).  This makes sense, too. Because I am a white woman, I talk through my experiences fighting for equality. We do need to draw on who we are and what our experiences are to show our personal connection and commitment to the work of social comprehension.

Ahmed also includes student responses to the tough conversations that are the bedrock of social comprehension. “Listening with Love” opens with the story of Christine who painfully recalls ‘some of the labels she’s heard applied to herself and to her Mexican-American family: taco eaters, lazy spics, wet-backs, illegals’ (30). And in the forward, we see how student thinking has changed around the question “What makes a family?” to include same-sex families. Ahmed even includes an anecdote by someone beyond her classroom about a refugee family that depicts the ongoing work of social comprehension to open chapter 5 “Finding Humanity in Ourselves and n Others”.  Again, I think including these anecdotes and responses is appropriate. Ahmed needs to build in these stories to illustrate her ideas. We want to know how her students react to the lessons in the book. What does it really look like?

But no other group is made the centre of a lesson. Why not?

Let’s consider the two lessons in question. In “Understanding Microaggressions”, the content for the lesson is the poem “Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question” by Diane Burns.

Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question
How do you do?
No, I am not Chinese.
No, not Spanish.
No, I am American Indian, Native American.

No, not from India.
No, not Apache
No, not Navajo.
No, not Sioux.
No, we are not extinct.
Yes, Indian.

Oh?
So that’s where you got those high cheekbones.
Your great grandmother, huh?
An Indian Princess, huh?
Hair down to there?
Let me guess. Cherokee?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian friend?
That close?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian lover?
That tight?

Oh, so you’ve had an Indian servant?
That much?

Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.
It’s real decent of you to apologize.
No, I don’t know where you can get peyote.
No, I don’t know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.
No, I didn’t make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.

Thank you. I like your hair too.
I don’t know if anyone knows whether or not Cher
is really Indian.
No, I didn’t make it rain tonight.

Yeah. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-huh. Mother
Earth. Yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Spirituality.

No, I didn’t major in archery.
Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.
Some of us can’t drink enough.

This ain’t no stoic look.
This is my face.

I love the lesson. In my initial reading of this chapter, I didn’t question the content choice. Indigenous peoples are often still marginalized in our societies (yours and mine). They are on the receiving end of microaggressions (as well as explicit racism), and Burns captures many of them in her poem. I wouldn’t use this poem to introduce the concept of microaggression to my First Nations students, but I would use the poem later in the lesson as a way for them to personally reflect on their own experiences with similar microaggressions. Frankly, my students are likely to find much humour in this poem.

In “Understanding Others’ Perspectives”, Ahmed chose again to focus the lesson on Indigenous content: the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. And again I have no issue with the activities of the lesson, although I wouldn’t use that content to teach the “Intent vs Impact” lesson. I typically use a PSA like the one below with similar activities that Ahmed describes in this chapter because we are after all attempting to understand others’ perspectives.

So what’s the problem?

When we design lessons that centre on one group and the challenges it faces in the world, we may be contributing to the creation of a single story about that group because we, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her famous TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story” says, ‘show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become’.

What about Indigenous identities do students learn from these two lessons?

The problem is that Ahmed has provided her reader’s with two lessons that add to the story of Indigenous peoples as marginalized, misunderstood, and invisible. It’s the emphasis that troubles me. I wished she could have used a variety of communities to illustrate how we can learn about the identities of others so that our social comprehension (how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship with the world) could expand and in doing so, demonstrate to us the breadth and depth of the work of decentering “the dominant normative narratives in society” (xxix).

The other problem is with the lack of Indigenous texts offered in Being the Change. In the “Suggested Resource Stacks”, Ahmed offers up potential titles to support teachers in their work in teaching social comprehension. Only one title listed is written by a self-identified Indigenous author:  Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie. But it’s not just the lack of titles offered that’s disappointing; it’s also that this author and this title are particularly problematic.

Because Indigenous peoples have for so long been misrepresented in literature, and because as educators we don’t want to perpetuate the misrepresentation (microaggressions), it behooves us to ensure that the texts we choose to use in our teaching are free of any misrepresentations. An excellent source to learn about potential Indigenous titles is American Indians in Children’s Literature created by Debbie Reese. “Established in 2006, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.”

Reese reviewed Thunder Boy Jr. when it was first published in 2016. Overall, she gave it a mixed review because the book, in its own way, contributes to the single story. The review is worth a read because her analysis is rich (you’ll learn a lot from her), but here is one of her key points:

By not being tribally specific, [Alexie’s] story obscures the diversity that Native writers, scholars, activists, parents, teachers, librarians, lawyers… have been bringing forth forever. We aren’t monolithic. We’re very different in our histories, religions, material cultures, and yes, the ways that we give names. Moving into that name play collapses significant distinctions across our nations.

Maybe the book is fine to use as an introduction to a unit on Indigenous peoples because it’s not specific and could lead the class into a discussion about the diversity of Indigenous peoples. But when we are actually teaching for diversity, away from the single story, towards the messiness of social comprehension, Thunder Boy Jr. might not be such a good choice.

A second reason that this book is not a good choice centres on ethical decision-making. Reese re-visited this book, and all of Sherman Alexie’s work, in February 2018 after news broke about the sexual harassment allegations made against Alexie. In an “Open Letter about Sherman Alexie” on February 25, 2018, Reese wrote:

Based on private conversations I have had, I can no longer let [Sherman Alexie’s] work sit on AICL without noting that he has hurt other Native writers in overt and subtle ways, including abuse, threats, and humiliation.

This then is the cautionary tale.

Let us work really hard to ensure that we are not promoting a single story –for anyone. Diversify your lessons to include lots of voices and identities.

And let us work really hard to ensure that the texts we use with students are the best that there are. Don’t take shortcuts. Investigate.

Finally, I would like to introduce you to a few Anishinabe people from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory whose stories will help layer at least one Indigenous story. They are artists, designers, activists, researchers, and knowledge keepers.

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Being the Change: Making Connections

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In 2012, I joined #Cyberpd and the book we studied was Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. I’ve been thinking about this book as I work my way through Being the Change (no surprise that Opening Minds is listed in Ahmed’s References). Johnston taught me about the power of language as not only a force to build relationships with students and to support students in developing a dynamic learning stance, but also one that can build worlds. And isn’t this the end game for building social comprehension?

[Being the Change] is based on the idea that we can build skills and habits to help us comprehend social issues and participate in relevant, transparent conversations. Social comprehension, like academic comprehension, is how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship to the world. (xxv)

Teaching students to be able to have and manage candid conversations by confronting their biases and identifying the biases of others is about grappling with the power of words. And this takes time. Time to model what bias looks like and sounds like; time to locate the microaggressions in our lives; time to challenge labels and develop the confidence to assert ourselves.

While teaching is vital work, it is also complex work. The diversity that exists in each classroom stretches our capacity to see and hear each student, to have the right words at the right time to not only support the student in developing a ‘dynamic learning frame of mind’ but to connect the student to the larger community.

You can read my final post for the #Cyberpd 2012 Opening Minds here. Below is an excerpt from that post that connects the two texts.

on Opening Minds, first read 

Listen.
Create space and time for dialogue.
This means
—slow down.
No rushing in with the answer,
allow uncertainty to feed wonder and discovery.
Make room for confusion in conversation.
Give it permission to spur dialogue,

to build collaborative thinking
to create knowledge
together.

Remember that teaching changes worlds.

How will I know?
Listen to the students. What are they talking about?

There is the answer.

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Being the Change: Context and Consideration

Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change is a book I could’ve written.

But no author wants to hear that.

Actually, no one wants to hear that. It’s like looking at an abstract painting and declaring, “I could have painted that!”

Or my sister-in-law telling my mother years and years and years ago that Holly Cole, a Canadian jazz singer who was all the rage then, wasn’t a big deal. That she could do what Holly Cole was doing. The thing is, my mom said, Holly Cole is doing it; you’re not.

Sometimes artists’ work—visual art, dance, music, writing — explores and articulates ideas that resonate so deeply with our own that we think to ourselves, “Ya, I could paint that painting, dance that dance, sing that song, and yes, write that book”.

I love reading books like this one because I am not writing a book. But I am teaching my heart out, every day in my classroom. And books like Sara Ahmed’s can both affirm that work and challenge me to re-examine it.

So let me dive right in.

In the opening section of Being the Change, Ahmed sets the stage for teachers who want to build social comprehension with their students. Social comprehension is “how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship with the world” (xxv). What happens if our relationship with the world is damaged? How do we approach the world then?

I teach First Nations students and their relationship with the world is as varied as it is with all people, but First Nations people have had (and continue to have) a particularly difficult time generally and with education specifically. The history of cultural genocide in Canada is now well documented through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that produced a report with 94 calls to action. These calls are meant to spur Canadians-from the national government to the individual citizen-into a  journey towards reconciling the past and building a more just and equitable future for all.

I cannot here go into the range of responses from the Indigenous communities some of which have created opportunities for non-Native Canadians to personally engage with Indigenous people, art, books, music, and knowledge like #Next150

and some of which are focused on developing opportunities for Native and non-Native youth to come together because “youth are at the heart of redefining relationships between Indigenous & non-Indigenous people’s on this land” (CanadianRoots).

But there are other voices that articulate the depth of the work and ask the tough questions that are in no way rhetorical. Billy-Ray Belcourt, writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation, articulates a response to the TRC report in 2015 that demands a response:

What of the deeply stubborn traces of a governmental enterprise that lawfully desired our elimination, that corralled and still corals Indigenous peoples in prisons and cemeteries in order to disappear us and the ancient legal and political orders hidden in our breathing?

Reconciliation is an absolutely historiographic project, one that forces us to ask: in what way will we — the nation — relate to the past, and how will it give way to a future that might better contain our feelings in the good? Indeed, how might it re-distribute the good life to those for whom that fantasy has hitherto been outside arm’s reach?

Reconciliation is a contradictory object: it emerges out of bad feelings but, at the same time, stalls in the face of them in the present. It only wants to collect the good public emotions it needs to keep going, to push itself outside of History, to narrate a present bereft of legislated pain. But ours are bodies that still shake, that traffic in the bad because we know that a world reconciled is not necessarily a world decolonized.

In a world that wants you to constantly accumulate things — ideas, objects, capital, apologies — at the expense of literally everything else, not wanting emerges as a sore point, slowing things down and getting in the way, so to speak. It’s heartbreaking: knowing that this world didn’t want you in the first place, but that it nonetheless doubles as your condition of possibility, your everything, the only thing you have.

*italics my emphasis

This excerpt illustrates the troubled relationship that my students may have with the world. Trusting the world to hear them and see them for who they are is a huge leap, and it’s made wider because, through the act of disappearing a people, cultural knowledge and identity is stripped away, and re-discovering that lost knowledge is heartbreaking work.

What then is the role of the teacher?

What I decided many years ago was to get close to the stories of the students I teach (129): stories of their lives, their families, their history, and their culture. We explored our own identities by creating digital stories, word snapshots,  “I am” poems, Our Image stories, and blackout poems. We explored other perspectives and cultures through the texts we read, in particular, using events like the Global Read Aloud. And we built knowledge of our identities through collaborative projects with other schools. But since the work of social comprehension is as Ahmed reminds us “a constant recalibration of one’s relation with the self and with others” (xxx), it is important for me to now get close to the work itself and reflect on its current relevance and authenticity. Is the question “What does it mean to be Anishinabe in the 21st century?” that I have posed to students over the years, still relevant, meaningful, fair?

Being the Change has come to me at the right time, not because I am unfamiliar with social comprehension, but rather because I have been so immersed in this work. Reading this book now reminds me that now is the time to reflect, reassess, and renew.

I hope the #cyberpd community will confront and provoke my thinking, work, and pedagogical approach throughout this book study.

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#Cyberpd 2018

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This is my 5th year participating in #cyberpd. I teach First Nations students and the focus of the work is helping students find their voices, so that they can stand up to the effects of colonialism that they encounter in their lives. It’s not easy work. Sometimes the message is perceived negatively. Sometimes the students are indifferent. But sometimes students connect deeply with the ideas and weave them into their lives. I am always on the lookout for new approaches to support the tough conversations that oppression, reconciliation, and self-actualization generate. I am sure Being the Change and this community will offer me valuable learning.

 

If you are interested in participating in #CyberPD check out the community hashtag in Twitter and the G+ site.  And in this post, you can get the “nuts & bolts” for this professional learning event.

 

 

 

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Micro-Progressions

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Rick Wormeli via Tweet by Andrew Kozlowsky @MrKoz31 July 14, 2016

This is a second post for #cyberPD, which is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Robers and Maggie Beattie Roberts. In the first post, I focused on how we need to establish the student learning need before we can turn to the tools that might support student achievement and how we can better determine that student learning via teacher collaboration. This conversation is where I live; it’s what I want to focus on all the time.

Why am I doing this learning?

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In my classroom, this question has a permanent home, and periodically, I ask students to write down what they are doing and why they are doing it and post their thinking. It’s hard for them to think about why they are doing what they’re doing. Sure we have learning goals and success criteria. Yes, we often co-construct both. Nonetheless, seeing the learning and connecting this discrete skill with the next one and the next one, so that eventually they can

  • engage in the research process;
  • write a blog post;
  • synthesize their reading into an infographic;
  • participate in an online literary discussion;
  • read increasingly complex text and make meaning with those texts;

is hard to hang on to.

Kate and Maggie offer us a series of four tools that can make the learning visible, and thus make it stick:

  1. Teaching charts
  2. Demonstration Notebooks
  3. Bookmarks
  4. Micro-progressions of skills

I already use both teaching charts and bookmarks regularly, and many students do access them when they need to recall earlier learning or to remind them about what questions they need to consider. For example, together we will construct a teaching chart of what the research process entails and then we will unpack each step thereby creating a series of explicit teaching charts. Here is one showing how an information paragraph with integrated evidence is constructed:

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However, not all students turn to these tools for support despite not yet being independent in that skill. Maybe the model of how one paragraph (in this case) is not enough. Micro-progressions may be the right tool for some of these students.

Micro-progressions show the way toward higher levels of work. by providing actual examples of work that’s improving, as well as listing the qualities that make up each “level” of work, micro-progressions allow for both self-assessment and self-assignment (17).

The first challenge I faced in tackling the creation of a micro-progression was that for every skill (including the one above) there were sub-skills that needed their own micro-progression. To write a good information paragraph with different types of evidence integrated with the writer’s own thinking, students need to be able to know how to integrate evidence using a variety of signal phrases. They need to know how to paraphrase. They need to know how to locate, read, and cull information from those sources that may be relevant to their topic. And this is what Kate and Maggie mean when they note “we encounter trouble when we teach too much to hold onto, too much to remember” (46).

Where to start?

I decided to start with an essential skill that students should be using throughout their academic career: the research note. The student note-making samples used in this strategy are all submissions from my students.

 

 

But notice how the note with the most breadth and depth is the one that includes the student’s own thinking. Well, that got me thinking about another essential skill: making connections. The models used in this strategy all come from student work.

 

 

I am keen to integrate the use of micro-progressions into the teaching – learning process and to get feedback from the students. I am hoping this strategy can provide clarity of purpose because they can see where they need to go next and independence in the self-assessment process that we began this past year (which I haven’t yet blogged about).

And as we co-create more micro-progressions, we may even innovate on the model, and add in an answer to the question: Why should we learn this?

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Hold on to a Learning Focus

“You have got to have a lot of dance steps, so depending on who your dance partner is, and what the music is, you can actually shift the repertoire. A lot of us fall into default mode so when the music changes to rumba or cha-cha, we keep doing the samba…. A skilled professional … will actually shift repertoire, and has a range of pedagogy.” (Allan Luke, Leaders in Educational Thought, 2012)

This year #Cyberpd is exploring DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. Roberts and Beattie Roberts focus our attention on the idea that students will have different learning needs at different times and that we need to be ready to meet them where they are with the tools they need so that they can be independent learners. While I agree that tools that make the learning sticky are important, I want to first pull the focus away from the teaching need (the tools) and put it on how we determine what the student learning need is because it’s only with a very clear sense of the ‘why’ that the tools become meaningful. Without focusing on the problem first (the learning need), tools and strategies may become “activity traps” (Katz, 24). 

Sometimes teachers struggle to identify student learning needs. They reference things like students’ level of organization (coming to class prepared to learn) or self-regulation (putting phone way) or responsibility (completing independent work/homework) as obstacles to learning. And sometimes they identify “the curriculum, or the politics of education, or the lesson plan” (DIY, 2) as the things that block student learning. But none of these things are student learning needs.

What does a student learning need look like?

It is learning that the student(s) needs based on the evidence we have. This might be our own assessments, and it might be evidence from standardized tests, and it might be a combination. What is clear, however, is that even after we have taught the skill in the best way we know how to, some students still don’t get it.

What Roberts and Beattie Roberts note is that a student learning need is a teacher learning need; that “we don’t [always] have at our fingertips the content we most need to teach our kids” (23).  What do you do if the way you have been teaching students a skill is not reaching all of your students? If we have evaluated the importance of the skill; that is, we have determine that the skill is valuable, then there must be a sense of urgency for students to learn it (33)!

If you don’t belong to a collaborative inquiry or a professional learning community  then the authors suggest that teachers can access professional texts and a professional learning network (PLN) to help them find new content and/or strategies that may address their students learning needs. But by far and away, their first suggestion “Never teach alone” is the best alternative. We are better together! And not just because we need to model modern learning for our students, but also because the themes of teacher leadership, collaboration, and inquiry feature prominently in the research findings of leading education experts (e.g., Little, 1982; Darling-Hammond, 1998; Ball and Cohen, 1999; Lieberman and Miller, 2004; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012; Hattie, 2012; Timperley et al., 2007; and Katz et al., 2013) (Donhoo and Velasco, 13-15). This research drives the collaborative inquiry I facilitate each year. The “link between teacher practice and student learning is a strong and robust one (Katz et al., 36), and it compells me and my team to work together to do the learning we need to.

So, when I read the Bonus Chapter, “Do it Yourself: Mining Your Own Work for Strategies”, I immediately made the connection to the work we do in our collaborative inquiry. Based on the determined learning need, we do

  • ask “How do we teach our students to…?;
  • seek the advice of experts;
  • challenge each other’s perspectives to “try to see a lot of different kinds of WHATS”;
  • do the work ourselves to see what will happen;
  • study what we did;
  • challenge each other’s assumptions about the learning.

We do all of this because we are trying to get to the WHY–the WHY behind the observable because that is what makes the difference. (Katz et al., 2013)

What is the it – if improved – that is going to make a difference for learning? This is what defines powerful professional inquiry, “a challenge of practice” or “a persistent and familiar instructional improvement dilemma” for which both educators and learners “at this point in their learning, have no easy solution” (City, Elmore, Flarman, & Teitel, 2009). Addressing challenges of practice is complex work as educators examine, analyze and make sense of the connections between student learning needs and their instructional practices. (Capacity Building Series, Dynamic Learning)

The challenge while reading DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence is to not get caught up in the tools…in a teaching focus, but to hold on to a learning focus.

Please share your collaborative professional learning experiences in the comment box.

Let’s learn together!

 

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#cyberpd 2015 title pitch

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#cyberpd  holds a very special place in my heart because it is the event that first got me connected digitally (in a significant way) back in 2012. I couldn’t participate last year because I was in courses all summer and living on the road, but I am happy to be back!

I teach high school English and this year my stack of TBRs are all works of fiction. I am fortunate to have a supportive Principal who has helped me build a new and substantial class room library, and my goal this summer is to read as many of the titles as I can.

But professional reading is important to me, and I am hoping that #cyberpd offers me that one must read title for this summer as it has with Who owns the learning? and Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives.

I am very compelled by the buzz around Creating a Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchhart. Creating Cultures of thinking

I have learned so much from Ritchhart’s Making Thinking Visible as it has supported my professional work on learning how to engage students in questioning. The biggest challenge is that students don’t think. They have been trained to sit back and wait to be told what to do, and at best, to answer teacher questions. Generating their questions, questions that haunt them, that must be answered is a tough sell. But I am an optimist and truly believe that by creating a real professional learning community the culture of a school can be reshaped into one where personal inquiry, and thus, deep, meaningful learning, can happen.

The post below is only one that I have read on Creating Cultures of Thinking. In it Patricia Northrop quotes from the book’s introduction:

It feels good to be a member of a culture of thinking. It produces energy. It builds community. It allows us to reach our potential. This is something we as educators need to remember. A culture of thinking is not about a particular set of practices or a general expectation that people should be involved in thinking. A culture of thinking produces the feelings, energy, and even joy that can propel learning forward and motivate us to do what at times can be hard and challenging mental work.

Indeed.

Not only is this passage inspiring, it also describes for me the very essence of the #cyberpd community.

Creating Cultures of Thinking is my nomination for #cyberpd 2015.

 

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