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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Non-Conformity or Natural Human Diversity

This week's article by Christopher Kliewer struck a very personal chord with me.

I believe my first moment as a teacher came in 1987, when as a 16 year-old lifeguard at the MacColl field YMCA, I was offered the chance to teach a swim lesson with an outside group from the Spurwink School.  Every Wednesday, for 10 weeks that summer, a group of 10 severe/profound students, and their staff, showed up at the pool, and I got 90 minutes to work with them.  Three of the children were diagnosed autistic, two had Cerebral Palsy, two others had Spina Bifida, and the other three were Down's Syndrome.  Before the first lesson was over, I knew I was in for a very special summer.

A combination of things were in play that first day, the staff that worked with these kids were amazing, I was 16 and knew nothing and was therefore very impressionable, and we all loved the water.  The first thing I learned, was that these were not children with disabilities.  They were children.  The second thing I learned was that the water provided them with an exceptional medium in which to move and communicate.  As straps and harness were removed, and bodies entered the pool, their faces and their voices lit up.  I was blown away by the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement, and before I knew it, our time was up.

Max, My Coaching Idol

This group of students were secluded in their year-round school, but the staff that worked with them did not accept these limitations, one of the gentleman told me they put about 15000 miles on the van each summer, we were just one stop.  As the summer progressed, I integrated families and children from the pool club, and summer campers into our weekly time together, and without having the words for it, witnessed those young people "claim significance through dialogue" and "contribute to society's mosaic."  What they did was change my life, and the lives of the other kids I introduced to them.  The differences they had in their minds and bodies, made no difference to us, because of their spirits.  They were kids, we were kids, and the last three weeks of the summer when we had water polo matches with our integrated group were unforgettable.  We had started alone, in the zero entry, shallow end of the kiddie pool, and finished in the 10 foot well, with an audience of over a hundred, as we celebrated a championship in which everyone won.

I had plenty of interactions with special needs individuals before that summer, but that was the time in my life when I recognized that the special needs were mine, not theirs, and I lost my labels, and thank goodness, have never been the same since.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Multilingual Aria

Teaching in a multi-cultural-lingual-tasking district and community, I am always challenged to find the Aria within.

Aria:  The term 'aria' was frequently used in the 17th and 18th centuries for instrumental music used for dancing or variation, and modeled on vocal music.

The melody that my students create, is often a combination of a variety of language and dialect, past experiences that vary wildly, and learning styles and attention spans that are as individual as the students themselves.

As I read this week's articles, I am struck by just how many pieces we, as teachers, need to conduct and weave together to create a single symphony.

In the Collier article, we are given 7 guidelines for teaching multi-lingual learners.  We discuss the merits of bilingual teaching, single-language teaching, and the blend of the two.  We are asked to consider how "caregivers" are speaking to our students, and reminded not to teach to their deficiencies, but rather their strengths.  We are encouraged not to challenge the validity of their first-language, while empowering their code-switching as a valuable learning technique.  Ultimately we are asked to build balanced literacy based on their first-language, while developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing in academic English simultaneously.

Synthesizing all of the methods, and practices, with the varying student abilities, begins to seem like conducting an orchestra to find one sound.  The question becomes, how to respect the student, and all of their individual and unique characteristics, and maintain a "one sound" that is meaningful and valuable.  Sarah Hudelson offers us insight on page 233, "the goal of reading and writing is to enable students to learn about and interpret the world and reflect upon themselves in relation to people and events around explain, analyze, argue about and act upon the world.  If as ELL teachers, we can start a student down this road, and inspire them to find their place in this literate world, we have done a service we can be proud of, because the focus is where it should be, on the student.

The Rodriguez article took me into an entirely different kind of Aria, a sad, sad, operatic tragedy, where the loss of "home" is replaced by a spot in a new existence.  This provides different opportunities for the student, but at what cost?  We are introduced to our young hero of the song, as he finds himself dazed, diffident, and afraid, at the prospect of his parochial classroom forcing him into silence and dismay.  As the calming assurance that I belong in public has finally taken hold (36) Ricardo has finally morphed into Rich-heard.  But is this a Pyrric victory, coming at the loss of "my father, who in Spanish was quickly effusive, but has now retired into silence?"(paraphrased 37)  The inevitable slide into this new reality is the result of the family, giving up their private individuality, for a public identity, because "HOW CAN YOU QUESTION THE CHURCH'S AUTHORITY?" (35)
This second article had me channeling Delpit, and my own ideas about who gets to decide what success means.  If our hero and his family have assimilated to the point of "losing their home" have we simply silenced an important dialogue rather than respecting the individual?  Perhaps if we had been more respectful and inclusive this tragedy could have turned out comedy instead.

Happiness is your truth.

Reflection on Facilitating Digital Kids

Facilitating in SED 561was, for me, an experience we refer to in the Central Falls School District as a "learning stretch."  That term is bandied about among the faculty and leadership to describe putting someone in an uncomfortable position, in order to help them grow intellectually or professionally. Needless to say, as the date for Tina and I to present "Digital Kids" to our cohort drew near, my level of trepidation correspondingly increased.  Dr. Bogad and Tina, my co-teacher, were tremendously helpful in prepping some of the nerves out before class began, but Tuesday night and Wednesday day still felt an awful lot like the night before coaching my first High School game ten years ago.  I am very comfortable in the leadership roles I have chosen, but stepping into a new situation always comes with some anxiety, I am thankful that I have such an exceptional group in SED 561 to allow me to grow in new ways.

The authors we had read prior to 10/29 provided us with a map of effective, inclusive, equitable teaching practices, and the topic was interesting and important.  The challenge is, with so much information and resources available, how to keep the discussion and presentation of materials focused and purposeful.  Tina and I struggled throughout our planning with just how much material to bring in, in support of our article (then of course I made copies of the wrong article).  In our discussions, we both had links and connections we thought were valuable, and "takeaways" which we have used in our teaching, that we thought would be interesting.  I really liked the idea of making people uncomfortable with the idea of checking in and "being in the same space, but separate" and felt like the group was generally uncomfortable with the change to our check-in.  Tina's choice of opening video was powerful, and her Tweet took us into conversations that segued perfectly into the class discussion.  I felt like the flow of the class (timing, materials, transitions) went very well, although it always feels like there is so much pressure to fit a few more things in.  I sometimes struggle with allowing everyone the opportunity for equal time, and not dominating conversations in my classroom, but I have been working on this, and facilitating this class really helped me focus on actively listening, to be able to respond to each other, rather than try to make a point.  It definitely helps that we have such an insightful and responsive cohort.  

As Tina mentioned in relation to the Todd Rose talk, we are not asking if you want technology in your classroom, it's already here.  I was thinking about the rain, and inequality, and the idea of being a digital immigrant trying to operate in an classroom filled with natives.  My takeaway from the week, therefor is to learn the native language, stay relevant, and introduce the natives to each other more often, so that they can play in either world, and feel right at home, and so can I.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Safe Spaces

So this week's reading, was actually two readings for me. I had never read about or heard of the events of Stonewall, and when I got to the reflection points on page 89, I decided to do so. While I normally tend to avoid Wikipedia for primary source references, I think the detail in which Stonewall is discussed at least gave me a base of knowledge I did not have prior to tonight.

Stonewall Riots Wikipedia

I was specifically enlightened by the words of Dudley Clendenin and Adam Nagourney, who wrote wrote this about homosexuals prior to the time of the Stonewall Riots:

"a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else... But that night, for the first time, the usual acquiescence turned into violent resistance... From that night the lives of millions of gay men and lesbians, and the attitude toward them of the larger culture in which they lived, began to change rapidly. People began to appear in public as homosexuals, demanding respect."

The idea of prior movements for equality prior to June 1969, was mainly (with a few exceptions), for homosexuals to assimilate and fit in, and the confluence of events in Greenwich Village seemed to mark a distinct moment of change, where people felt empowered and were able to stand up for themselves proudly, I was reminded of our first reading with Alan Johnson, and how we need to have the conversation, pay attention, and make noise about inequities.

I found this short film which asks:

What if gay was the norm, and straight made you the minority?

The comments were telling, and challenge the cultural norms which pervade society

I suppose my parochial education, contributed to the lack of awareness of the riots of Stonewall, as the Roman Catholic church is notoriously 50 years behind cultural change, but as the Safe Spaces article points out, it is the subtle ways, rather than the obvious discrimination, which often most reinforces our day to day norms. The ways family is described, or omissions in their description, the prevalence of heterosexual preferences in society's structure that cause those who are not included to feel purposefully excluded in the wake.

I liked the idea of John Kellermeier introducing enough inclusive materials so that the discussion of LBGT references became commonplace. In order for equity to exist, topics of those without privilege must become common rather than "token" or forced.

There are many approaches to increase the idea of equity for LGBT individuals discussed in the article. Curriculum inclusion, and teachable moments, clearly are important, as is the removal of the stigmatism that anything related to homosexual is deviant or abnormal. Teaching students the power of language as "Patrick" did with "Derek" is an approach that is straightforward and clear, and addresses the issue in a way that neither ignores it or places undue discipline on it.

I feel as if the LGBT community has made important gains in equity over the last 5-10 years, while I don't think there are more or less individuals who are LGBT, there are certainly more who are openly and proudly affirmative of who they are. However much improvement we have seen though, the silent curriculum, and the culture of power still combine to create an environment of inequity among all our students. This is probably seen in no larger way, than in bullying in schools.

On page 97, the article states that in the face of bullying among students directed toward homosexuals, teachers, parents and leaders often scold, snicker, or join in. The article also correctly points out that to ignore these types of bullying implicitly implies consent. I would propose that all of these approaches are harmful. Obviously snickering or joining in, would suggest gross misconduct on the part of a teacher, but scolding and ignoring speak to the subtly ways in which we can sometimes reinforce stereotypes and maintain the status quo. While lawmakers have made it popular to "take a zero tolerance policy" on bullying in schools, in reality, it exists prominently in the school culture everywhere. A major part of this is the use of the word gay to describe something in negative. As stated, reprimanding students for this will not solve the problem, it will push it further into the subculture, instead we need to be teaching our young people to look at and respect each other as individuals, and to realize that each of us with all of our characteristics, talents, and differences, contribute to a greater whole when we all have a common place from which to operate. We can accomplish this with open conversation, attentive empathy, and inclusive behavior. If we could do that, schools wouldn't be the only safe spaces.