In the afternoon, I went to this workshop: "Let America be American Again: (Re)Considering the American Dream through the Eyes of Those Who Critique and Challenge America to be "True" to Her Roots.
It was led by Miguel Lopez, a seventh-grade teacher and teacher educator in Salinas. He was amazing. Seriously, I almost teared up a couple of times. I compiled the notes I took on the syllabus/bibliography he gave us. My thoughts are stuck in throughout, unmarked, and the writing is rather slippery between you and I, but you'll get the idea. Syllabus/Bibliography here.
Heart. Heart him.
Write words you associate with "immigrant," "immigration," and "The American Dream" on a green piece of paper.
Why are you here in this workshop? Write a question you have, or a philosophy, or a statement about something on a red piece of paper.
Crumple those papers up as tight as you can and throw them at people. Pick up those that have fallen near you and throw them at other people. Continue throwing, let it snow colored balls all around you. When the snowing subsides, pick up one or two that have made their way toward you.
Share the red paper, those who would like to. Share the green paper, those who would like to. Ask questions. Go deeper. We have opened up a safe space for expression and critique. Do this with your students. The first month, you'll get nothing. The second month, you'll get nothing. The third month, though, your students will start speaking. Critiquing. They're thinking now, expressing opinions, gripes, things that they love.
I am abandoning this system of steps. There is too much to talk about. There is too much to share with you. The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
By the way, so are the content standards. Read through them. They allow for everything you could ever dream of wanting to do. You can justify a trip to the moon - third grade curriculum standards require a lesson on space travel perhaps. I think of this as countering the deficit thinking about curriculum standards. Think of them like you think of linguistic grammar teaching. They are a wealthy, joyous, fecund, full and fabulous language to let you express whatever you want.
Your goal for your students is an understanding of the theme of your unit. Keep them main goal in sight. There are any number of ways they can get there (standards: voice, descriptive language, metaphor, meter, etc.).
Oh, hey, also, rethink the how and the why of your curriculum. We as teachers must have a personal relationship with our curriculum--a deep intellectual and emotional connection with curriculum. We must express this to our students. We must tell them why we care so that they know why to care, so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to engage. Give them the tools they need to make intelligent choices.
Subtractive Schooling, Angela Valenzuela
Hope on a Tight Rope, Cornell West.
What is the difference between optimism and hope. One is grounded in reality and one is not. I'm not quite sure which, but he likes hope and looks down on optimism.
Know your curriculum and your text backward and forward and sideways and slantways because YOUR JOB, like a preschool teacher, or a montessori school teacher is to WATCH AND RESPOND. And when you respond to a students' interactions with text, to their questions, their interests, their dancing around, you have to know HOW to respond and WHERE to go.
DEALING WITH KIDS WHO DON'T COME TO CLASS
This is why you read Subtractive Schooling
FIRST, you ask the class, what have I done that you are so mad at me that you don't want to come to my class? What have I done to have make you see hypocrisy in my teaching, so that you do not want to engage? I want to atone for, to make better, anything I have done.
After you have accounted for any of your own wrongdoing, THEN you can ask the particular student's friends. You should know who he hangs out with: go to them and ask them what is going on. Tell them to relay to him that he has responsibilities here, that I need him here. Give them the text/curriculum to pass on to him. Put a note inside that says "you have a lot to offer this discussion, this learning time. You have a lot to offer your brothers in the class. Please, bring it in to the class. Share what you have with us.
NEVER assume that he doesn't care about the class, about his education. He is probably posturing for one reason or another. Adolescents do this. He wants to be acknowledged by someone (granted, she is probably a lot cuter and younger than you), but pursue him. Make him feel acknowledged and wanted, pursued, as by a lover. Do not do this in a way that embarrasses him. There is time for that in class.
CONTEXTUALIZE THE TEXTS YOU USE
Langston Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance, he experienced poverty, his father left and he was angry. He stands on the shoulders of Phyllis Wheatley and others.
Also, connect all your texts with larger themes and big ideas.
Also, connect all your texts to one another.
Also, READ ALOUD.
Language acquisition and literacy theory shows that students who are read to make much larger strides in reading. We decide at 3rd grade or so thatstudents should move to reading on their own to be more young-adult. But if you have students who are struggling, why not continue doing the thing that proves most effective. READ to your students.
ONE WAY I TEACH A POEM
I blow it up and hang it on the wall. 8 sheets for "Let America be America again." You can cover it with plastic if you want to use it over again, and use vis a vis markers.
One color for each standard or focus. Let's make "voice" purple. Do not define voice for your students. Ask them to look for instances of voice or instances of the poet expressing his voice, making his voice, etc. Let them decide for themselves what it means. You know where they need to go, and you can guide them there eventually.
Tell them to "tag" the poem, to mark it up. The subversiveness is good for them. Take a day to play with voice. Do another idea, e.g., figurative language, the next day, in another color.
Each night, do your homework, respond to where the students are going, make sure you know the intricacies of your text and outside evidence as it relates to their needs and interests, the steps they are taking, the choices they are making.
If you don't know it, don't bluff it. Create scripted coincidences for them: "You will never guess what I heard on NPR last night. Exactly what we talked about yesterday." Eventually, they'll know you're lying. Does it matter? I don't think it matters. You're creating imagined moments of kismet, of magic, of coincidence. They are no less useful and wonderful than the real thing.
You have to know when the evidence is in the text and when it is not, so you know when to direct them back to the text and when to look for evidence outside the text (we call that extrinsic evidence in law)
text-text text-self text-world
At the end, as a class, we find the best example of each color. Students must argue for their choice.
They are accountable for the information we've discussed and they are given the space to take it further.
The next year, the new students start with the work of the students before. The 8th graders become the mentors of the 7th graders. We are a community of learners. Invest in the whole community of the school. I do not stop caring about my students when they are no longer my students. I affirm their work by allowing them to help the next group.
I tell the new seventh graders this has already been distilled for you. You are standing on the shoulders of those who came before you. (I may hide the legend, what the colors represent. Make them figure it out.) And then they do a different text from scratch.
Requiring them to schlock through a text is not a virtue. That is not what we are here to teach.
Do not force them to take notes. They have the choice to or not, but keep them accountable, so they learn quickly the benefit of it. Pair those that fail up with students (you've asked in advance) who take notes so they can see it modeled.
Your job is to make sure they are engaged, it is not to police them. Freedom. Democracy. Everything in my classroom is democratic up to the point of the grade: standards, skills, etc. I go where their interest takes them. If we don't cover what we need to, THEN I introduce it.
Kids can and do memorize a lot of things, song lyrics, commercials. Get them to memorize the good stuff, give them an internal wealth of language and ideas to draw from.
If a piece bombs, revisit whether you're going to do the next one in the series.
THE GALLERY WALK
Cut up picture books, mount them nicely, treat them as the art they are.
For instance, We are America, by Walter Dean Myers, or anything by Children's Book Press.
Hang the pages in order, cover the text with sticky notes and have the kids do K/W/L with the images as text.
Picture books remind students of childhood; they bring out good feelings. They are easier to engage in and are good into activities, or activities for struggling readers.
Picture books are better than many novels, they have to do so much with so little texts, like poems. So many ideas packed into such a small space.
Later, remove the sticky notes. How did their interpretations of the images differ with the text. Nothing is wrong.
REMEMBER: Captain America was a recruiting tool in WWII. How do you feel about patriotism now?
MARIA TESTA: YA book: Something about America. Two parts, mirror reflection of one another, one literal, one metaphorical. Cut this up too. Put all the pages on a board. Have students connect words, ideas that come up with colored string, tacking it in place and making a web. It is hard for struggling readers to see connections between a scene in the beginning of the book and something later.
This book sounds great. The narrator is a girl whose family emigrated from Kosovo and now lives in a Maine town where there are so many Somali immigrants that the Mayor asks the ambassador to keep them from coming into their town. Her father leads the rally in support of the Somalis. Let America be America Again! Here's that linking of texts with big ideas I talked about. At the end, the father takes his daughter to meet a Somali mother and child. The mother asks the father "Where was your war?" My freedom is inextricably linked with yours.
Langston links black civil rights struggles with immigrant rights. We are all beneficiaries of the civil rights movement. We are connected to all causes and all causes are connected. "Where was your war?"
Romare Bearden: Collage artist
Collage with stamps being released of him by the USPS
"Curriculum by Design"
GO TO National Steinbeck Center in Salinas
Of Mice and Men as Graphic Novel Exhibit right now
This post was also published on MUSE '13