Find 5

This week, I have put together a collection of inspiring work by youth. Many of these reflect the interests that I wish students were encouraged to pursue in the classroom.

  1. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes – This author inspired me as a teenager. I loved writing and thought that one day I would be a novelist or a poet, and I consumed hundreds of books both in school and out of school. Atwater-Rhodes was special to me because she published her first book when she was only 14 years old! I believe young adults should be encouraged to pursue creative endeavors.
  2. Amanda LaCount – This teenage dancer has achieved social media fame because of her #BreakTheStereotype message. She advocates for dancers who come in all shapes and sizes. I am inspired by her self-love and confidence.
  3. Bretman Rock – Bretman reached internet fame through making videos on YouTube and Instagram when he was in high school. He now is a representative for several beauty brands and was recently featured in a Nike advertisement. I am inspired by him because he is true to himself and he pursued his passions, even if they were not encouraged in school.
  4. Kim Petras – This German pop star began her rise to fame when she was only 13 years old. She appeared on several television shows to discuss her experience as a transgender teen. She began to make music and YouTube videos, and is now a successful musician. I am inspired by her sense of self and her bold choice to live her life in the public eye in order to be an advocate for the trans community.
  5. The Best Teen Writing – This collection of writing by teens is published once a year by Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Why I Teach

One of the things that I have been struggling with since moving from Philadelphia to Oakland is the fact that I will need to go through the process of getting certified as a teacher in California. This week I wrote a letter (partially to myself, and partially with a future employer in mind) to remind myself why I teach, what I love about it, and how I run my classroom:

            One of my longest-held beliefs is that no one learns by being told what to do. I often think of my 9th grade Western Civilizations teacher whose motto as “Question Authority”. Out of all of the facts, skills, strategies, and wonders I learned throughout my K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education, this phrase has always stuck out to me and inspired me. The idea that one should “Question Authority” is one that drives my own philosophy of teaching and inspires the way I run my classroom.

            In my classroom, I try to lecture as little as possible. I tend to focus in on a specific skill for each lesson, so that my “lectures” can be under 10 minutes. In a 50-minute class period, I believe that it is incredibly important to give most of the time to students to have “at bat” time with the skills that we are working on. I usually structure the class with three main sections: Do Now, Direct Instruction, and Student Practice. The Do Now usually links to previous learning and frames the mini-lecture that I will give during my Direct Instruction. The Student Practice portion of class lasts the longest and can take shape in a variety of different ways. Students might work individually, in pairs, or in groups. Students might be writing, discussing, moving between stations, or even drawing. I believe that this time is vital to student learning.

            Through the extended practice that students have on their own or in small groups, they are able to synthesize information and form their own opinions about our topics. I welcome debates between students and love when students get excited about topics. It is personally gratifying when students are able to relate our classroom texts to their own lives and experiences. Most times, I do not insert my own opinion and let students come to a consensus on their own. One of my favorite discussions was relating police brutality and mass incarceration to the Salem Witch Trials while we were reading The Crucible.

            I believe that making appropriate links to students’ experiences is the only way to get students engaged in classroom discussions. Students are invested in reading material that pertains to them and it is our job as educators to show them how the texts in the classroom connect to their own day-to-day experiences. I began this school year by posing the following question to my students: What do 2Pac, George Orwell, Cardi B, and Friedrich Nietzsche have in common? After receiving a lot of confused looks, I told students that we would study texts from each of these artists and writers to explore the effects that power has on people. Students were excited and quickly started talking about lyrics from 2Pac while making wild guesses about who Nietzsche was and what he might have to say about power. As an educator, my goal is to inspire my students to become agentive participants in their local communities by teaching them how to self-advocate, be good allies for others, and engage in political discourse. I believe that this can be done by building curricula that reflect students’ own lives while also giving them a window into the lives of others. It is my dream to one-day work in a school where I can set my own curriculum.

Search 7 Sunday

This week, I am sharing resources that I think will help me with some of the teacher-poses I want to use in my classroom. These are all related to using Connected Learning to increase equity in the classroom through the use of multi-literacy.

As a dancer, I have often thought about the way I settle into a space. When I walk into a dance studio, I have some go-to stretches, movements, breaths, etc that let my body know I’m getting into the groove to learn choreography or work on movement skills. I believe that this can also be beneficial in the classroom and I have struggled with how to make this part of my classroom routine. Below are a few resources I found that I believe will help me to bring movement practices into my classroom to help with students to settle into class, transition between activities, or give themselves a “brain-break”.

  1. Learning in Motion: Bring Movement back to the Classroom – This article shares ideas on how to bring movement into the classroom, and also talks about the benefits of using movement in education.
  2. Tilden Middle School’s Calming Room – When I was teaching in Philly, I remember a lot of teachers criticizing this “calming room” that Tilden Middle School implemented. I think that this space is an incredible resource for students who need to relieve tension, express themselves, or take a break.
  3. Why Dance is Just as Important As Math in Schools – This article talks about the ways in which dance benefits students not only creatively but also academically.

When I think about classrooms and the ways in which we teach, I am often disheartened by the fact that we rely so heavily on written text. I believe it is important for students to experience learning by doing/making.

  1. Funds of Knowledge – Luis Moll and other researchers do work that encourages teachers to leverage the “funds of knowledge” that students learn from their families and communities. One of my favorite stories from Moll’s research is a case study in which a student’s parent came in to teach the classroom how to make various Mexican candy. This process was used to teach math skills to students.
  2. Working with English Language Learners: Answers to Teachers’ Top Ten Questions – In this book, Stephen Cary discusses a variety of strategies that can be used to teach ELLs more effectively. Most of the strategies focus on connecting to the different literacy practices of students’ communities and families. My favorite example from this book is one in which a teacher invites a Hmong student’s family into the classroom to teach tapestry weaving. This practice is a way of storytelling and recording history in Hmong culture, and students were able to make connections to what they were learning about stories in their classroom.

Because my focus has been on teaching English Language Arts, I am very interested in ways of teaching ELA skills through music. This is the focus of my honors thesis, and I am using a few different resources to help me with that writing process.

  1. #HipHopEd – Participating in this weekly Twitter chat is a great way to learn about what other teachers are doing in the classroom and how they have had success using Hip Hop music and culture to teach transferable skills.
  2. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy – I am re-reading a collection of essays which focus on using practices that will sustain students’ cultural and linguistic differences rather than eradicating them. I have found these essays particularly useful when making a case for using “non-traditional” texts in the classroom.

Subverting the Standard

I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about standardized tests. I took the CBEST exam and I am currently studying for the CSET multiple subject exams, the RICA exam, and the US Constitution exam. The issue I keep coming up against is that I can answer almost every practice question, explain concepts, and work quickly when I am studying with others. When I am studying on my own, I get caught up in what I don’t know and I don’t use my critical thinking skills. I know that my students feel a lot of the same stress around tests like the Keystone exam, benchmark tests, the ACT, and the SAT. Although I don’t believe standardized tests can tell us much about neither intelligence nor learning, we have to face the reality that our students need to be prepared to take them.

Thinking more deeply about my teacher-poses in the classroom helped me to work through some details of my culminating master’s project this week as well. In a world that is driven by standardized tests and other biased forms of data, I am constantly struggling to make sure that all of my students can “keep up”. I have struggled against teaching in a school where a prescribed curriculum dictated texts, skills, and even daily objectives. Unfortunately, those texts and daily objectives were often not aligned to the interests and abilities of students. One San Francisco teacher addressed this issue by putting on workshops at Thurgood Marshall High School aimed at changing classroom practices to better serve African American students. You can read about his experience in her essay “Building on Success: Changing Our Practices to Better Serve African American Students”. In this essay, Pirette McKamey discusses the challenges she faced as she attempted to close the opportunity gap between African American students and other students in the school. McKamey advocates for an asset-based approach to teaching students, which is one of my own teacher-poses in the classroom.

I believe that Connected Learning offers a pathway to closing opportunity gaps and driving towards a more equitable model of education. If we truly want Black and Latinx students to have access to the same level of success as their White and Asian peers, then it is necessary to change the ways in which we teach in our classrooms. As part of my job as an 11th grade Literature and Composition teacher at a high school in North Philadelphia, I was expected to track student progress in writing. The ultimate goal was to increase students’ writing abilities so that they could pass the Keystone exam and achieve a good score on the ACT. Not surprisingly, my students didn’t like writing about Animal Farm,or texts like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

I kept coming back to the same question: How could I help my students become better writers if they didn’t want to write?

To me, the answer was clear: Teach from texts that they want to write about!

Unfortunately, I was bound by the curriculum given to me by Mastery Charter Schools. Mastery is an organization that has received accolades from figures as prominent as Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama. The school I taught at was almost exclusively Black and Latinx, yet the curriculum was filled with white authors. Once I knew I was leaving the school (because of the cross-country move I just made), I felt comfortable breaking away from the curriculum. I created a unit plan centered on the poetry and music of Tupac Shakur. Suddenly, I had 100% engagement in my classroom, vibrant discussions, dozens of students writing poetry outside of class (without me even assigning it!), and improved academic writing. The transformation was all at once incredibly profound and incredibly simple. All I did was swap Puritan-era poems for Shakur’s poetry. I was still teaching the same skills, but now my students were actually learning.

As I prepare to become a California-credentialed teacher and work in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), I want to continue to explore how Connected Learning can transform a classroom. This semester I am completing my mater’s thesis, where I am answering the question “How can teachers leverage hip hop music and culture to teach skills that are measured on the Keystone Literature Exam?”. This question is specific to my time as a teacher in Philadelphia, but I am interested in expanding that question to help me better prepare to teach in San Francisco.

I want to use the space provided in ED677 to explore the ways in which I can use musical and cultural connections in a classroom that will be filled with students who are very different than my students in Philadelphia. My inquiry for the rest of the semester will focus on how teachers have leveraged music and other “non-traditional” texts to connect with students and more effectively teach the quantifiable skills that are tested on exams like the ACT and SAT. I am particularly interested in how aspects of Youth Culture, like Instagram and other social media, can be used in an ELA classroom.

Search 7 Sunday

I missed #Find5Friday again, so here is my #Search7Sunday instead! This week I will be sharing some of my go-to support systems in my teaching journey.

  1. #EngChat – I really enjoy Twitter chats that are related to education and other interests I have. I learned about #EngChat when I was taking Meenoo Rami‘s class “Teacher Practice in a Connected World”. I have participated in this chat in the past and like to read what other English teachers have to say about the various topics discussed in the chat.
  2. The Engaging Station – When I feel like I need new ideas about ways to engage my students, I check out this Instagrammer to get new ideas or remind myself of things I want to try.
  3. The Teaching Channel – This resource helps me to refocus and remember some of my classroom poses. The Teaching Channel features videos of master lessons and lessons that didn’t go so well. These help me to ease through wobble moments.
  4. The National Endowment for the Humanities – Last summer, I spent a month at The Newberry Library as a summer scholar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I got to learn about using maps in education and I made deep connections with teachers from around the country. I exchange ideas with these teachers and share resources through our Facebook group.
  5. Pathway to Teaching – Since moving to the Bay Area, I have been accepted as a member of the San Francisco Unified School District Pathway to Teaching Program. This will allow me to get a CA certification while working in the district. I have met dozens of other teachers who are new to the Bay Area and it has already turned out to be a great community of leaders.
  6. The Daring English Teacher – I love lesson planning, but sometimes I need an inspirational push. The Daring English Teacher is another one of my go-to Instagram accounts for getting the inspiration that I need.
  7. Flipped Learning – This Twitter account focuses on the concept of Flipped Learning. I try to used a Flipped Learning approach when I can in my classroom, and this Twitter is a source of information, inspiration, and resources.

Like Water off a Duck’s Back

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon‘s famous catch phrase on the show was “water off a duck’s back”. The performer said that their mother shared this phrase as a way of taking in criticism, accepting it, and letting it roll off your back so that you can move past it.

Image result for water off a duck's back gif

I have thought about this phrase often since season 5 of the show, but I have always struggled to apply it to my own life. I often get caught in an agonizing cycle of beating myself up when I think that I have failed at something. While reading the chapter “What It Means to Pose, Wobble, and Flow” from Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell’s book Pose, Wobble, and Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction, I was thinking a lot about my own teaching practice and about Jinkx Monsoon’s catchphrase.

Thinking about my teaching “poses”, or the intentions behind why I teach, makes me feel happy and excited about being in the classroom, but thinking about the “wobble” moments leave me feeling overwhelmed and wondering if I’ll ever achieve “flow”. Reading Garcia and O’Donnell’s work helped me to relate my teaching practice to other endeavors I have taken on: yoga practice, marathon training, dance classes and competitions. In each of those practices I have allowed myself to follow the Pose, Wobble, and Flow (P/W/F) approach.

Image may contain: 6 people
My second Color Run in 2014.

As a beginning runner, I never could have imagined running a marathon. I ran my first Color Run 5k in 2012 as a way to just have fun with my friend. I don’t think I even put running shoes on again until doing a second Color Run in 2014. At that point in my life, running became a way for me to explore Philadelphia, escape work pressures, and prove to myself that I could accomplish things I never thought possible for myself.

Image may contain: 4 people, including Arrie Callahan
Enjoying a complimentary beer after my first half-marathon.

After the second Color Run, I decided to sign up for the Philadelphia Broad Street Run, which I successfully completed in 2015. This success pushed me to try running The ODDyssey, my first half-marathon. I surprised myself by pushing through and completing this race in 97 degree weather. I finished with a time nearing 3 hours, but that didn’t bother me at all. I felt such a sense of accomplishment from finishing that all I wanted was more!

This initial running success reminds me of the way I felt when I first got into teaching. When I began teaching at Holy Cross High School in 2011, I was 21 years old and had just graduated from college a few months earlier. I was incredibly excited to be a teacher and I felt overjoyed because I had landed a real job so quickly. The reality that I didn’t know what I was doing and had 0 teacher training didn’t set in until I felt myself wobbling. I was having fun, I was teaching, I was talking about literature every day: wasn’t this exactly what I wanted?

Back then, I hadn’t thought about the impact of teaching. I hadn’t set my intentions about how I would teach or why I would teach. I never really planned on being a teacher, anyway. I started to plan to go to grad school to get a Master’s degree and a teaching credential, but that quickly fell apart. Because I had no pedagogical knowledge, I was incredibly confused by

Image result for i quit gif
Probably how I looked walking out the front door of the school.

constructive criticism from my students, coworkers, and supervisors. I didn’t know how to be okay with the wobbling and I left teaching because I thought the pressure was too much.

Image may contain: 1 person
I’m smiling, but everything hurts.

I’ve had failures in other areas of my life as well. After completing my first half-marathon, I ran two more before signing up for the Philadelphia Marathon in November of 2015. At that point, I was still pretty new to running and didn’t have all of the knowledge I needed to train properly. I got hurt and ended up only finishing the half-marathon. I was disappointed, but I picked myself up and sought out running advice from books, friends, and trainers. I completed the Pittsburgh Marathon six months later.

After reading about the P/W/F approach, I have been thinking a lot about why I allowed myself to wobble in my marathon training, but not in my teaching. What made me walk away from teaching, but commit to running a marathon? Part of it was certainly naiveté: I didn’t yet learn how to ask for help when I needed it or how to use constructive criticism to my advantage without changing my personality to fit someone else’s idea of teaching. The other part of it was that I hadn’t set any poses for teaching. In running, I knew what my goals were. After reading Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation, I was actually setting intentions for both my individual runs and my race training plans. I understood how running connected to my personal and professional goals; I truly felt how it influenced my experiences and interactions with the world around me. This was not the case for my initial attempt at teaching.

When I finally made it back to teaching in 2017, I had become a very different person than I was the first time. I came to teaching with specific poses in mind. I wanted to help marginalized students build their own power and autonomy. I hoped that I could engage students on their terms through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. I felt empowered as a queer person, rather than feeling scared, defeated, and confused. I wanted to bring this energy into the classroom.

One of my teacher poses that I think about a lot is allowing students to lead conversations. I don’t believe in telling as teaching, and I wanted my students to be engaged in discussions where they expressed their own opinions and created their own knowledge about content. I wobbled a lot in this pose. I had to balance curriculum standards, near-prescribed lesson plans, and standardized test prep with my dialogue-based pose. Additionally, it was often very hard to get students to engage in class discussions or to stay focused during small group conversations. I felt myself wobbling and wondered if I should just give up and structure my classroom in the way that my coworkers did.

Image result for it's a no from me gif

Most other teachers in the school sectioned class into four parts: an opening activity, direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice. This meant that students were either silently listening to the teacher or silently and independently working for the majority of the class period. I tried this approach, and I couldn’t stand it. It made me feel like I wasn’t myself, it made my students feel like I didn’t care about them, and it led to a lot of behavior issues in class.

Instead, I implemented a new way to start our small group discussions. I asked students to write or draw a response to a question. When they finished, they passed their papers to the left and that person would write or draw a response in another box on the same paper. They would repeat this process again, then return the papers to the original commentator. I then asked students to rotate groups so that they were in a new group of three. This way, students went into the discussion prepared not only with their own thoughts, but also with the thoughts of their original group. This helped students to stay on task, have productive group discussions, and feel more confident in whole-class discussions. I felt that I had given power to my students to engage with content on their terms while still having examples of written work to share with my principal. This helped me to move into a “flow” state in the classroom, rather than constantly pushing against my students, principal, and my own values. Below is an example of some student work.

An student artifact related to a question about Animal Farm.

This experience helped me to realize that in order to be happy and productive in my school community it is okay to let some things slide like water off a duck’s back, but sometimes it is helpful to make changes in my practice based on constructive criticism. No two teachers are exactly the same, and that is what makes our profession such an exciting and vibrant one. I can’t be “just like” my mentor teachers, but I also can’t make it on my own.

Find 5 Friday (On a Monday)

I’m a few days late on posting this #Find5Friday, so I’ll add a few extra resources to make up for it.

  1. The Crucible – After looking into Youth Radio Media, I decided to look at more maker spaces in Oakland. The Crucible is located in West Oakland and offers classes in glassblowing, metalworking, pottery, and other art forms. I hope to find time to take a class here soon!
  2. Maker’s Loft – This make space in Oakland features different workshops every month. There is also a boutique in the space that showcases local artists and makers.
  3. Rare Bird – This is another maker space/boutique that is located in Oakland. I have attended a couple of workshops here and loved learning a craft from local artists.
  4. EdelMacrame – This Instagrammer posts beautiful macrame that she creates. She often posts tutorials that show how to make earrings, create different knots, and make patterns. I haven’t tried my hand at macrame yet, but it is on my list of things to make.
  5. The Hacktory – I discovered this Philadelphia maker space in another class at Arcadia, and I have loved visiting it to check out what people in the area are making.
  6. Lazear Charter Academy – Education for Change public schools in Oakland opened a STEAM-centered middle school called Lazear. I recently met a teacher from Lazear who shared some of her plans and projects with me.