Keep It Moving

Creating my final make for the semester, in many ways, felt like a beginning. It is true that I am at the end of my graduate studies (for now) and will be graduating in a few days, but the projects that I have completed this semester feel like only the beginning. For my culminating master’s project, I research Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP) and Hip Hop Based Education (HHBE). I also did extensive research on the Keystone Literature Exam. I used this research to create a unit plan that focused on centering students’ interests and cultures in the classroom, with the added goal of helping my students achieve higher scores on standardized tests.

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When I began to think about my final make for ED677, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be an extensive of my culminating project. I am extremely passionate about creating units that use CSP and HHBE to serve diverse groups of urban youth, so I knew that my connected project needed to continue moving this passion forward. I wanted to share my unit plan with others, but I didn’t want to just create a website and post the unit plan. Instead, I imagined two lessons that use CSP and HHBE to teach Common Core ELA Standards for 11th and 12th grade. After completing these lessons, I felt a whole new world open up in the creative space inside my head.

I decided to create a website where other educators can access my unit plan and my lessons aligned to Common Core Standards. I also created a spot where I can add examples of literary devices in different hip hop texts. What I want to focus on in the future is creating more lesson plans that use CSP and HHBE in ways that are aligned to the Common Core. I also hope to create more unit plans that focus on different standardized tests because, although I recognize that standardized tests are not valuable measures of a students’ intellect, I see it as my job to help my students perform well on tests. Performing well means overcoming language barriers, racial and socioeconomic bias, and years of disservice by the education and social systems we have in place in our country. Unfortunately, when I look for ready-to-go lessons that use Hip Hop songs, poems, or other texts, I find almost nothing online. I want to continue creating ready-to-go plans that other teachers can use.

It may be a far-off dream, but I want to continue the work that I have been doing so that I can build a more robust resource for other educators. I began my Connected journey last summer when I took

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The primary text resource in Meenoo’s class.

Meenoo Rami’s class “Teacher Practice in a Connected World” (and perhaps even before then when reading Kira Baker-Doyle’s Transformative Teachers). Kira’s book and Meenoo’s class showed me the importance of educators being connected, and I want to start contributing to the national and global network of educators that have been shaping my practice. Who knows, maybe I’ll see the day when a book with my name on it is sitting on the shelves!

Sharing my final make with other educators in ED677 confirmed for me that this is valuable work. I feel honored and grateful to have been able to spend a semester learning with educators who have completely different backgrounds, goals, and jobs than I do. I believe that it is our job to serve each and every one of our students in ways that are meaningful to them, and I want to do everything I can to contribute to that goal.

Connected Conversations

When I started my graduate school journey, I had my mind made up that I didn’t want to take many online classes. As part of the M.Ed. program at Arcadia, I have taken approximately half of my classes online. I have enjoyed many of them, and felt that I was able to learn well in online communities, but I have always preferred being in the classroom. ED677 has made me change my mind about online education.

What I value most about being in the classroom is the opportunity to collaborate with others, have conversations, and share ideas organically. I haven’t been able to get the same feeling from an online class, but our feedback process on FlipGrid over the last couple of weeks has finally given me what I wanted out of an online class. When I shared my idea for a final make, I was nervous about posting the video and letting others respond because I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to understand the whole project with a short description. I also was afraid of embracing the “one-sided” feeling of not responding to comments.

However, I realized through this process that even if I try to state my purpose and thoughts perfectly, they will always be interpreted by different listeners in different ways. I realized that it did not matter if each responder understood exactly what was going through my head, because their feedback and suggestions were just as helpful and thought-provoking regardless.

Posting a video and responding to others helped me to feel more connected to this project and actually helped me to make some big changes in what I was originally planning to do. I realized that I could continue to shape my project based on feedback from individuals who are not teachers, or maybe even not in education.

Find 5 Friday

This week I am thinking a lot about how to teach empathy in my classroom. I can point to many experiences in my life that have shaped my experience of empathy. I bring empathy into the classroom with me, but it is a much harder task to teach others how to practice empathy. For my #Find5Friday this week, I decided to share some of the experiences, tools, and activities that helped me to stretch my empathy muscle.

  1. Contact Improvisation – In college, Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser introduced me to contact improvisation. This dance form helped me to understand my own mind-body connection, the ways in which others were similar and different to me, and the ways in which we navigate relationships and public spaces with others. This dance form drastically changed my world view and helped me to build empathy into my own life. I can connect with the Bay Area Contact Improvisation group to continue my practice and hopefully gain skills that I can use in my classroom.
  2. John L – I was turned on to John L by another educator I worked with. I believe that his view of changing prisons into schools is worth more than just a passing look. He believes not in prison reform, but in a complete change in the system. In this speech, he tells a story about an experience he had with restorative justice as a child. He learned how his destructive actions hurt his community and, by extension, himself. I think this is an incredibly important lesson in empathy and it’s one that I have used in the classroom with students.
Video of John L. talking about prison reform and restorative justice.

3. Bay Area Theater – I believe that theater is a powerful tool for hearing others’ stories and learning to understand different points of view. I believe that bringing students to see local theater can help them to engage with their community and learn from stories that are not the same as theirs.

4. The GoodWork Toolkit – This toolkit focuses on teaching students to be global citizens who participate in conversations about civic engagement, social justice, and morality. I believe that this is a good tool for teaching empathy.

5. Volunteering – For me, volunteering in a variety of settings helped me to understand my place in the world and further refine my world view. I was able to learn about other people’s lives in intimate ways that I never would have before. The HandsOn Bay Area volunteer calendar would be a good way for me to find volunteer opportunities for myself and for students.

Find 5 Friday

This week I am posting Connected Learning opportunities that I might use in my own classroom.

  1. Rock the Cause – This organization provides opportunities for high school students to engage with causes that are meaningful to them.
  2. VoiceThread – This week I discovered VoiceThread, which I can see myself using in my classroom. I think that this would be a good tool to share student work with the greater community.
  3. Teaching Tolerance – This is a source that I have used in my classroom in the past. The site offers articles, lessons, and networks to discuss both content and pedagogy.
  4. LYRIC – This organization is based in San Francisco and provides services and representation for queer youth in the area. They offer internships for youth, community outreach, and various events throughout the year. I believe this organization would be a good resource for me and my students.
  5. Community Grows – This organization provides a community garden and learning center in the Bay Area. I believe that this nonprofit provides a great option for outdoor learning, which is something that gets students excited.

Open Networks: Friend or Foe

After reading and watching several articles, talks, and discussions this week, I keep coming back to the question of what it means to “publish” something today. In a discussion of gaming in the classroom, Antero Garcia talks about the “endless potential platforms to publish [students’] important work”. This got me thinking about the “Publish” button that I will hit after writing this post, the way that Gail Desler talks about publishing student work on VoiceThread, and tools like Scratch or Twine. In the openly networked digital landscape of 2019, what does it mean to publish something? What has been gained by removing gatekeepers and moving straight to self-publishing on gaming forums like Mod The Sims (I know that’s a throwback, but I used it A LOT as a teen), Twitter, Instagram, YouTube channels like TMillyTV, Facebook, and other social media or gaming sites? What has been lost by allowing everyone to self-publish on these open networks?

When I think about what has been gained by removing gates and breaking down barriers, I think of Instagram influencers like LaLa Milan, Amanda LaCount, Bretman Rock, Nikita Dragun, Fisbanga and many others who have used their platform to be a voice for queer people, people of color, and immigrants. These influencers spend a great deal of time creating dance, comedy, and beauty content that is meant to be empowering to everyone. In many ways, these influencers are masters of Universal Design. They connect with followers in all different demographics. Another prime example of this is Baddie Winkle, who gives representation to a seriously underrepresented demographic.

I know that my students are constantly scrolling through Instagram, and it is incredible for them to see themselves represented in a positive way. The open network of Instagram has given face time to individuals who would have never been given the opportunity for success in a world that has discarded their stories and experiences. The open platform of social media allowed these individuals to share themselves with the world. At the same time that I praise these individuals, I know that there are also negative aspects to self-publishing on Instagram and other social media sites. I won’t link to specific examples (because I don’t want to give them any more traffic), but there have been many influencers who use their platform to sell hair products, quick-fix diets, vitamins, and other products that are in fact harmful and in some cases quite dangerous.

Recently, I saw an exceptional dance video that I think represented this dual nature of open networks like Instagram. The piece is set to the John Bellion song “The Internet“, which speaks about how “life became dangerous the day we all became famous” and the ways in which we represent ourselves on social media.

Thinking about this question of what it means to “publish” something today made me realize the importance of not only providing appropriate tools and networks to our students, but also instructing them in compassionate and equitable ways of using these tools. By creating communities of practice in our classroom, we can embody Connected Learning by giving our students a shared purpose that will encourage them to work collaboratively and equitably. Providing students with open networks for sharing and publishing work does not mean only letting them speak their mind, but also getting feedback about their work from their peers. If we work together with our students to make each other better, we are promoting not only equity and understanding but also self-love and self-care. Students will want to increase their digital literacy skills not only to be “better” than someone else, but rather to become a better version of themselves.

My Head is in the (word) Clouds

This past week, I spent a lot of time thinking about my experiences in different places that I’ve lived. I thought about the activities I took part in both inside and outside of school. I decided to make a word cloud for every place that I have lived in my life.

In thinking about all of these places, I thought about the ways in which my peers, family, and teachers influenced my interests. Because I moved a lot when I was younger, I changed schools frequently and didn’t have a lot of friends. Teachers were incredibly important to me and I believe I developed a passion for learning because I looked up to my teachers. I liked teachers to like me, so I worked very hard to maintain high grades.

Because I didn’t have a lot of friends, my parents thought it would be a good idea to involve me in community theater. This increased my friend circle and also greatly increased my educational opportunities. I loved learning about acting and I lit up when I got on the stage. In high school, I abandoned theater and became more serious about writing poetry. My English teachers encouraged me to work on the school’s literary magazine, and my relationship with the club moderator made a big impact on my life.

Because of my experiences with performing and with creative writing, I explored these topics further in college. College was the first time I felt like I was able to deepen my understanding of myself as a creator. I wrote a lot of poetry, danced in many productions, and became active in the campus community. This was the first time that my “school life” truly matched all of my interests. Below is a map made of the Word Clouds describing life events, feelings, and experiences in each place I have lived.

A big part of my involvement in my community in elementary and middle school came in the form of attending Church events. I come from a Catholic family, and this was a big part of my life as a kid. This shaped my educational experience because I was focused in school and in my pursuits to be the best person I could be. My involvement in the church was a community of practice in which we had a shared purpose of bettering ourselves. This involved not only meditation and personal goal setting, but also volunteering at community events.

At the end of high school, my relationship with the church community was harmed after I came out. By the time I got to college, I had separated completely from the Catholic church. Instead of spending my time in the church community, I began immersing myself in new social communities based around dance and performance. For the first time, I formed friendships that were grounded in a common interest, rather than a common spiritual practice. Learning to work with others in performances, contact improvisation jams, and rehearsals shaped my world view in many ways. I cherish this time in my life when the principals of connected learning were evident in my own education.

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.