Saturday, June 26, 2010

Article & Response to Jill's post

Jill’s recent post “Helpful Hyperlinks” geared at helping children break their silence really got me thinking (definitely check Jill’s blog out if you haven’t already done so), together with the conversation we had during our last class around having responses prepared to handle conversations that might otherwise catch you off guard.

I found a great article published by Pink News, touted as being “Europe’s Largest Gay News Service”. The June 9th article Children of gay parents 'proud, but need schools to tackle issues' describes a 17 year qualitative study on children who were raised by lesbian couples. This study states that “they were happier and had fewer behavioral problems than children brought up by straight parents”. I am not totally convinced of this statement as there may be some bias associated with it, but it sounds good! I do however think the report recommendation has a very strong message: “schools should start early when teaching children about homophobic bullying, avoid making assumptions about typical families and respond robustly to homophobic language.”

I was also struck by the language students had either experienced teachers using or said they would find helpful. I felt really bad for Sasha whose teacher’s response to her complaints about bullying was to say “just ignore them, they’ll get bored.” which didn’t reassure Sasha. Another 19 year old, Hannah described the following statement as helpful/empowering : "If a teacher had come up to me and said, look, we understand your parents are gay, fine. If you ever get any problems from it, or anyone saying anything negative then come and tell us.” Although this doesn’t give the student any language to respond to the bullying, it does give the message that being gay is acceptable and that the teacher will support the child if he/she needs help. I am reminded that if we reassure a child that their concerns are valid and that we will support them then this is a welcome first step. As Dr. Bogad said, “This stuff is hard and it takes practice”. She also reminded us that we need to think about what we would do in situations so that we can be ready for constructive action.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

August: Making Room for One Another - Argument

What struck me as I was reading August’s Making Room for One Another was that it amalgamated the learning from all the articles we have read during this course. (Johnson and Kozol’s work were directly mentioned together with phrases and arguments from other authors’ work we have read).

August conducted a qualitative research study which focused on a teacher’s response to sociocultural differences that came out of classroom discussions, and how a kindergartener with lesbian moms responded to the teacher’s interventions. The teaching and learning described by August is based on Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory. The author was also influenced by Bakhtin’s ideas about monologicality and dialogicality. Chapter 5 focuses on ‘dynamic dialogicality’ which August describes as “in the moment”; teachable moments that come out of class discussions. Morning Meeting activities, a key element of Responsive Classroom was an important vehicle for these teachable moments where Zeke, the kindergarten teacher was able to seize upon student comments about difference to address FTA’s (face threatening acts) among his students. Zeke facilitated conversations in which all his students’ voices were heard and they felt empowered, unlike the subjects in Delpit’s article. He created a safe learning environment where Cody, a kindergarten student adopted from Cambodian who has two moms, felt safe expressing his frustrations around the Question of the Day: “Are you excited about the exhibition today?” Chapter 6 focuses on ‘designed dialogicality’ which August describes as “before the moment’; meaning planned curriculum that teaches about specific topics, in this case families and heroes. The author concludes that the teacher provided Cody with many opportunities to share about his family dynamics; however Cody was unable to fully share his private life. He was struggling with more than one difference; having two moms, being adopted so he was also harboring feelings of abandonment, and being born in Cambodia.

Zeke is clearly an experienced teacher who is able to create many teachable moments around classroom discussions and activities. I don’t think this is necessarily reflective of all teachers as everyone has difference levels of experience and comfort. That being said, I think it’s important for us as teachers to strive to take advantage of these teachable moments wherever possible. I felt a real connection with the material presented in this article as I had just researched and blogged about the book Tango Makes Three and experienced many of the Morning Meeting activities when I taught 3rd grade. Chapter six touched upon two topics we have talked about during class discussions: the basic need of safety according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and groups that are in the minority being put in the spotlight as Cody was(Chp. 6: p.183-4). I am also left thinking about Kozol and Finn’s arguments that education is still separate in America. August describes Cody’s parents choosing “a Montessori preschool with other internationally adopted children, several of whom also had lesbian moms” (181) and then he attended a school where difference was valued and teachers were allowed to explore controversial subjects. It appears to me that Cody’s parents are choosing a safe schooling environment for their son. It also makes me reflect upon the population at the charter school I teach at and realize that it is a safe haven for children whose families are different from the dominant society.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Photos on my blog...

Many of you have inquired about the Bermuda photo I recently posted on my blog. This was a photo I took whilst staying at 9 Beaches, a resort on Bermuda during my 1st wedding anniversary. Sadly, it looks like commercialism is taking over the resort and it is being made "bigger and better"! If you haven't been to Bermuda, I highly recommend it...only a 2 hour flight from Boston and then you arrive in paradise. Life there is so relaxed. I recommend hiring a scooter to ride around the island.

I have also posted a photo of my 10 year old dog, Max. Many of you are probably wondering what breed that funny looking dog is. Well, he is an English Bull Terrier (very appropriate seeing as I'm English!). He was a possession that I aquired, not chose as my then boyfriend owned him, so Max came as part of the package. Initially I was not enamoured with Max, thinking he was not an attractive pet and I was a little scared of him as I was with all dogs. Thankfully Max's personality won me over very quickly. He is very playful, loving, and loyal. He is definately not scary. In fact his best friend is my cat. She even grooms him after he takes a bath!

Rodriguez: Questions

What is our role as educators, who are people in positions of power? Rodriguez’s experiences growing up demonstrate how the teachers at his school, who were also nuns, forced his family to abandon their native language to “help” the children learn English more quickly. Clearly these teachers overstepped their mark during their so-called home visit, and the repercussions had devastating long-term effects on the Rodriguez family.

This article also raises the question, ‘What role does the church play in education?’ Rodriguez describes his parents feelings during the nuns visit “What would they not do for their children’s well being? And how could they have questioned the Church’s authority which these women represented?” (Rodrguez, 2004. P.35). If a school is church run, do the teachers have more power because of the nature of their dual roles, as teachers of education and as nuns?

What really struck me about this article was how Ricardo’s parents were stripped of all their dignity and power as parents because of this forced decision to speak only English with their children. I was also bothered by the grief that Ricardo felt at the loss of speaking his native language at home and being forced to speak English as a child. Then as an adult, he recalls encountering Spanish voices in public places which creates sadness and longing for his forgotten past.

Rodriguez’s experience is very unfortunate. It reminds us as educators and people of power that we need to value both languages and cultures. In my first year of teaching, I struggled with how to value different languages in the classroom and still keep everyone safe. What happened is some of my students were speaking Spanish in the classroom with one another which turned out to be a way to tease non Spanish speaking students. The tricky part for me was that I couldn’t monitor what was being said in Spanish because of my lack of knowledge in that language, so I decided to make a rule that no-one was allowed to speak Spanish in the classroom. I now cringe at the message that this was sending to my Spanish speaking students even though I explained my reasons behind the rule. Thankfully since then I have learned other ways to foster other languages in the classroom and still be able to keep all students safe. These are some of the ways I have since found to be very effective at promoting bilingualism/different languages:

  1. Ask a class parent to visit the classroom and share their culture/language. For example; Chinese New Year.
  2. Learn and use different languages as a class: greetings during Morning Meeting, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in both the student’s native language as well as English
  3. Ask students to read texts from books or their own writing that is in their home language
  4. Research family histories/biographies and share these in class
  5. Read-alouds provide opportunities for students to make connections with language, each other, and the world around them
  6. Home visits (not like the one in the article!!!)
  7. Pot lucks/feasts at school

So, this brings me to my last question: “What other ways can we value students’ home language and bridge the gap between home and school?”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

GLSEN: Hyperlinks

GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) is an organization that was created 20 years ago to help create school climates where difference is valued. Many of the suggestions on the website fit more into what can be done in middle and high schools but the BookLink made me think of how I could connect this subject to my teaching in an elementary school. I have found one of the best ways of teaching tolerance and difference is through children’s literature which when used as a read-aloud can springboard natural discussion about difficult subjects such as racism and bullying. When I followed the BookLink on this designated gay & lesbian educational website, I was struck by the shortage of literature that included gay/lesbian characters and/or that covered the challenges of being so called ‘different’. The book list seemed to have many titles that highlighted bullying and racial diversity, only a few that focused on same sex families and next to none that highlighted child characters that are gay or lesbian. When I searched other websites, the predominant themes were same sex parents, adoption, or teen characters.

I teach at a school that promotes diversity and tolerance. Although I have taught students who have same sex parents and we have had class discussions about how families are different, it never occurred to me until now that I should be seeking out literature that shows families that have same sex parents. What also occurred to me is that I have taught 3rd grade students who even at that age demonstrate behaviors that indicate their sexual orientation as being different from the so called norm and I have not addressed this element of diversity through children’s literature. So, I am now on a mission to find a few books that cover this theme to enable me to facilitate classrooms.

Please see the following book links below which I think would benefit discussions with young and elementary age children about same sex families and children who feel different. Many of the titles seem more appropriate to share within a family setting, but a few could be used in classrooms. There seems a huge gap in the market for books about gay/lesbian relationships and characters that can be shared in a classroom setting. Any budding authors out there???

When Grow-Ups Fall in Love and Mama Eat Ant, Yuck! By Barbara Lynn Edmonds

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

Wings by Christopher Myers

I particularly liked The White Swan Express by Jean Davies Okimoto and Elaine M. Aoki because it highlights adoption and same sex parents. This type of family is definitely one that is growing in our country.

I am left thinking about the following: Many school systems restrict educators on what they can teach and what materials they can use. I saw that one of the books I selected, And Tango Makes Three was banned from many library bookshelves. I wonder how we can create environments where difference is valued if we can't even talk about some of our differences.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Finn Article: Connections with Kozol/ Argument

Connections & Argument

Finn seems to have the same philosophy that Kozol has; change needs to happen from the bottom up in order to change the inequalities regarding class and race. “Grass roots activism around schools is springing up all over the nation (Finn Preface XII). What both authors are saying is that we as teachers need to empower our students to value literacy as a way to change the injustice of inequality. We need to change the working-class student population of literacy and school knowledge. This reminds me of the ‘Obama test score effect’ we discussed in class on Monday: Children need to be motivated to want change and positive role models are a powerful motivator.

The other connection that both authors have is that they refer to inequalities, but slightly differently; Kozol’s being ‘savage ’ and Finn’s being ‘subtle’(Finn Chapter 1: P.1).

Finn and Kozol also refer to the problem of inequity and the following quotes demonstrate this: “teachers with seniority had the higher classes” (Finn. P.3) meaning higher ability, Kozol states: “desperation strategies come out of the acceptance of inequity. If we did not have a deeply segregated system in which experienced instructors teach the privileged and the less experienced are sent to children of minorities…”

Both authors refer to teachers who set low expectations of their students which projects a sense of ‘this is all they are worth’. I think if you set the bar low then yes, it is true that most, if not all children can reach that level, but the message you are giving these children is that they are not worth it. Finn encourages us as teachers to empower our students by providing them with equal literacy opportunities so that they can understand and therefore be players in the world of privilege, and in turn be a part of changing the injustice that exists.

Lastly, Finn calls teachers to action in his quote: ‘No matter what the solutions are, it’s hard-bitten school teachers who will need to implement them’.

PBS: People Like Us

This site focuses on social class; namely working, upper, and middle class. It reminds us that Class is not just an abstract concept — people deal with class differences in their lives every day.

I thought the site has many interesting features and was very interactive. The only down side was that you had to load Real player and Shockwave in order to play two of the games and access film clips. The game ‘Chintz or Shag’ has very funny profiles of the TV show type ‘experts’ who represented the 3 classes. I wish that there had been more categories to choose from when decorating my room as it was hard to find a piece of furniture that matched what I would consider to be my taste.

In the ‘Resources’ link you can type in a zip code to get a profile of the kinds of people who live in a certain area. I tried where I live and where I work and both profiles were fairly close to what I see as reality.

The ‘Teacher Resources’ link had extensive lesson plans, documentary links, and related activities which makes me wish I taught older students so that I could utilize this thoughtfully crafted, engaging, multi-faceted teaching guide.

Apart from the frivolity of playing games and getting excited about the powerful teaching resources, the ‘Stories’ link is the part of the website that made me think the most and is what I will take away from the experience. The common thread between the 5 stories is that class affects peoples’ relationships with their families. It really shocked me that as families grew and changed when children grew up and met husbands and wives or had children, the peoples’ relationships became strained with either their parents or their children because of the differences in their social classes. It leaves me wondering how common these stories are in families where different generations become connected with classes other than what they grew up with.