Monday, April 3, 2017

Critical literacy: examining stereotypes and deeper meanings of song lyrics

It is important to me to have a culturally relevant classroom in which students learn to critically examine the world around them. A few weeks ago, my students engaged in an critical literacy/inquiry lesson* in which we analyzed song lyrics for stereotypes and underlying messages that we often overlook when singing the lyrics in front of our parents (well, not me).

I started this lesson by sharing the song "Cater to you" by Destiny's Child. We listened to the song first, then discussed the lyrics. For the sake of argument, I took a strong feminist perspective, arguing against everything the ladies sing about, claiming it represented stereotypical view of woman. I feigned strong disgust (maybe I was a bit disgusted) toward lyrics such as my life would be purposeless without you, let me help you take off your shoes, and I'll keep myself up


But my kids are proved just how intelligent they are. They changed the perspective on me, explaining how it was acceptable for a woman to do nice things for her man when she wants to. And I had a few boys tout that this is the way it should be. All in good fun. 

After this, my students were allowed to choose individual songs to analyze for stereotypes. The assignment was to create a poster which included the song title, the artist, sample lyrics that exemplified stereotypes, and a brief explanation of how the song reinforces stereotypes (we quickly learned that country music is a gold mine for this activity).

Now, not every poster was done perfectly, but my students rose to the occasion. I could not be prouder to share their work with you (and they are also proud to have it displayed on this site). Here are a few examples to get you started:












During our passing periods at school, we play music. Last week, our programmer had "I can't feel myself when I'm with you...and I love it..." blasting from our overhead system. I stood in the hallway giggling, and when class started, I asked my students who knew what that song is really about, connecting it back to this lesson. They knew. They are critically conscious young individuals. Do you know?

*This lesson combines two activities from AVID's Culturally Relevant Teaching and consists of very little original thinking on my part.



Friday, March 17, 2017

My exploration of banned and controversial books: The Amazing Bone by William Steig

Although I found it easy to defend In the Night Kitchen from those who see it as a threat to young children, I cannot find good reasons to defend The Amazing Bone by William Steig - and this one has won awards: " a 1976 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year and Outstanding Book of the Year, a 1977 Caldecott Honor Book, and a 1977 Boston Globe - Horn Book Awards Honor Book for Picture Books" (Barnes & Noble website).

This book is filled with a number of things that bothered me:


  1. Peal, the antagonist, finds a bone. I can get past that, but based on the rest of the book, it is a bit disturbing that this young pig shows no concern for a bone she finds in the woods. Where did it come from? Dead body? Maybe I am putting too much focus on this, as last week, a junior high student found a pile of bones from a dead body while walking to school. 
  2. Pearl gets robbed by masked bandits carrying both knives and guns. In on illustration, a gun is actually placed to Pearl's temple. That is disturbing for a young children's book. 
  3. Pearl is kidnapped by a fox who plans to take her home, cook her, and eat her. Again, this is nothing new in stories (Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel), but combined with the other elements of the story, this feels like far too much.









    I honestly do not know what to make of this story as a whole. I am 100% against banning books, but I would be cautious about this one with very young children. I will share this with my middle schoolers are part of a critical literacy lesson, but I cannot see reading it to a young child. Without the pictures, the story is still pretty harsh; with the images, I think it becomes gratuitous.









Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My exploration of banned and controversial books: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

While I was conducting some online research about children's books that address social issues, I ran across a few lists of banned children's books. That's was an immediate invitation for me to start reading each and every single one of them, and I was surprised to discover that I have already read a few that show up on many lists, including In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. 


My first reaction: Maurice Sendak has a banned book? The Little Bear author? My now 22-year-old son and I used to read those books and watch the television series on Nickelodeon. Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak? Oh, that one has controversy around it too.

I did not recall anything controversial about In the Night Kitchen, so I ran straight to my public library to check it out (and there are many copies available, not banned). According to many websites, I had missed the nudity of 3-year old Mickey (buttocks and genitals, the sexual innuendo of a free-flowing milk, and the phallic appearance of a large milk bottle. Well if that isn't an advertisement to go back and read it again, I don't know what is! 

So here is an example of Mickey's nudity:



This is a children's book, for goodness sake, and little kids like to be naked. If you have a little one who is not nude or half-nude right now, you have probably forced that child into clothes. I remember my son stripping down in our foyer every day immediately after arriving home from daycare. Every. Day. He also used to take his little naked body and watch himself dance in front of a full length mirror. It was funny. This is funny. Kids get to giggle because there is a naked boy in a book, and parents get to giggle because we recognize the inside joke. And as Americans, we really need to get over this prudish fear of nudity (my most humble opinion).

My guess is that Sendak recognized that kids enjoy being naked and created a character to which they could relate - particularly little boys. I am fighting a never ending battle of getting boys to read in middle school. Maybe if they had all read this book, they would still be reading now. Maybe if I share it with my seventh and eighth grade students, they might pick up another book.

Here are examples of the milk controversies:





Oh, people...if you are seeing something in that picture that is not there, that is completely on you. That's your mind. And that is disturbing! Like Where the Wild Things Are, this is the story of a little boy's adventures via his dreams. Into the kitchen. Where people make cake. And maybe he really likes cake. I know I do. 

If you have an issue with the nudity, do not read the book. That does not mean, however, that you are able to speak for others who wish to encourage creativity and imagination and curiosity and adventure in our children. And that, as always, is my most humble opinion. 

P.S. If you truly want to be rebellious, you can purchase the coloring book version for your kids. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Check this box: Issues with identity

https://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf181.pdf
A few weeks ago, two students came to me and asked, "Are we Hispanic as a race or Hispanic as an ethnicity?" My first thought was both, but then because these are two highly intelligent individuals, I was not sure. 

"What is this about?" I asked. 

In another class, the girls were filling out information for high school, and like most forms, they did not see a category for themselves. The teacher told them to check White, yet they were not comfortable selecting White; they do not identify as such.

So rather than provide misinformation, we ventured to my first place for research: Google

 

I have admit that this result added more to our confusion. Our eighth-grade history classes have been teaching lessons on not labeling others, and here the girls were being forced to select labels for themselves in another class, and labels with which they generally do not apply to themselves. 

The Hispanic population of my campus ranks number two. They are not included as part of the White population in our demographic studies. Yet in this case, they were. How many other students who identify as Hispanic and not as White are being subjected to labels with which they do not identify? Having grown up in an environment in which we were all white by skin color but identified by our ethnicity, I understood their dilemma: It was not until I moved to Texas and began teaching that I was seen as the "white lady" rather than the "Italian girl."

I am currently reading Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students by Gregory Michie for my graduate diversity class. In Chapter 5 "Look at Your Hands," Michie discusses how his Hispanic students also struggled with identity. The students who were new to American and spoke no English were referred to as being "too Mexican." Students of Mexican heritage who spoke English would avoid those who only spoke Spanish. Many showed little knowledge of or interest in knowing about Mexico.

 "The kids confusion about their ethnic identities seemed to stem, at least in part, from a clash of cultures they experienced between life at home and life at school" (80). Michie notes how, at least in 1999, when the first edition of his book was published, pop culture, history books, and school environments did not reflect the history of the students he was teaching. Almost twenty years later, I believe that has changed (or maybe it is because I live in Texas closer to Mexico than Michie's environment of Chicago). We still have issues with textbooks (this year we had a textbook rejected due to racist idealogy against Mexican-Americans), and I cannot say my campus reflects the ethnicity of any student population on my campus. It is not uncommon, however, for my Hispanic students to be listening to Tejano music on their phones when given the opportunity or for salsa dancing to take place at a school event. And in my AVID class, we talk a great deal about cultural awareness and identity. 

None of this reflection even address my Vietnamese or African or Middle Eastern students, and my campus has numerous students from each background. Many of my students moved to America at a young age or are the first generation born in America. All of these students are middle schoolers who are in the process of discovering and developing their identities, resolving issues of being Hispanic/Vietnamese/African/Middle Eastern and American, and at the same time, we are asking them to check boxes with limited choices that may not fit their personal definitions of self.



On the pleasure side of my reading, I recently ran across a passage in What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau that has provided me with some guidance on how to address the topic of check boxes with my students: 


Especially in today's political climate, I certainly have no answers to my own questions about how to answer why a Hispanic student must check a box that says White, but I can guide deeper conversation about exploring who we all are on the inside, who we think we are and who we see within. And that, in my always most humble of opinions, is the most important side of all.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My role as a student in blended learning

In addition to everything else I do, I decided to add yet another challenge: an online blended learning course. One of the first assignments was to read a chapter that explains blended learning. For being 43, I think my educational path has included more technology that most. 

When my daughter was born in 2001, I decided to get my masters degree. The University of Texas at Arlington was offering a degree plan that could be fully completed online. With a newborn, this was an ideal situation (except, in reflection, the horrific internet speeds of the time). My entire Masters of Education in Teaching (M.Ed.T) was earned based upon online discussions, assessments, and assignments. I had no face-to-face interaction with anyone, although I was having online interaction with a classmate in Japan. At the time, I thought this was one of the most amazing ways to learn, but now that I have engaged in blended learning, I have a different viewpoint.

I am currently enrolled in a masters cohort program through Texas Woman's University.  Two of the four classes I have taken have been blended learning courses, including the one in which I am currently enrolled. For my current class, we meet every two weeks (my summer class met every three to four) for face-to-face learning. During our off weeks, we have online discussions regarding our readings for class, allowing us to engage in much more than we can possibly cover in a three-hour class every two weeks. We also share real-life connections that we run across and respond to the work of one another.

There is a drawback to this class - for me. Considering how quickly my brain works, I have a lot to say. I am a heavy contributor to the discussion boards, and at times, I wish my classmates would add more. But I am realistic. We all have different lives and time available to us. It is not uncommon for me to be up reading and writing by 6 AM, but I certainly do not expect that of others.  

I am also currently participating in an online book study that is not blended learning. Here again, I wish there was more dialogue occurring. The administrator of this course set up expectations about how many posts and responses we need to add to the discussion. To some extent, I think that takes away from natural online dialogue, but I also see a need for it to ensure that those who signed up for this course contribute to it. 

I have had a chance to speak face-to-face to a few district colleagues who are enrolled in the book study course with me. There does seem to be some intimidation for those who are not as comfortable using technology, and for them, I think adding a face-to-face component would be beneficial. But as teachers, librarians, and instructional coaches, I know that trying to find time that works for everyone is not terribly easy. This particular course was designed to be "PD in your PJs." 

Having participated in fully face-to-face, fully online, and blended learning,  I find blended learning to be the most beneficial for my personal growth. I feel the added online component to the face-to-face class keeps me focused on the learning and challenges me to look at other viewpoints more frequently.

I am still trying to determine how to make this work with my own middle school students who see one another on a daily basis. For the next year, I am considering branching discussions across class periods to tie multiple classes and grade levels together. I need the downtime of summer vacation to plan this out.

For those of you out there using or engaging in blended learning, what are your thoughts about the positives and negatives? Have you been involved in anything that has brought about more success than you expected?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Stop stopping the violence: boys and writing

One of my assignments for my current graduate diversity class is to conduct research regarding a topic I am interested in, become an "expert" in a few short weeks, and present what I have learned to my classmates. I have been thinking about this assignment at the same time I am conducting interviews for my AVID classes for next year and coping with the frustration of not being able to recruit and keep boys in this program. When the tornado of my brain whipped both of these into its vacuum, I found myself searching Google for information about literacy and achievement gaps between male and female students.


I ran across the article "Misreading masculinity: Speculations of the great gender gap in writing" by Thomas Newkirk, written in March 2000. Much of my early career teaching seventh grade English was spent teaching writing, and writing is a key component of AVID's WICOR. So I chose this as my first article to read. 

One of many topics discussed in this article is the prevalence of violence in boys' writing. If you had asked me few hours ago, I would have said, "Bad, bad, bad. Boys should not be writing about violent topics in school." But Newkirk has swayed me:



(p. 296)


Reading this sent me directly back to my first year of teaching. I assigned something for writing, although the exact assignment has long escaped my mind. The details of B.'s paper, however, are clear in my mind. He turned in his work on green paper, and I marked it up in red pen. B. had written about coming into the school with a sword and attacking his classmates. His story culminated with my head being chopped off. 

Since B. was already a student with whom I had disciplinary issues (he was a 12-year old boy), I treated the writing as a threat toward me. There was a referral. There was a parent conference. There was a suspension. 

If I could only rewind time! I made the mistake of automatically assuming that B.'s "use of violence in writing [was meant to be] vicious or sadistic" (p. 296).  According to Newkirk, I missed a great deal of the complexity that was included in B.'s writing:
  • A video culture - B. had actually written his passage based on a video game he had been playing. This information was revealed during our parent conference, but my new-teacher ego was offended at the time. The last time I spoke to B. a few years ago, he was trying to become a video game developer.
  • A friendship culture or social world - B. never intended to offend me with his story. He simply cast me as the villain and himself as the protagonist in a story set in our mutual environment. He expressed that he thought I would be complimented to be included in his story.
  • "A curriculum culture - ...In transforming largely visual narratives to written narrative, students negotiate popular culture and academic work" (p. 297). B. was simply taking an idea from his everyday life and adding it to my assignment.
I have come a long way in the past 13 1/2 years, and I continue to grow and learn every day.  I want to build a passion for writing, not kill it (pun intended). The next time I see any of my boys including violence in their writing, something I have discouraged over the years, I will engage in more dialogue. I know that in our current times, not every piece of expression can be treated equally, but I am now far less likely to apply the sentence before the trial. 


Friday, February 24, 2017

Exploring our futures with our head, heart, hands and feet (Part 3 - Student Samples)

As promised, I am sharing some student samples. I spoke to each of these students directly about sharing their work, and they were flattered that you would want to see what they produced. I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do.


video



















Part 1
Part 2

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Exploring our futures through our head, heart, hands, and feet (Part 2)

The next piece I added was for my students to create their own children's books, telling the stories of their futures. We started by visualizing open-ended possibilities. I put some meditation music on, we sat on the floor, we closed our eyes, and I guided my kids to think of what they would be doing if no one was placing any restrictions on them.  
  
I honestly had no idea what to expect at this point. I gave my classes the option of creating their books by hand or by computer program and incorporating the elements of head, heart, hands, and feet. Other than that, I did not provide too many guidelines in an effort to increase creativity. But I was concerned. What would the kids produce? Would it be anything of quality? Would they even understand how to put a children's book together based on events that have not yet happened? I am proud to report that  

Image result for mind blown



Here are some excerpts from the best of the best that I received. This is a small sample, and after discussions with many more students today, I will be putting together a slideshow that includes many more. 

Image



HANDS 
wanted to practice her ideas. She would get her fake 
surgeons' materials out and pretend to treat her patients, which 
would be her stuffed animals. She was happy when she thought 
that they were satisfied with the way they looked. 
knew 
for sure that she wanted to help people for the rest of her life. 
For most of her childhood, 
continued to practice being a 
surgeon on her stuffed animals and 
other toys. She pretended to make 
incisions in their bodies and did 
numerous other things she thought 
would also work on her future human 
patients.




When she was in school, she had a lot of homework to do. Sometimes, she didn't want to 
do it, but she knew in order for people to know about "Dr. 
DVM", she had to do 
nell in school. The most o 
s student reputation was built in junior high. She was 
nominated for many academic achievements and received many awards at the end of the 
school years. However, she could not have achieved any of her accomplishments without the 
nelp of her teachers. Because of them, she was able to learn many different things. She 
Decame fond of study ng because she became engaged in learning. 
idn't wait until vet school to learn about vet med. When she had free time, she 
Nouffstudy physiology, anatomy, virology, and pathology. By the time she got to veterinary 
school, she was well prepared.