Teacher-blog Branding Day 3: Mobile Friendliness

teacher's desk 3

 Day 3 of Blogging 201

Today Blogging 201 asks us to look at our blogs across multiple devices. Doing so helps us make sure all audiences receive friendly content. This makes me think of the art classes I have taken. Good artists look at their pieces up close, and from across their room. They do this to get a sense of what their patrons will experience and to gain perspective on their work.

In K-12 classrooms, we also have students engage in “gallery walks”. This may be to look at 2D art but it can be in other subject areas as well. Students share writing, posters of their math work, and their Science experiments. Walking around the classroom gives them new perspective on their work, and lets them know what their peers are doing.

If your reading this post on a tablet or mobile phone please let me know your thoughts!

Where Crafting Fiction Meets Cultural Responsiveness

Piece of Paper for crafting fiction

This post delves into an important writing prompt, a crucial read, and how both influence me as an educator and writer. 

I joined Teachers Write! (a free, online, writing course created by author Kate Messner) hoping to foster a latent story-telling ability (Bear with me, I will get to the read!). I’m both unpracticed and uncertain about writing fiction. Nonetheless, come nervousness or foot-dragging I go to the keyboard each day, and write. Until last Wednesday’s assignment. I almost decided not to do it. I re-read it. Read the comments. Walked away. Came back. Read it again. Finally, I tried it out.

It’s not that the other assignments have been easy, they haven’t. But this one was particularly challenging. You see, author Christina Diaz Gonzalessaid to craft “authentic diverse characters…someone unlike you or your background”. My mind immediately went to differences in race, culture, and language. Differences that are complicated. Differences that I’ve been thinking alot about due to Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, by Zaretta Hammond.

 

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain
click to purchase

For me, this book has been a game-changer. Truth be told, I’m only half-way through it. However, I can already feel the affects it is having on me as an educator and writer. Here’s a little bit about that.

Culture is critical in the school-lives of students, teachers, and families.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Yet in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain it becomes profound. This is because Hammond demystifies what culture is, why it affects us, and how teachers can guide students in culturally responsive ways.  She does this by pulling back the curtain on the link between our neurology, our hormones, and our views of the world. For teachers, these links are paramount to “getting dependent students of color ready for rigor” (p.34).

Light-bulb-moment – One of the ahas from this book is having a way to categorize and articulate different layers of culture: surface, shallow, and deep.

  • Surface focuses on “observable and concrete elements…such as food, dress, music, and holidays” (p. 22).
  • Shallow “is made up of unspoken rules around everyday social interactions and norms…Nonverbal cummunication that builds rapport and trust…comes out of shallow culture” (p.22).
  • Deep envelops our “unconscious assumptions that govern our worldview…[and has] an intense emotional charge” (p.23).

In teaching – For a long time I had an inkling that adding features of surface culture to a classroom or school might be beneficial, but wasn’t enough.  Understanding cultural layers provides a framework for seeing our students as more than what they celebrate, wear, eat, or listen to. While these things are important, we need to get at the shallow and deep layers so that we can provide instruction that all brains will react to. Fortunately Hammond’s book provides a framework for how to do just that!

In writing – This is critical information when writing about characters that are different from ourselves. It might be easy to research surface layers of culture. But how do we go about excavating the shallow and deep culture of our characters? For me this is an important question, because I believe that without including these layers we run the risk of “unwittingly writing something that might be construed as offensive, inaccurate, or demeaning” (Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Teachers Write, 7/15/15). Lucky for us, in a teacher-writer-friendly-way, Ms. Gonzalez has shared valuable tips and tools for our use.

There is more to write about Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain than I could possibly include in one post. However, I want to share a few more salient topics so that you run out and by this book, now. It will definitely change you.

Additional Topics

  • The effects of socio-political context on intellectual apartheid and dependent learners
  • How poverty is not a culture, and why we need to view it differently
  • Cultural archetypes that all teachers (and teacher-writers) should understand
  • A framework for being a culturally responsive teacher
  • The importance of letting diverse students know we care, and doing so in ways they can relate to
Moving Target     The Red Umbrella     a Thunderous Whisper
Click books to purchase

I also want to highlight the wisdom of author Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and encourage you to read her works. In giving us an assignment to create characters that are different from us, Gonzalez validates the experiences of all children and readers. “We need books that reflect all the faces and facets of the world we live in and you should be writing about them”, she says (Teachers Write, 7/15/15). So thank you, Ms. Gonzalez, for opening my eyes to a new ways of crafting characters. And thank you for sparking deeper thought about working with students to include diversity in their writing.

For more on Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

#edaware – July 2015 join the 8pm CST Sunday Twitter chat

www.ready4rigor.com – Zaretta Hammond’s website/blog

Ready4Rigor Facebook group – Member’s only group started by Zaretta Hammond

For more on diverse writing and books

The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children – white paper from the American Library Association on why diverse collections are needed and what librarians can do

We Need Diverse Books™ – “a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people”

Are Authors Scared to Write Diverse Books? – opinion piece on getting past fear about writing diverse characters, by author Roni Lonin in Huff Post Books

Teacher-blog Branding Day 2: Who Knew Auditing and Peer Editing Were the Same?!

Audit Your Blog

 Day 2 of Blogging 201

Assignment number two for Blogging 201 is to audit our blog to make sure it is in line with our brand. In teacher speak, this means peer editing. Much research has been done to show the effects of peer editing, especially when students know what to edit for. A quick Google search for “positive effects of peer editing” turned up no less than 1,870,000 results in a quarter of a second. And many of them are worth the read.

I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with Cynthia Franks, award-winning playwright who blogs at franklywrite.com. As a new blogger I couldn’t feel more fortunate about this wonderful connection. If you do nothing else today, go check out her blog to gather quality writing tips and see how she has used visuals to create her brand. She has a beautiful page that will draw you right in!

When you come back, I hope to share her comments about how I can improve my brand.

If you have thoughts about the look of my blog I’d love to hear them. What speaks to you? Do you have an emotional reaction? Are there any annoyances? Many thanks for helping me improve!

What in the World is Wondering and How the Heck do I Teach it?!

Wonder 3

This post is about wondering and ways to support emergent multilinguals (aka English learners) in their writing development.

I wonder…”

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to say that you know what wondering is. I’m sure you’ve even spent some time doing it. Somehow, along the way, you learned its deep nuances. You know that there’s a little bit of questioning, but not challenge. It’s kind of like pondering but with less drawn-out-thought. When you Google something you wonder about, you’re satisfied with the Wikipedia answer. No further research needed. In the act of wondering our eyes tilt upward, maybe a finger touches the face just below the corner of the mouth. Adults use “wonder” when they are trying to be non-confrontational, leading someone down a path of inquiry. And sometimes it has an ethereal quality. That child-like sprinkle of excitement.

The Assignment

When I received the assignment “An Invitation to Wonder” from Kate Messner I was thrilled. First off, it was an easy thing to start with. All we had to do was write a list of things we wondered about. Maybe, one day, they would even turn into seed ideas for a longer piece. Secondly, it brought me back to something I had long forgotten about. The time I galumphed my way through this exercise with students, many of whom were emergent multilinguals.

Forays into Writer’s Workshop

It was my first foray into teaching writer’s workshop. I was all about idea generation. Listing what we wondered about seemed like a perfect beginning. It was open-ended and student-centered. There was no wrong answer. And there was the enthralling chance that we might end up using our wonderings as research topics. What more could a teacher want?!

And then I felt the disquieting stares. Pencils didn’t move. Bodies were still. Notebooks remained vacant. No writing happened.

Now this wasn’t because my students didn’t know how to wonder. Perhaps they were learning English in addition to having a home language, but it’s not like they didn’t have the trappings of a childhood mind. You know, the curiosity that flits about even during school hours. That wasn’t the issue at all. My students could, and did, wonder. The problem was that they really had no idea what I was asking of them, or how to accomplish it

I had made the assumption that if I told them to write what they wondered, they would do just that. They’re kids, I thought, this will be easy. So I didn’t bother to build in the language scaffolds and supports that my emergent multilingual students needed. Because of that the lesson did not produce much writing. Looking back, there is a lot I would have done differently. Here are three ways I would have changed my lesson:

1. A lesson without examples is no lesson at all

You’re probably face-palming right now because this is so obvious. How many times have you been told that all students, and especially those learning an additional language, need examples? But at the time I was taking a writer’s-workshop-stab-in-the-dark. I didn’t know a lot, and I didn’t know who to turn to. So I tried using old methods to teach new things. If I say it, they will do it.

What I realized is that young writers need strong, student-centered, linguistic examples. I should have modeled how I wondered about winning video-games, about how to get a new skateboard, about if I could have an over-night with my friend. I could have wondered about bigger things too. The problem was, I hadn’t planned for wonder-modeling. I didn’t demonstrate the language we use when we wonder. So while my students did wonder, they didn’t have the language scaffolds needed to record their wonderings in writing, in English. If I had a do-over I would include linguistically simple as well as linguistically complex examples, and highlight the language of wondering.

2. Lost in translation

Students with emerging English skills often bring rich language resources to their new learning. Translation can unlock some of these resources. However, we need to be intentional in finding translation that conveys meaning. For instance, Google translates “wonder” from English to “preguntarse” (ask yourself) in Spanish. “Yet if you type in “maravilla” in Spanish you get “wonder” in English. Even better would be “maravillarse” which is a verb that translates as “to marvel” or “to wonder”. You can see how the deep meaning changes.

When I clunked my way through that lesson I didn’t plan for unlocking the meaning of “wonder” through translation. Doing so would have quickly and fluidly pulled the curtain back on the nuances that “wonder” conveys. This would have allowed my students to focus on the task of idea generation instead of trying to figure out what I was asking of them. I could have quickly started with Google translate and then double-checked other resources. The search I did for this post took about five minutes. Those few minutes could have made a big difference to my students.

3. All language is meaning-filled

As I mentioned, many students who are learning English bring rich, existing language to their school-experience. Leveraging these competencies is critical. One way to do this is by letting students know their home-language is a resource, just as English is. When crafting our list of wonderings, I should have created an environment where students knew they could write in whatever language they felt most comfortable with.

Doing this is key for a couple of reasons. First, it would have allowed my students to focus on the lesson’s goal: idea generation. By lowering the cognitive load of learning English, we could have gotten to the core of what we needed to do as writers. Second, highlighting home language as a resource honors students as people and as writers. It conveys the idea that all voices are important, and need to be heard. Now, keep in mind that I would not have forced students to write in a home language. I just would have created the atmosphere where students knew they could. Doing so would have provided the safety and scaffolding that some may have needed to begin writing.

My Wondering List

In the interest of modeling, here is a wondering list I wrote for Teachers Write! And, by the way, it’s this wondering list that led me to write this post.

  1. How do I start and keep a writing practice going?
  2. Why do people want to write?
  3. How can I spend time writing and keep my commitments to my profession, my self, my family, and my friends all alive and well?
  4. Does loving to write make me an introvert?
  5. Is that a bad thing?
  6. What does it mean to be a teacher-writer?
  7. How do I share with my students my own worries about writing so that they feel comfortable sharing theirs?
  8. How do other languages say “wonder”?
  9. How do we make writing instruction work for all students?
  10. What paradigms need a complete shake up?
  11. What am I missing as a caucasian, female educator?
  12. What capacities do students bring to their writing?
  13. How do I help them unleash those capacities

Teachers Write!

Teachers Write! 2015

 

Have you ever considered being a teacher-writer? You have some stories to tell but haven’t shared them yet. Maybe you wrote a lot for your credential (masters/Ph.D.) but then life got in the way, so you stopped. Perhaps without an “assignment” it’s been hard to know what to write about. Or maybe you’re already a teacher-writer, looking to explore what others are doing. If any of that is true, then you’ve come to the right set of posts. This is where I’ll share my journey about being a teacher-writer, during the Teachers Write! course by author Kate Messner.

As a new blogger my summer has been drenched in writing. It’s scary and invigorating, exciting and frustrating. I’ve learned a ton and been proud of where I’ve gotten to. In three weeks I’ve created a functional blog and participated in three writing assignments: Blogging 101, Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge, and now Teachers Write! Each has given me something different. While I’ve come farther than I ever thought I would, I have so far to go.

Teachers Write! is a particular challenge because it focuses on fiction. This is a huge divergence from my life in academia. That said I’m having fun, getting to know new authors, and improving my skills. As a teacher I am learning what it’s like to be a student who is out of her comfort zone. I’m also focused on considering what I would do to scaffold these lessons for students, particularly those learning English as an additional language.  As a writer, being in a new genre is bound to add to my existing academic writing and blogging repertoire.

When you read posts in this category you’ll join my journey in being a teacher-writer. Together we can consider what it means to be a teacher-writer, how being a teacher-writer affects writing instruction, and how to make a writing practice available to all students.

OK teachers, let’s write!

A Slice of Certainty

Slice of Confidence

If you’ve found my blog you’ve likely noticed the tag line. I wrote it to resonate with you, the teacher reading this. But I also wrote it for myself. You see I wanted to remind us all that even when we don’t feel like we’re doing an amazing job, it’s likely we’re still doing great things. And we need to be certain of that fact.

When I first started teaching I lived in constant fear of being found out. I was terrified that someone was going to walk into my room and see that I really was a horrible teacher after-all. Who is this woman, they would say, and why in the world did we hire her?!

Too much uncertainty will deplete you.

It’s not that reality substantiated these fears. No, the opposite was true. My colleagues were complimentary. The principal wanted me to increase my time. My job was secure. I even received a couple of award nominations from students. Together these things seem like they would show a person she is successful. However, I just couldn’t be certain. And this uncertainty left me depleted and distracted.

Now, I’m sure some of this is just my personality (yes, I can be a bit self-critical). But I also believe this is a commonality in our profession. I say this because I’ve seen it so many times. Some in tears, unsure of their abilities as they blamed themselves for a lesson gone wrong. Others questioning if the principal really thought they were doing a good job. Usually these comments came from the most respected teachers. People who I, and others, aspired to be like.

Your quest to improve doesn’t implicate lacking.

Of course taking responsibility, and being on a quest to constantly improve, is a good thing. It’s part of being a great teacher. If we think we have arrived, it’s a sure sign that we haven’t. But it’s a fine line between questioning one’s abilities and reaching for more. The former tends to get in our way, while the latter is a propelling force.

It wasn’t that long ago when I finally realized that advancing my practice does’t have to be based in uncertainty and self-criticism. Instead, I can be both confident in my current capacity and still endeavor to be better. When this finally settled inside of me, my teaching changed. I became lighter. People actually told me I looked younger. Having fun while learning became more of a goal. Taking risks to try new things felt invigorating. And all of this rubbed off on my students.

Savor your wins and build from there.

Too often, in school, learning how to do something means there was a time we weren’t good at it. While there may be truth to this, it’s time to switch the paradigm. I no longer believe it’s productive to concentrate on what might be missing, on the things we aren’t sure about. Instead we need to focus on our/our student’s strengths. Let’s savor our wins and build from there.

As I end my first year of being in a new position, I realize that I truly did let go of my fear of being found out. Although I had many moments of being nervous about doing well, and I constantly sought to improve, I didn’t doubt myself in the same way. Instead I moved through the year with a slice of certainty. And that slice had a sweet taste indeed!

Want to know more about teaching with certainty?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some ways you’ve been uncertain, or doubted yourself, as an educator? Does that get in your way? What have you done/realized to change your perspective?

Teacher-blogging: Getting Started Week 3

Life long learning Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/

Week 3 – Find tips, tricks, resources, and classroom connections throughout my day-to-day journey in Blogging 101

Day 11 – Make a Prompt Personal (a constructivist approach)

I love the idea of personalizing The Daily Prompt. When I’m new at something, it’s comforting to be given suggestions and structure.

A fellow teacher once told me that when we create classrooms without structure, it’s like asking kids to walk across a bridge with no railings. This got me thinking about the constructivist approach to learning (Christopher Lister explains constructivism). Sometimes teachers think constructivism means students do everything on their own, without boundaries. I would interpret it differently. I believe constructivism is more successful when we support students by providing a structure within which they can have an experience. Thanks to Blogging 101 I’ve had a few railings to lean on as I construct my understanding of blogging.

Find my Daily Prompt response about secret ingredients here.

Have a thought on constructivisim? Leave a comment below.

Day 12 – Increase Your Commenting  With Confidence (letting go of being shy)

For this assignment, we found others who personalized the same prompt, read six, and commented on two. I used to be afraid of commenting on blogs. What would the world think of my opinions?!

I can definitely relate to students in the classroom who are afraid to share their thinking. It’s exciting that our new standards require us to teach students to effectively communicate with each other. I applaud this move toward making education a collaborative endeavor. Commenting through Blogging 101 has helped me shed my own shyness.

Find out what I was brave enough to share here and here.

Willing to share your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Day 13 – Try Another Blogging Event (taking the easy route)

This assignment had me stumped. So much to choose from and so little time. So I’ve decided to take the easy route and go for Blogging 201 in July.

Sometimes the most important thing we can provide to students is letting them know what’s next. Doing so creates a safe and predictable (but not boring!) environment. For me, knowing Blogging 201 is coming provides some comfort along this blogging adventure.

Have a blogging event to share about? Leave a comment below.

Day 14 – Extend Your Brand (need advice – read THIS)

This was my most productive assignment of the week. Talk about constructing learning!

First, I re-created my Facebook page as a web page (instead of business). Save yourself some time by finding out how here. I’d been trying to figure this out for weeks and Blogging 101 got me going in minutes – whew! Then I created a custom header, custom image widgets, and a custom blavatar using PicMonkey. A word to the wise, write down your steps, write down your steps, write down your steps when you use PicMonkey. There is a tremendous amount you can do but once you save your image you cannot retrace your steps. So if you want to recreate something, like custom image widgets that match your header and blavatar, keep track of what you’re doing. Scroll up to see my take on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube widgets in the sidebar. All were made with PicMonkey.

Going through this process was as gratifying as it was time-consuming. I could practically feel my neurons firing. At the same time I was aware of the hours I was poring into this project. I’m reminded of the importance of productive struggle, and the time it takes,  in the classroom. If we want students to  internalize their learning they need time to experiment, time to construct their own understanding, and time to engage in productive struggle and problems solving. I know first hand because this assignment gave me all three!

Possess tips and tricks for personalizing your work? Leave a comment below?

Day 15 – Create a New Posting Feature

I’m torn on this one. As I mentioned at the top, I appreciate a little support and structure when I try something new. So I’m considering two “challenges” for my new posting feature. One is the Slice of Life Story Challenge and the other is WordPress’ Daily Prompt. I’m intimidated by both, but for different reasons. Slice of Life is extremely open-ended, where as Daily Prompt can be a bit specific. Either way, they can both feel intimidating.

For students, the same can come up. One kind of writing prompt can be too narrow, and another too broad. Therefor it’s important for students to have choice, especially when trying to just get ideas on the table. This is one of the strengths of keeping a writer’s notebook to gather seed ideas.

Do you have a posting feature that works well on your blog? Leave a comment below.

It’s been a HUGE in terms of blogging pushing my thinking around students. This experience helps me remain a life-long learner and I’m having a ton of fun doing it!

What helps you stay fresh as a teacher/learner? Leave a comment below.