Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thank You!!

Thank you all for making me feel so welcome tonight!! It was so good  meeting all of you and I look forward to 11/18!!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Nakkula Chapter 7

Hello everyone, I am attempting to play catch-up on my blogs.  I miss you all and I am so looking forward to June when we can celebrate at Rachel’s house that we all finished our four ASTL core courses!!

I found Chapter 7 to be enormously difficult to get through.  I don’t know if it was because of all the tables or if I was just annoyed about being sent back to Delpit and her views that white teachers find it difficult to teach black students and that black students don’t think white teachers can relate to them.  However, what I did like was when Nakkula said, “We can and should seek to have racially diverse students and teachers work with one another, but we also need to be aware of the ways in which those relationships are influenced by racial identity development and be prepared to respond in an informed manner when we recognize the need” (pg. 138).  So, of course we should be able to “all get along” but there will be times when teachers need to meet their students half way and remember students are still developing beings that need guidance in order to see the world through many lenses.  I think good lesson plans that focus on essential questions that don’t have a single answer, that spark inquiry, and that lead to “big ideas” are ways in which kids can try on multifaceted identities in a safe environment.   It is important to really know our student population because as they are differentiating between social groups and racial groups we have a unique opportunity (responsibility) to guide them through the process.

The following is a great lesson plan by Linda Christensen that allows students to think about who they are and where they fit in this big, bad world.  It also gives the opportunity for them to see, through peer review and classroom discussions, where their classmates are coming from as well.  This is a great lesson with which to start the school year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Reading the “Gender Identity Development” section of Nakkula’s Understanding Youth made me think of so many of my students.  Not only does society make assumptions about male/female roles, so do many schools.  I was interested in what the author’s said about girls of color, particularly African American girls.  I find African American female students tend to be so loud and actually aggressive sometimes that I have reprimanded them to cool down and to not get so fired up about everything.  But Nakkula mentions that “black mothers with their tongues of fire” have actually taught these girls to be aggressive and to fight for what they want and need in order to survive in a white person’s world (pg 113).  I never really thought about this before.  Delpit writes in Other People's Children about the black communication style in which mothers tend to bark orders at their kids in a loud, commanding way which explains why some students need that type of communication in order to get through to them in the classroom (Delpit, 2006).  However, I did not think about the black female student socially in regard to their aggressive type behavior until Nakkula.

When the author’s talked about the importance of “home spaces” and “homeplaces” I thought about all the school activities my school has to offer kids.  The Gay Straight Alliance has given kids that are gay and their friends that are straight a space to talk about where they are with their sexuality and how to navigate within a predominantly straight society (both in and out of school). This organization has contributed greatly to the accepting culture we have at my school.  Another group that was just started this year is the Nerd Herd which has 35 students that participate.  Yes, 35 and growing from what I here.  The Nerd Herd, in my opinion, is saving kids both academically and socially.  This group has a trivia question of the week that is usually related to a comic, graphic novel, superhero, Animee, or other such thing that these kids love.  I have learned about Cosplay and ComicCon and all kinds of things through these kids.  This school activitiy is the ultimate in homespaces!!  The teacher leader of this group is very passionate about all the same things these kids love and has coined himself as the Nerdiest Teacher in the building for many years.  What a win/win for both the teacher and the students.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hope + Hard Work = Accomplishment (?)

As I was reading Nakkula, I thought about something that I feel is probably part of my teaching philosophy/belief in some way.  My job is to foster a sense of hope in my students.  If we expect students that have been passed along through No Child Left Behind to pass high stakes testing, these “high goals must be met by realistic hope – hope cultivated by successive, ongoing experiences of accomplishment” (pg. 63).  How can we expect our low performing kids to feel good about school and working hard when we really haven’t cared too much about that ourselves?  As a system, we have cared mostly about socially promoting students to the next grade level, at least that’s what I see has happened by the time many of my students get to the high school.  Then, all of a sudden the high stakes test comes along and we do so much ramp up that we lose them even more.   Many of my sophomores are taking three math classes just to get them ready for NECAP next year.  That means we have taken away their electives, their joy essentially.  The only way these kids can experience the hope that they matter or the hope that they can go to college or the hope that they are worthy of challenge is to give them an experience where they feel a sense of accomplishment.  It doesn’t have to be through core academics, it could be through sports, activities, a teacher or staff person that cares.  But somewhere along the line our kids need to feel there is hope for them.  Maybe it could be in the form of a writing assignment that might not be great overall, but has some great thoughts that can be cultivated.  Maybe a math problem doesn’t have the correct final answer, but by looking at the student’s work it is obvious that they are heading in the right direction.   Perhaps if a student hears they are on the right track, it may give them the hope to try harder. Then they have a sense of hope that the next problem or writing piece might be hard, but they know they can do it.

Additionally, in Chapter 4 Nakkula writes about Skill Theory and how through the experience of building skills, the student also builds their confidence and a sense of competence.  The more competent and confident a student is the more likely she is to venture into new learning activities.  At first I thought this was quite obvious but when I read this, I appreciated the reminder that hard work and seeing a task to the end is an accomplishment in itself for my students.  Especially if I can tell a student they did a good job.  It’s not always about the reward of the grade, sometimes it’s the reward of a teacher seeing a student’s hard work and giving them a verbal award that the hard work was noticed.  This made me think about the graphic novel and perhaps this is my belief (or part of it?):

“I believe adolescents learn by a challenging teacher that fosters a strong sense of emotional and intellectual hope in order for the student to feel a sense of confidence and competence.”  

Well, a work in process anyway … 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Identity and Risk Taking

During my undergrad classes I remember learning about theorists Erikson, Piaget, Freud, etc.  I didn't really care about it too much then because, quite frankly, I was still an adolescent concerned mostly about what party I wanted to attend the next weekend.  I was a risk taker, probably more of one than I like to admit.  I was the "problem" child that caused lots of gray hairs for my parents.  I don't think I ever really did anything too horrible, just didn't fit the mold they wanted for me.  And, I hated school.  When I was in my teacher certification classes, much later in life, I was raising three kids, one very much in adolescence and two just out of it.  Man, those were trying years.  I appreciated learning again about all the adolescent stuff at that time because in some ways it gave me hope that I didn't really suck as a parent (ha!) and that our kids were actually normal-ish (double ha!).  All three kids came to Joe and I through our divorces so that added some interesting color to the adolescent drama as well.

Well, many more years later, it looks as though Joe and I successfully did it, we successfully raised these kids.  But I can't help but think it was dumb-ass luck.  Especially after reading Nakkula.  I think if I had read Lighfoot's research on the "culture of adolescent risk taking" it probably would have made me very nervous.  She doesn't argue that kids have to take risks to be healthy nor that kids have to challenge authority, what she argues is that high risk behavior is "common and deeply meaningful."  Yikes, glad I didn't read too much about this when I was parenting during this stage.

Parenting aside, I am finding Nakkula very interesting.  He and Toshalis pose some very interesting insights into the thoughts and actions of teens.  I like how they throw in the theorists but then add some resent research that in some ways contradicts the theorists and in other ways, enhances the research they did many years ago.  The most fascinating thing I read was on page 55.  Nakkula tells us that challenging our students more in school can actually reduce dangerous high risk behavior.  Really?  I'm hoping we have a chance to chat about this some more in class

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Relationship Building and the Reflective Teacher

After reading Duckworth, Campoy, and Nakkula I found myself thinking back to when I first started teaching which is only eight years ago.  These readings reminded me of the many students I have connected with along the way, many of which still send me emails and come into school to let me know how their lives are going.  Those moments are the ones I cherish because most of the students were difficult to reach.  The students that come to high school feeling discouraged, apathetic, and on the "low level track" usually are the students that have behavior issues and overall like to drive the teachers crazy.  When I first started teaching, they drove me crazy!  But through lots of reading and taking classes, I realized that the problem I was experiencing was mostly mine, not the student's.  I was not connecting with them and eager to learn about their lives.  I needed reminders as to why I went into teaching in the first place.  Somewhere along the line, we lost these kids.  Somewhere they were "told" they were not bright, they could not write, or do math or do science.  They were just pains in the asses.  And every teacher they came in contact with confirmed this self-loathing.  One year I decided to spend the first two weeks of school doing community building and I really tried to break through the barrier of "us" vs "them".  And it worked.  I couldn't believe it, but it worked.

I very much look forward to reading Nakkula from cover to cover.  On page 6, Nakkula writes that "no one is a solo author.  All life stories are multiauthored.  The adolescents with whom we work as educators are cowriting our narratives just as we are cowriting theirs."  What a powerful statement!  This is definitely true for me.  I feel as though I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me.  Through teaching I have become much less judgmental and much more patient over the years.  I'm actually more judgmental and less patient with the adults!! Ha!!

Nakkula goes on to say that if teachers are not careful, because of the lack of extrinsic reward, they could find themselves burned out as they loose sight of their students as individual people.  It can't all be about the standards, curriculum, etc.  We really need to remember why we went into teaching to begin with.  Connecting with a tough kid and seeing that student light up when I tell him he is a good writer (after being told over and over both verbally and through bad grades that he sucks), one can not put a monetary value on that.  It truly touches the soul and helps me to get up and go to work the next day.  I'm not saying I give kids grades they don't deserve, but I think the community building also builds trust not just with peers but with me as well, which in turn motivates them to succeed.  Many of these kids have been taught not to trust.  Not to trust their parent, teacher, relatives, etc.  They have been let down so many times.

Although I have heard about and read about the zone of proximal development, I am not very good at judging where that is for some of my students.  Also, how do I make sure my students are getting pushed just slightly beyond their limits when my classes have such varied levels?  My sophomore college prep/advanced freshman classes keep me up at night as I try to make sure I am challenging and pushing the freshmen without losing the sophomores.  There are more sophomores than freshmen in each class but that really doesn't matter.  I hope Nakkula talks about that some more within the text.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Journey to Teach, Part 2

I agree with Ayers’ statements at the end of the book regarding the challenges teachers face.  I wish my teacher training focused on the challenges and what to do personally and professionally when the challenges become overwhelming.  I know what to do now, but this book would have been helpful to me many years ago. 

Pages 96 through 99 offer interesting techniques and methods to help teachers with the challenges.  For instance, the “finding allies” technique talks about the importance of finding like-minded people.  I immediately thought of five or six teachers that have the same or similar philosophy on teaching as I do.  We tend to make sure that the teaching we do in our classrooms is research based, we attend similar English related professional development, and we are constantly helping each other with lessons, projects, assessments, etc.  These colleagues are a positive force in my work life.  In addition to finding allies, Ayers talks about finding the right "balance and clarity".  I tend to overly research things to the point where I get myself overwhelmed.  Finding the right balance is really tough for me.  I don’t feel as though I am a very creative person, as my LSI confirmed, so I find myself thinking everyone else’s idea is better.  But, when I just trust myself, it typically works out just as well and I save a ton of time.  These few pages offer interesting insight into the trials and tribulations in the teaching profession.  Teaching is a huge challenge, one many people outside the profession just do not get.  I also love how the book ends with graduation.  What a great way to end a book called the journey to teach.  I think all of us have the same goal, to watch our students cross the stage.  It is my favorite night of the year.