Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Look what I found about gender and race!

As I poked through Twitter tonight, look what I found...

What if Stories Were For Everyone - a blog post on Rethinking Schools from a female black author on why she hopes more than just black females read her books.

That's What He Said: What is Masculinity - a new series from SoulPancake exploring masculinity

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Who Do I Want to Be Today?

Hey everyone, here is my interactive graphic novel - Who Do I Want to Be Today? It's a fully interactive "choose your own learning" adventure. When you click on the image below, the Google Slides document will open. Just click "Present" to begin!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Growth Mindset Just Ain't Enough

As a kid, I knew that my intelligence could be developed. I knew that embracing challenges and working to overcome obstacles required effort, but I always thought that effort was worth it. I heard criticism from others as a guide to improvement rather than a personal attack.

I could have been one of Carol Dweck’s poster children for growth mindset.

It makes sense, right?. What you think you can, you can and what you think you can’t, you can’t. All my life I have seen that attitude plays a role in my own and others' outcomes.

So when my superintendent opened the school year with Carol Dweck’s TED Talk about growth mindset, why wasn’t I jumping out of my metal folding chair with applause?

I couldn’t name it at the time, but these chapters from Nakkula and Toshalis have given me some frameworks and language to now explain my skepticism.

First, I think an emphasis on growth mindset ignores the important role that adults play in co-constructing meaningful opportunities for development. 
One of the main signifiers of a growth mindset is the willingness to embrace challenge. This is certainly an important life skill. However, growth mindset seems to be employed under the assumption that all students have equal access to meaningful, developmentally appropriate challenges. I worry whether students who consistently face challenges that are not relevant, too difficult, and not within their ZPD (think: ELLs forced to take PARCC, Lorena pre-rowing, etc.) will be able to develop this growth mindset - thus continuing their cycle "failure."

As Nakkula found in one of his research projects, education professionals are trained to identify deficits. This is important in order to know which skills to build. However, he also noticed that many students who were referred for support services did not have individual problems, rather “the more accurate diagnosis was the lack of meaningful opportunities for healthy development” (66). It’s not that the students had problems/were the problem. Instead Nakkula and his colleagues recognized that the students’ had strengths and interests that were untapped. They have foundations that could be built upon and used to help imagine the future. While I think Nakkula and Dweck would agree in the importance of possibility development, I think they have different opinions about who is responsible for imagining the future. Would Lorena have ever considered rowing if it weren’t for Maggie’s suggestion?

Along with this, I think an emphasis on growth mindset ignores the role of mutual relationships in learning. 
Sure, Dweck believes that part of a growth mindset is being “inspired by and learning from the success of others” (as seen in the poster above), but this is cursory. This wording implies that the student is the one solely responsible for seeking that inspiration and learning from it. Moreover, it implies that they can only be inspired by others’ successful outcomes, which I think disregards the power of learning from mistakes and devalues process. My beliefs are much more in line with Nakkula’s: “to live well, to live fully, is to co-create, to invent possibilities for living and to work toward actualizing those possibilities collectively” (67). As with the example of Steve, Lorena, and Mr. Harrison, all three people were important for success of the project and developmental growth.

Although Mr. Harrison did a lot of the arranging, Steve and Lorena absolutely learned from each other. the Search Institute (mentioned in Chapter 3) created a chart that outlines the “Developmental Relationships Framework.” While they acknowledge the absolute importance of caring adults, they also make clear that developmental relationships can also exist with friends, siblings, and other peers, as seen between Steve and Lorena. I’m wondering how this could be used alongside the growth mindset framework...

And, finally, would someone remind Dweck that energy is finite? 
One danger of being a growth mindset poster child is the immense pressure that comes with thinking you can and should be able to do anything and everything. It’s exhausting to take on every challenge presented to you and devote full effort to each challenge all the time. Nakkula provides some sensibility, however, in recognizing that “energy is finite and skill development requires energy” (73). To move from diffuse identity to moratorium and ultimately an achieved identity, adolescents have to make some decisions about how they focus their energy. Nakkula explains the key role that educators play in this: “by pointing out what might be gained or lost with their investment of time and energy, we help them to see more clearly the possibilities they are imagining and to recognize the ones they might leave behind” (72). Again, I worry that growth mindset downplays the role that adults play in adolescent development. Adult mentors are not relieved of responsibility once students develop a growth mindset. They must continue to ask questions that help adolescents navigate the complexity and make informed choices about their imagined futures.

Now What...
I guess I can’t just sit back in my metal folding chair at PD next week, huh? I’m not sure exactly what it will look like and sound like, but now that I can name my concerns and I have research to support me, I need to speak up. I need to share. I need to ask questions of my colleagues and administrators. It’s time to take some risks.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Making the Classroom Risky

Image result for middle school problems

I dread situations like the one Mitch walked in on in the boys bathroom.  I know I react with frustration and annoyance. I don’t want to “deal with behavior.” I just want to be responsible for teaching and learning.

Of course, the graffitied bathroom is all about teaching and learning - just not the stuff that I feel comfortable with. Moments like these make me cringe. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.

Nakkula and Toshalis (with Smith echoing in the background) remind me, though, that this is a giant opportunity for co-construction of identity, not just something to be “dealt with.”

For starters, I probably would have been surprised to see Julian in such a predicament. It wouldn’t have fit in with my perception of him. Diligent students don’t break the rules, right? I would probably have figured that something else outside of school was distracting him and chalked it up to a one-time mistake. As for Antwon, I hate to admit that I probably would have expected to see him behind the door. Assuming that I knew about his reputation in class, especially with Ms. Peterson, it would have fit right in with my existing schema. Troubled kid, troubled choice. Just another unsuccessful attempt to avoid academics.

Of course, something was distracting Julian and Antwon was avoiding academics. But in my judgment, I would have missed the subtleties of their risk-taking, the implications for their friendship, and the potential to work with Julian through this crisis. As the authors explained, “If Julian’s experiment were to be viewed only as an infraction .  . . And treating Antwon the same as Julian simply because they were involved in the same event also misses a key developmental opportunity. The two of them approached that event from very different perspectives and present unique needs” (24).

If I were in Mitch’s shoes, I think my response would have been missing the understanding that “when risk-taking experiences are undertaken with others, they often function to secure relational bonds” (52). I think one of my biggest challenges is that I take misbehavior so personally. I know how much effort I put into planning and teaching, that I am disappointed and hurt when things don’t go as planned. But I need to remember that it’s not just about me. The students each have their own worlds and their own motivations for engaging in (un)expected behaviors. And one major reason is figuring out where they stand in their peer group.

Hank Green uses The Breakfast Club to frame the adolescent struggle of standing out/fitting in.

My parents sheltered me and I later sheltered myself from situations where my values and beliefs might be questioned by my peers. I didn’t want to try on any other roles or try to fit in any other group. It wasn’t until college that I finally had an adult in my life create a safe space to explore my previously foreclosed identity. This teacher asked me questions like Mitch asked Julian: “What did it feel like to be like that in that setting? or What was it like when you were with those people in that place?” (34). My experiences as a child and adolescent were validated but, for the first time, open to interpretation. This teacher helped me see that my identity was still being constructed and that I had power over its development.

So the next time I walk into a graffitied bathroom, I know that I need to balance accountability with meaning making (37). I need to develop trust by observing and asking questions that help the students see how their choices and analysis of events in their lives shape their life story. And most of all, continue to try to develop engaging challenges that help counter the “high risk” risk taking behaviors with their peers. I need to make my classroom a risky space where they can more safely be creative theoreticians.

Image result for skydiving group

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Online Comic Making!

Here is a link to our blog from our Media Literacy class this summer. If you scroll down and look on the right side under the heading "Digital Toolbox," you will find tutorials (made by the class members!) for a variety of web-based tools. One to check out for comics is Pixton. Another user-friendly comic maker that my kids love is StoryboardThat. Happy creating!

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Image result for storyboard that logo

Monday, September 21, 2015

Co-Constructing Identities: The Big Bang

After the glow wore off the Sunday brunch buffet and the meat that was called chicken became intolerable, my brother and I were pumped to be living off campus in our own house. No longer were we beholden to Donovan (the lovely RIC cafeteria) where you couldn’t get dinner past 7:30 pm. We had our own place with our own stove and microwave and cabinets and spice rack. We were free to make our own food decisions!

And also get under each other’s skin.

You see, we shared responsibility in the kitchen. But other areas of house maintenance lingered without discussion between us. I would complain to a mutual friend about the way he heaped his stinky clothes everywhere but the laundry basket, while he complained the to same mutual friend about the way that I left my hair tools (and maybe a few stray strands) in the bathroom each morning.

We weren’t in tune to each other’s thoughts and both characterized the other as messy, lazy, and inconsiderate. We wasted our energy feeling frustrated instead of just sharing what was on our minds.

Leonard and Sheldon share some pent up roommate frustrations.

I was reminded of this experience as I read the first chapter of Understanding Youth. One thing Nakkula and Toshalis emphasized was the important responsibility of educators to reach out beyond the curriculum and see teaching as relational. They cited Vygotsky’s conclusion that “children’s cognitive development is shaped by the access they have to the thinking of others” (8). They shared one of the criticisms of student-centered learning, explaining that “it is not enough just to give children books and lessons; development requires providing children with the workings of other people’s minds” (8). Educators must engage in “think alouds” where they “share how they themselves think about or make sense of this content.” But they also warned that this is not as successful if educators do not understand the level or nature of their students’ thinking.

In the case of my brother and I, we hit a roadblock because we were not sharing our frustrations with one another. We didn’t know what was going on in each other’s brains. How could we learn to live with one another peacefully if we didn’t share what we were thinking? (Luckily we had our mutual friend let us in on each other’s complaints and we negotiated various chores and responsibilities.)  

Reading theoretical texts like this can be overwhelming because Nakkula and Toshalis show that there is so much to consider about adolescent development and it can all seem so abstract. Their assertion that “optimal coauthorship can only occur through collaborative mental engagement and the open, transparent negotiation of meaning” (9) is a mouthful, but makes so much more sense when you realize that “collaborative mental engagement” and “open, transparent negotiation of meaning” is really important in any relationship - between teachers and students, siblings, best friends, and especially significant others.

An important difference between the story of my brother and me is that we are essentially equals. I am older, but I am not professionally responsible for him or his development. I found that Nakkula and Toshalis really emphasized the responsibility educators have to create rich experiences that allow students to productively imagine themselves and their worlds (5). There is a lot of power that comes from being in such a position. So what does it look like to “encourage and even join them in their experiments in possibility development?”

Luckily, Ayers included Katie and Mayra’s story (110). Katie recognized that “the full development of each is necessary for the full development of all” (72) and created an experience that would allow Mayra to imagine herself as a valued individual and allowed the other class members to imagine themselves as integral to a supportive community. I think Nakkula, Toshalis, and Graves would agree with Ayers example of Katie as a great teacher because of the way she “engages students, interacts with them, draws energy from them, and offers reason to plunge into classroom life,” (97) rather than leaving kids to invent ways to avoid showing their incompetence (like Antwon).

I strive to be like Katie. I believe that learning happens best when a class is a “close-knit, spirited, and coherent group, brought together by collective interest and enthusiasm” as her class was (110). But I recognize this is a work-in-progress because the community is not dependent on my imagination alone. 

Sheldon trying to create a friendship based on his imagination alone. 

Instead, it is a co-construction with each student and the universe they bring with them. Some days I absolutely feel like Ms. Peterson, aware that something isn’t clicking with a particular student but unsure about how to reconcile with a mind that I can’t read and an identity that seems so different from my own. But I keep going because I can't imagine my world without teaching and learning.

Sheldon struggles to imagine a world without his best friend.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's up with Quinn?

Like Ms. Asile, I immediately noticed the loud, expressive, active boy named Quinn. My mind quickly compared him to other students I have had in the past who have displayed similar behaviors - some of the students that I struggle the most with. As a teacher, the growing volume of his song and the disaster of peanut butter on the table would have left me embarrassed in front of these visitors to my classroom. For years, I have learned - classically and officially - that students should not act that way in a classroom, especially if the teacher is talking to another important adult.

But Bill has a different perspective. Though his squinted mouth and head scratch in the bottom panel of page 17 reveal some uncertainty, it is clear that he approaches Quinn with an asset-based lens.

Bill names Quinn’s activity as “youthful exuberance” (p. 16) and realizes that “he’s just putting things together in his own way” (p. 17).

So what is Quinn learning?

Depends on who you ask.

Ms. Asile would say that Quinn isn’t learning anything. She even goes so far as to send a note home that says Quinn is “hypoactive disordered” (p. 30), which she believes is already interfering  with his ability to succeed in school. From her perspective, she must help new teachers identify those students who seem to be struggling and give them the help that they need.

On the other hand, Bill would say that Quinn is learning so much. From Bill’s perspective, Quinn has learned that he is an artist (p. 14), that he has an important role in the classroom as plant waterer (p. 27), that he is a leader in fort making (p. 28), and that he has learned the importance of taking responsibility when an accident happens (p. 30). Bill, like Frank Smith, believes that kids are always learning. Rather than seek outside help and alphabet soup labels from Ms. Asile, Bill says, “the answers lie in the students’ hands. We must look unblinkingly at the way children really are and struggle to make sense of everything we see in order to teach them” (p.26). Rather than giving students anything, we need to see what they already have.  

This reading was a reminder that what we see depends on how we look at things. Our assessment of a student is colored by the lens that we use. Does Quinn fit the diagnosis of someone with ADD? Probably. In fact, Ms. Asile is probably really good at identifying kids who would be labeled as having learning disorders. That’s the lens she is using. That’s the perspective she is coming from. However, as Frank Smith and Bill would point out, that’s not the only way of looking at students. Bill says that “while working together, we need to learn to see each other as fully as possible” (p. 27)

My immediate reaction to Quinn shows that I need to continue to be aware of the way my perspective and experience affect my approach to a situation. I grew up as a much more reserved kid. I sat quietly at my desk, raised my hand if I had a question, and always did what I was told. I have a hard time working with those students who are/were most unlike me - the ones push back against “doing school.” While I don’t think that description quite fits Quinn, I do know I would have to work hard to figure out what works for him. I know I would have to find ways to use his energy for good and ensure that I was not (unintentionally) punishing his creative spirit. I'm excited for this case study as a way to see what the students are learning rather than what they are not, and seeing each one as fully as possible.

And here is an quick, interesting video by Derek Sivers, reminding us about some of the assumptions we fail to realize we have...