The Skin That We Speak

Today is my last day of school before vacation. This afternoon, my students are putting on their Dr. Seuss plays that they’ve been working on all this month, sharing their Dr. Seuss writing, and then we’ll have a culminating Dr. Seuss party. It should be a good way to wrap up the learning from our Dr. Seuss unit and a nice way to head into vacation.

Last week I read The Skin That We Speak, a collection of pieces on language use in the classroom edited by Lisa Delpit. As a literacy person, this book was fascinating and really got me thinking about how I can explicitly encourage language diversity — even in my largely homogenous classroom. Language is such a huge part of classroom life, but despite its huge role in the classroom, it is often unexamined and unscrutinized. Delpit and the other authors explain how essential language is to identity — language, Delpit says, is “the skin that we speak.” This book really resonated with me and my constant reflection this year on how “everything is curriculum.”

Besides being incredibly interesting, the book is also very well written and accessible. The chapters do not read like scholarly articles and I found myself relishing the time that I set aside to read this work and excitedly jotting things down in the margins. In short, I highly recommend that you check it out if you are a teacher who is even remotely interested in the role of language and identity in the classroom.

 

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“Why have there…

“Why have there never been any female presidents? It seems like women get left out of a lot of stuff.”

– One of my Curious Questioners (and perhaps a burgeoning feminist!)

Too much to do this week to write, but my Curious Questioners are starting to ask some big questions after our work with “The Sneetches!”

Leibster Award

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This week, I was surprised to be nominated by Norah Colvin for the Leibster Award, which is an effort to encourage and recognize emerging bloggers and to spur connections between bloggers. Thank you, Norah, for nominating me. Norah is a fellow educator who has a great blog that you can access here: http://norahcolvin.com/.

I will now turn to the questions that Norah has requested the bloggers that she nominated answer.

1. What do you value most in life?
What I value most in life are moments of possibility and opportunity, where the world seems open and the choices seem infinite. I also value the people that I know and the education that I have received.

2. What activities do you enjoy and why?
The activity that I most enjoy — and which I have always most enjoyed — is reading. I love how transformative literature can be and the opportunity that it allows me to consider viewpoints so different from my own. I also enjoy non-fiction, especially work related to education that tries to challenge the status quo.

I also really enjoy playing board games of any variety and cooking — particularly baking.

3. What is something you wish you had more time for?
I wish that I had more time to travel, to try new recipes, and to read more books. And also that I had more time to spend with my friends and family.

4. What is one change you would like to make in the world?
I would like to change our society so that equal educational opportunity could actually exist, so that everyone could have access to basic resources, and so that money and special interests wouldn’t dictate the media.

5. What is something you would like change about yourself?
I would like to be a tad more outgoing and a little less independent.

6. What “big” question do you often ponder?
Why our differences continue to lead to such polarization and why empathy can be so selective.

7. What surprises you most about your life — something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of, or thought possible?
Being in a relationship with a partner with a worldview quite different from mine who challenges my views and assumptions and is incredibly kind, supportive, and loving. I did not know it was possible to find someone to whom you could literally say anything!

8. What sorts of things amuse you?
I am most amused by the comments that my second graders make in our classroom. I also enjoy when the ridiculousness of an idea is exposed by positing the same thinking in another situation. For example, when teachers being evaluated based solely on test scores is compared to dentists being penalized for the number of cavities they have to treat.

9. What is something you can’t do without?
I can’t do without a good book on my person at all times — I regret it horribly when I am somewhere and have nothing to read! I also could not do with pasta. I read an article that said that climate change could lead to a decrease in pasta production due to difficulties cultivating wheat and it sounded like a plot of a horror movie to me.

10. What do you like to collect?
I like to collect copies of student work that blows me away with its insight or hilarity (I have a “smile file” where I keep these items). I also like to collect quotes and articles and stories that suggest that gender roles are actually shifting and gender stereotyping is altering. And pasta recipes.

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At this point, I am supposed to nominate a couple bloggers whose blogs I enjoy reading to complete this same exercise. I am clearly in need of more suggestions about great blogs to read — unfortunately I often barely have time to update my own blog. I wish that I could find more time to read all the wisdom that other educators are sharing on their blogs!

But, I do have two blogs that I enjoy reading and think that others should check out!

  1. Tickle Me Pink (http://judymko.wordpress.com/)
    Judy blogs about teaching and life. She teaches second grade like I do, and she has recently started doing Genius Hour with her students! I really enjoy reading her reflections on her classroom — she has lots of great ideas.
  2. Texas Teaching Fanatic (http://texasteachingfanatic.com/)
    Kayla blogs about her 4th grade classroom. She has great suggestions for teaching writing and is clearly a passionate educator!

My ten questions will be the same ones that Norah asked me — I can’t come up with any ideas that are better than hers at the moment!

Hitting Reset in My Classroom

This week has been one of my most draining in the classroom thus far. My students have, over the past month or so, been regressing tremendously in terms of their behavior and conduct in the classroom. Things that I haven’t seen for months have been cropping up again. I am hopeful that it’s just the continued presence of this cold, cruel winter and a strong case of “cabin fever,” but this week I decided that I couldn’t wait until spring arrived and hopefully brought back the bubbliness of my students — I had to hit reset.

I framed my “reset” with a somewhat-fabricated challenge — that with respect and responsibility on the decline throughout our school, our principal was seeking a classroom that would step up as a model for the rest of the school. My students, as I expected, eagerly declared that our classroom was the ideal one to serve as this exemplar.

So, on Friday, we spent the day brainstorming a list of problems that we are having in our classroom, revising our classroom guidelines to make them more reflective of the issues that the students identified, and creating a new wall that shows our new ideas about how we should act in our classroom. The students seemed to enjoy the ownership that they had in this process, which I hope will carry over into increased desire to adhere to their peer-created expectations for our classroom.

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This week we will be continuing our work on transforming our classroom interactions by creating and signing “job requirements” for both students and teachers in our classroom, designing a class flag, determining what it means to be a “Curious Questioner,” and designing a campaign of posters and other items relating to respect to display throughout our school.

I believe that character and social skills are some of the most important things that students can, should, and must learn in school, so it is my hope that the class time that I am devoting to these activities will pay off.

Fellow educators, what do you do to combat mid-year regressions like the one my students are having?

Real Boys and Gender Dynamics in My Classroom

My vacation book from my education to-read list was William Pollack’s seminal work — Real Boys. I was familiar with his work around “the boy code” and his warning that while we have invested a great deal of effort in rethinking how we raise and treat girls and women, there has not been a similar revolution about what it means to be a man.

Real Boys was published in 1998 and I think it is just as relevant today as it was then. It certainly seems as though not much has changed — boys are still receiving the message that they must be tough, both physically and emotionally, and what it means to be a boy is still often determined by not engaging in those things that are considered feminine. Too often, boys and men are being taught to disconnect from their emotions and, as William Pollack writes, to put on the “mask” that they feel compelled to don while in the midst of the “gender straightjacket” that is masculinity.

Naturally, reading this book has gotten me thinking about the gender dynamics in my own classroom, which are pretty unique. I have had a bit of fluctuation in my class roster this year — with students coming and going, but the number of students in my class has always hovered around 14. Of these 14, however, at the most, only 4 have been boys, which lends itself to some interesting dynamics around gender in my classroom.

Despite my efforts to teach students about reflecting on stereotypes about gender, telling them stories about my own friendships with boys growing up, and their successful experiences working with one another on projects, I still cannot get the boys and girls in my room to choose to play together or to associate with one another outside of the room. And, I feel as though the barrier to those interactions lies mostly with the 3 or 4 boys.

It appears to me that with so few boys to associate with and a room clearly dominated by girls, the boys feel very threatened. Despite my conversations with them around this topic, I feel as though the boys feel that because there are so few of them, they must stick together and more fully embody all things masculine, or else “masculine” things will disappear from our classroom entirely. Because they are in second grade, I find that I can get them to open up when we engage in activities together and they do express their frustration and sadness with each other through crying and not violence from time to time. But I wonder if, over time, they will begin to shut themselves off from those emotions due to the societal conditioning they’ll experience as they grow as boys and a lack of opportunities to interact with a wide variety of boys and male role models.

For now, I plan to continue my discussions about stereotypes and gender, keep putting students into mixed-gender groups, and making an effort to find male role models to bring to class — either in books or in real-life. As someone deeply concerned about and desiring to interrupt the messages young people get about gender, the lack of change in gendered patterns in my classroom has been somewhat frustrating, but hopefully some of the lessons we are doing will sink in and my boys will not feel so compelled to need to wear the “mask of masculinity” as they grow and mature.

What do you do around gender in your classrooms? Have you found anything that helps to break down the barrier between boys and girls in the elementary classroom?

Holidays & Traditions in the Classroom

This month, I am doing a “Holidays and Traditions” unit with my students. I initially had mixed feelings about talking about holidays in the classroom because I didn’t want to just fixate on a single day as a means for understanding a culture or a religion with which my students are not familiar. But, I decided after overhearing various conversations my students were having that many of them do not really understand why they celebrate Christmas or, more generally, why we have holidays at all.

So, over Thanksgiving break, I spent time creating a wide variety of decorations for the holidays that we are spending time exploring this month: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and New Year’s Day. I also did some general festooning of my classroom — I figure that if I can’t beat my students’ energy and enthusiasm, I might as well as join them!

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So far in the unit, we’ve talked about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Both have been very interesting. I read my students a book that detailed the backstory of Hanukkah (The Story of Hanukkah by David Adler) and another story about a family celebrating their first Hanukkah after the mother in the family passes away (Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards.) My students were very incensed by the religious persecution that the Jewish people experienced at the hands of the Greeks. We have been discussing issues of social justice in my classroom this year, and my students latched onto the unfairness of having views imposed upon you. 

Our conversation about Kwanzaa was even more interesting. I don’t know why I was surprised by the fact that my second-graders did not know about slavery, but I found myself awed by their lack of awareness. My students were very confused by the concept as I explained it: “But, did they get paid?” “Can we still sell people?” “Are my parents going to donate me?” Eventually, I think that they reached the conclusion that slavery was a very bad thing and I tried to emphasize how it erased much knowledge of many traditions and customs that individuals celebrate(d) in Africa. They also made the connections that I hoped they would between our earlier work on John Coltrane, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks. We still need to continue our conversation about Kwanzaa, but I have been pleased with how much effort they are contributing to our discussions about the root of these holidays and traditions. Yesterday, I showed my students a video biography about Nelson Mandela and they seemed to comprehend the race issues that he went to prison to fight against and the significance of his rise to the presidency. I am still wishing there was greater diversity in my own school, so that our many conversations about race and ethnicity would seem more relevant and applicable to their daily lives.

In completely unrelated news, I had one of the most exciting moments in the classroom yesterday. I brought in a guest yesterday who talked to my class about worm compost bins (which we now have in our classroom!) and my students spent a lot of time doing hands-on explorations of worms and the contents of a bin. Anyway, the exciting moment was that one of my students said, “Girls don’t like worms!” Immediately, the girl sitting next to him said so confidently and matter-of-factly, “That’s a stereotype. I play with worms all the time at home.”

Clearly, they are listening and absorbing more from our conversations than I ever imagined!

Thankful for a Break!

My school has the entire week off for Thanksgiving, so I am finally able to enjoy a much-needed break. My students, it seemed, also really needed the break. Ever since we turned our clocks back and entered the holiday season, my students have been regressing a bit socially. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly, but they have been being far less supportive of one another and seem to be forgetting many of the expectations that we created together for our classroom. I am hoping that some time away from class and a chance to miss one another will help them to come back to school with more festive attitudes! As much as I think that the break will be good for them (and certainly good for me), it is still weird for it to be Monday and for me not to be seeing them!

I have a busy break planned, with chances to catch up on all of the things that I keep piling onto my plate (and some opportunities to pile lots of yummy food on my plate!) Even though this is my first year teaching, I seem to keep taking on more and more things lately. Luckily, I haven’t gotten myself too burned out yet and seem to escaped the “despair” portion of the cycle of the new teacher that I had heard so much about — so far, at least.

Some of things that I’m hoping to get accomplished are finalizing the plans for the after school book club that I’m starting for my students,  making the syllabus for an adult education course that I’ll be teaching in the winter/spring on the Harry Potter books, filling out my students’ report cards, writing the draft of an article that I’m hoping to publish, and lesson planning — I’m currently at work on a mini-unit to teach during the winter Olympics!

Another thing that I’ve been working hard on is my TeachersPayTeachers store. You can view it here: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Cultivating-Questioners. I am having a lot of fun uploading my materials onto my store and am actually starting to sell some things as well. In fact, I’m part of a giveaway that runs through this Saturday, that any teachers who read this blog should check out and register for!

– See more at: http://lifeovercs.blogspot.com/2013/11/marvelous-monday-giving-thanks-giveaway.html#sthash.J3wprj5f.dpuf

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!