Sunday, September 27, 2015

Individualization vs. Connection


WOW! Reading these chapters really brought back some memories of my own struggles and risk-taking behaviors of my adolescence.  I remembered my own journey of “struggling to find a balance between individuality and connection drives adolescent identity experimentation and the fleeting passions that often accompany it” (pg 22).  

While reading I flipped back and forth to figure 2.1 on page 28.  At first when I saw the visual I was not sure what the four boxes meant.  As I read though I tried to identify my own crisis/non crisis and commitments/non commitment periods of my adolescence.  I also identified some of my students.  I work with a span of grade 6 to grade 8 and I can really see some of my seventh and eighth grade students “explore(ing) roles and beliefs, behaviors and relationships” (pg 36).  Again the pattern of a journey came up, “an achieved identity status does not represent the conclusion of the identity constructing process; rather, it is a waypoint in the individual's life long journey of understanding and constructing the self” (pg 38).  I liked how Nakkula pointed out that both students and teachers are both constructing our identities and how it is a process that is “ever-evolving” (pg 26).  It is a journey that begins mostly in adolescence and continues through-out life.  Adolescents are just experience it for the first time, and it can be overwhelming at times and we (teachers, adults, etc) need to be there for adolescence and help them along the journey on construct “healthy understanding with them, not for them” (pg 33).   Adolescents must learn how to take calculated risks, as Lightfoot says “high-risk behavior is common and deeply meaningful” (pg 44), but as the adults in the school we need to help provided experience and risks that challenge our adolescent students.  

I wished that we could have a guidance counselor at every school like Mitch Guillermo, with a 1 to 10 student ratio or less!  The attention to Julian's individuality and needs was superior, every student could benefit from the activities that Mitch and Julian worked on, but I wonder how often is this the story? To me this was a best-case scenario, I wondered what kind of attention that Antwon received.  

I also connected with some of the questioning techniques Guillermo used and Nakkula presented:

  • What did it feel like to be like that in that setting?
  • What was it like when you were with those people in that place?
  • Making a list of various spaces and relationships an adolescent must negotiate each day
  • What each of those spaces and people expect you to be?
  • How you feel in each of those spaces or with those people?
  • Where do you feel safe?
  • When do you feel anxious or uneasy?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Doing my best to do the best...

This week my mind is jammed pack so to help clean out the closet I had to break my thoughts into three parts:

Thought 1: To Teach, Chapter 5: Liberating the Curriculum was a tough read for me.  I often worry about making sure I am reading all the learning goals and that my students leave my classroom where they are “supposed to be.”  I have always been a rule follower and a list checker.  So when I get the grade 7 math standards I want to make sure that when my students leave they have a deep understanding of these standards.  I like standards, I believe that they give a solid backbone to my instruction.  I have yet to work in a public school where anyone tells me exactly want I need to teach and what standards I have to follow.  For the last three years I could have taught anything I wanted to in my classroom, with little supervision from the administrations.  But what would I teach? I almost can’t handle that freedom so I have used content standards to direct me.  The questions that Ayers list on pages 70 and 71 made me think if I could take a different approach to my classroom time.  But then that little voice inside my head says that students need to learn how to do operations with rational numbers even if the “work is (not) linked to student questions or interests?” (pg 71).  What adolescent questions what a rational number is and how to add/subtract/multiply/divide with it.  

Thought 2: To Teach: Chapter 6, Keeping Track.  This past week at Back-to-School night a parent asked me a question that threw me for a bit of a loop.  I had just finished explaining that even though there would not be a separate class for honors math this year I would work my hardest to meet each child where they were, and that my instruction would be differentiated to enrich and support students where they need it.  A parent asked me how would the students work be scaled.  She believed that differentiation hurts students, and that it was unfair to hold students to different standards.  It took me a minute to process this, and I asked her to explain more.  I have yet to come up with a response but while I read Ayers’s teacher’s question “Given what I know now, how should I teach this particular student” I must be right.  Differentiation is definitely important, and maybe this parent would not have such strong feelings if schools were not so depended on the grade the student will get in the end, instead of focusing on the learning that has occurred.  Here is a letter home to parents explaining differentiation, maybe I should take cue from this.  

Thought 3: Understanding Youth, Chapter 1. It was definitely not the first time that I had read about Vygotsky’s ZPD, but reading it this week just confirmed what I already touched upon.  “Researchers have found that optimal learning occurs when lessons are targeted toward the higher edge of one’s ZPD” (pg 11), I will continue to differentiate my instruction, and I will target it toward each students ZPD.  I refuse to play into the game that has often been demonstrated at this school that we aim to have everyone pass everything and A’s are given out left and right because that is what parents expect and what students have grown used to.  I am taking the time right now to get to know my students, “we must know where they are coming from before we can hope to take them where we want to go” (pg 11).  Reading the first chapter of Understanding Youth has reminded me to work my hardest to connect with my students, to be present with them, listen to them, and hopefully understand them.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sit and Learn....Who does that?

This was one of my favorite frames that I read.  I have always loved traveling, seeing new places.  I love voyages, and with my past in yachting I could help pull this frame.

Thought 1: I absolutely loved reading this first ½ of this book.  I loved reading the text, reading the pictures and reading between the text and pictures.  As I read, I thought about my learning survey, and how so much of my learning comes through visual representations.  With the written text and the adjoining comic illustrations I feel like I can get so much more out of the message.  I love the graphic novel format and can’t wait to read more.

Thought 2: When reading about Quinn, I thought of a student in my class.  G, he has only been at Cluny for a few years but he already has a reputation.  He has been labeled energetic, unfocused and distracting.  I thought about how these labels are limiting (pg 18) and they “lower(s) our sights, misdirect(s) our vision, suppress(es) possibilities(y).” (pg 18).   Ayers’s specialist says “I’m concerned about his ability to sit and learn” in reference to Quinn (pg 17).  I am concerned about G’s ability to complete tasks, but I am not concerned about his ability to learn because I have seen him have great insight into what we are reading, he loves participating, is kind to his classmates and he loves sharing.  He may not be able to “sit and learn” but maybe he can stand and learn, talk and learn, share and learn.  

Thought 3: Who is Bill Ayers… I don’t often remember author’s names but Bill Ayers sounded so familiar I had to look into it (it came from the 2008 presidential election time period).  When I started to google his name a lot of interesting information came up.  I think it is important to know about the authors who are writing the texts that we read.  Bill Ayers Bio

Monday, September 7, 2015


That again word, it was so very debilitating when it was used by the teacher “C-minus again.”  I can just hear in my head the tone the teacher was taking, disappointment and frustration.  The again word implies that this student has failed, yet again.  Why should they even bother next time?

When reading this article I disagreed with some of the generalizations of the official and classic theories of learning.  I think that if we just talk about the process of learning, any type of learning, then yes, maybe it is as the classic view estates “continual, effortless, inconspicuous… etc” but can’t specific learning goals be “hard work, obvious, intentional”?  I think back to my experience of trying to learn Spanish.  It was VERY hard work for me, and maybe I wasn’t learning (in the manner of the classic view).  I tried and tried and tried.  I went to after school help, stayed up late studying, and even met with the teacher to discuss my difficulties.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school and struggled with reading and writing, but during middle school I finally felt like I was getting a grasp on things but then this whole Spanish thing came along.  Spanish was not effortless, inconspicuous, unpremeditated, never forgotten…. it was tough, it was excruciating.  Every time I got an assessment back I felt just like the student in the beginning of this reading, AGAIN I had failed, AGAIN my effort did not show, AGAIN my hard work was not seen.  Maybe that was because the official theory was pressuring me into this type of scenario where learning a new language was not actually learning, but “the official theory of learning and forgetting.”  But I can’t help think that the little Spanish that I did learn and can remember today, was hard work and a lot of effort.  

The school I currently work at starts with three year olds and goes all the way up to 8th graders.  I think about the young students who come to school, excited, full of curiosity, questions and a general drive to learn about the world around them.  Last semester I looked into questioning and thinking behind my group of 7th grade students. After tracking their questions in the classroom for six weeks I found out that my students asked an average of two to three questions per student per week in my classroom.  I came to the conclusion that students have almost lost their confidence and ability to ask questions, to be curious, to want to learn about the world around them.  They don’t want to question the teacher because it has been pounded into their head that the teacher is always right.  They are unsure of how to ask a question because they have just been taught to listen and recite what has been told to them. School should not cause people to revert away from their curious nature, we should work on embracing curiosity and the drive to learn.

So what do I do about it?  I love teaching middle school, but it is hard because by the time students get to me they have been living the in the “official theory of learning” for the last 10 years or so.  So I try to break the mold.  Last year I gave my students a do-now that asked them about what they thought about when they were “thinking” in math.  I asked them what types of questions they asked themselves.  They did not know how to respond.  Some students even wrote that they don’t think, just do what they are told.  So now I want to turn that back on them, I want them to question themselves, question their teachers, question their classmates.  Tomorrow is the first day of class, and at the top of my to-do list for classroom introductions and review of rituals and routines is to address questioning and thinking.  Right away I want my students to thinking about their thinking, and formulate questions to aid in their thinking and I want to continue to aid in this learning process all year.