The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Spring/Summer 2011, Volume 47, Numbers 2 and 3 “The Others”: A Dialogue Between Three Colorado ELL Educators Dr. Kathy Escamilla Lisa Drangsholt David Stewart
Queering Notions of “The Others” by Rebecca Beucher
Student Contest Winners: Colorado Language Arts Society 2011 Middle Level Writing Contest National Council of Teachers of English 2010 Achievement Awards in Writing
Inside this Issue:
Columns: YA Literature by Dr. Marge Erickson Freeburn
Special Double Issue: “The Others” and Student contest Winners
Digital Dialogues: No App for That by Philippe Ernewein
Coming In, Coming Out by Mike Wenk
Spring/Summer Issue Artwork: Eastridge Elementary, Cherry Creek School District “Winter Trees” by Allyson Metenia, 5th grade (page 20) “Autumn Tree” by Hillary Moreno, 3rd grade (page 20) “Spider Rainforest Animal” by Arsama Grebretsadik, 2nd grade (page 23) “Frog Rainforest Animal” by Hannah Min, 2nd grade (page 23) “Macaw Rainforest Animal” by Abigail Zeballos, 2nd grade (page 23)
Teacher: Maggie Carlson Dry Creek Elementary, Cherry Creek School District Ashwin Tampi (Cover) Christina Cousino (page 5) Ryan Legwold (page 39) Sydney Ridgeway (page 34) Talia Tzarfati (page 48)
Teacher: Jillian Kiendl
The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Spring/Summer 2011, Volume 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Making a Statement: Coming In, Coming Out by Mike Wenk............................................................................................................................................................ 4 ELA in the 21st Century: Digital Dialogues: No App for That by Philippe Ernewein.............................................................................................................................................. 15 YA Literature: CTLC Authors Share with Readers and Aspiring Writers by Dr. Marge Freeburn........................................................................................................................................... 18 Before the Bell: Two-Car Garage by Josh Curnett....................................................................................................................................................... 47
Feature Articles: The Others
Meeting Miah: What Working with a Student with Down’s Syndrome Taught Me about Teaching Writing by Dr. Sarah M. Zerwin.............................................................................................................................................. 6 Queering Notions of “The Others”: A Conversation with Dr. Mollie Blackburn about Inclusive Teaching Practices by Rebecca Buecher............................................................................................................................................ 21 A Dialogue Between Three Colorado ELL Educators by Dr. Kathy Escamilla, Lisa Drangsholt and David Stewart.............................................................................. 24 Heart and Soul of a Child by Dr. Lindamichellebaron.................................................................................................................................... 30
General Interest Incorporating Fishbowl Discussion: Engaging the Silent and the Spirited in Productive Ways by Dr. Pam Coke..................................................................................................................................................... 34 I Wake to Teach and Take My Waking Slow by Dan Chabas...................................................................................................................................................... 36
Student Writing Award Winners Colorado Language Arts Society 2011 Middle Level Writing Contest.............................................................. 38 National Council of Teachers of English 2010 Achievement Awards in Writing.............................................. 40
Teacher as Writer The Things Our Students Carry by Tracy A. Brennan............................................................................................................................................... 45 Marginalia by Tom DeConna................................................................................................................................................... 46
Resources Call for Submissions.................................................................................................................................................. 2
Guidelines for Contributors...................................................................................................................................... 3 Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Call For Submissions Statement is published three times a year and is one of the benefits of being a member of the Colorado Language Arts Society. The mission of Statement is to advance the teaching and learning of English Language Arts in Colorado. While we welcome readership beyond the Centennial State and we encourage submissions from outside of Colorado, what makes our publication most relevant for our members is content which addresses the interests and issues of Colorado teachers.
Theme for Fall Issue: The Texts We Teach and How We Teach Them
Are we in the midst of an identity crisis? Many of us became ELA teachers because we love literature and stories, we love reading and analyzing them, and we love sharing that journey with our students. But our state has adopted the Common Core Standards as our new state standards, which ask us to include more “informational” texts alongside the literature and stories that we have traditionally taught in our classrooms. What do literature and stories mean to you as an educator? What purpose do they serve in your classroom? How do we make more space for “informational” texts in ways that are meaningful and relevant to our students? Does the inclusion of “informational” texts limit or expand what you see as the ultimate goals of your teaching? At the same time, a new book by Jeff Wilhelm and Bruce Novak (Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change, 2011) argues for the transformative power of literature for understanding the self and the community toward a truly democratic world—as long as we teach stories with that explicit focus. The authors ask us to re-envision what the teaching of literature can and should achieve for our students in their world that grows ever more complex. How different is this from how you already teach literature? Do the standards pull us in an opposite direction from what Wilhelm and Novak are asking of us? Or do both of these sources put us on a similar path? How much do we need to re-conceive what the teaching of literature and stories needs to be to meet the demands of our students’ future world? How are you already meeting these demands? How do these forces impact how we see ourselves as teachers of the English Language Arts? Deadline: October 1, 2011
Theme for Spring Issue: Expanding Literacies
Sara Kadjer, Fall 2011 CLAS conference keynote speaker, writes in “Unleashing Potential with Emerging Technologies” (2007): “Posted next to my computer is a quote from Hephzibah Roskelly that fuels and inspires so much of my work. It reads, ‘Emerging occasions emerge only if teachers look’ (Kutz and Roskelly 1991, 308). Teaching with technology in the English classroom is about always looking, whether it’s seeing kids and the range of talents and literacies that they bring into our classrooms or it’s seeing the possibilities in a new tool that allows me to amplify curricula for the better. As the literacies that kids bring into our classrooms change (alongside the literacies that they need in order to be productive and competitive in the world outside of school), there is a very real pressure to make sure that what we teach is relevant and helps to push them to develop the skills needed to be self-directed, ubiquitous learners. I cannot do that without providing opportunities for them to read deeply, think critically, and write closely for responsive audiences that span the globe. […] There’s no denying it. We’re past the point where we can keep doing old things with old tools, or old things with new tools. Students simply won’t allow it. No matter how savvy they might be or not be, they are all looking to us to push them, to stretch their thinking, and to teach them to use the tools of the truly literate in a rapidly changing world” (p. 229). What are you doing to push your students and their thinking to become “truly literate in a rapidly changing world”? What concerns do you have about the new literacy demands of our rapidly shifting society? What does “literate” mean in the 21st century? What place to traditional literacies hold in this context? Deadline: February 1, 2011.
Recurring Topics for Articles
The theme is only one source of inspiration for contributors. Statement is also seeking articles that address a variety of topics, especially written by Colorado teachers, but also from writers who can speak with authority about current issues or best practices in ELA. Contributors may wish to consider: • • • • •
Teaching ideas Current issues Outstanding lesson plans Book reviews Expressive writing by Colorado teachers
Submission of Photos and Artwork
• • • • •
Quick teaching tips Interviews Vignettes from the classroom Technology Reviews of professional research
We are always seeking original artwork or photos: classroom images, Colorado scenes, artistic representations, etc. We value contributions from youth and adults equally. We also enjoy featuring the work of professional Colorado artists. Please send images to the editor as a jpeg attachment. Student work must be accompanied by a “permission to publish” form signed by a parent. 2
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Guidelines for Contributors Formatting Issues and Submission Process Submissions to Statement should be in MLA style, using intext documentation with a list of works cited if needed. Documents should be single-spaced and formatted in Word. Charts, graphs, or illustrations should be sent as separate files. Manuscripts should adhere to the “Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language” which can be found on the NCTE website at: http://www.ncte.org/ about/over/positions/category/lang/107647.htm. Statement is a refereed journal, meaning that at least two outside reviewers will read each submission. Once the manuscript has been accepted, the editor may consult with the writer regarding revisions, and may share comments from the editorial board as an aid to revision. In light of deadlines, we reserve the right to make minor revisions or formatting decisions. Because we recognize that
many of our contributors are not professional writers but instead actual educators, we will collaborate with contributors to ensure that the article meets the personal standards of the writer as well as the high standards of our readership. In the body of the email which contains the attachment of the manuscript, include the title of the piece, author’s name, author’s job title, affiliation or place of employment, city, state, email address, and website (if there is one). Also include a statement verifying that the manuscript has not been submitted or published anywhere else. Contributors will receive an email acknowledgement once the manuscript has been submitted. Please direct all inquiries or submissions to the editor, Sarah M. Zerwin, at email@example.com.
Editorial Information Statement Editorial Board Members Jessica Cuthbertson District Coach, Secondary Literacy Aurora Public Schools, Aurora
Julie Meiklejohn English Language Arts Teacher East Otero School District, La Junta
Katheryn Keyes Instructional Coach Adams 50, Denver
Vince Puzick K-12 Literacy Coordinator Colorado Springs School District #11
Shari VanderVelde Writing Consultant and Coach Mesa County Valley District 51, Grand Junction
Mark Overmeyer Elementary Literacy Coordinator Cherry Creek Schools, Denver
Editor-in-Chief Mike Wenk Ph.D Candidate, Literacy Studies The University of Colorado at Boulder firstname.lastname@example.org
Layout Editor Dr. Sarah M. Zerwin Language Arts Teacher Boulder Valley School District email@example.com
Before the Bell Josh Curnett English Language Arts Teacher Eaglecrest High School firstname.lastname@example.org
Becoming Better ELA Teachers Dr. Gloria Eastman Associate Professor of English & English Education Metropolitan State College of Denver email@example.com
ESL in ELA Columnist Needed
YAL Update Dr. Marge Erickson Freeburn University of Colorado, Denver Marge.Erickson@ucdenver.edu
Elementary ELA Columnist Needed
Dr. Jill Adams Metropolitan State College, Denver firstname.lastname@example.org
ELA in the 21st Century Phillipe Ernewein Dean of Faculty Training & Development Denver Academy www.rememberit.org
Statement, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, is published three times a year. ISSN: 1085-2549. The subscription price is included in the membership dues. Single copies are $10.00. To join, visit www.clastalk.ning.com. Reproduction of material from this publication (excluding poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction) is authorized if: a) reproduction is for educational purposes; b) copies are made available without charge beyond the cost of reproduction; and c) each copy includes full citation of the source and lists Statement as the original publisher. Address other requests for reprint permission to the editor. Statement is a member of the NCTE Information Exchange Agreement. The Colorado Language Arts Society opposes discrimination against any person and promotes equal opportunities for access to its activities and publications.
Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Making a Statement: Coming In, Coming Out by Mike Wenk, Editor
It is my honor to introduce the next editor of Statement, Sarah Zerwin. Sarah helped write, edit, and assemble this very special double-issue of Statement, my final issue after three years as editor. It is comforting to hand off the reins to someone as capable as Sarah, whom I first met while we were enmeshed in the political intrigue that was the making of the new Colorado Reading and Writing Standards. She immediately struck me as articulate, passionate, and supersmart. Sarah has been a teacher for 15 years and currently teaches at Fairview High School in Boulder. She has taught literature, composition, creative writing, and journalism. In addition, she earned a PhD in Literacy Studies from CUBoulder, so she brings to her editorship the perfect blend of practice and theory. She has won awards for her teaching, secured grants, published articles, and served on various school improvement and curriculum committees. On paper Sarah appears to be the ideal candidate for any position in education, but when you meet her in person and when you see her interact with students, you realize that she has the gift that makes someone an elite educator. As editor, it is her self-described “proclivity toward obsessive question asking” that will drive the creation of compelling issues of Statement. Her ability to collaborate, a key to a successful editorship, will serve her well as she works with contributors, columnists, the editorial board, and the executive board of CLAS. Best of luck as editor of Statement, Sarah! ********* This is my final “Making a Statement” column. This double issue, covering spring and summer 2011, contains a wide range of material: poems, practical teaching ideas, articles addressing diversity in ELA classrooms, student artwork, recommendations for YA lit, and personal as well as professional ruminations. It also contains student writing, as we again publish pieces written by the winners of our NCTE High School Writing Contest and CLAS Middle School Writing Contest. Truly, this is an issue that has something for everyone. ********* 4
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Michael Wenk is pursuing his Ph.D. in Literacy Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Mollie Blackburn, a literacy scholar who studies LGBTQ issues, says that the dichotomy of language (black/ white, male/female, literate/illiterate) marginalizes many students whose profiles are more ambiguous than many of us care to acknowledge. In a country based on freedom of religious expression, Mormons, Muslims, and followers of many other faiths still feel the bitter sting of discrimination. Gary Howard, author of We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools, tells us that, even as the United States becomes more and more racially and ethnically diverse, 90% of our teaching force is white. Acknowledging these realities is the first step toward transforming our classrooms as we begin the second decade of the 21st century. Teaching “The Others” is the theme of this issue of Statement. When I was little boy, I did not dream about growing up to be a gay man. But at age 39, that’s what I finally became, and there is no better dream fulfilled than to become who you are, or in my case, who I should have been all along. During my 16 years as a classroom teacher, I was firmly in the closet. I thought being closeted was the best move for me, personally and professionally. In order to survive and to be happy, I had to protect myself, from my colleagues and from my students. This mentality was developed as the result of a lifetime of reinforcement by friends, family, acquaintances, complete strangers, and the media that being gay was a bad thing. Very little of what I encountered in my lifetime could be called “gaybashing”; instead, the subtle messages about gays accumulated gradually over time, to the point where I knew by middle school that to reveal who I was would have serious repercussions. I did not reveal who I was. Instead, I was the student who revealed what I thought my teachers, my peers, and my family wanted me to be. You have these gay students in your classroom, the pleasers who are actively involved and work hard to prove they are normal.You may also have gay students who rebel, who take a very different road than I, insisting on acceptance of who they are. Many of these students leave school because they do not fit in. I did everything I could to fit in. There is a cost to both choices. As a middle school teacher, I continued the same behavior. I had to be active and involved, sponsoring student activities and serving on committees. I had to be
an effective teacher, and my identity suffered when I wasn’t. I had to have a funny sense of humor, yet maintain strict discipline. I had to cultivate an image of myself so that no one else would do it for me. A cornerstone of my existence as a closeted teacher was to protect myself from being a target of my students’ anti-gay sentiment or being ostracized by the community where I taught. After leaving middle school to teach high school, my eyes began to open to the possibility that I did not need to hide in the closet, that perhaps a gay teacher could exist out in the open. On the staff of the high school where I taught, there was a wellliked, openly gay teacher.A Gay-Straight Alliance was accepted as a school club. Openly gay students sat in my classroom, and were tolerated by their peers, or at least not audibly ridiculed.The student council invited me to walk with them in the AIDS Walk Colorado (this year on August 13), a heartfelt gesture by students of my suburban high school to support a cause with so much stigma attached to it. It seemed like the tone toward gays was changing…school was becoming a friendlier place for people like me. For 16 years as an ELA teacher I championed the outsider status of literary antiheroes like Ponyboy Curtis, Holden Caulfield, Lennie and George, Mark Mathabane, and Maya Angelou, which was my own subtle response to the steady stream of intolerance that all of us see in the world. What I had not done is champion the outsider status of the students who sat right in front of me and who, like me, struggled with their sexuality and their identity and their place in a society that even in 2011 often regards them with naked hostility. The best thing I could have done for my students, GLBTQ or not, would have been to be me.To be me would have meant to be an adult in a classroom who might have defied stereotypes. To be me would have meant an adult in the classroom might have offered an empathetic ear and the voice of experience as students struggled to find their way. To be me would have meant an adult in the classroom who might have faced discrimination with grace and courage and humor. So many missed opportunities, so many teachable moments lost forever. At age 39 a personal epiphany caused me to come out to my friends, co-workers, and family. Five years later, still struggling with my identity, I realized through some highlypublicized incidents of bullying that many gay teens were struggling like me, or struggling in the same way that I once did. I realized that it was time to come off the bench and try to make a difference for GLBTQ youth. One way to do that, within the scope of my power, was to encourage dialogue here in the pages of Statement. It takes courage for any of us to teach literature that might offend the sensibilities of the community where we teach. It takes courage to allow students to fully express
themselves through their writing, no matter if it follows a certain formula or prepares them for a standardized test. It takes courage to embrace who we are, to be proud of ourselves and our profession in a way that makes students take notice. But it is essential that we do all of these, as a means to empowering every one of our students. When you go back to school this year, I encourage you to look closely at each of your students, not the faceless mass. Your students may be brown or black or Asian. The may be face physical challenges, such as blindness. They may wear worn shoes. Look closer, and listen: they may not readily reveal that they are gay or depressed or suffering a loss. They may not tell you in so many words that they have been victims of religious intolerance or picked on because they are too small or too big. But it’s all there, if we look and listen. And knowing that makes all the difference in the world.
What CLAS offers you a a a a a a a a
Rejuvenation, inspiration, ideas Links to Internet and other resources Updates on CSAP, standards, and legislation Licensure Updates for English teachers Conferences Fall Writing Conference Regional Spring Conference Colorado’s Teen Literature Conference (co-sponsored) Publications Currents newsletter Statement journal Contests for your students High school writing (co-sponsored with the Colorado Writing Project) Middle-level writing Elementary storytelling Grants Kirby Writing Matters Gilbert Fellowship Bellin Grants for teens Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Meeting Miah: What Working with a Student with Down’s Syndrome Taught Me about Sarah M. Zerwin, PhD, Teaching Writing teaches language arts by Dr. Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor I need frequent reminders of my role as a writing teacher. It is not my job to tell my students where the thesis goes, or to require that they follow a particular formula for a piece of writing, or to determine exactly how many text quotes are necessary. My job is to coach my students as writers—to help them make those important decisions dependent on the unique audience and purpose of a piece of writing. I am grateful to Miah for her reminder. I’m 15 years into my career as an educator; Miah is my first student with Down’s Syndrome. She came to me with a label. My challenge was (and is) to not let that label cloud my vision of her as a writer, reader, and thinker. So I work to meet her with an open mind, again and again. To acquaint you with Miah, I present a collection of four images. One: It’s Thursday morning, 7:15am. As I walk to my office, I glance down the hall toward the classroom where creative writing meets, and there she sits on the floor, backpack alongside her, nose buried in a book. She reads voraciously—always the same teen angst series books— but she is never without a book. Her books are dog eared and tattered, their bindings creased and worn, suggesting Miah has read her books again and again. In fact, there are days she becomes so lost in a book that she knows little of what goes on around her. I once observed her consume a chicken Caesar salad, never looking up from the page to stab a bite of salad with her fork. Two: October. Sunny fall afternoon. I arrive at my daughter’s elementary school to pick her up from her after school program and there is Miah, walking up the sidewalk. I say hi to her. She removes her orange and pink headphones and asks me what I’m doing in her neighborhood. I point to my daughter’s school and explain that I’ve arrived to pick her up. She smiles, says goodbye and see you later, replaces her headphones and continues on her way. I can hear her, from the door of my daughter’s school, singing at the top of her lungs to the song she is listening to through her headphones. But Miah cares not a bit what others may think of her. Three: Miah calls me over to her computer at the end of class. She’s gleeful. She wants me to read the paragraph she has on her screen in front of her. I read it aloud to her as she watches me in eager anticipation. “Miah, you’ve written about a break up!” 6
Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
and journalism at Fairview High School in Boulder. She can be reached at sarah. email@example.com.
“Yeah,” she giggles. “Is it happening in the hall at school?” I ask. “No, it happens at a school dance!” She laughs out loud and turns back to her keyboard, clicking away. Four: One day on the way to creative writing I run into Miah in the hall. Another student is clearly trying to comfort her. Miah is sobbing—her eyes red, tears streaming down. I fall into step beside her and ask what’s wrong. She has come to class upset when overwhelmed at the biology class she has right before mine. But this time, she won’t tell me what is bothering her. I ask her if she needs to talk to someone about it? Mrs. Smith? Mrs. Kearney? A counselor? She shakes off all of my suggestions, determined to keep walking to my classroom. As we approach my door, she tells me she wants to talk to a friend, but later. She sits down in class and gets out her writer’s notebook. Mrs. Smith—the paraprofessional who works with Miah in my class—is already there. I quietly let her know what has just transpired with Miah in the hall. Mrs. Smith offers to take her out of class to talk—Miah refuses. Instead she puts a box of tissues on Miah’s desk. She pulls one out, wipes her nose, and starts writing, as the class does, in response to the prompt for the day. I write quietly along with my students, but I keep looking over at her to see that she’s okay. Mrs. Smith and I catch each other’s eyes, raise our eyebrows at each other—she seems to be fine? In a few minutes, Miah’s tears are gone. I pull the whole class out of their silent writing time and ask them to shift into workshop time to write on the computers or peer conference or sign up for conferences with me. I walk over to Miah to check on her. She looks up at me from her desk. “Did you write about it?” I ask her. “Yes,” she says. Five: Miah is nearing the end of her first year on the newspaper staff as a staff reporter. We are doing interviews for the editorial leadership staff for the next year, and Miah sits across the table from me, the two soon-to-graduate editors-in-chief, and the four newly selected editors-inchief who will be leading the newspaper in the following school year. She is applying for the position of co-editor of the in-depth section. Miah smiles as she answers each of our questions, clearly demonstrating her enthusiasm to be a part of the leadership staff. At the end of the interview, I ask Miah if she has any questions for us. “Yes I do,” she quickly replies. “What do each one of
you want to leave behind for the newspaper when you graduate?” The students look back and forth at each other, somewhat surprised by the question. After a few moments of silence, one of them says, “Miah! That’s a great idea for the focus of the goodbye section in the senior issue of the paper!” Miah’s smiles hugely and claps her hands. Once again Miah reminds us how much she contributes to our newspaper. Every day is a new encounter with Miah, and through this I get to know her better as a writer, reader, and thinker. To teach Miah is to meet her, again and again. According to the Dictionary.com app on my iphone, the word meet carries many shades of meaning. To meet means most broadly “to become acquainted with or be introduced to,” as I have just attempted to introduce you to Miah. To meet also means “to encounter,” and I have had several encounters with Miah and her writing that have slowly revealed to me how to best support her as a writer. Through this, Miah and I have lived out another definition of to meet: “to come together face to face,” writer to writer. I have learned to look beyond the label Miah carries “to face [her] directly without avoidance,” and I work to help others around her to see her in the same way. Miah has been my student for two years: as a 10th grader, she took beginning journalism in the first semester and creative writing in the second. The next year she took creative writing with me again and became a staff reporter for the school newspaper that I advise. As a senior in the upcoming school year, she will be a part of my leadership editorial staff on the newspaper and take a rigorous yearlong reading, writing, thinking, speaking course that I teach for seniors to prepare them for college and life beyond high school. The story I will tell here focuses mainly on her first year in my classroom. And perhaps the most significant thing Miah has taught me (and continues to teach me) is the importance of meeting halfway—something that my experience with Miah reminds me I should be doing with all of my students, label or not. Encounters with Miah and her writing I was nervous at the beginning of the first year Miah was in my beginning journalism class, not knowing exactly what she could do. How could I best support her in my class? I sought out my colleague who taught her in ninth grade to get an idea of what to expect. He told me she was wonderful—full of life and enthusiasm. He told me her writing was a mess—only really coherent once an adult had been through it with her, helping to clarify the sentences and make sure the ideas followed one another. My colleague also told me that criticism about her writing often crushed Miah, so I prepared myself to move forward carefully, to see what she could do and figure out how I could gently push her writing so that she would find growth and success as a writer. We began with the straight news story form, the basic essential unit of journalistic writing. One of our
first adventures with this was a mock newspaper that my students put together writing straight news stories inspired by nursery rhymes. Miah chose the nursery rhyme where little Johnny wants to play but it’s raining (Rain rain go away,/ Come again another day,/ Little Johnny wants to play;/ Rain, rain, go to Spain,/ Never show your face again!) and ended up with this: Little Johnny Missing Spain By Miah Basalona, Spain –Local boy is missing after the rain came down so fast that the rivers were really overfilled with leaves and murky mud so it made a big mess. The rain came into the town and swirled with big water fish.The girls and the boys screamed and they were swepted away to a high mountain side, except for Little Johnny because he could fly like a fish, so the town’s people think they saw Johnny’s face on the fish. I should have seen it here, the poetic details (“overfilled with leaves and murky mud,” “swirled with big water fish”) and her vivid imagination. No one else who chose this nursery rhyme as the basis of a straight news story imagined Johnny flying like a fish. I was so focused on everyone mastering the straight news story that all I saw here was the lack of a typical straight news lead. I was looking for something along the lines of “Little Johnny was not able to go out and play with his friends due to the thunderstorm that hit town last Monday” that another student wrote, clearly addressing the what, who, when, where and why of the story to follow. But Miah’s lead was not this. Miah’s special education teacher and I decided that a reasonable goal for Miah in beginning journalism would be to master the straight news story anchored by a straight news lead. My plan was to gently ask her to revise her work until she got it, providing her clear questions to help guide her revision efforts. The next assignment was to write another straight news story based on something students found going on in the school. Miah visited the main office. She came back with a few pages of notes, very excited to get started. This time her story was a bit longer, but like the first, it was descriptive instead of journalistic. Her first sentence lacked the components of a straight news lead. The story essentially just described what Miah had seen and heard in the main office that morning. I returned it to her with a few questions to guide her revisions: • The first sentence needs to have all the pieces of a straight story lead: can you include the what, when, where, who, how, and why? • A news story should cover some event that happens. This just describes the office. What happened when you were there that you could make the focus of your story? Mrs. Smith and I had discussed the goal of helping her master the straight news story, so with my questions to guide Miah’s revisions, Mrs. Smith worked with her as she revised, but Miah’s new version still lacked the critical pieces of a straight news lead. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
I tried one more time—this time I listed on her page “WHAT,” “WHO,” “WHERE,” “WHEN,” “HOW” and “WHY” and left space after each one for her to write what each was in her news story.Then I sat down with her to see if she understood what I was asking. She was able to provide the information I was asking her for, and she dutifully went back to the computer to rewrite her lead, but once again, the revised lead lacked the critical components. Sensing some frustration building in Miah, I decided to move on to the next task with her, to see if we could attack her writing goal through the next assignment. The semester continued to progress in much the same manner. Miah responded to all the assignments I gave, but she never quite hit the straight news story form. It wasn’t until the end of the semester that I realized something: Miah didn’t need to master the straight news story form— that particular genre was not what she needed to grow meaningfully as a writer. The semester final project was a journalistic product designed and completed in a group or individually. Miah wanted to work on her own teen magazine. She looked through many and made a list of the components teen magazines typically possessed and designed her own version with a focus on her own life. She made a list of her favorite songs to recommend to her readers. She interviewed her extended family over Thanksgiving and created a list of the most important events of her life. She surveyed her classmates about their daily lives at Fairview High School with questions such as “why do you like Fairview?” and “What does it feel like if you get gossiped about or have you heard any gossip about you?” I thought all of this was great; Miah was using this project to express what was important and meaningful to her in her life. But it was her page of poetry that really made me begin to reconsider how I had been thinking about her goals as a writer: The Green-Eyed Monster In my stomach it feels kinda weird it’s like I’m oozing green slime into a monster. I’ve feel like that I was Dreaming Not myself Alone I think I’m screaming kicking into something I’m not I’ve try to find myself but I’m Desperate Alone Ashamed Into a teen again Miah is a poet! This first encounter with her poetry showed me that my narrow focus for her writing was actually constricting what she was able to do with it. No straight news story would have been able to capture this sensitive and acute reflection on jealousy. No straight news story would permit Miah to express an emotion with this kind of sensitivity, with this kind of universality. Miah’s last line—“into a teen again”—suggests this experience with jealousy is something 8
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specific to teens, but jealousy is a human emotion felt by all of us, young and old. Jealousy certainly does feel like “oozing green slime” in one’s stomach, we lose ourselves, and we feel desperation and shame. There is real truth here, and the poetic form allows Miah to connect with that truth in a way that mastering the straight news story lead would not allow. I began to see Miah as a writer in a completely different light, and I was excited to see what she would write in my creative writing class the following semester. After my experience in working with the Colorado Writing Project, I planned to run my creative writing class as a writing workshop. This means that in a given week, we spent some time reading and studying mentor texts, learning how to read like a writer, I conducted mini lessons for quick instruction on topics related to the needs that showed up in their writing, the students met in response groups where they shared their writing and talked about it, there was unstructured workshop time where I was able to conference with students individually, and students shared their work on the big screen for the whole class to workshop at once. Students kept writer’s notebooks that they wrote in every day (in and outside of class).They turned in polished drafts every two weeks as they worked toward a portfolio at the end of the semester that they presented to their classmates during our final exam time. Most of my instruction happened one-on-one in writing conferences, so I was able to tailor my instruction specifically to what each of my students needed. Miah absolutely thrived in this setting. She very carefully kept her writer’s notebook. She wrote every day outside of class. She used her writer’s notebook in class for mini lessons and drafts of her polished pieces. Miah always had ideas for what she wanted to write about. In fact, she usually turned in a polished draft every week instead of every other week. She participated avidly in whole-class workshopping, always offering her suggestions to her classmates and asking questions of her fellow writers to let them know how their work was affecting her. She gained inspiration from looking at her classmates’ work. From the short, one-paragraph works I saw early on in the first semester, Miah’s work grew into multi-paragraphed pieces, compelling poems that maintain and develop focus, and work with clear intention that she could always articulate to me. For example, she wrote this poem early in the semester: The Moments Where Parents Say Things That Is So Fascinating By Miah I need
I am reaching into midair but the answer was unspoken. She explained her intentions: I tried to explain that in the past and in the future
that parents say things that make it so intruding that people stop what they are doing and listen in. I had this moment where my parents say something about their work or what they have to get finished, so all in all its tough to have parents to cut you off in the middle of the conversation and have to talk to each other. Miah’s image of “reaching into midair but the answer was unspoken” captures clearly the feeling of trying to break into a conversation one’s parents might be having. The poem suggests these moments leave Miah feeling desperate, needing “help” and “hope” to have her words heard in a context where another conversation takes precedence over what she needs to say. Miah has tapped into a universal truth—we all have moments when we feel we cannot find a way into some bigger conversation that we can only observe passively from the sidelines. This is an accurate capturing of frustration with the life we all share in the company of other human beings. Miah’s walking through her life with the eyes of a writer, noticing the moments of her day-to-day experiences that she wants to use as inspiration. Miah also began to use her writing to imagine the experiences of others. This first showed up in a piece that Miah volunteered to have the whole class workshop, projected on the big screen in the classroom. Miah sat at my computer at the front of the class and scrolled through her piece as a classmate read it aloud. Here are the first two paragraphs of this piece, which she entitled “The Wagging Tail of Life”: When I was a kid I really liked puppies and kittens, but puppies was my favorite because they always wagged their tail every time I laugh. Sometimes I enjoy company of a waging happy dog but things change when I got Buddy, Alla and Ella. It got tough when Buddy chewed a table leg. Alla and Ella they chewed the same thing because it’s fun to see someone eating something. Dogs are different because they don’t talk back to you or judge you, but they are the barriers that I can share my deep feelings with them it’s a part of life. Sometimes if you have a bad day, or a big zit to boot, they congratulate you if you won something big, having a dog can change your life because no matter what happens they are the one’s that make you happy inside. When Ruby entered the room she finally saw the three dogs and begin to play tug-of war. She forgot her homework that was like a bound of books that got trampled on your head and so she said “hey sorry but I got to do homework, but I can get you food” As the day goes by the dogs peed, pooped, and played while Ruby and her family did homework, eat and watched T.V. The dogs were trying to whack each other on their buts. After the class applauded Miah’s work, she explained what had inspired the piece and what help she needed with it. The story was based on some of her experiences with three temporarily adopted dogs in her family. She told us that she wasn’t happy with the transition from the first paragraph to the second, that she thought that the introduction felt too separate from the second paragraph. She also wasn’t happy with the transition to the last paragraph. Again, it felt to her too separate and divided from the paragraphs in the middle.
Miah listened very carefully as the class gave her feedback. They asked her who Ruby was. Even though this story is based on Miah’s own experiences, she wanted to tell it through the perspective of someone else, a character she created named Ruby. The class suggested that she start from the very beginning with Ruby’s perspective rather than having an introductory paragraph from Miah’s point of view and then transitioning to the character she created. The class also told Miah how much they loved the way she captured the life that dogs bring to our daily existence, particularly how “having a dog can change your life because no matter what happens they are the one’s that make you happy inside.” Miah happily soaked in all the compliments, but then she got very serious as her classmates’ comments waned and reminded us that we had not yet addressed the issue with the transition to the last paragraph and she wanted our help there too.We asked her to scroll down to that section of her piece and we talked that out as well. Again, the class suggested that she maintain the narrative point of view on one character’s perspective throughout the whole piece. Miah heard her classmates clearly. Her next polished piece, “A Snapshot of a Boy’s Life,” was also through the perspective of a character Miah created to tell a story. But in this case, the story starts right at the beginning through that character’s perspective, Jordan, who is breaking up with his girl friend at a school dance: “Megan, I don’t want to be your boy friend anymore. I just don’t see it. I can’t believe my dream girl is the one that I want be with, but I know it’s the right thing to do because I met someone else.” “Jordan, why are you breaking up with me? I thought we were perfect for each other. Why would you say that I wasn’t good enough for you”? When she said that, people were staring at us that was an awkward moment for me because this was the first time that a girl put me on the spot. As she went away from me she was talking to her friends and the pulsing sounds and lights on the dance floor was blinding me, trying to say to me that I was a failure to say those things to her. My bud Taylor jumped on me, and I was trying to laugh with him to forget what happened. Then he said to me something that shocked me which was, “Jordan, why do say those things to Megan? I thought that you were a really cute couple in the first place.” I said back, “well first off Mary said to me that I have to break up with Megan, and if not she would spread rumors about me, so I choose to be her boyfriend instead.” Taylor said, “Well things would be back to normal by tomorrow. Just think about it.” As the dance ended the break up was over and the moments that I held of Megan drifted in my head. The story continues with two more moments. During a lab in biology class, Jordan decides not to work with Megan in order to avoid an awkward situation. Later Jordan and Megan meet by chance in a coffee shop and decide through a complicated dialogue to get back together. Comparing this piece to the first one I included here with Miah’s straight news story about Johnny and the rain, it’s clear to see how much her writing developed over Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
the course of the year. From short, one-paragraph pieces that struggled for coherence, to multi-paragraphed pieces with clear focus and purpose and insightful poems that reflect over moments and emotions of daily life, Miah’s writing came a long way. And this was the first piece where Miah really developed a voice and perspective completely different from her own. She used this voice to communicate something particular about human experience. I interviewed Miah about this piece in order to share her words with you about her writing. I began simply by asking her what she could tell me about it: M: Okay. Well for me, I really wanted to say something, to say something besides what girls felt. Because mostly, mostly girls are so important and for guys that is something that they really need, they need thoughts and feelings, for a girl, and he is trying to decide between two girls. And that is something that in the high school, in the high school experiences, that that might happen like during any year in high school for a guy. SZ: Okay good, and so I saw that you wrote it from his perspective. M: Um-huh. SZ: What was that like for you, to get into the mind of the guy? M: For me, it was definitely fun because I can think more about guys and about things that guys do in love and trying to capture one girl and then the other and then actually to have that girlfriend back, that is something that different high schools have. Some guys are like players and they’re trying to act all cool but I wanted to get more into the head of what guys are going through. What stands out for me here is the clear purpose Miah has for her writing. She wanted to “say something besides what girls felt” and that writing from a guy’s perspective allowed her to “get more into the head of what guys are going through” even though “some guys are like players and they’re acting all cool.” Miah is able to observe carefully the social world that unfolds in a typical high school and capture it honestly in words. This piece isn’t just about a breakup; it’s about a teenage boy’s experience through that breakup, dealing with the manipulations of others in the process. This became more clear to me when I asked Miah if there was anything she was worried about in the piece that she wanted help on: M: Um yeah um I really need help by describing more of how Megan and why this guy likes her so much and Mary because Mary saying that she, may like put rumors on the guy and the really bad thing on any relationship in high school and she don’t want that and that is something that’s really toxic in the guy’s world and saying those things to someone can hurt them. She wants to more fully develop the characters of Mary and Megan, why Jordan likes Megan so much and why Mary wants to spread rumors around him in order to manipulate him to her desires. Miah sees that the rumor spreading can be “really toxic in the guy’s world,” and she wants to make sure her story says something about that. With stories and poetry, Miah was able to write insightfully about her life experience and work to imagine the experiences of others. Through this, she developed her 10
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literary imagination (Nussbaum)—imagining with empathy the experiences of others—which is something she talked about when I asked her to reflect on how her writing changed that year: M: For me, last time, like before I entered this classroom, I had less detail and not more things, but then as I progressed, my learning has been really good because I’m focusing on someone else’s head but not my own ‘cause I like to use people’s thoughts and minds and saying that that’s tough to handle but you can have your friends there or a teacher or something like that those things helped me become a better writer. With every piece Miah wrote that semester, I encountered another aspect of her as writer. Coming together face to face, writer to writer Miah is a writer who thinks and wonders and watches the world for inspiration, who rarely experiences writer’s block, who approaches every writing challenge with enthusiasm and an open mind, who reads the writing of others and is able to identify just exactly what she likes and how she might improve upon it, who finds inspiration for her own work in the writing of others, and who absolutely relishes the written word. Miah and I talk nearly every day about the writing that we both do. She asked me often how this piece about her is going. I asked her about how writing fits into her life. She explained: I love to write. And my favorite quote would probably be: Every day is a learning activity. There are tons of stories around the corner. But you have to find it because you’re the main explorer in your own life. There’s no stopping you. You have to write what you see and what you hear. Yes, I am the explorer in my own life, and yes, stories are just around the corner, and yes, I just need to write what I see and hear. This is sage advice, from one writer to another. Facing Miah directly, without avoidance At the end of that first year, Miah told me she wanted to join my newspaper staff for the next year. When she first told me this toward the end of beginning journalism, I worried. Of course Miah should have this opportunity. I worried that her writing wouldn’t be versatile enough for the school paper, that she wouldn’t be able to function with enough independence in the class to be successful, that the class would be too much for her. The concerns I had before I got to know Miah as a writer were different from the questions I had after working with her through the creative writing class. The growth she achieved in her writing that second semester made me anxious to see how her writing would evolve with the new challenge of writing for the school newspaper. I knew that she could work with independence as long as the expectations were clear. The student leaders on the staff and I could work to achieve that for Miah. I had no doubt that Miah could be a successful, contributing member of the newspaper staff.
Even so, I still had questions at that point. They were not about Miah. How might the other students treat her? Would they see her as a capable writer and reporter? Would they weave her into the staff on equal footing with the other reporters? Would they see her directly, beyond the label? Would they look for the possibilities Miah brings to our staff and not assume she comes with limitations? Would they face her directly, without avoidance, and learn to know her? Before Miah joined the staff, I met with the leadership staff and told them about my experiences with Miah and showed them her writing. After this conversation, they seemed excited to work with her, and as the year played out, I was continually surprised with how they welcomed her onto the staff and included her as an equal participant. It took us a while to figure out how to best support Miah through each publication cycle, but the other students always made space in the paper for her to write what she wanted to write, from an editorial about the school’s policy regarding locks on the lockers to a review of a Ke$ha song to a tribute to the Head Girl and Head Boy for the work they did throughout the school year. At the beginning of the year, I talked with Miah about needing to be comfortable with the idea that her writing would need to be revised after feedback from the student editors. I would sit next to her at the computer and go sentence by sentence through her copy, looking at the feedback from the editors and helping her decide what to keep, what to cut, and what to change. I knew we had gotten somewhere one day when she highlighted a sentence and explained as she hit the delete key that even though those were her favorite words in the piece, she knew that they didn’t fit with the overall focus and they had go. I found that Miah worked very well off of models of the kinds of writing she wanted to do for the paper. For the first opinion piece she wrote, for instance, we pulled out several past issues from the archives and she read opinion pieces and was able to articulate to me in her own words what characteristics they shared that made them opinion pieces. We would write these characteristics down at the top of the page where she was writing her own piece and she would use them to guide her work as she wrote and revised.We repeated this process several times throughout the year as Miah continually chose to write types of writing she had never actually written before. The year did not come without some points of struggle— like Miah’s disappointment when one of her pieces got cut from one issue to be published in the next one, or her frustration when a section editor didn’t layout a story the way she envisioned it to be. But the other students dealt with her on equal footing, taking the time to explain to her—just as they would with any other staff member—the reasons why something didn’t turn out as she had hoped. And Miah has become one of the greatest creative resources on the staff. Meeting Miah halfway Miah taught me something critically important that first year she was in my class. Her writing evolved exponentially when my instruction wasn’t forcing her writing into a
particular box. She was ready to take off as a writer, but my narrow focus on her mastery of the straight news story constricted her growth. Not until more options became available to her for her writing did she start making noticeable progress. This has taught me how important it is to meet students halfway. And not just students like Miah—it’s important to meet all students halfway. Yes, Miah is a student with Down’s Syndrome, but what I’ve discovered here isn’t a method to repeat with every student with Down’s Syndrome. It would be a mistake to look here for “the way” to work successfully with students with Down’s Syndrome in a writing class. Supporting Miah’s success demanded flexibility on my part, not a specific method. I needed to understand who she was as a writer, thinker, and human being, and I needed to keep trying different approaches until she began to thrive. And over time Miah has changed, and I have gotten to know her better, so the ways I support her evolve as well. This is a reminder vital to me as a teacher—it’s what I need to do with all of my students to best support them as writers too. When we ask students to write formulaic papers on topics we assign, we constrict their growth. I’m not arguing for no structure, no expectations, or scraping requirements. Our students need our guidance in the form of clearly stated expectations. But if we spell out every little detail, we remove the most critical writing work that there is: puzzling out how to communicate an intended meaning to a particular audience. Newkirk reminds us that “writing is not transcription; it is not the mere following of a plan. It is a dialogue between self and text in which language can redirect consciousness” (p. 79).To enable writing to become for our students that powerful “dialogue between self and text,” we really have no business telling them where the thesis goes, or how many text quotes they need, or even how many body paragraphs are necessary. Our job is to help our students figure out what it is that they want to say and how they can shape words on the page to say it most powerfully to a given audience, creating purpose for writing that is real and meaningful to them.Achieving this means we must meet them halfway. Otherwise we risk unnecessarily constricting our students’ growth as writers. We must remember that our job is to teach the writer, not the piece of writing. I never again want to miss a student’s poetic and imaginative potential because all I can see is what’s NOT there in the paper. Thank you, Miah. I have been honored to meet you, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow. Works Cited Newkirk, T. Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Nussbaum, M.C. Poetic justice: the literary imagination and the public life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.
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The Colorado Language Arts Society is proud to present the 2011 Fall Regional Conference! Friday Evening Keynote: Ernest Morrell
Saturday Luncheon Presentation: Laura Resau
Ernest Morrell is the incoming director of the Institute for Urban Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. For more than a decade he has worked with adolescents, drawing on their involvement with popular culture to promote academic literacy development. Morrell is the author of a number of texts, including Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent and Liberation, and Linking Literacy and Popular Culture. Recently, Morrell was elected to the office of vice president of NCTE and will assume the NCTE presidency in 2013.
Laura Reseau’s latest novel The Queen of Water (co-written by María Virginia Farinango) has been praised as a “riveting tale…by turns heartbreaking, infuriating, and ultimately inspiring,” in a starred review by Kirkus. Her previous novels have garnered many starred reviews and awards, including the IRA YA Fiction Award, the Américas Award, and a spot on Oprah’s Kids’ Book List. Acclaimed for its sensitive treatment of immigration issues, Resau’s writing has been called “vibrant, large-hearted” (Publishers’ Weekly) and “powerful, magical” (Booklist). Resau lives with her husband and young son in Colorado. She donates a portion of her royalties to indigenous rights organizations in Latin America.
Ensuring Achievement for ALL Students: Engagement, Affirmation, Discipline, Inspiration, and Love. In this interactive workshop Morrell will draw upon fifteen years of successful projects with K-12 youth to offer a model of empowering classroom practice. Morrell will begin by outlining principles of empowering teaching that emanate from educational research, critical pedagogy, community activism, and conversations with parents and community members about what they want for their children. He then will explain how these principles have translated into innovative practices with young people across the K-12 spectrum. A limited number of Friday-only registrations are being offered to allow administrators and cross-content teachers to also attend this workshop.
Saturday Morning Keynote: Sara Kajder Sarah Kajder is assistant professor of English Education at Virginia Tech. A former middle and high school English teacher, she received the first National Technology Fellowship in English/Language Arts. A nationally-known consultant and speaker, she is the author of Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside our Students; Visual Ways of Engaging Reluctant Readers; and The Tech-Savvy English Classroom. Unpacking Practice: Teaching and Learning with New Literacies. The shifts in how we define literacy and the toolset we use in our work as readers and writers make this an incredibly exciting (and sometimes daunting) time to teach. What does it mean to teach and learn in a classroom that values new literacies? Where are our students learning to read and write? What can we do with technology to engage, empower and evoke our students’ thinking, insights and knowledge - and how does that differ from what we have done before? As much as our conversation will pose critical questions, the bigger goal is to explore practice. We’ll examine methods for co-constructing literacy practices alongside our students and think deeply about what learning means within those examples and contexts. 12
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The Power of Sharing Stories. In this presentation, Laura Resau will speak about the inspiration for her acclaimed multicultural novels The Queen of Water, Red Glass, What the Moon Saw, and Star in the Forest. In writing these books, she drew on her experiences as a teacher and anthropologist in indigenous communities in Mexico, her travels in Latin America, and her friendships with immigrants in Arizona and Colorado. During the presentation, you’ll see photos of people and places who inspired the characters and settings of her books, and get an inside look at her research and writing process. You’ll also hear how students in elementary school through college have connected with her books and become motivated to share their own stories. In addition to the luncheon presentation, Resau will conduct a break-out session drawing upon her experiences as an ESL teacher to share ideas for using her multicultural books with upper elementary through college students.
Featured Presenter: Jovan Mays Sponsored by the Denver Writing Project Jovan Mays exemplifies the true spirit of community that is the basis of the poetry slam. He has been a member of the Denver Slam Nuba Poetry Slam Team, which finished 5th last year at the National Poetry Slam, and a participant in the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam. He has achieved notable success as a slam competitor not only locally but also throughout the Midwest (2010 Utah Arts Festival Slam Champ, Finalist at The Great Plains Poetry Pile up). His commitment to community and education in both urban and rural communities distinguishes him as an organizer and artist. Mays now resides in Denver, where he offers workshops and educates people of all ages about this great art, as well as shelving the duties for Slam Nuba and their Open Mic/Slam night, which is sponsored by the Denver Film Society. His first book and CD entitled “Release: The Act of Freeing Oneself” will drop within the next few months. Your writing counts: Using the spoken word as a conductor of vital history. We live in an era that is digesting historic significance the same way we devour Big Mac’s. With libraries and record stores reducing books and albums to files virtually weightless, what primary sources will tell this era’s story? As accessibility to information once buried resurrects out of our iPads and Kindles, who will be the Elders to remind us of the significance of the past and relevance of the now? The answer is YOU and YOUR STUDENTS. Through discussion hinged around Slam Poetry and ways to implement the art into the classroom, we will stitch together a road map to place all of our stories on the pedestal that they deserve to be on. We’ll dissect and evaluate performances to generate prompts and starters as well as looking at processes and activities for making poetry fun for students of all ages.
CLAS Regional Conference
Developing Critical Minds in Critical Times Friday and Saturday, September 23 and 24, 2011 Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO
Friday evening Workshop Speaker: Ernest Morrell Saturday Keynote Speaker: Sara Kajder Saturday Luncheon Speaker: Laura Resau Featured Presenter: Jovan Mays Full Conference including the Friday evening workshop with Ernest Morrell and all Saturday Conference Events CLAS Members $130.00 CLAS Pre-service Members $40.00
Nonmembers $160.00 Pre-service Nonmembers $55.00
Friday evening workshop only $45.00
Visit http://clastalk.ning.com/ to register online. For program details visit http://clastalk.ning.com/.
Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Colorado Language Arts Society Regional Fall Conference: September 23 – 24 Colorado School of Mines in Golden Registration Form Please complete a separate form for each registrant, and please enter your name as you want it to appear on your nametag. Confirmations will be delivered by email only.
First _____________________________________________MI _______ Last______________________________________________ Home address_________________________________________ City____________________________________ ZIP_____________ School name__________________________________________ District__________________________________________________ Phone (H)__________________________ (W)______________________________ Email_______________________________________________________________
First Time Conference Attendee: _____ Early Career Teacher (0-3 years): ______
Membership information: Prices listed are annual dues. Members, please check the mailing label for your membership expiration data.
Great news! A single conference registration fee includes Friday night workshop, all-day Saturday, and the Saturday luncheon!
Status: ____ New member ($30) ____ Renewing member ($30) ____ Retired member ($15) ____ Pre-service teacher w/ instructor’s signature ($15)
Conference Registration: On-site registration will be an additional $20.00. New and renewing members may register at membership rates if dues accompany this form.
Friday night option: The Friday night keynote speaker is Ernest Morrell, speaking about his work with adolescents and using their involvement with popular culture to promote academic literacy development. Attendance at this keynote session is INCLUDED with your registration fee! However, we recognize that some individuals, particularly school administrators or cross-content teachers, may wish to attend on Friday only. We are offering a limited number of Friday-only registrations at $45.
Full Conference Registration: Member Nonmember Pre-Service Member Pre-Service Nonmember
Friday only: ____ $45 (Full registration includes Friday, so you should not register for both “full conference” and “Friday only.”)
Register online! http://Clastalk. ning.com
Or, mail this registration form to Tim Hartman 9765 W. 77th Drive Arvada, CO 80005
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Comprehensive Registration $______ Friday only
Questions? Contact Tim Hartman, Registrar firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-421-7121
____ $130 ____ $160 ____ $40 ____ $55
ELA in the 21st Century Digital Dialogues: No App For That
by Philippe Ernewein “In writing the history of the early reading brain, I was surprised to realize that questions raised more than two millennia ago by Socrates about literacy address many concerns of the early twenty-first century. I came to see that Socrates’ worries about the transition from an oral culture to a literate one and the risks it posed, especially for young people, mirrored my own concerns about the immersion of our children into the digital world. Like the ancient Greeks we are embarked on a powerfully important transition - in our case from a written culture to one that is more digital and visual” (70).
-Proust and the Squid:The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
While I share some of Maryanne Wolf’s concern, I also find daily examples in middle school and high school classrooms of how this immersion of our students into a more digital and visual world is creating unprecedented learning opportunities and new ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. And often, these avenues are loaded with text and navigated through critical thinking. Although I find great promise for innovation and creativity in these increasingly literacy-rich digital environments, there is one component that deserves more attention and focus than others: collaboration and dialogue. The practice of new forms of collaboration and dialogue can dramatically leverage the technological tools and advance the teaching and learning in our classrooms. The New Dialogues: A Glimpse Into What is Possible I recently observed an example of this transition into a more digital world during a visit to a high school classroom where a student was reading Shakespeare’s Richard II on a digital device, with a notebook and teacher-assigned text nearby. The student’s digital device screen, an iPad, was decorated with highlighted words and notes in the shape of thought bubbles. With the touch of the screen, the student could post a comment on the classroom blog where the teacher had posed a series of essential questions related to the big ideas of the unit. After talking with the teacher I learned that the time
Philippe Ernewein is the Dean of Faculty Training and Development at Denver Academy. He presents annually at a variety of educational conferences. Philippe also writes a blog about education at www.rememberit.org.
dedicated to this blog posting activity varies, but typically occurs after a mini-lesson and guided practice. The activity frequently produces over one hundred comments from students responding to the teacher-posed question, as well as responses to what other students wrote. This flurry of digital activity often takes place during the last ten to fifteen minutes of class, when the brain is primed for higherordered processing and capturing deeper understandings. The teacher requires the students to respond in a paragraph form to the question she posed and that they comment on two other students’ posts; as I have now repeatedly observed, the students consistently exceed this requirement. After talking with students about this digital dimension to their discussion, the prevalent attitude was positive. They never saw the discussion on the screen as taking the place of the classroom exchange of ideas, but rather as an augmenting force to their traditional, face-to-face, seminar discussions. The teacher agreed, “After a blog activity, the students have processed the topics and themes, reading what other students in class are thinking; as a result the discussions we have during seminar time are really rich and meaningful.” One student I spoke with, who frequently has great difficulty starting to compose essays, told me he uses the blog as a type of idea bank. “Kind of like a starter kit,” he said, “I find something I agree with or disagree with and then take it from there.” Reflections on Teacher’s Role: Collaborative Opportunities Maryanne Wolf’s and Socrates’ worries were on my mind as I helped facilitate a student focus group on technology. The mixed group of middle and high school students was asked a series of questions prior to the discussion: How are you currently using technology to help your learning? How might technology sometimes hinder your learning? What could our school be doing to better incorporate technology into teaching and learning? The answers were mostly predictable. They used digital devices, smart phones, laptops and iPads to research, send homework to their teachers, plan and compose writing. Many students mentioned how they are using technology Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
to help them to stay organized by accessing teacher web pages, creating files for each class and setting alerts and reminders for assignments. They also honestly reflected on the potential pitfalls: taking shortcuts to learning formulas, the ease of plagiarizing by cutting and pasting and distractibility. The role of teachers became abundantly clear by what was completely absent from the discussion with the students: the opportunity to collaborate. One teacher in the focus group even asked the student directly about collaborative opportunities, but none of the students listed specific ways of how they might be collaborating on-line or with digital media in an effort to support their learning. This response (or lack thereof) made me think of the assumptions Iâ€™ve made about the frequently labeled digital natives. Are they really natives? Can anyone be native to a place that is virtual and so rapidly evolving? Being native implies familiarity and having a deep history, a strong relationship with a physical space. It was not until the conclusion of the focus group that I realized the error and complications of the term digital native. The label gives the students a certain sense of expertise and experience about the digital world that they do not necessarily have. For me, this led to the false mindset that this millennial generation
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has known nothing but computers in classrooms and digital media so therefore they would know best how to use it. A more accurate term for all of us might be digital immigrants in this Google universe. All of us moving, migrating and exploring new territory as it evolves and becomes available. Our collective wisdom as educators should not be discounted.The strategies that create success for students in our classrooms can also have currency and value in the digital realm. What can think/pair/share look like when anchored in a blog or Tweet? How can technology help create collaborative opportunities for students where there were limited or none before? What can a meaningful exchange look like online that contributes to the processing and understanding for our students on important content and skills? Examples of collaborative learning projects: â€˘ Model of a flipped classroom: popularized by the Kahn Academy (www.khanacademy.org), where concepts are taught through video that students watch as homework (outside of classroom time) so individual classroom time can be maximized for guided practice, answering questions and small group work. This format can also allow for individual students or groups of
students to become experts in specific content areas and supporting the learning of their classmates. Creating opportunities for student group projects to work on videos, podcasts and websites in conjunction with related writing assignments. While working on prioritized content objectives, students also practice and development of collaboration, problem-solving and communication skills. Google Docs or other forms of cloud computing that create a digital space for students (and teachers) to work collaboratively on writing assignments in both asynchronous and synchronous settings.
This brings me back to Socrates and his worries about the move from oral to written language. Part of his worry was the potential loss of deeper understanding, the ability to remember and recall information. He was worried about what might be lost when words were written down, just as we are contemplating about what our student might lose as they become immersed in the digital world. I’d like to pose the question, what can our students gain from this immersion? And more specifically, what role can teachers play to maximize the positive learning opportunities that this digital immersion presents? Socrates valued and actively participated in dialogue with his students; from this, thanks to his student and scribe Plato, we have written versions of the spoken dialogues, considered by many to be among the most important historical dialogues.When I observe the ways students read postings on the screen and quickly click the reply button to respond to the text, video or song they just experienced, I am reminded of the generative process that Socrates valued in the dialogues. With all apologies to Socrates, let’s call what the students are participating in today “digital dialogues.” Our role as teachers then is to create the digital venue where these conversations can take place and then, even more critically, to facilitate the space in our classrooms for further processing and direction of those discussions and dialogues. In a computer lab last week, I witnessed a truly extraordinary scene. Reading published criticism about their classroom novel on a teacher-directed website, one student called out to this group, “Come here and look what this guy wrote. I don’t agree with that at all; I got to let him know.” Noting the web address, the other students returned to their computers and actively participated in the digital dialogue. Socrates believed that written speech was a “dead discourse”; and it was oral speech that was alive and moved individuals toward deeply and mindfully examining life and asking questions about the true nature of things, ideas and beauty. This is where there is opportunity with digital media, to create a place for active, meaningful dialogue to return. A
place to allow time for processing and digesting the massive amounts of media we are confronted with everyday. I am not suggesting that dialogues with YouTube videos or news blogs replace the dialogues of Plato. However, I do believe that when rich and meaningful dialogue is generated in the digital world and used in tandem with more traditional, seminar-type classroom discussions, we are moving closer to the quality learning experience that Socrates hoped for with each of his students. Just as wisdom or experiences cannot be downloaded, there is no “app” for managing digital dialogues in our classrooms. I do hope that the following questions can help move us toward a place where we can find more balance teaching and learning in an increasingly digital world: 1. How can digital dialogues support my learning objectives? 2. How can technology help me differentiate learning opportunities for my students? 3. How am I modeling for my students that I am continually learning? 4. Does my digital presence support student learning? 5. How am I balancing “high tech” and “high touch” in my classroom? Works Cited Wolf, Maryanne (2007). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: HarperCollins.
Editorial Positions Available The Colorado Language Arts Society is seeking candidates for the following positions: ELL in ELA Columnist, Statement The viewpoint of an educator who is immersed in ELL issues is desired for the position of Statement columnist. Must possess strong writing skills and be able to meet deadlines. Elementary ELA Columnist, Statement A teacher with strong opinions, strong elementarylevel pedagogy, and strong writing skills is needed to fill the position of Statement Elementary ELA Columnist. Must be able to meet deadlines. If you are interested in either of these positions, please contact Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor, at sarah. email@example.com. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
CTLC Authors Share with Readers and Aspiring Writers by Dr. Marge Erickson Freeburn
The Colorado Teen Literature Conference (CTLC) has always provided a forum for readers of Young Adult Literature (YAL) to connect directly with authors who write specifically for them, and this year’s conference in April was no exception. This year 187 adults and 180 students attended the conference, a balance you will not find at any other conference. Attendees increased their awareness of newly published works, shared teaching and programming ideas for using YAL, and learned about resources that support their advocacy for this literature. Reluctant readers as well as avid readers shared the excitement and enthusiasm of participating in this literacy community. At the conference, as in the most effective classrooms, all who attended were able to both teach and learn by selecting relevant program sessions, talking with new acquaintances, contributing to discussions or listening actively, sharing opinions, and hearing other perspectives and interpretations of Young Adult Literature as well as literacy learning. A definite highlight was the Teen Connection Panel Presentation with the featured keynotes. This has gotten so popular that CTLC now asks interested students to apply to be on the panel. The featured 2011 authors, Pete Hautman and Rachel Vail, are prolific writers, and their work is worthy of investigation this summer. Pete Hautman’s recent YA books include: Invisible (2006). A fast-paced narrative about Douglas McArthur Hansen, a troubled, compulsive teen, the terrible reality of his life in Madham, and his only friend, Andy. Blank Confession (2010). Shayne Blank confesses to murder. But “weird kid” Mikey Martin reveals the truth about the bullying, the drugs, the violence, and the romance.
Dr. Marge Erickson Freeburn is a lecturer at the University of Colorado, Denver, School of Education. Her email address is Marge.Erickson@ ucdenver.edu.
tors include Francine P. Pascal, K. L. Going, Gary Phillips, Will Weaver, Walter Sorrells, Mary Logue, Adam Stemple, Bill Fitzhugh, Alexandra Flinn, and Hautman. Rachel Vail’s popular YA novels include The Avery Sisters Trilogy: Lucky (2009), Gorgeous (2010), and Brilliant (2010). The trilogy describes how everything changes when Mrs. Avery loses her executive position and is accused of embezzling. Each sister deals with the turmoil in her own way as the family learns to make a new life. In addition to the featured speakers, the CTLC always invites several local authors each year to meet their readers, share their reasons for writing YAL, and discuss their recent and current work in a panel discussion. This year returning authors Alane Ferguson and Traci L. Jones were joined by Ronald Cree, Carrie Vaughn, and Sarah Ockler. The following list includes only fiction, but each author works in a variety of genres and styles: Alane Ferguson’s mysteries, The Christopher Killer (2006), Angel of Death (2006), Circle of Blood (2009), and The Dying Breath (2009), depict Cameryn Mahoney, teenage forensic pathologist who has a budding career as assistant coroner in Silverton, Colorado. Finding My Place (2010), Traci L. Jones’s second book, follows 9th grader Tiphanie Jayne Baker as she moves from Denver to suburban “Barbie-doll filled” Brent Hills High School. She makes one friend, Jackie Sue Webster, but their friendship worries her parents.Tiphanie struggles to keep her Denver friends, while trying not compromise her values as she makes new ones.
The Big Crunch (2011). A teen love story with humor, angst, memorable (yet ordinary) characters, and lots of adversity.
Desert Blood 10pm/9c (2006) is Ronald Cree’s first novel. Gus Gonzalez was 12 when Nick Hernandez, a popular young star who portrays a police officer in his television series, adopted him. An action-packed mystery, as real as any TV plot develops – thugs threaten Gus’s life, violence invades the stage set, and anonymous letters allege that criminal motives lie behind the adoption.
Hautman, winner of the National Book Award, also edited a well-reviewed collection of short stories about poker entitled Full House: Ten Stories about Poker (2007). Contribu-
Sarah Ockler’s Fixing Delilah (2010) depicts how Delilah has lost her mother’s trust by narrowly avoided shoplifting charges and being caught climbing back into her
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bedroom window after a late night date. Her mother, Claire, a successful, busy, and compulsive executive, insists that Delilah spend the summer with her and her Aunt Rachel dealing with her grandmother’s funeral and estate sale in Red Falls, Vermont. At her family’s Victorian home Delilah finds a diary hidden by her dead Aunt Stephanie, and begins to learn the family’s dark secrets. As in Ockler’s first book 20 Boy Summer (2009), a confused young woman learns who she is through significant loss, secrets revealed, and rediscovered integrity. Steel by Carrie Vaughn (released March 2011) tells the story of Jill, a talented young competitive fencer, who has never been in a real sword fight. While vacationing in the Caribbean, she finds a rusty sword, is transported to a pirate-infested earlier time, fights for her life, and finds romance. Other books by Vaughn include Voices of Dragons (2010), a series of novels starring Kitty, a werewolf who hosts a radio talk show, and After the Golden Age (April 2011), whose main character is a forensic accountant and daughter of comic superheroes. Other authors who presented at this year’s conference include: Todd Mitchell: The Secret to Lying (2010). Author, poet and teacher. The protagonist 15-year old James reinvents himself and starts a new life at American Science and Mathematics Academy. He fools everyone, except the mysterious IMing ghost44. Matali Perkins: Bamboo People (2010), Secret Keeper (2009), and many other titles about life between cultures. Denise Vega: Facts of Life #31 (2009), Access Denied (and other 8th grade error messages) (2009), Click Here (to find out how I survived 7th grade) (2006). Young Adult Literature meets the needs and interests of many teens for recreational reading. Readers might also learn vicariously about real life as they identify and relate to the characters, their situations, emotions, and problemsolving strategies. After meeting authors at Colorado Teen Literature Conference, and listening to their actual voices, readers may hear the voice in the writing more clearly. CTLC often appeals to teens who take their own writing seriously and aspire to become published authors someday. Many of these teens came to the conference in April wanting to learn strategies and processes they might incorporate into their own work. As always, the authors who appeared at CTLC were eager and prepared to share their insights in the keynote speeches, sessions for teens
only, writing workshop sessions, Q & A panel discussions and often personally at book-signings. These authors use 21st century technology to maintain their connections with their primary audience, the digital natives. They have their own websites, contribute to publishers’ sites, and frequently blog about their ideas and critical issues. Some offer writers’ workshops; most respond to email questions about writing. Sarah Ockler, for example is constantly writing. Her site, “Making Stuff Up. Writing It Down,” includes the usual biography and a list of her books. But it also includes her blog, advice like “How to Not Be a Thing: 10 Anti-Insanity Tips for Writers,” scheduled events, and ways to respond to her. In a recent FAQ she wrote about what inspired her as a writer. “High school. I hated it! Most of the time, my journal was the only one who would listen. Because of that, I got into the habit of constantly observing everything around me and recording it in detail on the page, along with my feelings and hopes and dreams and fears. Those habits eventually gave way to storytelling.” She details other influences, including her work with the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, and other writers she admires. In her blog entry for 4/5/2010 she gives her opinion on “The Real Parent Problem in YA Lit,” in response to The New York Times Book Editor Julie Just’s argument that only inept and ineffective parents ever appear in YAL. The sidebar (page 20) includes CTLC authors’ sites and blogs that specifically address questions about writing, sources of ideas and inspiration, writing processes, and advice for aspiring writers. Authors also sometimes comment on other writers that they read, and relate their own experiences at conferences and book signing appearances. For example, read Sara Zarr’s account of meeting Matt de la Peña. The Colorado Language Arts Society supports its members throughout the year as we work toward improving the teaching and learning of the English language arts. By supporting Colorado’s Teen Literature Conference, especially through the Bellin Grants for conference registrations, more teens learn about Young Adult Literature and its authors. This year’s conference undoubtedly inspired many teens and adults to become more actively involved in the literacy community. Looking ahead to next year, the 24th Annual Colorado Teen Literature Conference is scheduled for March 31, 2012 at the Tivoli Conference Center. The keynote speakers will be Maggie Stiefvater, author of Shiver, Linger, and Forever, and Colorado Humanities Young Adult Book Award nominee Todd Mitchell, author of The Secret of Lying. We have established a new fund to support parents and educator/librarians with a registration stipend. This is the Magwitch Fund, supported by sales of our logoimprinted bookbags. Stay updated on these and other developments about the 2012 conference by visiting www. coteenlitconf.org. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
CTLC Authors’ Sites and Blogs “In Conversation with Matt de la Peña”: www.sarazarr.com/archives/1535 http://carrievaughn.wordpress.com/category.faq (see also allthingsurbanfantasy.blogspot.com) http://ellenhopkins.livejournal.com/ jimvanpelt.livejournal.com; www.sff.net/people/james.van.pelt/ www.toddmitchell.com (see also www.thecontemps.com and agoodaddiction.blogspot.com) www.afterellen.com/People/2005/4/juliepeters.html www.alaneferguson.com (see also alaneferguson.blogspot.com) www.beccafitzpatrick.com www.davidlubar.livejournal.com/ www.denisevega.com www.jordansonnenblick.com/blog/ www.mitali.blog.com www.PeteHautman.com (see also petehautman.blogspot.com/ and www.readingrants. org/2010/11/.../the-big-crunch-by-pete-hautman/) www.sarahockler.com www.teenreads.com/authors/au-peters-julie-anne.asp www.terriclarkbooks.com www.traciljones.com (see also www.macmillan.com and www.embracingthechild.org)
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Queering Notions of “The Others”: A Conversation with Dr. Mollie Blackburn about Inclusive Teaching Practices By Rebecca Buecher
In the past two decades, much attention has been given to acknowledging the experiences of the increasingly diverse, multicultural population that has been emerging in our public schools. However, until only recently have these conversations begun to include sexual orientation. Unfortunately, recent attention to this other form of diversity has occurred largely in response to a surge of violence directed towards those labeled sexually ‘different.’ In 2009, GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, released a report based on ten years of research surveying 7,262 students, documenting the experiences of (LGBT) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students. Among many notable findings, the survey revealed that 9 out of 10 LGBT students had experienced harassment in the past year, twothirds of the students felt unsafe due to their sexual orientation, and one-third of these students had skipped school in the month prior to taking the survey because they did not feel safe. Considering this information in relation to the rash of recent suicides among LGBTQ youth, the safety and wellbeing of our young people demands the attention of educators who must consider how we can play a role in creating safe spaces that currently do not exist. Knowing that it is through the process of ‘othering’ that certain students are rendered the objects of scorn, I take this opportunity to write about ‘The Others’ seriously, but also with a sense of cautious hopefulness that this kind of dialogue can go a long way toward inspiring positive and necessary changes in schools. There are two concepts I would like to explore in this essay: Othering and queering. I chose these concepts because I believe that it is through the juxtaposition of the two that educators can begin to disrupt harmful practices in schools that lead to kids feeling like they don’t belong in certain spaces, or worse, that they don’t fit anywhere. Othering itself is an expansive concept that requires some exploration and understanding if we as educators are to know what to do when we see it negatively affecting youth in schools. By using queering as a verb, meaning an action to challenge and disrupt how people get positioned as “different,” I believe that we can gain better clarity about how to
Rebecca Beucher is an Education literacy doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Prior to pursuing doctoral work, Rebecca taught 6-12 English Language Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
act as educators, serving as advocates for our students who are punished for their actual and assumed differences. In this way, we may guide youth in developing an understanding that, while striving to be like one another can be a fruitful ambition, embracing novelty, creativity, and authenticity are practices that allow us to love ourselves and each other. To begin, Othering involves the creation of divisions, constructed polar opposites. Othering creates a world that allows for rhetoric of “us vs. them,” such as popular and unpopular, cool and weird, normal and abnormal, lives worth living and lives not worth living. It is the practice of dividing the world into categories of acceptable, best, or preferred, which stands in direct opposition to unacceptable, worst, or rejected. These divisions are an endless series of false dichotomies, as it is impossible to extrapolate aspects of one’s identity and set them at odds with one another. Yet, these divisions feel very real, and people, acting as though these divisions are real, make decisions about who does and does not get to belong, leaving some social outcasts feeling completely illegitimate. And, because these divisions are value-laden, students are constantly subjected to messages pressuring them to strive for normalcy, to reject their differences. However, for normal to remain normal, it always needs an abnormal to define itself against. Thus, not only are ‘the Others’ punished for being different via bullying, ridicule, and shunning, but moving out of this position becomes extremely difficult because those who fit the behaviors of normalcy resist being associated with anyone who has been identified as abnormal, even if that person shifts his behaviors to those of the norm. Thus, once a queer, a weirdo, an outsider, even if students try to abandon their identity, they still risk being labeled an outcast. Because of this, we need to queer our curriculums, and shift how we think about identity. We need to disrupt these false dichotomies and expose them for what they do and for what they are. We need to create space for all kids to feel comfortable with their bodies, their hairstyles, their ways of speaking, and their ways of loving. And, of course, students should feel at liberty to exercise a playfulness and fluidity in their identity exploration that is not strictly regulated by who they Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
should be but rather who they want to be, because it makes them happy. To advance this discussion of what this approach to understanding identity could look like in schools, I draw on a recent conversation I had with Dr. Mollie Blackburn, Associate Professor in Literacy Education at The Ohio State University. Dr. Blackburn is former middle and high school teacher who has spent her career engaging students in activities that invite Dr. Mollie Blackburn them to explore their multiple identities. Our conversation centered on her investigations of how queer youth actively construct identities through their engagement with literacy and literature. I believe Dr. Blackburn’s work is central to helping educators understand this concept of ‘Othering,’ and more importantly, how to shift, or queer, our classrooms, making them inclusive for all ways of being. Dr. Blackburn believes that ‘queering’ the classroom can be a way to engage youth in thinking differently about difference, because queering challenges the stability of normal and abnormal. She argues that teachers must be advocates for their students. In this way, queering the classroom pertains directly to the issues affecting LGBTQ youth, as well as all youth. For the healthy development of all students, Dr. Blackburn calls on teachers to believe in the transience of identity, that people, in the words of Paulo Freire, a Brazillian educator and critical pedagogy theorist, are in a perpetual state of “becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.” In reinforcing what is normal and what is not regarding identity, we inevitably restrict identity development. Blackburn first argues that teachers can begin ‘queering’ the classroom by assuming that they have LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) kids and allies in their classroom. While this sounds simple, shifting one’s thinking to this position has the potential to have profound implications for classroom discussions, norm setting, and curriculum design. Blackburn argues that having this mindset will enable teachers to be better advocates for their queer students because it will raise their consciousness about how hetero-normativity gets reinforced in most aspects of our lives. It is through these subtle messages, Blackburn believes, that kids learn the differences between normal and not normal. In this way, if you believe that you have LGBTQ kids in your classroom, you will talk differently about families, marriage, life expectations, school dances, etc. because each of these experiences look different according to sexual orientation. From this understanding, Blackburn calls on educa22
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tors to raise the level of students’ consciousness about the idea of normalcy itself. So much of this world is organized around hetero-normative, or straight lifestyles, she argues, and without even thinking about it, we often choose literature, pop culture, or historical references that privilege and reinforce this idea that we live in a straight world, or that the straight lifestyle is the most normal and legitimate. To be advocates for our LGBTQ youth, Blackburn calls on teachers to examine hetero-normativity, the instances where straight lifestyles are positioned as the normal ways of behaving. She argues that looking at hetero-normativity itself takes the pressure off LGBTQ youth and allies to explain their behaviors as another kind of normal. Rather, the class can work together to examine how some people get positioned as normal and others as abnormal. Further, she suggests that the class may also examine how LGBTQ characters in novels, for example, are treated ‘normally’ for exhibiting certain behaviors that fit with acceptable modes of behavior, such as a gay couple fitting into predefined male and female gender roles. Blackburn recommends Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg to engage a class in such a discussion about gender roles and relationships. For Blackburn, being an ally and advocate for our students means taking the risks we can’t expect our students to take themselves. Bringing “queer” books into the classroom is necessary to inviting more expansive discussions of different ways of being and desiring. It is not enough, Blackburn argues, to just allow students to read GLBTQ books on their own during silent reading time; instead, there needs to be a space for collaborative interrogation and discussion. Moreover, the onus needs to be on the teacher, and not the student, for choosing books that may invite judgment from peers. Regarding books specific to GLBTQ relationships, Blackburn suggests teachers invite the class to read together and discuss books like: The Color Purple by Alice Walker; Finding H.F. by Julia Watts; What Happened to Lani Garver? by Carol Plum-Ucci; and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. Clearly, teachers need to find ways to foster these conversations in ways that fit with their teaching styles and their willingness or ability to take risks. Moreover, the risks are undoubtedly different if you identify as LGBTQ yourself. However, since the absence or creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ youth can be a life or death matter, all educators must confront the persistent dichotomies that exist in their classroms. I am going to end this article with Dr. Blackburn’s words, as I believe they powerfully articulate a motivation we can all be inspired by to take the necessary risks for our students: My purpose is for kids [to] find places to learn what they want to learn, to be who they want to be. I really want to believe that there is something that the public can offer that lets people learn. When we hate kids
in schools, they can’t learn. I want kids to understand humanity better…to understand people more lovingly and more generously. The world can’t be a less violent place unless people learn to be more humane. Ultimately, whether we choose to engage critically or not, it is impossible to escape seeing and even participating in the labeling that we are all subjected to. Failing to critically examine how identities are created as normal and abnormal sanctions pernicious beliefs that certain young people hold about themselves, that their lives are not worth living. Loving our students and caring about their development must necessarily involve us challenging a status quo that often leaves little room for ‘the Others’ to breathe. Works Cited “2009 National School Climate Survey: Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT Students Experience Harassment in School.” GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. September 14, 2010. Web. 17 April 2011. <http://www.glsen.org/ cgi-bin/iowa/ all/ library/ record/2624.html?state =research &type=research>. Blackburn, Mollie. Personal interview. 11 April 2011. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970. Print.
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A Dialogue Among Three Colorado ELL Educators Dr. Kathy Escamilla is Professor of By Kathy Escamilla, PhD, Lisa Drangsholt and David Stewart Lisa Drangsholt is an ELA Program Coordinator for the Cherry Creek School District. She supports schools by providing professional development and support in co-teaching and collaboration. She has been involved in elementary education working with linguistically diverse students since 1998. She also serves as affiliate faculty at Regis University. Her email is email@example.com.
From the editors: Here we present a dialogue between three Colorado English Language Learner educators. We were inspired by a similar conversation on the pages of Adolescent Literacy:Turning promise into Practice, a recent NCTE edited book by Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief (2007). Beers, Probst, and Rief argued that they wanted not a co-authored chapter by three national leaders in ELL education (Cynthis Mata Aguilar, Danline Fu, and Carol Jago), but “something that suggested the starting and stopping, the rethinking, the interrupting, the contradictions (of self and each other), the hesitations, the silences, the rush of ideas, the spontaneity of the moment that comes when you put three very bright, very passionate, very dedicated teachers into one space” (p. 105). That’s what we were going for here. Teaching ELL students is complex, and we hoped that a conversation between three Colorado ELL educators would capture that more effectively than anything else. We turned to Dr. Kathy Escamilla, Professor of Education from CU-Boulder in the area of Social, Bilingual, and Multicultural Foundations; Lisa Drangsholt, ELA Program Coordinator for the Cherry Creek School District; and David Stewart, ESL teacher at Fairview High School in Boulder. To these three educators, we posed the same questions that Beers, Probst, and Rief used in the similar dialogue they published. Each of our participants responded to these questions via email and then had the opportunity to read 24
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Education at CU-Boulder. Her research centers on educational issues related to Spanish-speaking language minority students in U.S. schools, including the impact of high-stakes testing on these children. Her email is Kathy.Escamilla@ Colorado.EDU.
David Stewart holds a B.S. in Secondary Education from the University of Illinois, Urbana 1989 and a Masters in Multicultural, Social and Bilingual Education from CU-Boulder 2007. He has taught middle and high school in Boulder, Colorado. Presently he teaches ESL, Language Arts and Social Studies at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. There are about 40 English Language Learners in his program. His email is David.Stewart@bvsd.org.
and respond to what the other two had said. What follows here is the resulting dialogue. Editors: “Though we have a single goal for all students, regardless of where they begin—that they develop the articulate, reasoned use of language—we all know that teaching ELLs must mean something different than teaching native English speakers. What are the differences and similarities in teaching these two types of students?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 106) Lisa: In my position of coordinating programming and coaching educators who work with ELLs, I have heard the strategies and approaches used to teach ELLs frequently referred to as “just good teaching.” What is important to understand is that while these strategies and approaches may benefit native English speakers, their use and the appropriate amount of differentiation depending on a student’s level of acquisition are imperative if ELLs are to advance in both content and language development. This isn’t to say that some native English speakers don’t also need support because they do not have full command of the English required to succeed in a school setting. For instruction: Similarities – building relationships, making instruction engaging and rigorous, giving students opportunities to interact with teacher/each other, frequent practice of
new skills. Differences – slower rate of speech, repetition, visual supports, specific vocabulary development, language instruction alongside content instruction, and knowledge of a student’s current stage of language acquisition to determine appropriate tasks. David: You’re right on Lisa.We have to make sure that communication is happening. Communication, the kind that is fun and engaging for most people, is replete with cultural biases that form the baseline for everything from humor to questions that penetrate towards higher ordered thinking. If we want to engage all learners, which of course includes ELLs, we have to be cognizant of this and willing to provide practical and linguistic experiences to clue kids in. As the conversation in the text alluded (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007), kids who are literate in their primary language bring to the table skills for language acquisition that can not be over-stated in their importance. Kids who are not confident pushing a pencil take exponentially longer amounts of time to complete assignments and in-class formative assessments. I cannot emphasize enough my belief that kids are kids. I work with adolescent ELLs who are largely driven by motivators shared by all adolescents. But they also perceive the world also through the eyes of being adolescent ELLs. Whereas most kids fear public speaking and ELLs of any age fear speaking English in public and formal setting, many adolescent ELLs are mortified to speak publicly. Similarly, most adolescents want to feel included. Adolescent ELLs know that they are inherently outside of mainstream social circles and are therefore prone to intensely internalize or externalize the experience of their circumstance, leading to isolation-induced depression or to antipathy toward the culture that excludes them. Kathy: A very big difference between monolingual English learners and ELLs is that ELLs may have literacy in their first languages – if so their quest in English literacy is hopefully to become biliterate – often monolingual English students are becoming literate only in English. In this response I will focus more on differences in teaching ELLs as the literature tends to overemphasize the similarities. Teaching literacy to ELLs is different by virtue of the fact that ELLs have two languages and not one. For this reason, teaching ELLs cognates as a strategy for understanding English is a possibility where it is NOT for monolingual English learners. ELLs have two linguistic and cultural schema that they bring to the language classroom and they actively use both in trying to successfully interact with text and classroom discourse.Teachers must be sensitive to and explicitly teach the ‘culture’ of the text as well as the language of the text. It is also very important that teachers differentiate literacy instruction for students according to levels of proficiency in English. Beginning level ELLs
will need more scaffolding than intermediate or advanced learners and at times, ELLS are all put into one single category. While it is axiomatic that beginning level ELLs need scaffolds to literacy in English, it is equally important to keep in mind that advanced ELLs also need scaffolds as they grapple with cultural schema, idiomatic expressions, figures of speech etc. that may impede their interaction with and comprehension of text. Finally, it is important that teachers keep in mind that ELLs come from many different linguistic backgrounds and teaching students for whom Farsi is a first language will be different than teaching students for whom Spanish is a first language. Different languages interact differently with English. David: I see your point, Kathy, and as a teacher, I do wish that my students would become bi-literate because it that is such a valuable skill set. But adolescent ELLs want to learn content in English and want to feel successful in English at school. Many are behind and feel perpetually discouraged because of the demands of English, and that makes them markedly distinct from their native English counterparts. Lisa: It is so important, as both David and Kathy say, to be aware of and responsive to the notion that language cannot be separated from culture. Editors: Kathy hinted at this next question in her response above: “ELLs may come into the classroom with different languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, for instance. Does the home language dramatically affect your teaching approach?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 108) Kathy: Yes and no – research is clear that cross-language transfer is easier if the two languages are similar. For example, English, Spanish, Italian, French etc. are all right branching languages, all share the alphabetic principal and there are many cognates across languages. For students who are literate in these languages when they enter U.S. schools, many of the skills and strategies they have in their native languages will transfer and be useful in learning to read in English. Further, the research base with regard to cross-language transfer between alphabetic languages is more plentiful than with other languages. However, there are crosslanguage possibilities between languages with very distinct orthographic systems also. For example, a student who is literate in Chinese, even though it is not an alphabetic language, knows that reading is about deriving meaning, there is a directionality to print, there is consistency in the way language is written, etc. What seems to be particularly important is the level of literacy in one’s first language. The teaching approach needs to consider: 1) The degree of similarity between L1 and English; 2) The level of proficiency in the literacy in L1; and 3) Teachers need to absolutely know something about the cultural backgrounds of students they are teaching and consider that when selecting texts etc. to Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
use to teach students to read in English. Lisa: Yes, there are factors such as characters/letters, directionality, cognates, and grammar structures to consider when comparing native language characteristics to those of English. With that being said, what I have found to be the most telling attribute of a student’s success is his/her proficiency in his/her native language. Students who have developed solid language and literacy concepts in their first language will typically find connections in English and leverage that knowledge, regardless of their native language. David: It doesn’t dramatically affect my approach. Since I speak Spanish, I sometimes do use Spanish to clarify an explanation or a word, or to emphasize the meaning English vocabulary, but typically I still try to present the curriculum in various modalities, reinforcing spoken language with the written. As pointed out in the text (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007), some things in English do not exist in the first language of ELLs. Take for example consonant and vowel sounds found in English. We know that if a child doesn’t hear certain consonant sounds in his/her formative years, it can not only be difficult for that person to generate that sound as an adult, it may not even register in his/her “minds’ ear” (to coin a phrase). Spanish speakers, for example have difficulty with the schwa e sound often made with the letter “i” and typically pronounced as a long e sound instead. All languages have their unique “misfittings” with English (or vice versa). This can not only impede spelling, but also interfere with comprehension and English acquisition. Kathy: With regard to all three comments above, it is noteworthy that all of us responded that the best predictor of how well and easily ELLs will take on the learning of English is the level of literacy in the student’s first language. Unfortunately, we should add that 87% of the English Language Learners growing up in the U.S. are in English medium school programs and will never have the opportunity to learn to read and write in the native language(s). Therefore, they will not have the benefit of having first language literacy and content knowledge to use in learning English. Editors: If it’s the case that “students switch to the language they know best when they need to discuss issues that are compelling to them, how do we keep them learning at a suitable intellectual level in their classes, including content area classes? How do we address the critical social element in their lives as well?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, pp. 110-1) Kathy: With regard to this question, it is critical for teachers to understand the difference between the development of receptive language and expressive language. When students read, they are developing their receptive skills and the 26
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receptive skills of reading and understanding develop before the expressive skills of writing and speaking. Therefore, it is highly desirable to allow students to express themselves in their native languages in order to process information that they are reading in English. In this case their first languages are scaffolds to learning English – too often in this country we feel that using one’s native language in an English class is a ‘crutch’ and will impede English acquisition. There is no research to support this. By allowing students to use their native languages in content area classes we are demonstrating a respect for the language and are acknowledging that knowledge can be acquired in many languages. Moll & Diaz (1985) created a strategy that was quite effective to insure accountability and at the same time allow students to use their native languages. They would have students read in English, then allow them to use their native languages in small groups to discuss what they had read and then require them to summarize their small group instruction in English. This strategy proved to be very beneficial in improving English reading comprehension. David: I would only add that this sounds great, but is difficult to pull off with the time constraints that teachers face on a day-to-day, class-to-class basis. Many of my ELLs who are struggling in school take a comparatively long time to express themselves in writing. What I am saying is that if we are expecting ELLs to do this, as we should, we have to build up to (scaffold to) this expectation over the course of the school year or semester. Lisa: This question really speaks to the potential problems of a traditional pull-out ESL program. Typically, in pull-out settings, ELLs are receiving lots of practice with the English language but they are not doing so with rigorous/grade level content. When teachers (with the assistance of ELA Specialists) understand the content they are teaching, can determine the “essential” components of what they are teaching, and then determine the language supports and challenges within a lesson, the teacher can develop clear objectives for both high level learning and English acquisition. Providing alternate ways for students to show their understanding of a concept is also beneficial. I have found that when teachers have a concern about students using their native language during class, it is rooted in something deeper than a simple concern that they may be off task. For example, it might be because of the value placed on the language a student speaks. I encourage teachers to provide frequent opportunities for synthesis and clarification in the native language. Limited proficiency in English is neither a detriment nor a prerequisite for learning and exploring academic and linguistic concepts at a child’s grade level. David: Lisa, I could not agree more. If students are talking about compelling ideas that are related to the content, it
doesn’t matter to me what language that is occurring in. Indeed, I welcome this and wish it could and would happen about any topic. It always leads to a deeper engagement.The power of conversation to get ideas flowing in the minds of students cannot be over-estimated. As this question rightly presumes, the social element is crucial. Accountability can come by asking students to express themselves in a language that the teacher can understand, be it by speaking or writing, or both. Lisa: This also speaks to the importance of providing opportunities for students to use nonlinguistic methods to communicate their high-level thinking. Editors: “It seems that ELL students will come to us from cultures that differ in many respects—gender expectations, religious background, sense of personal space, willingness or unwillingness to confront certain issues. How do you see that these cultural differences complicate our teaching? What must we know to deal with them? How do we keep them from becoming obstacles and instead transform them into opportunities?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 113) Lisa: In Teaching Reading to English Language Learners: Differentiated Literacies I have been exposed to a more descriptive label than ELL, and that is CLD (culturally and linguistically diverse) students (Escamilla, Perez, & Herrera, 2010). This reminds teachers that students come with more than just a different language. I immediately look at this question and find discomfort with the word “complicate” and the phrase “deal with” because of the potentially negative connotations. First and foremost teachers must possess the ability and willingness to candidly inventory their own biases and prejudices towards those culturally different than themselves. Do we view those different from ourselves as deficient or do we see these differences as gifts? We must recognize the differences we see and how we receive them. From there I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong” way to do things, only an honest one. Kathy: Lisa’s comment really resonates with me. It matters, A LOT, how we talk about students and how we talk about issues. The term CLD is really much more descriptive than the more commonly used term of ELL. It acknowledges that culture is a part of language and we must consider that as we build ‘best practice’ programs for ELL/CLD students. Moreover, I agree with the problematic nature of the terms ‘complicate’ and ‘deal with’ as these perpetuate a notion that CLD students have deficits to be reconciled rather than strengths and attributes to be nurtured. David: Taking our own personal inventory is the truly “complicated” thing that we as teachers must “deal with.” Until that happens, the dynamic between teacher and ELL stu
dents is a veritable time bomb: a social disaster in the making with the teacher/learner relationship on the line. Once we teachers take this step and understand our own ethnocentric mindset, we just need to be up front about things, and anticipate that certain issues are likely to be received differently by different people from different cultures. But, by the same token, be ready for receptions different than what we might anticipate.This is where we need to be willing to step outside ourselves and to have examined our own cultural baggage, so that we are ready to nurture our students where they are and affirm who they are as they learn to express themselves, be it in silence or be it in a willingness to converse. To get to what is truly different in the way ELLs learn, we have to look at the dynamics between the teachers and the learners. The teachers’ styles, complete with all the nuanced attempts to connect with students and connect students to learning, that individual teachers make, and how those styles are perceived by the students, is the crux of what is “different.” It’s about the teacher’s willingness to engage the students, measured by the teacher’s willingness to thoroughly examine whether or not he or she is actually presenting the curriculum in a way that ELLs can understand it. Kathy: It is incumbent upon teachers to know something about the students they teach – period! Teachers must understand that all of us belong to multiple cultural groups include macro, micro and idio cultures. Rather than generalizing and potentially stereotyping ELL students, I think teachers should spend some time getting to know these students as individuals and members of ethnolinguistic groups. There are several very good resources for doing this. I would have them do culture wheels (see Herrera, Perez & Escamilla, 2010) – there are other resources to help to get to know students. I would also encourage teachers to understand what potential cultural conflicts can arise with students from different cultural backgrounds and to have classroom strategies for dealing with cultural conflicts. David: And students love when we show that we know something about them. I once wore my Mexico national team soccer jersey to school and this one Mexican student, with whom I had had nothing but difficulties, stopped me in the hall and said, “Hey, wow! I’ve never seen a teacher where a Mexico jersey!” Our relationship changed that day on in to the future just because I made one expression of appreciation for what was valuable to him. Editors: “If students use their primary language as a scaffold to deeper learning—whether in peer tutoring moments or in more informal conversations as students interpret for one another, what about when we want students to join the class conversation? How do you encourage ELLs to join Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
in when they are often reluctant to speak out?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 117) Lisa: Students should use their primary language to make meaning of their learning. By establishing deliberate outcomes that students are aware of, I have been able to cue students to English practice time versus content understanding time. There are many reasons why a student might be reluctant to speak out. Depending on the student’s language level, personality, knowledge of the content, etc. teachers can scaffold a situation that allows for safe risk-taking. David: Sometimes scaffolding is just giving them time. They need time to think. They need time to hear language being modeled in a safe environment and they need a chance to first use this newly synthesized (ideas + language) in a safe way. Paired or small group talk. Short surveys that model the language are a great way to get students to read and interact with the language. Quick writes that are shared out in small groups are a great way to assess students’ understanding and if students have access to modeled written language, quick writes can be great practice for the students as well. Kathy: Please see my response to the third question from the editors above – there are ways to encourage English and use L1 as a teaching tool. I would not force any ELLs to speak in front of an entire class unless they volunteer to do so. WHY? It is very intimidating to speak in a second language when you know there are native speakers in a class judging you. I would not want to be in a gymnastics meet with Mary Lou Retton when I am just learning to turn a somersault and she is an Olympic gymnast – this is the way many ELLs feel in a class with native English speakers. I would make sure they get a lot of opportunity to use English in small groups and I would encourage but not demand participation in whole class discussions. Editors: “Students need as much practice in English as they can get, and yet they need time to process information in their own language” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 118). How do we balance that? Lisa: When planning for instruction, teachers must first determine what class time will be devoted to mastering the content and what times within the lessons will be specific for English practice. In my work in various settings I have concluded that the practice of prohibiting students from speaking their native languages often stems from a misunderstanding about how a second language develops and/or one’s deeper opinion of cultures and languages that differ from their own. David: I agree with you, Lisa. ELLs are always “process28
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ing” in their own language, just as native English speakers are. Giving kids 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes to write down their ideas or turn and talk before we ask students to join in on small group or whole class discussions is plenty of time for most questions of study. If I can get any kid, ELL or no, to talk about a class topic for more than a few seconds, I would feel that I have succeeded in the first steps of engaging my students. Kathy: Again this is dependent on the level of proficiency in English and in L1 of the student. Beginning level students need a lot of time to process information in their first language as they are at a beginning level in their stage of interlanguage. As they become more proficient in English, they need less time to process information in their first language. Teachers need to understand stages of interlanguage and they need to understand where each of their students fit in this continuum. With beginning learners more time in English is often counter-productive. A good 45-minute class tailored to their level and needs gives students a better opportunity to acquire English than a six-hour school day where they are immersed and often not understanding the language of instruction or the school. More is not always better – focused explicit instruction targeted at their language proficiency level is more desirable. Editors: “How do we help ELLs handle the vast vocabulary issues that confront them each day in every class?” (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 119) Kathy: I am a fan of Paul Nation who says that vocabulary teaching needs to directly correlate to the frequency with which a student will encounter a word. Sometimes we focus too narrowly on teaching technical content vocabulary (e.g. photosynthesis, chromium) and ignore the vocabulary that is needed across content areas (e.g. interpret, illustrate, explain). Nation has a list of the 2,000 words that are of the greatest utility in English, I think this would be useful to teachers. Lisa: Learning a new language requires opportunities to interact with new vocabulary in various settings in meaningful ways. I recommend that teachers take advantage of students’ first language knowledge by teaching children to actively search for any cognates that their native language may share with English. When teaching any new vocabulary it must be embedded in authentic and meaningful communication, like having students construct oral and written sentences of their own using the new vocabulary. David: Yes, and these exercises are even more powerful when made relevant or meaningful to students’ experience. We have to first model the vocabulary and give them interesting and engaging ways of practicing it. Beyond that, we also have to realize that we might not be anticipating
all the words likely to throw ELLs for a loop. This year, one of my students related his experience at a soccer game. The ref told him to call the coin flip in the air. He couldn’t remember the words “heads” and “tails,” so he just stood there in silence. After three times of the ref tossing the coin with the same instructions, my student quietly nudged his teammate and said, “You call it.” He related this experience humorously, but had the ref modeled the choices to call it, he would have been able to represent his team himself. Kathy: I would like to respond to David and Lisa’s very good comments here. One of the things that we must try to give our ELLs is multiple opportunities to practice English in low stress situations. For secondary ELLs, participating in extra-curricular activities is a good opportunity to learn English and learn about the adolescent U.S. culture. David’s soccer example is a great illustration of how language and new vocabulary can be learned in context and also how we cannot always anticipate what vocabulary (or in this case phrases) students will need. We need to encourage them to use the English they know and to have the confidence to ask clarifying questions. We need to also encourage them to be a part of the entire school culture and extra-curricular activities are a good way to do that. Editors: What practical and concrete strategies would you suggest to teachers to support the learning of these students—vocabulary notebooks, preliminary conversations with other speakers of the same language before asking them to join in the discussion in English, avoidance of clichés and idioms in class lectures, clear notes that act as graphic organizers? (Aguilar, Fu, and Jago, 2007, p. 121) Kathy: Again, I think this depends on the level of proficiency of the student. Vocabulary notebooks can be useful as long as the vocabulary is of high utility, preliminary conversation with speakers of the same language is also useful (see Moll & Diaz). Sheltered teaching techniques are also useful if teachers use them consistently. I think using idioms etc. in class is okay as long as teachers teach them and do not assume students understand them. Graphic organizers help but teachers need to be aware that when ELL students turn the graphic organizer into an essay they will need help with the syntax and the words to create connected discourse – the graphic organizer needs to be supplemented with other kinds of scaffolds. Lisa: I appreciate that Kathy reminds us not to necessarily avoid idiomatic speech. If the teacher tries too hard to simplify English instruction, the result can be unnatural modeling of the language. David: Kids are tasked with knowing the content and most would trade it for knowing English in a heartbeat.They want to feel that they are leaning and getting good grades; they
want to feel successful.Yet they are constantly discouraged by their limitations in English. So we have to push them, but build in their success. When we want to hold them accountable in class, we have to scaffold the very processes of accountability over time. Some are slow to put pencil to paper, so we have to build up to longer responses. To get there, we have to give them models of what it might look like and, of course, praise them all along the way. This often means praising them off to the side, so that, if they are as sensitive as I say they are, the praise does not backfire into an embarrassing situation that makes them feel ashamed (again). Lisa: There are countless books written sharing strategies for ELLs. It is my opinion that strategies matter little if you don’t have some fundamental understanding. My advice: 1. Recognize that learning English is not a precursor to learning content. 2. Don’t talk too much. 3. Know your students’ language level so that you can monitor that your instruction, student practice and assessments are appropriate. 4. When possible provide students with access to others who speak their language. 5. Whenever possible, provide structures (our district uses Thinking Maps) to serve as a consistent way to cue a student in specific tasks. This gives a contextual framework and allows for high order thinking as well as potential opportunities for language development. The bottom line in language learning is to provide opportunities for meaningful interaction with comprehensible content. How teachers do this will depend on knowing the individual needs of their students. Works Cited Aguilar, C.M, , Fu, D., and Jago, C. (2007) “English Language Learners in the Classroom.” Adolescent Literacy: Turning promise into Practice. Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief (eds.). Portsmouth: Heinemann, pgs. 105-125. Escamilla, K., Perez, D.R., & Herrera, S.G. (2010). Teaching Reading to English Language Learners Differentiated Literacies. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Moll & Diaz (1985). Ethnographic pedagogy: Promoting effective bilingual instruction. In E.E. Garcia, & R.V. Padilla (Eds.), Advances in bilingual education research (pp. 127149). Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press. Nation, P. (2001) Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Heart and Soul of a Child By Dr. Lindamichellebaron
In this time of academic accountability, educators are so consumed by the need to evaluate student learning through standardized tests and data-driven “one size fits all” pedagogy models, that education is in danger of losing the authentic synergic connection among students, teachers, the community, and the world at large. I believe that educators must feel free to infuse a different teaching dimension. The desired dimension is “soul.” The first question educators should pose is, “What is the meaning of soul in education?” In Promotional Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators, Rachael Kessler has articulated seven dimensions of soul in the schools that provide a framework for understanding what we mean by the spirit of authentic education. Education, she believes, should not ignore the inner life of the student; instead, educators should routinely pose questions as to the purpose and meaning of the spiritual world along with the pragmatic methodologies that teach our children the skills they need to know to live within today’s culture as well as adapt to tomorrow’s changes. Using the analogy of the Seven Wonders of the World, Kessler posits seven gateways to the soul: yearning for deep connections; longing for silence and solitude; search for meaning and purpose; hunger for joy and delight; creative drive; urge for transcendence; and need for initiation. I am particularly interested in her discussion of creativity as being a door that opens worlds of the previously unknown and is an expression of who we truly are as individuals and as educators. From her interviews with teachers, Kessler quotes Colleen Conrad, who stated: “Poetry is one way that I encourage a great deal of creativity...the important task is to give students a voice and to help each one realize that he or she have valuable stories to tell” (82). Linda Lantieri, in her book, Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers, has a similar perspective on soul-filled education. For her, schools must cultivate the uniqueness and individuality of each child. Lantieri posits that schools must value the differing ways of knowing, such as intuition, imagination and creativity. Of course, this daunting yet pivotal mission for educators does not include an all-encompassing, onesolution-fits-all approach.Yet a soul-filled education can 30
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Dr. Lindamichellebaron is an Assistant Professor in the Teacher Education Department at York College (CUNY) in New York City. Dr. Lindamichellebaron has received numerous awards as an educator, author, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and performing artist. She can be reached via her website at: http://www. lindamichellebaron.com.
and must be fostered by us as teachers, each of us drawing on our own heart and soul and utilizing the embedded history of student stories to reach out to, pull back from, or in some instances, pull in students for their own good. Stories can help us to respect the student who comes into our classroom, accepting the student’s personality as is, not as we would prefer it. We can teach each other through analyzing the stories, anecdotes, and incidents other educators provide. A recent situation sparked an epiphany that helped me to more clearly articulate my rationale for the need to respect, honor, listen to and support the child who comes into our classroom, rather than look for the child we wish would come. I once attended a conference where I was presenting and meeting new colleagues. I mentioned to one of them, that while I am there as a teacher/educator/presenter, I have always thought of myself as a poet. I’ve always written poetry and I’m known as a poet. My new friend only hears the word “poet.” “You write poetry? Wait a minute. I have a poem one of my children wrote.” At this point I don’t know whether she’s referring to a student in her class or her own child. After rummaging through her bag, she takes out a lined sheet of paper, folded into a one-inch square. She unfolds it to read, saying that it was written by one of her seventh grade students. I have included the text of the folded poem and my responses as a professional published poet of four decades. The World through a poet eyes Not the title but a powerful first line. A strong statement of self-concept. I’m already impressed…unless this was the line given the student as a prompt. It wasn’t. I grew up witout my family does it make me a Bum I grew up wit my head in the clouds does It make me dumb. If I fall asleep in church does it make me a sinner. If I cheat in a race does that makes me a winner.
I am surprised at the depth and insight implied by the questions this young man had thoughtfully scribed. He addresses major life issues, using his personal experiences as a seventh grader and his awareness of current realities. He asks: If I die will I go to heaven Will Bin Latin apalogize from 9/1 When I die will I see things clear When Im asleep does god see my fear. His poetry even captures the obsession with the Texas tests: If god didn’t forgive would we all go to hell. If we couldn’t pass the TAKS would we all just fail. Is the half rhyme a result of dialect difference here? This is one of the most commonly referenced elements considered black vernacular dialect. I am not certain, at this point, whether or not that matters as I analyze and read between the lines of this powerful piece. Before the robber pulled the trigger Did He think twice If there was no evil would the world be nice I have no more question forget about the lies I wish you can see the world out a poet’s eyes The last line, “I wish you can see the world out a poet’s eyes” seems to call for a reader with the vision, and the empathy to see the complexity of life, from his reflective, philosophical, weighty insight and perspective. The questions he asks of himself, of life, and of the reader are compelling. I am overwhelmed, not only by the quality of the poem, but also by what I presume to be great teaching by the educator who shared the poem with me. But no, she informs me: she was absent the day the poem was written. A substitute, a member of the school faculty, had asked the class to write a poem. My new friend found the poem folded in a one-inch square on her desk. What set of circumstances could permit or compel this child to create the piece? What was he thinking? He had crafted this piece and then folded it in a one-inch square. Did that action indicate that he thought only the teacher he trusted could see the world “through a poet’s eyes?” What was also intriguing to me was why this educator, who seemed to appreciate the poem, carried this poem around with her
in her pocketbook. I wondered if had she celebrated this poet in his classroom community and made certain there were other options for him to share his talents. As we talked it became clear that she didn’t know what else to do with the poem. She recognized the creativity and the intellectual nature of the poem, but ironically, she seemed to wrestle with how to handle the misspellings and the poor use of punctuation. She was concerned that this was certainly not writing that could be presented and accepted on the standardized test (TAKS). Although she valued this young man’s work, she believed the school community and society would not. She also seemed to feel there was too much candor in his writing. She felt the openness and visceral quality of his work would work against him doing well on the TAKS. She had told the student, ”I’m trying to pass you through TAKS and you’re telling me your life.” She worried how the poem would be perceived: “And white people are going to read this and think. They’re not going to understand the children’s writings or why they write the way they write. That’s my stress.” Sadly, she added: “They feel they can be so open with me. They think they can write anything. They probably don’t know that what they are writing about their lives is not ‘the usual’ in the world.” This young man’s poem certainly is not “ the usual.” The divergence is not something to deprecate or fear. This young poet is studying himself and his world. In fact, I’m reminded of Keith Gilyard’s study of language competence, in Voices of Self. Gilyard affirms the role of self-study within the framework of a transactional model. He describes the model: …in which humans are viewed as continually negotiating with an evolving environment … One has personal traits and a belief system that set one’s expectations and guide one’s actions. The results of these actions in turn modify that belief system. The modified belief system governs further action and so on.” (13) This young man’s poem and the questions he asks within the poem nicely parallel the transactional view of an evolving individual who is not only creating text, but developing context for transformation through selfawareness and self-knowledge. The poem explores the voices of the self. The questions the author asks within the poem represent his emergent empowerment. The young poet’s teacher recognizes the poet’s evolving intellect as expressed in his writing. She also is aware of her other students’ depths of written and oral expression, but she doesn’t know how to harness it. She is afraid and unable to take this intellectual power and poetry talent to the next level. Her inability to utilize students’ emotional and visceral writing power as a tool for life and literacy learning frames a complex challenge Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
facing educators in this era of accountability: data-driven results have the potential to alter a student’s academic record and a teacher’s employment status. Children come to school with deep, rich, provocative, intriguing, and in some cases, horrific stories. They can tell their stories through destructive behaviors or through opportunities to express themselves in oral and written form. Our response to their attempts at self-expression helps them decide whether to act out or choose to communicate creatively. Teachers need to ensure that schools are welcoming places for our children. If the lives of children are not valued as they write then they will not authentically communicate their needs and values to us the educators so we can lead them toward positive outcomes. Children produce compelling works that tell their story, in and out of the school’s sight. Children cannot afford to have the content of their work dismissed as dysfunctional, ungrammatical, syntactically incorrect or non-standard. Many children live literate lives outside of school, but in school these lives are not valued, recognized or appreciated. Ernest Morrell and Jeff Duncan-Andrade describe their research into youth culture, primarily hip-hop, as mechanisms for urban youth to develop and express critical literacy skills. Some of these same students had been labeled “non-academic” or “semi-literate” but they could analyze the metaphors and symbolism of hip hop music. They developed an intervention that recognized hip hop as a literary genre and they scaffolded a process to develop critical literacy skills. Mahiri supports the findings of the Morrell/Duncan-Andrade study. He writes, The findings from this study argue for a broader definition of school-based literacy that builds effectively on urban students lived experiences and encompasses their cultural understandings and values, their selfawareness, and the development of critical consciousness (4). We have to be clear about what we want our children to be when they grow up. Is our teaching directed at teaching for the big picture or for short-term requirements? Dennis Littky describes what he would like to see our children be as adults: Strong enough to stand up and speak for what he or she wants and believes, and who cares about himself or herself in the world. Someone who understands himself or herself and understands learning. Creativity, passion, courage and perseverance are the personal qualities I want to see in my graduates. I want them to come upon things they’ve seen everyday and look at them in a whole 32
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new way. I want them to feel good about themselves and be good, honest people in the way they live their lives. (92) We have to use the big picture to work backwards from our answers to what we would like to see our children be as adults. What learning are we trying to cocreate in the classroom? For what purposes? As educators we don’t always like the way students and their stories arrive in our classrooms. The package is worn and torn. Many students don’t have all the skills we would like them to have. They do not dress to impress us. Sometimes students seem to be preparing themselves for jails rather than for higher education. What is our responsibility to them? Our efforts could be compared to that of doctors: we attempt to resuscitate their dead spirit, their low sense of self, and their weak pulse when it comes to demonstrated capacity. Instead of this liferesuscitating response, we often pronounce them dead on arrival. If we were their doctors would we refuse to treat them because they are too sick. Janice Hale quotes Madeline Cartwright, a principal in inner-city Philadelphia: We may not know what kind of life our youngsters had before they stepped into our school; we may not know what happened to them last night or what’s going to happen to them tonight. But we do know what’s happening to them here…and every effort will be made by every one of us to make the hours between eight and four a time when our children can be children. (57) Many children possess the social and emotional literacy that allows them to read between the lines of school culture and expectations. They know whether or not the school is user-friendly. They can use the five finger method for usability and responsiveness to their needs. They can read us like a book. Or they can put the book down. Herb Kohl insists that for some children, it’s not that they can’t learn from us, it’s that they won’t. Kohl describes a discussion with a student who has decided not to learn: I once asked Akmir if he ever thought beyond his not-learning and the time it took up. He said that he did, that he wanted to use that not-learning to clear a space for himself to learn without feeling oppressed by words. He also wanted to write, to tell stories in a language that was positive and unselfconscious, that spoke of the life of black people without the need to qualify life by reference to white oppression. …His dream was one of writing beyond race while
affirming the quality of his experience and the history of his people. (23) So many of the suggested approaches to reaching students of all cultures while connecting to their hearts and souls seem to also correspond to social constructivist theory and practice (which says what?) and teaching social and emotional intelligences. My reflections on stories like these have informed my practice such that I try to embed heart and soul into my teaching of students and pre-service educators. If we, the educators, are not able to help the students move beyond a test centered school system into a student centered classroom, then we have to support students develop the capacity to request it for themselves. Just as we give students the “five finger rule” to help children determine whether or not a particular book is suitable for his or her independent reading, I invite educators to consider asking students to use the following self-efficacy checklist questions to evaluate the school and the teacher’s responsiveness to their needs (see figure 1).
their potential to reach their dreams. Concerned educators, parents, students and politicians must work together, as Pedro Noguera suggests, to transform schools and reclaim the promise of public education in order to keep our children from being pushed into poverty, inequity, and social injustice. We have the opportunity and responsibility to keep our children afloat while they are in our classrooms. To this end, we must be willing to take a critical look at our teaching through the eyes of those we teach. As we value, understand, and appreciate their stories, while reflecting on our own, we can help learners create critical literacies that will empower them in ways that will change their lives. References Elias, M.J., Zins, J.E., Weissberg, R.P., Frey, K.S., Greenberg, M.T., Haynes, N.M., Kessler, R., Stone-Schwab, M.E., Shriver, T.P. (1997) Promotional Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators.Virginia, ASCD.
figure 1 Student Heart and Soul Self Question Reflection Tool • Does my teacher/my school recognize my strengths, as well as my cultural and individual capital? • Does my teacher/my school listen to me? • Does my teacher/my school respect my culture, my style, my ways of knowing? • Does my teacher/my school help me link my literacy to my personal aspirations and dreams? • Does my teacher/my school see my full capability? When we as teachers recognize and support the assumptions embedded in the five questions but our school doesn’t, we have to ask ourselves, “What is our responsibility to our children? What must we do to respond to student needs if we are to be effective educators?” As I develop my tenets, I will do so by placing myself in the child’s seat so I can see from the poet’s eyes. You may want to consider what you believe are your tenets for reaching our children from the heart and soul. One last story to highlight the need to reach our children from a perspective of care and a powerful belief in their capacity is an observation I made while passing a playground outside a middle school in Brooklyn. A city sign at the entrance of the yard read, “No Dogs Allowed.” The word “Dogs” had been scratched out and replacing was scratched in “Dreams.” Thus the sign read, “No Dreams Allowed.” Without attention to connecting our heart and soul to the children we serve, we are, in effect, smothering
Gilyard, Keith. (1997).Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence (African American Life). Detroit: Wayne State University. Hale, J. H. (2001). Learning While Black: Creating Educational Excellence for African American Children. Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Kohl, H. (1994). I Won’t Learn From You: And other thoughts on Creative Maladjustment. New York: The New Press. Lantieri, L (2001). Schools with Spirit: Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers. Boston: Beacon Press. Littky, D. with Grabelle, S. (2004). The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business.Virginia: ASCD. Mahiri, J. (2004). What They Don’t Learn in School. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Morrell, E. and Duncan-Andrade, J. (2008). The Art of Critical Pedagogy: The Possibilities of Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools. New York City: Peter Lang Publishing. Noguera, P. (2003). City Schools and the American Dream. New York and London: Teachers College Press.
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Incorporating Fishbowl Discussion: Engaging the Silent and the Spirited Pam Coke is an Associate Professor in Productive Ways of English Education at Colorado By Dr. Pam Coke Like many teachers, every semester I greet a new classroom of students. I gauge the success of the classroom chemistry by how soon students “take off their gloves” and stop acquiescing and start debating. I want them to be respectful of one another, but I want them to be willing to consider alternative perspectives and to examine different ideas. We know classroom chemistry involves many personalities. Sometimes we have the Active Listeners, the quiet 8:00 AM class peopled with students who are listening intently, whose ears are open but whose voices are silent. We are looking for ways to actively engage this group in conversation. Other times we have the Spirited Talkers, the fourth period class, right before or after lunch, that won’t stop actively engaging. They have energy, but it can be difficult to harness in a productive way. A fishbowl discussion can be a way to unite the full range of the spectrum—the listeners to the talkers—in meaningful ways. I have made a space for fishbowl discussion in both
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State University, where she teaches courses in reading, writing, language, and teaching methodologies. She is the new editor of Currents, an online publication of the Colorado Language Arts Society.
large and small classes, and I am never disappointed. As Allington (2002) observes, much of the conversation in classrooms today is interrogational in nature—the teacher asks a question, the students answer, the teacher approves or corrects—as opposed to conversational, where questions are more open-ended and multiple choice in nature. Allington asserts that exemplary teachers foster more student talk, which he describes as teacher/student and student/ student. A fishbowl discussion is the perfect way to offer students an opportunity for meaningful student talk. Though there are multiple approaches to using a fishbowl, I have had great success with the following procedure. I give students a reading assignment a minimum of two nights before the scheduled discussion. The reading assignment offers students the opportunity to read for a variety of purposes, as encouraged by state standards. If it is the first time I am using the fishbowl procedure, I try to assign something that challenges students to formulate an opinion, something to which they will likely have a strong reaction. With my English education students, I have found that Daniel Pennac’s “Reader’s Bill of Rights” works perfectly; it is short, focused, and visceral. With any reading selection, I am sure to provide some guidance about the purpose for the reading, and I explain the fishbowl procedures in advance. I advise students to bring the reading with them to the discussion, along with any reading notes. Sometimes I ask students to practice reading note strategies we have been studying and using in class, such as Most Important Word (Beers
2002) or sticky notes bookmarks (O’Donnell-Allen 2006). It can be helpful to check students’ reading notes before the discussion, especially when they are learning the procedures, to make sure that students are prepared to participate and to ensure that students’ notes are substantial and on-track. Such steps can enhance the fishbowl discussion for everyone involved. On the day of the fishbowl discussion, I arrange four chairs—the Core Four--around a table or set up four student desks so all participants will be able to look one another in the eye. In addition, I like the Hot Seat option. This is a fifth seat, set just a bit apart from the Core Four. Students should be able to have quick, easy access in and out of this fifth seat. I use these procedures to maximize the fishbowl experience: 1. Ask students to take out the assigned reading selection and their accompanying notes. 2. Pass out a student reflection sheet. My students respond to the following questions in writing: • Who said something you considered meaningful? What was it? • What did you want to say that you didn’t get an opportunity to say? • Who demonstrated effective public speaking skills? What techniques did this person employ and to what effect? • What was your least favorite question? Why was it or why would it have been difficult to formulate a response about that issue? 3. Review the procedures. Ask if anyone has any questions. 4. Invite four students to serve as the first four participants, and ask them to sit in the Core Four seats at the front of the classroom. For now, the rest of the class – including the teacher – will actively observe as the conversation begins. 5. The fishbowl discussion begins when one of the Core Four offers a comment or question about the reading. I state that each of the Core Four must make a minimum of two substantial comments (more than yes/no) before being replaced. Once one of the Core Four has made at least two comments, another student (who is not already part of the Core Four) can go and stand behind the participant the student is replacing. The Core Four student returns to a regular classroom seat, and the conversation continues. I tell my students I expect everyone to take part in the Core Four at least once during a 50-minute class period. I keep a written record of who participates, and I make a tally for each time the student speaks. In addition, I keep a shorthand record of the topics and issues discussed. 6. At any time in the conversation, any student who is not
part of the Core Four can sit down in the Hot Seat, offer a question or comment, and then return immediately to a regular classroom seat. The conversation continues among the Core Four. It is called a fishbowl discussion because the class is observing the conversation, like watching a fish in a bowl. By taking part in the conversation and by responding to their peers, students are practicing and mastering skills related to oral expression and listening, a key state standard. At the end of the fishbowl discussion, I ask each student to complete the reflection sheet. If there is time, I ask them to do this in class, before they leave. More often than not, the conversation is so riveting that the class goes right up to dismissal time. In that case, I allow them to take the reflection sheet home to complete it, and then collect the sheets the next class session. By writing about their experiences related to the fishbowl discussion, students are actively engaging in writing and composition, also central to state standards. How do I know this discussion was a success? I have written data in the form of student reflections. They have written comments like, “I really admire how Adam played devil’s advocate; it made me think” and, “It was so good to hear from Karen. She referenced key examples from the text to support her ideas. She should talk more!” I gather observational data in the form of tally marks: for example, 95% of the students participated in one of the four core chairs, and 75% added a comment in the hot seat. This is all important, helpful data. The biggest indicator? When a student who rarely participates in large group discussion asks, “Can we do this again on Friday?” For a moment, I think I am having one of my infamous teacher dreams, where the students enjoy the content as much as I do. I pinch myself, smile and reply, “I think we can make that happen.” Works Cited Allington, Richard. “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers.” Phi Delta Kappan 83.10 (2002): 740-47. Print. Beers, Kylene. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002. Print. O’Donnell-Allen, Cindy. The Book Club Companion: Fostering Strategic Readers in the Secondary Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006. Print. Pennac, Daniel. Better than Life. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 1999. Print. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
I Wake to Teach and Take My Waking Slow
By Dan Chabas
Breaking Down the Sets I teach writing in my sleep… in this case, literally. I used to liken the two or three weeks following the academic year, when my brain and body continue to fire with the vigor of a school day, as the closing of a long-running Broadway production. While I break down the sets, I can’t help but rework each night’s performance in my head and the preparation that went into each. (I’ve thought of the similarity to post-traumatic stress disorder, but current affairs make that comparison a bit distasteful.) I lifted the following assignment right out of the Moleskine notebook at my bedside, where I scribble down any dreams that just won’t let me go. I like it for its simplicity. It also encapsulates some of what I like most about teaching: meeting students halfway between my expectations and their—sometimes lightly-tapped—ability to process ideas. (According to my notes, it was also set in a beach classroom, under a canopy with warm breezes making it difficult to keep papers in place… so it has that appeal as well). Unblocking the Pores Important to note that while it may seem like the “Plugand-Play” variety of workbook exercises, this assignment is very typical of the kind of opening activity I use with literature students, and of the daily journaling assignments I give writing students, to “unblock the pores” in their ability to respond to ideas. It can be easily-modified to prepare students for thematic or reader-response writing (for example, by subbing out the rather random “something you saw” and “a food” for actual thematic elements you wish to have them contemplate). The transcription below is quite literally out of my notebook, so it is elemental at best.
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Dan Chabas taught high school language arts for fifteen years in Colorado. He misses the noise of active learning, the buzz of teacher collaboration, and the inverse seasons of the academic calendar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on CLAS Talk.
On The Board (one stage @ a time):
Part One (5-10 min) Fill in the blanks (X 5) _________________ (something you experienced) is _________________ (a food) Part Two (10 min) Choose any two (2) of the five above. For each, list five concrete examples why, using imagery that makes me hungry or disgusted.
Part Three (10 min) Take one (1) from the previous two and ¶ it out (prose it up). Part Four (as time permits) We go around room & each person (no exceptions) does one (1) of the following: 1. Read what you wrote for Part Three (or) 2. Explain what you wrote or the experience of writing it (or) 3. Say something interesting about one of the ones you’ve heard already (be careful here, of course). Waking In the Real World This assignment follows from the “Freedom within a Box” model, wherein students are “forced” to conform to general restrictions placed upon them by the instructor, but have all the freedom in the world in their methods of achieving them. A word of warning: I typically condition my students to “appreciate” these types of assignments: to see that I’m actually encouraging a full range of response and not just making them suffer; until they reach that understanding, this assignment, given spur-of-the-moment, might meet with some significant resistance (which is not a bad thing, per se, but can surprise all involved). The best instructors I’ve had have always magically gotten me to engage with the material, hooked me into interacting with text and rooting out the ideas at its core, given me the freedom to make wild and often overblown responses, helped me weed through them for pearls, and then rigidly expected my very best presentation in form and content: “Magic” because it seemed so easy. This little assignment exists in that crucial moment when we ask students to take control of the material from us, mix themselves into it, and create something worthwhile that reflects their understanding. When I see the results, my job becomes Harvester, not Inspector; I begin looking for the best bits I can find (nice phrase here, interesting concept there…), and I ask them to develop that same perspective. The assignment is just a lattice; the artwork is in the delivery. I overheard someone say (and not in a complimentary way) that teachers can make a course out of anything, that we can transform “Tying Your Shoes” into an 8-step process, then with worksheets, a dry-erase board and a PowerPoint Presentation, spoon feed it to anyone. But to me, the deliberate way that good teachers frame a concept in order to teach it is an art: exciting, worthwhile, and exhausting. No wonder it lives in our dreams as well. By the end of June, my metabolism has slowed and I am back to making fewer decisions per minute as befits a body at rest. When the new school year approaches, my dreams tend to be less academic: getting lost in my own building,
showing up half a day late… typical. Caught between the current budget crisis and a hard place, however, I have been out of the classroom for several years now. It is frustrating to have a dream like this without the means to put it into practice immediately. But it is always exhilarating to see through the lense of a teacher again and to remember how challenging and artful the job can be. 1. Huge apologies, Theodore Roethke! “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow,” from “The Waking.” 2. Douglas County Thoughtful Communities Project. 1994-6. Castle Rock, Colorado. Advisor: VanDeWeghe, Richard, PhD. University of Colorado-Denver. 3. Hashimoto, Irvin Y. 1991. Thirteen Weeks: A Guide to Teaching College Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/ Cook.
For more information please visit: http://www.ccira.org/w/
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Colorado Language Arts Society 2011 Middle Level Writing Contest This year’s contest asked middle level writers to submit a 20-50 line poem (any style) that relates to the theme Possibilities. The poem did not necessarily have to contain the word Possibility; however, students were directed to employ this concept as the theme of their poem, not just an afterthought. The winning poems are thought-provoking, original, logical, and polished, displaying the strength of the middle level writer’s creative thinking skills, word choice, and voice. The prompt for this year’s contest was: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.” -Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and writer (1813-1855) The winners are:
8th Grade Winner: “A New Idea” Jenna Wisniewski West Jefferson Middle School Conifer, Colorado
7th Grade Winner: “The Yellow Brick Road” Liberty Wethington Bookcliff Middle School Grand Junction, Colorado
A New Idea by Jenna Wisniewski Every idea is a new city Hundreds of new ones pop up every day They appear very small at first Looking very tiny compared to the neighboring skyscrapers The cities begin to grow, as the mayor of the city adds details The details to the idea begin to come in, people moving into their new home A million main streets and side streets sprout all over the city Each street, a new possibility for the details to walk down Some streets may be glossy and paved; a detail that goes down it will blossom Some may be a dark alley where the details die, never finding a purpose There are always possibilities for these details, always new places to go Some details go down all the right roads and their cities grow Maybe even becoming a new state While others become a ghost town, all the details dead or gone Everyone has these cities in their head An intricate, vast maze stretched out, going on forever Some are huge, an idea that will stay intact for very long While others are small and flimsy, ready to come down at the slightest problem New ones pop up every second While abandoned ones get demolished to make room Every person opens new roads for each of these cities There is always a new road for a detail to walk on A new possibility
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6th Winner: “Forward” Meam Hartshorn Fruita Middle School Fruita, Colorado
The Yellow Brick Road by Liberty Wethington
Forward by Meam Hartshorn
Remember when we could Just walk down the yellow brick road? And the only danger was either in your closet or under your bed? The only disease was cooties? And when you were scared all you had to do was latch onto someoneâ€™s leg?
Here I lie, Sprawled on the ground. My passion asks why, I stay here sleeping.
Then we got older. And the danger was everywhere. We had to work for what we wanted; And work Hard! Soon our friends started to lie Instead of spilling secrets and Swapping jewelry and toys. Taunting, teasing, and torture You either had to go one way; And be loved or go the other way . . . So thatâ€™s when you have to decide To keep the road grim or . . . Paint it a bursting yellow! So just follow the yellow brick road.
When I have a chance, To set the bar. To touch the sky, And to run fast and far. I will show, What I can be, A shooting star, A wave in the sea. My time is here, My chance is strong, So forward I go Moving along. Forward I go And I will show All I can be, A wave in the sea. And there may be Miles to go, Forward and farther With miles to go.
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National Council of Teachers of English 2010 Achievement Awards in Writing As explained on the NCTE website, the Achievement Awards in Writing is a school-based writing program established in 1957 to encourage high school students in their writing and to recognize publicly some of the best student writers in the nation. The National Council of Teachers of English will give achievement awards in writing to students nominated and cited as excellent writers by judges. Students who were juniors in the academic year 2009-2010 were nominated for 2010 awards. Entries were comprised of two pieces of writing, an impromptu theme written under teacher supervision in no more than 2 hours on a topic designated by NCTE and a writing sample (prose and/or verse) that the student considers his or her best work. The awards for entries submitted in February of 2011 will be announced in October of 2011. The winners are: Olivia Chen, Peak to Peak High School, Nominating Teacher: Heather Cyr Kelsey Holstrom, Telluride High School, Nominating Teacher: David Lavender Connie Liu, Cherry Creek High School, Nominating Teacher: Kirsten Riegler Kerry Martin, Cherry Creek High School, Nominating Teacher: Kirsten Riegler Kristen McCormack, Boulder High School, Nominating Teacher: Adair Taylor Aidan Milliff, Boulder High School, Nominating Teacher: Adair Taylor Paige Roth, Colorado Academy, Nominating Teacher: Betsey Coleman And we are pleased to be able to publish four of these award-winning writers here.
Freedom of Teach By Aiden Milliff, Boulder High School Even from school to school across Boulder, Colorado, a town of 100,000, it is clear that a dictated reading curriculum has yet to land upon our country or town. And, despite hyperbolic claims about the decline of American education, this lack of standardization is not a problem. Our test scores no longer reside among the highest in the world because we, long ago in magnanimous foresight, promised a free secondary education to every one of our citizens. All are admitted, and all are given equal chance to graduate and vie for college admittance: more than can be said for the progressive countries of Western Europe, whose ascendant scores brought about this panic. This is our crutch, but it is one that we bear willingly. Attempts to rectify this “crisis” of equal opportunity by introducing standard reading lists, in the Japanese and European models, will incite little progress or improvement in American schools, because a standardized list of books will never correlate to a standard level of analysis, a standard level of instruction or a standard level of interest from students.The idea of a prescribed syllabus for an English course is not connected to any demonstrated improvement, and 40
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thus there is no reason to restrict teachers from introducing culturally pertinent and intellectually stimulating works absent from the consideration of educational bureaucrats or from the pages of Norton’s anthology. In a practical light, the absence of prescribed reading material does little to alter the syllabi of schools around the country. A student in a parochial school in Seattle will read Romeo & Juliet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Macbeth, as will, most likely, a student in public school in Colorado. From this and similar data it appears that a standardized list of books would exact little positive change in American Schools both public and private. Clearly, novels and plays significant to American culture and the English literary tradition are already pillars of district and private curriculums. English teachers have, for decades, identified Shakespeare as instrumental in teaching about tragedy, Twain as the preeminent American realist, and Fitzgerald as the authority on modernism, and done so without the guidance of the Department of Education. Moreover, the same competent educators can access and teach from comprehensive anthologies such as the above-mentioned Norton. These available guidelines, coupled with the fact that, by virtue of standard training at the collegiate level, many teachers already subscribe to a standard classification of literary
importance, show that a syllabus would solve a problem that does not, in most places, exist. Beyond lack of necessity, the proposal of a standard reading curriculum lacks ideological mettle. Standardization, at either a national or state level, assumes a degree of homogeneity that is not possible even across the smallest of states, never mind the United States. What a standard curriculum ignores in this assumption is the profound impact of geographically or socioeconomically specific literature on a student. Much as the disadvantaged, African American child in Brooklyn would be lastingly influenced by reading Paul Lawrence Dunbar or Zora Neal Hurston, a child in New Mexico would be touched by Wallace Stegner and Barbara Kingsolver. The benefit of learning about one’s cultural heritage through the eloquence of relevant writers is unequaled through the educational process in its power to enhance individuality and identity. Relevant literature is also a powerful tool to engage students. It is widely accepted in education that the way to teach struggling students is to anchor the curriculum in something they experience every day. Even a connection so tenuous as a shared experience, or a similar family between a character and a student can make an indelible difference in literary education. This craft, the skill of the instructor in engaging her students, showing them books that they will personally love to read, cannot be standardized. Finally, the proposal of standardization succumbs to a philosophical dilemma:Who is qualified to pontificate about the relative value of novels, plays, poems and essays for people that they neither know or understand? Surely, the US Department of Education is no one’s first thought. Literature is one of the few realms of society in which sexuality, death, discrimination and sensitive times in history can be explored, not as a political or emotional topic, but simply as an intellectual discussion. Allowing bureaucrats to declare Tom Sawyer too bigoted for high school discourse or The Inferno an inappropriate proselytizing effort really destroys the best and rarest quality of the education everyone ventures to improve. By making the theme of rape in The Sound and the Fury, or the extramarital affairs in The Great Gatsby a topic of taboo, this list would hamper the ability of American students to discuss and learn everything. This freedom afforded to our schools is the most important, and most uniquely American facet of our education, and something that should be sacrificed for no reason. Teachers work carefully and constantly to create a syllabus that educates and empowers their students. Each chooses from millions of texts and hundreds of interpretations within each one, and no government, beyond the licensing board of their state, should have the legal authority or the moral prerogative to question their decision. Nothing would be more detrimental to our public educational system than a generation of disengaged and un-empowered thinkers emerging from public high schools. And nothing
comes closer to realizing that mistake than disregarding the judgment and training of English teachers by instituting a standardized syllabus for American high school students. The Monster Within By Olivia Chen, Peak to Peak High School There is a little bit of monster in everyone. It lurks beneath the surface, fighting the mental binds that hold it within, tempting the individual with the lure of animal mindlessness and freedom. In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley brings the monster to life. She peels away layers of humanity, beginning with the character Walton, then transitioning to Frankenstein, and finally arriving to the Creature. Through the intertwined destinies of the three characters, Shelley depicts the precarious balance of power and the circular nature of our actions, themes which are paralleled in the Romantic piece “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge. Her allusions to the poem reinforce the development of her ideas and characters while further emphasizing the book’s foils. The allusions to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” serve to delineate vital differences between the main characters of Frankenstein, Walton and Victor. Though they share a multitude of similarities, such as an overriding drive for fame, a deep love for their sisters, and comparable backgrounds and educations, a few key disparities between the two men ultimately determine their fates. The crucial distinction is best illustrated in Walton’s second letter to his sister where he writes, “I shall kill no albatross,” a direct allusion to the bird of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (Shelley 7). In the referenced poem, the ancient mariner shoots an albatross despite his knowledge that the rest of the crew reveres the bird, regarding it as an auspicious sign that will bring them luck throughout their voyage. Walton’s refusal to “kill the albatross” demonstrates that though he yearns for recognition, he scorns glory achieved at the cost of others. Victor’s ambition, on the other hand, threatens to consume him, slowly stripping him of his capacity to love and care – indeed, his capacity to be human. Walton solidifies his individuality from Victor at the end of Frankenstein when he chooses to turn back from the North Pole at the demand of his crewmembers. Victor flies into a fit of anger at Walton’s decision, saying, “And now, behold, with the first imagination of danger… you shrink away and are content to be handed down as men who had not the strength enough to endure cold and peril” (Shelley 205). This quotation highlights the depth of Victor’s hypocrisy. Victor himself never has the strength to endure the coldness of his isolation or the peril he creates through the Creature, often panicking and sinking into depression in response to his own actions. He rejects responsibility for the Creature, choosing instead to blame the subsequent deaths on others so he Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
may continue to pursue his broken dreams. And therein lies the distinction between the two characters:Walton is levelheaded and considerate, while Victor hides behind a pretense of heroism to justify his desperately selfish actions. Though he superficially resembles his twisted counterpart, Walton retains a core of purity while Victor represents the disintegration of morality into depravity. Shelley further utilizes the allusions to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to explore the emotions of the characters as they venture deeper into the dark shadows of human nature. Before he leaves on his expedition, Walton assures his sister, “[D]o not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the ‘Ancient Mariner’” (Shelley 7). At this point of the novel, Walton easily relates to the ancient mariner; like to the character of the poem, Walton is preparing to sail the seas to satisfy his innate curiosity of the oceans’ mysteries. But also in that simple statement, Walton displays his hopes and anxieties about his journey to the North Pole. Though full of fear and anxiety, he desperately wishes for a glimpse of the supernatural, a view of the world that no one has yet seen. Even so, he is intent in avoiding the mistakes the ancient mariner made. Later in the novel, after Victor has created the Creature, Shelley inserts a quotation from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread. (Coleridge l. 446451) The passage captures the depth of Victor’s paranoia and isolation. As the quote suggests, Victor has now passed the “point of no return”; he can no longer be a part of society, for he has irrevocably bonded with his creation. The Creature is a version of Victor who has been stripped of society’s restrictions, but also of its love and protection. Thus, the Creature has become “a frightful fiend,” trailing Frankenstein in a desperate attempt to find an escape from its own misery. Both Frankenstein and Victor tread the delicate line between humanity and sanity, their pain and confusion augmented by the allusions to Coleridge’s work. Though Frankenstein’s dark story may not fit the typical standard of Romantic Era literature, the allusions in the novel accentuate the subtle underpinning of Romantic Era themes and ideals. Both “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Frankenstein reject the individual’s power to make choices for an entire group of people. In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the ancient mariner kills the albatross, thus bringing bad luck upon his entire crew. His crew condemns him, forcing him to wear the albatross about his neck as a symbol of his transgression. A comparable abuse of individuality occurs in Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein uses his power 42
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to create a monster, which murders many innocents after Victor refuses to give him a mate. Victor’s decision and inability to take responsibility for his actions robbed the victims of their right to live, and, like the ancient mariner, Victor is severely punished. Both Victor and ancient mariner face nature’s anger for destroying or violating humanity’s rules. The albatross signifies the purity and beauty of nature, and when the ancient mariner kills the bird, he shows his belief that his importance supersedes that of nature. Nature strikes back by casting a spell upon him: “An orphan’s curse would drag to hell/A spirit from on high; But oh! More horrible than that/Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!” (Coleridge l. 257-260).The curse highlights the karmic undertones of the Romantic work; the ancient mariner’s actions cause his crew members suffering, and in return his crew members haunt him in their deaths. Similarly, in Frankenstein,Victor creates desecration of nature, and so Victor is then destroyed by his very own Creature, which then destroys itself. The circularity emphasizes the unforgiving nature of the world – the strident call of justice cannot be escaped. In unveiling Walton, Victor, and the Creature, Frankenstein reveals the different levels of humanity to show that society’s bounds are necessary to protect the individual from himself and others. In conjunction with allusions to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Frankenstein warns of the consequences that result from all actions. The laws of nature must be obeyed at the risk of personal cost, as demonstrated through Victor and the ancient mariner. One must conform to society’s structures, for they sustain the tenuous ties to sanity. Frankenstein sends a dire message to its readers: the monster arises when the rules are broken. Making Ripples By Kristen McCormack, Boulder High School There was an old irrigation ditch in our backyard. It was made of rough cement that was cracked in places, and every summer the sides would line with velvety green moss which peeled into thick curls in the fall when the water dried up. You couldn’t see it from the house. It was sunken into the earth so that if you looked out at the place where it should be, it seemed like one grassy bank smoothed over to join the other. Some days I would slip into it when I was all alone and lie down with my back pressed against the cool cement wall. Alone, my chest would pound and I’d hold my breath and close my eyes so that I’d disappear –so that one grassy bank could join the other right over me too. One summer we had snails, thousands and thousands of snails which we would scoop up into rusting metal buckets. It was the summer when I would first really look at a snail, the spongy pores of his slippery body, his spiraling
delicate grey shell, thinner even than tissue paper. I hated those snails. I hated the softness of them, how if you held one you could almost feel your finger on the other side, how when we’d scoop them up in buckets from the water they’d squirm and slide over each other, the horrible sucking sound they’d make when we’d pull them off the metal sides to put them back in the stream at the end of the day. But they were our snails and that made all the difference. The ditch was a passage of magic. It brought us the snails and it took away our leaf boats and knotted grasses, and soon it took us too. We wandered through it until we got to the place we called the Dead Woods where there were long grasses and a colorless old tree that had lost its branches and was gnarled and sharp and soulless. I held my breath when I saw it so it couldn’t get me. Ellen and I would go, me walking in the water, dragging my feet so that I could hear the sounds of the ripples that extended from me, chasing the floating water spiders that would dart away, gliding by magic on top of the water. Ellen would run ahead, jumping from side to side. I wanted to follow her, to jump back and forth like she did, but when I asked her to teach me she’d say ‘when you’re seven.’ And by the time I was seven I already knew. An old grey swing hung over the ditch. Once, Ellen pulled herself onto it as I watched and swung back and forth, back and forth until there was a gasp, snap, crack, fall, scream. And she was wet in the bottom, her pink shorts dark with water and her eyes scrunched tight with tears. And I was on the side, crying, too, because I couldn’t go in after her. When I was four and Ellen and Paul were six and my cousins were seven, we decided to find the end. The ditch was called Silver Lake Ditch, and I imagined that the end was a silver lake with magic fish. I was determined to find it. We followed it, my cousins leading with Ellen and Paul behind, and me. We journeyed up and down, each day going a little farther, each day coming back a little faster. We were the masters of the ditch. One day we saw it – a silver lake behind houses.We ran down to it, and I could see the silver glowing off of it and I was sure it was magic. But then we heard a noise and we were scrambling back up the hill in a different direction and stopping only when our sides stitched, our cheeks burned red, and our minds soared exultant. I remember it was a bandit. No one else does. But they weren’t paying attention. We would go back – to that lake and the ditch to see that they didn’t join. The ditch twisted up close to it and then turned and tumbled over a hill. I never found the end. But then again, I never thought I would.
Innovate Your Surroundings By Kelsey Holstrom, Telluride High School Society is full of juxtaposition. Looming social illnesses that flow under the moral fabric of society have always experienced a great disconnect between acknowledgement by the current generation of humanity and their direct impact on human activity. Humans, it would appear, constantly fail to perceive the connections that lead from their own actions and faults to a tangible manifestation of these issues. Basically, we are blind. Perhaps blinded by our own ambition, perhaps by our most base desires; either way, humanity is on a downward spiral into total insanity. Can you feel us falling? The masses have lost their sense of place.They’ve lost the relevance of their lives in the greater scheme of planet Earth.They have forgotten how to live within nature, and we now live on top of her. We are raping her blindly without realizing that she is the one who is nurturing us, who is providing us with everything we could conjure up. We’re not taking care of her, and she’s getting angry. This sounds trite, a bit clichéd, but it’s very appropriate. She is starting to fight back, and it will only get worse. We have to make amends, now, or I’m afraid this relationship will end as it only can, in our demise. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Nature has always been close to me. I live in the most beautiful place on earth. I am surrounded by gods, by mountains so stunning, so majestic that words are not sufficient to translate their beauty. Everywhere I look I see perfect. How lucky am I? Living here, in Telluride, is magic. Living at my house in Telluride is…well it’s magical too, it’s just a bit more interesting. It’s an experience to be sure. People ask me often about my home, and it is a bit difficult to explain. I live on an organic farm at 9,000 feet, nestled in the mountains, up on Hastings Mesa, half an hour outside of Telluride, Colorado.Tomten Farm’s growing season is approximately 4 months; we have a green house and a growing dome to extend this brief season. In the summer it’s dry. Our water comes from an underground reservoir via well, which we manually turn on and off. Until a couple of years ago, there were not public utilities on the Mesa, and so we’re completely off-grid, relying on solar panels and a propane generator for all of our power. To share the load, as it were, of farming in such a complex location, we recruit interns to come stay with us in the summer. They live in tipis or our yurt, or camp outside if they wish, and learn about high altitude gardening. Usually they are college students looking for something to do in the summer. The interns work on the farm, experience the crazy, ridiculous festivals that come to Telluride (this year, it’s Phish!) , and often, quite frankly, get in my way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the interns, it’s just sometimes, when they come into the house at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning making all kinds of noise, harvesting, making cheese, etc. I wish they would just stay on campus. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
Needless to say (perhaps not totally without need, but whatever), growing up this way has shaped me irrevocably. In my early years, I just loved being outside. Nature was fascinating, providing endless entertainment. As time marched forward, I began to realize the thing I loved so much was in danger. See, I did this totally backwards. I started with me, an example of the living solution, without even addressing the issue. I do not know if I can consolidate the ‘issue’ into one thing. It’s a myriad of problems, with the ultimate consequence being drastic climate change. But it stems from deforestation, the emission of fossil fuels in all sectors, the consumption of toxic and dangerous chemicals by humans, the dumping of said poisons directly into nature’s bloodstream, the use of plastic, our new and increasing dependence on pharmaceuticals and false, superficial medicines to ‘treat’ disorders we don’t even understand, the wanton consumption of all the worlds resources by the richest and most aggressive countries, the complete depletion of clean fresh water sources, the destruction of natural habitat, the rapid, exponential extinction of animal species, the poisoning of our oceans, the death of the coral reef, the destruction to the ozone layer. I mean, the list goes on and on. We are not going to survive. We do not have time to talk this issue into the ground. It will go away. We’re running out of time. We are on the edge of the precipice; the point of no return is upon us. All we have is now. The only choice, the only glimmer of salvation comes from action. Not action when it suits you, not action when the economy is just right, when the political situation is placid enough. Action now. Humanity has proven its worth before. Amazing, wonderful, unbelievable things have been accomplished. Think back on all the revolutions, all the power shifts, all the breakthroughs in technology, the quantum expansions of human possibility, think on all that has led us right here. We’re at the crossroads again. We, as one collective consciousness, must leap ahead, must act, and save ourselves. Trust me, once we’re gone, Earth will restore itself. It will be permanently changed, a different place, a strange place. But it will still exist; it will perpetuate. We will not. If we don’t change, adapt to compensate for our hasty and mirthless actions, if we do not do so immediately, we are lost. I don’t want that. I want a future. I deserve a future. I will die trying to save us, because it doesn’t make sense to give up. I don’t want to just let humanity perish. What about the younger generations? What about the new born children who haven’t even touched to world? They have not done anything to deserve this. They’re innocent, and are being punished by their elders’ inaction. You’re poisoning your children when you feed them fake chemicals and drugs, when you deprive them of interaction with nature, when you fail to teach them to protect that which supports them.You’re killing them. We’re killing them. And it’s not fair, it’s not right. Actually, it’s just straight up dumb. As a ruling 44
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generation, we’re irresponsible, inattentive, rash, and we’re going to pay for it. Our children are going to die from it if we don’t change. But don’t let this get you down. We can change. We will change. In fact, we are changing. We’re already almost there; it takes one last push, one last alteration, a conscious revolution, and we’re home free. There is already technology to sustain us. There are the means, the ideas, the literature, and the examples of how to survive. People are living in complete harmony with nature now; indigenous peoples have been doing it for centuries. I’ve lived my entire life free of dirty power, I don’t consume plastic, I try not to ‘cruise’ around, I try not to waste anything. I try. That’s all it takes, an effort. A communal effort to be more conscious, to conserve, to give back, to improve and innovate our surroundings. Innovate your surroundings. Let’s create a new world. Let’s come up with something cool. Some place new, and different, and beautiful. Let’s change the course of human history. Let us change. Us, the youth, Us, the sane, Us, Americans, Us, humanity; the leaders, the commonwealth, the newborn, the elderly. Everyone must come together and amend this situation. Are you down? But how? Here I get stuck. We all do. Action. Action is the hardest part. It takes time, patience, diligence, passion. Small steps. First, most importantly, inform yourself. Form your own opinions. I cannot tell you what to do, I can only remind you of what should be done. And I can beg. I’m entreating my generation, I’m asking everyone, please, please save us. Please. Please leave your ego, and your big car, and your fur, your big shiny house in the suburbs, your weekly Walmart trip, leave it all behind, and rediscover your soul. Rediscover nature. Restart society, reinvent it. Make it benevolent, not based on anger and hatred and mistrust. We have to spiral back from destruction to our roots. To our origins, the tiny, untouched niches of the world where people still exist without perception of pollution, or cities, or cars. These are the places we need to take into consideration.Take how their houses fit the land, mix it with modern architecture and green building techniques, like natural light. Create something crazy, something awesome. Blend nature’s design and human’s innovation, survive, thrive. I am so excited for this new world. I’m stoked to make this change. Join me, help me, and come along with me on a whirling, winding, chaotic trip to a new place. A beautiful place. Our place.
Poetry The Things Our Students Carry by Tracy A. Brennan, Fairview High School
These kids I teach, what do they carry? They carry heavy personal burdens, high parental expectations, sexual frustrations. They carry anger, love, worry, responsibility, books, computers, calculators, Ipods, sometimes they carry their whole family. They carry fathers dying of cancer, knives to ward off stepfathers, losses of siblings to drunk drivers. They carry mothers who are losing their minds, memories of parents killed by death squads, sisters or brothers who struggle with illness. They carry their own depression. They carry knowledge of calculus, trigonometry, biology, literature, their own self-possession, and a curiosity about the world. They carry a great zest for life, a daily joy, hope, a positive vision for the future. They carry life. Tracy explains her motivations for writing this poem: I wrote this during my first summer of the Colorado Writing Project with Tim Hillmer.The motivation behind it was my reading of Penny Kittleâ€™s Write Beside Them and my concurrent reading of The Things They Carried Tim Oâ€™Brien. I started thinking about the burdens all of our students carry physically, mentally, and emotionally when they come to school, and how so often we see such a small slice of their lives until we ask them to write for us!
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Poetry Marginalia by Tom DeConna, Grandview High School
It’s time to gather the books: the classics, the odd and obscure. All the novels and plays assigned in high school curriculums and imbued with my crimped handwriting, my notes, my marginalia, my thoughts on those thoughts that have turned the world on its spindle; I have agreed, disagreed—have been baffled, amazed, humbled, enlightened, and have attempted to convey those ideas to students who did not care or did not read. Or to the special few who delved, who purposely wondered and pondered—and gained insight enough to think for themselves. It’s time to gather the books forever, to take them home, for I have finished my time of teaching. And I wonder which books to take, which to leave behind for the next person who may or may not want my notes— preferring to start fresh. Clean margins. And I wonder, too, if my time was worthwhile. Was it worth the moments—the hours—of mental labor? Who benefited from the struggle or the gain? For I am a shadow of the image, a touch of the embrace, a whisper to the voices that sound through ages. But I am, at least, a shadow, a touch, a whisper, a voice that quietly echoes within the curious minds— those that envelop the margins of lasting time.
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BEFORE THE BELL: Two-Car Garage
by Josh Curnett
It’s 1979 and my father is working out of his office in our two-car garage, typical for a four-bedroom ranch. It’s Southern California, so we don’t park our cars in it—there’s no point because the weather is always nice. It’s a space. My father’s office is in the far left corner if you are looking into the garage from the driveway.The garage door itself is manual; a heavy spring groans when opening or closing it. There are green steel filing cabinets and a green steel desk, a green telephone, an 18-inch horizontal fluorescent desk light. A swivel chair whines when my father, a large man, sits in it. An amber-colored glass ashtray for him to stub out his Winstons. A carpet remnant, gold, anchors it all. He liked knick-knacks. Golfers made of nuts and screws and bolts. Pithy framed signs: “A golfer never gets old; he just loses his balls.” Handout toys with corporate logos from conferences—airplanes, tankers, kooshes. Pens with many logos. Pens with his name on them. There was a United States map on the wall with pins in it. The pins marked his brokers’ locations. The pins were color-coded. There was a pen-line drawn around the western half of the country: his territory. His territory! My father had a territory as big as half of the country. That was impressive to a 9-year-old.Those two words--his territory-made him sound like a sheriff who had to keep things under control. The smoke. He smoked constantly, leaving acrid shadows in the eaves of the garage. His exhalations would catch and filter the light from his desk as I sat in the doorway between the garage and house and listened to him call his brokers. His brokers sold food for the companies he managed for: Green Giant. Pillsbury. Watson Turkey. Lawry’s (“The Season Salt People,” he would say). “Jimmy John, what’s goin’ on?” My dad’s affinity for nicknames defined his singsong greeting for nearly every broker. All I ever heard was his end of the conversation, of course. I pieced together the silent parts.The silences were magic, waiting to hear what my dad would say next. I could hear the drag of his cigarette, the exhalation of smoke, the gentle shift in his swivel chair.Then, out of nothing, his voice again. I loved his words, words that were like candy:“Quota.
Josh Curnett is a National Board Certified Teacher and a S.T.A.R. Mentor in Cherry Creek Schools. Email: jcurnett@ cherrycreekschools.org.
Distributor.Yield. Commission. Brokerage.” And then, when he would drop a cuss word, well, I was in heaven. Never the “f” word, but just a “damn” or a “shit” or a “hell,” said casually as punctuation, as if he and the guy on the other end of the line were two boys sitting up in a treehouse planning their “us against the world” attack together. That’s how he made it sound… Dad: “Same ol’ sixes and sevens.You?” Silence. Then perhaps a drum of the fingers. A quick drum roll with two pencils. “Haven’t been out as much as I could have lately. Shot 82 down at Laguna Beach last week. Played with Don.” “Heh heh heh heh. He was on in two and down in eight. Winged his putter in the lake. Hundred-dollar putter. Gone.” Then the first transition: get down to business. “Heh, heh.Yeah. Shit, Jimmy, I wouldn’t have brought this up if I didn’t have to.” “I understand, I understand. I also know that those numbers aren’t what they need to be.” “I’m heading to Frisco, Seattle, Boise, and then I’ll be down to Reno to visit you.” “Just make sure you call me ahead of time, and we can work on this kinda thing together. Don’t let it go, Jimmy.” Then the last transition: wrapping it up. “You tried those new Titleists? No? Let me send you some. They’re a treat.” “Good talkin’ with you, Jimmy boy. I’ll see you a week from Tuesday. I’ll be at the Ramada. We’ll have to get out on that new track out by the highway.” “Ok, Jimmy John. Be good.” Click. My father didn’t even graduate from high school—he dropped out (or was kicked out – I never did get a straight answer on that one) and joined the Coast Guard. But damn . . . he was good! He had quotas to hit for his company; he made sure his brokers in various parts of his territory hit those numbers. If he hit or exceeded enough of his numbers throughout his territory, he got to take my mom to Hawaii, all expenses paid. Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
As I sat there in the doorway and listened to him, here’s what I think I learned. The John Curnett Cardinal Rules of Management: Always, always, always initiate contact. If you are not talking with your people about what is coming up, you are going to be behind the curve about what happened. You must sit in the garage, light up a smoke, and pick up the heavy green phone.You must call first. If they are calling you, it’s too late.You must put in the time ahead of time. Always, always, always assume the worst and prepare for it. It’s the same concept as driving defensively, another thing my dad taught me. Most of the time, nothing’s wrong. But when it is, you are ready. If you are not practicing #1, then #2 will happen. A lot.You have got to get on that plane to Frisco, Seattle, Boise, and Reno to make sure the worst is not happening. And you will fly coach at pretty bad flight times to do so. Use the praise sandwich when delivering the daily news as you sit at the green phone with your cigarette. Though he never did this on purpose, he was a natural at it: he understood that Jimmy in Boise or Bobby in Phoenix was a guy like him just trying to get to the end of the day the best he could. Nobody wants criticism. He also knew that he needed those guys to do their jobs so that he could do his.Therefore, the praise sandwich. Ask them about the golf game, the steak dinner, the sick grandmother. Then bring up the news--and give it straight. After the medicine’s been swallowed, offer to do something for them or give them a reason to believe that you know things will be better. Have the secretary throw a pack of company-embossed Titleists in the mail. Promise a dinner at that great place just outside of Albuquerque. Be organized to a fault. My dad kept everything on a desk blotter in his tragically angled handwriting. And he was always early, always ready, always over-prepared for meet48
Statement Vol. 47, Numbers 2 and 3
ings in his 90% polyester suits and ubershiny burgundy Florsheims. (He had a black pair, too: same tasselled Florsheim loafers). Again, I didn’t know why then, but I know why now: fear. He was scared to lose his job or to know someone out there could do it better than him. Through his organization and proactivity, he ensured that he was the best regional sales manager there was for any company he ever worked for. It’s how he over-compensated for not having a high school education. If there’s really bad news for Davey Boy up in Seattle, just give the facts. No reason to get personal. Be up front while showing compassion, and be a man about it. Many times I heard him light a Winston, take a few drags, and then make the call—the heavy ones. He’d say basically the same thing every time: “Davey Boy, I hate to bring this up. But here it is: we are going to go with a different broker.” The conversation that would ensue was like listening to a conversation between a matador and a bull, if it were somehow auditory. My dad was the matador. And nine times out of ten, he left it in a good spot: “Davey Boy, that course up outside of Bellevue is one helluva track.We’ll have to get out there sometime… Allright, buddy. I’ll give you a call when I’m in town. Good luck to you.” Dad had just fired Davey Boy. Brilliant. Recently, something deep began to reveal itself to me, something that was learned in the doorway between the garage and the house as I would sit and listen to my dad: as a new teacher mentor, I actually need many – and perhaps all – of the dormant skills that he once modeled. I need the John Curnett Cardinal Rules of Management. The school district is my territory. The new teachers – my brokers – have to succeed for the good of the students and the communities they teach in (the company, as it were). My job is to help them succeed, just as my father’s job was to help his brokers succeed. So I call ahead. I initiate contact and email like crazy. I remind. I deliver praise sandwiches. I stay organized and try to be well-dressed and early. I do handwritten notes when I can. I joke. Sometimes, I simply shoot the breeze with them. It’s what he taught me to do. I will never get a trip to Hawaii for hitting my numbers, nor will I ever sit in my garage and chain smoke while enlightening a rookie teacher about Marzano’s research, but I will get the satisfaction of helping teachers stay strong under the enormous weight of their new, difficult, and rewarding career. I like to think that he, when hanging up the green phone, felt the same way I feel when I walk out of a classroom after a successful conference. It’s a good feeling.
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