Queering Your Classroom Library: Articulating Intersectionality

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I am an educator and recovering homophobe. As such, I seek to help foster a school community where homophobia no longer exists and safe and inclusive spaces are the norm for every student.

The research is incontrovertible. According to the GLSEN 2017 National School Climate Survey, school can be a hostile and unsafe place for students who are LGBTQ. There are still a significant number of students who are harassed and bullied because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or identity. The suicide rate for adolescents who are transgender is up to four times that of cisgender peers.

At the 2018 Annual Convention, I delivered the keynote address for the session entitled Amplifying and Celebrating Intersectional and Transectional LGBTQ+ Voices.

I have been a part of this work at both the classroom and policy level. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016, I supported the establishment of the Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students. This document provides information and resources to schools to ensure that they support students who are the most vulnerable in ways that range from allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity to referring to kids by their preferred name and pronouns.

iam jazz

As a 5th and 6th grade teacher, I let my students know that they are welcome, no matter who or what they are. There is a sign hanging outside my door that declares my classroom to be a safe space for all people. I emphasized this principle on the first day of school by reading the book I Am Jazz aloud to my students. The story chronicles the life and transition of Jazz, a transgender girl. The theme of the story, “Be who you are” resonates with everyone and establishes an atmosphere that is welcoming and inclusive.

This ethos is embodied in our classroom library. It is a critically important resource and contains hundreds of titles from multiple genres. Every year, my students and I co-create the categories for the library. Inspired by Donalynn Miller’s work, I want to make sure students have books at their fingertips, that they actively own their independent reading life and that I have the ability to continuously supply kids with books that match their needs and interests.

This year, inspired by Caitlin Ryan and Jill Herman-Wilmarth’s book Reading the Rainbow, I knew it was time for a category of books in the LGBTQ genre. I knew I needed my students to understand and own the creation of this genre so they would own and utilize it.

I began by asking them to consider groups of people who have been treated unfairly in our country just because of who they are. They created an exhaustive list which contained every marginalized group imaginable. I then asked them to consider this question, “How would hearing stories about the lives of people from these groups help all people understand them better?” The students quickly established that stories build empathy and that empathy changes people’s hearts and minds.

The one group that had not been mentioned on our list was people who are LGBTQ. I asked them if they had ever heard anyone make fun of somebody because they were LGBTQ or thought to be LGBTQ. They all raised their hand.

At that point, I reviewed some age-appropriate definitions of “LGBTQ.” I then taught the term “intersectionality” as a condition that exists when a person belongs to more than one group of people that has been treated unfairly. Next, I borrowed a collection of picture books for children featuring characters who were LGBTQ from Oakland University.

heatherhas2mommies

I asked my students to work together with a partner and do a book pass, where they examine the book and read as much of it as they can for three minutes. Together, the students were asked to write a response to the question “How could this story help people who experience intersectionality?” for each book.

The responses ranged from, “This book can show people that being gay or lesbian is okay and that your parents can be of the same gender”  for Heather Has Two Mommies to “Dresses are okay to wear for everyone” for 10,000 Dresses to “More people can understand that people can love whoever they want to love even if its a boy and boy or girl and girl” for And Tango Makes Three to “Speak up, be who you are” for Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine Dress.

The students’ responses validated the presence and utility of the LGBTQ book bin in our classroom library. These stories fulfill a potentially life-saving role in normalizing the experiences of people who are LGBTQ in our classroom and in the larger communities beyond our school. Our students, all of them, deserve access to these stories.

by

Rick Joseph

rickjoseph

Rick Joseph was named Michigan Teacher of the Year in 2016.  He currently teaches language arts and social studies to fifth and sixth graders at Birmingham Covington.

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Advice From My Brother: what a home audio installer remembers about high school

This piece is roughly a year in the making.  I was at a bar with my brother, a guy who barely graduated high school but has become very successful with high-end custom electronic installations.  He was lamenting how worthless his high school English classes were–well really almost all of his high school classes (he loves to try to push my buttons–especially after a few Jack and Cokes).  So, I let him say his piece, which mostly revolved around the fact that none of the reading or writing assignments he did had any impact on the sort of reading and writing he does today. He certainly is not the first nor last to feel this way, but since it was more personal coming from him, I decided to spend the next year doing my best to chart/record all the reading and writing I did to see what sort of conclusions I could draw about those lists impact on my teaching.  

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The reading list was one I didn’t keep very formally, but it would have looked something like this: a lot of books about wine, some books about gin, many articles about wine or gin, a few books about coaching/teaching, a few biographies, millions of tweets, thousands of news articles, an infinite amount of emails, a few pieces of fiction to consider for class, lots of poetry–mostly to be considered for class, and a two pieces of fiction and a few poems for “fun”.

I was more diligent about the writing I did, and so I kept them in three columns based on frequency, as you will see in the chart below.

 

Virtually Daily Around Once A Week Around Once or Twice a  Month
  • Emails
    • Personal and professional but one paragraph or less
  • Texts
  • Tweets
  • Reminders to self on home whiteboard
  • Notes to my wife
  • Feedback on student or adult writing
  • Emails
  • Personal and professional over one paragraph
  • Grocery/shopping lists
  • Poetry
  • Narrative feedback for teachers after evaluation
  • Blog posts about education
  • Thank you notes/cards
  • Emails home to families of my students

What struck me about both lists is the lack of “English Class” type writing. In the past year, I did not write a piece of literature analysis–hell I didn’t even write about a book I read at all, regardless of genre.  If you are an English teacher, you are thinking to yourself, “yes, but it is about the skills developed through doing literature analysis type writing that helped you become the writer you are now.” I do not disagree with that sentiment, and I do think that reading classic literature and doing a written analysis of it is an important skill-building task, but in so many English classes across the country, that is the primary, or only, type of reading and writing being done.  So, here are my personal reflections of this year-long record keeping and what it could (should?) mean for English classes and education as a whole.

1.  Short, informal writing is the primary means of communication.

Be it texts, tweets (and I am not on Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram–but I imagine one could include these in the list), or short emails, we are a society, for better or worse, who communicates in short bits.  It is important that we value and teach this. Writing in these short bits while still being clear and concise is not easy (see our President’s Twitter account). So, instead of getting upset that so much of what students are turning in to us is shorthand or lacking formality, we need to help teach them when/how to code shift, when grammar is and isn’t important in this micro-communication, and how to be effective in clearly expressing a point in something as short as 140 (or now 280 characters) on something like Twitter.  It is a skill that is needed, but are they getting it or just reinforcing bad habits?

2.  Audience matters.

This is not a shock to anyone out there; I get that.  But in thinking about the types of writing I did over the course of the year, each one was so deeply tailored to the audience. Here is a good example: I list “informal professional emails” as one of the types of writing, and that is one I (we all) do a ton.  However, even within that microgenre, audience matters a ton. When I send this type of email to a fellow department chair, it is vastly different than sending one to one of my teachers, which is different than sending one to my principal, which is different than sending one to my superintendent.  Each email would fall under the “informal professional email” microgenre, but the approach and level of “informality” within each varies greatly. So, we must continue to push to give students writing tasks that force them to, at a minimum, think about, but ideally authentically navigate the nuances of the audience.

3.  Schools need to ensure a more robust and varied reading experience is presented to all students.

I still remember when the Common Core was released and it suggested that a student’s high school reading breakdown should be 70% non-fiction and 30% literature.  A colleague of mine came to see me to say, “Wow, it sure looks like your department is going to have to make a big shift in what you teach in order to hit these numbers.”  I replied, “actually, I think you are going to have to; these numbers are not for the English class but the students’ full day. And since a student’s English class is less than 30% of his/her day, are you going to add novels to the science department?” Of course, I was kidding as a way of making my point, but looking at my reading list (again, coming from an English teacher–even if this one might be a bit atypical for English teachers), we must provide more opportunities for students to read things other than just novels or textbooks.

4.  All teachers, regardless of discipline, should be having students write.

I teach English, and in this year’s study, I, for fun, read two pieces of fiction and did zero “English Class” writing.  That means that all teachers in all classes can help students develop the bigger picture, post-high school writing skills needed. Teachers of all disciplines must think about ways of getting their students writing both in discipline-specific ways but also in some of the ways that invade our lives daily and are void of discipline.

I fully admit that there probably isn’t much in this post that is jaw-dropping and/or revolutionary; in fact, I hope that these are all factors you and your school have considered before.  However, even though I knew all of this, tracking my reading and writing habits for a year truly was a worthwhile experience that helped make the theoretical (things like the CCSS) real; my brother’s experience helped make reality tangible in ways I had not previously considered. So, I hope that you will not only consider these suggestions but also tracking your own reading and writing for a year (or even a few months), and then take some time to reflect upon that and what it means to you and YOUR classroom.   

by Christopher Bronke

Chris Bronke

Christopher Bronke is the English Department Chair at Downers Grove North High School where he teaches freshman honors and leads a team of 22 teachers.  Connect with him on Twitter at @mrbronke.

 

CEL Conference 2018: What did you love about the conference?

CEL is always such a re-energizing experience for me, and coming on the heels of a nonstop schedule at NCTE, it was so nice to connect with old friends and welcome new ones. I think one of the most fulfilling experiences I had this year was being told by Kellie Thompson that she submitted a proposal to present and then attended this year because she was invited by members of the CEL Executive Committee in 2017. She is now a state liaison, and she presented a workshop on Culturally Responsive Teaching. I was also so delighted to attend CEL 2018 with two colleagues from my school, Christina McCabe and Christine Cavallo, who presented a workshop together. This is the first convention since 2013 that I have attended with teachers from my home district. It makes such a difference!

-Oona Abrams

 

Another November in the books which means that this year’s CEL Annual Convention has come and gone.  We laughed and learned; shared and smiled; conversed and cared.  Kate Baker prepared for us a convention filled with helpful takeaways, probing thoughts, and new wonderings that pushed me at the moment to reconsider my work and, in the long run, will help me grow as a teacher, leader, and person. Each year, I find myself looking back, grateful for the new educators and leaders I am lucky enough to add to my network.  This year was no different.  Meeting new attendees, especially first-timers, is always a highlight for me. I particularly enjoyed the CELF to end the event as it gave me a chance to think-tank with amazing colleagues from across the country, and provided a space for tangible takeaways to improve schools.  What more could we ask for as an organization? It is safe to say, CEL has hit another grand slam with its annual convention.

-Christopher Bronke

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Although I left the CEL conference this year with methods and resources I want to share with my future teachers, my big takeaway, the one I’m continuing to chew on, is Tom Newkirk’s call for curricular “economy.”  The longer I teach, the more I have — and want — to share with my students. Yet, the result of this, I think, are reading and writing methods classes packed with texts and tasks that may overwhelm, rather than inform.  As a result, I came home from the convention with a number of important questions as I start planning my syllabi for next semester: What content is most meaningful in the courses I teach? How have they become cluttered over the years? And how can I stop “hoarding” curriculum by peeling back the layers to identify what’s most meaningful, what’s most necessary?  I’m looking forward to doing this kind of house cleaning.

Of course there’s always more, so one other quote from Pernille Ripp’s keynote that I particularly appreciated and have been sharing with my future teachers is this one: “Reading is my homework.  When we read for our students, that is LOVE.”

-Emily Meixner

Serving The Whole Child Through Literature

by LaVonna Roth

How can I serve the whole child if I teach a subject that is strictly academic? This is a common question, and you might be surprised by the answer. Literature is a great way to implement social emotional learning (SEL) and brain research techniques.

When I created Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.®, I wanted something that could be a resource for all educators teaching any subject and for the lessons learned to extend well past the classroom. The goal is to empower ALL students with actionable skill sets applicable in every area of their lives.

Here’s a quick insight into what each letter in S.H.I.N.E. represents followed by how we connect to literature and life.

SHINE-bracelet-2

Self

“Self awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, 
good or bad.”  -Debbie Ford

Each of us is born with or we develop specific gifts, skills, strengths and talents,. We are ALL gifted in different ways. It is not egotistical to proudly acknowledge our gifts. It’s confidence. All students should be encouraged to confidently identify their gifts.

In addition we all have “opportunities for self improvement.” We don’t want to use the word weakness, because it is not a weakness. No one person is perfect in every possible way. Sorry Mary Poppins.

The empowering news is that we can grow through learning new skills. The methods and timeframes will vary between students, and THAT’S OK. Students need to know methods and timeframes ultimately do matter, but are not indicators of intelligence. Let’s build them up through a shift in our approach to how we teach the what we teach. How? By permitting students to have opportunities to show what they know and can do through their areas of strengths! This approach is a way to differentiate how our students learn and show that learning.

Heart

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”  -Oprah Winfrey

We’re teaching our students to identify their strengths, which is awesome, but that’s not the whole of it! As they say in infomercials, but wait…there’s more!

We can now show them how to use their self awareness to pursue their passions. In the same way that each person has unique gifts, he or she also has a passion or multiple passions, and all are equally important. Although these will likely shift and change over time, they are still there. Are our eyes open to them? I hope so, because we can often take where students are challenged and use their passion as the entry point to capture attention and build understanding.

As adults with more years under our belts, we know how hard it is to chase a passion, a dream. It’s scary. It seems bigger than it really is. It feels audacious to even think we could achieve something as bold as our dream.

And it gets harder the older you get. The responsibilities pile on as do the reasons for not taking the next action step. Obstacles in our way are fear and self-doubt, the sentries to the road less traveled.

If students are going to be successful in the pursuit of their passions, they need help. They need champions who can teach them how to manage the fear and doubt that will convince them to settle for mediocre. Self management is the bridge between good and great.

We believe that the “secret sauce” to a fulfilled life is when we marry self (strengths) and passions together. We want to help our students bridge to great and this marriage is a route to greatness.

Inspiration

“It's easy to feel helpless - like you can't fight the tide. But remember: small actions can have a huge impact, and 
one person like you can inspire others to action.” -Celeste Ng

Once we’ve spent a healthy amount of time focusing on strengths, gifts, skills and talents, we must turn our gaze toward learning to inspire ourselves when we need it, while inspiring others. Our actions can and should influence others, which requires a certain amount of understanding and empathy. More on this later.

Navigate

As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are 
often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, 
and it will change your life. -Amy Poehler

Our students are seeking to belong since that is a foundation of what we do as humans. Our classrooms are the prime spot for such challenges, inspiration and collaboration to occur. We can be the catalyst for students to recognize the greatness they have and to do something with that greatness.

We can blow open the world of possibilities for our students here! Teach them to take that greatness they have and help them do something with it.

Exceptional

“The choices we make dictate the lives we lead; to thine own self be true.” -William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Responsible decision making leads our students to discover themselves, as does, and maybe even more, the mistakes they make along the way. Those irresponsible decisions. Either way, exceptional is the result. When we help students discover their strengths, their passions, how to stay inspired (and inspire others), and to do something with all of this, they are on their way to being the exceptional person they were meant to be.

Brain Research and SEL

So, the big question is how does this work in conjunction with literature? How do we teach students these very important lessons through fictional and non-fictional stories or literature of long ago? The key is by incorporating the key components above with characters and events happening in literature and building in brain research and SEL conversations.

Still how?

  • By having students think through the actions of a character or event and share in deep and meaningful discussions regarding the choices that were made and the outcomes.

  • We discuss how a character could have handled a situation in a variety of ways. By allowing our students to think through scenarios and relating it to their own personal life, we begin to create neural pathways that cause students to understand they have options and those options have different outcomes.

  • We help establish tools to know that there is more than one way to handle a problem. These discussions also create opportunities for us to learn that each character has a story. That story is a window into that character’s experiences, choices and thinking.

  • Once we see the impact that a story has on a character, we can develop empathy with students.

  • Then we bridge those very same things from character to student. We discuss, share and model empathy (teach empathy) for others based upon their story. We can also gain insight into our own story and how it affects our choices and thinking. Through this lens, we create a way our students see each other, their self and the world.

I am so excited to be speaking at NCTE-CEL on November 19, 2018 and look forward to sharing more about Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.®  and how we can help our students share their S.H.I.N.E. and build a strong belief in themselves. I hope to meet all of you there!

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 1.01.58 PM LaVonna Roth is an author of eight books on brain research and engaging instruction, creator and founder of the Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® movement, and an international professional development provider for educators.

Teaching Grammar to Improve Writing

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Lindsay Jeffers

When I began teaching fifteen years ago, I was frustrated by errors that were repeated over and over in student writing.  Embarking on my own teacher research, I tracked the types of errors frequently made (fragments, run-ons, apostrophe misuse, homonym errors, etc.) and planned mini-lessons focused on grammar rules, providing handouts and worksheets with practice sentences.  Though I worked hard, my students’ writing did not noticeably improve.

In hindsight, fixating on student errors wasn’t helpful for me, nor was it helpful for students. Further, I was operating on what Constance Weaver describes as a behaviorist approach.  Weaver wrote, “We have simply taken for granted the behaviorist ideas that practice makes perfect and that skills practiced in isolation will be learned that way and then applied as relevant.  We have assumed that this is the way teaching and learning should work, despite the overwhelming evidence that…

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Coming Together Through Improv

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Sam Tanner

Larry, a 9th grader with autism, stood confidently on the stage in a small theatre. He was screaming triumphantly as the lights went out. Our small audience exploded with laughter as the performance came to an end.

“Seriously, this camp was one of the best experiences of my life,” Sarah, a 7th grader, told me a few minutes later. Sarah had just performed with Larry. In their scene, they defended humanity from global warming. And aliens.

Other students nodded vigorously as they made their way out the door of the small, black box theatre. This was where my colleagueAndrea McCloskey and I held a weeklongsummer improv camp. We taught fifteen 7th-12th graders how to improvise. We’d just staged an hour of improv for an audience of parents and friends. The crowd hooted and hollered as our students participated in a…

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#NaNoWriMoTinyTip: ogres and onions

Laura Bradley

When my students create characters for their NaNoWriMo novels, I push them to get super detailed: to hear the songs their characters will listen to when they plug in their earbuds; to picture the snack food they’ll pull from their backpack as they walk home from school; to feel the clothes they’ll grab from their closet on a Saturday morning. But those details don’t get to the heart of a character, to the backstory and soul that really drive a person.

So this year I added some layers to our character development lessons. I found this great article by Roxanna Elden on the three layers of a complex character:

  • the outer, protective layer, which is usually “socially acceptable but superficial”
  • the middle, defective layer, which we try to hide with our outer layer
  • underneath it all is our inner, human core, the part of us that helps explain our…

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Students “Spark Something” in Each Other: The Potential of Secondary Writing Groups

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Kira LeeKeenan

“Writing groups were so helpful, because when you got stuck, hearing just ideas–even if it wasn’t an idea you could use–might spark something.”

Emmy, 9th grade (all names are pseudonyms)

I met Emmy and 117 other high school students last year during a year-long study of writing instruction in four “culturally and linguistically complex” (Ball, 2009) English classrooms.  The high school, situated ten miles east of an urban emergent area (Milner, 2012), has “urban characteristics,” such as high levels of administrative surveillance, acute focus on standardized testing, and high percentages of traditionally marginalized students.  However, the teachers I worked with did not subscribe to the standardized instruction, and instead enacted pedagogies atypical in their school. Their instruction and curriculum drew from humanizing and workshop approaches to teaching, which positioned students’ experiences and lives at the center of their rigorous curriculum.  It was within this context…

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Shifting Note-Taking from Tedium to Authorship in a 2nd Grade Classroom

Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

by Sara Kersten-Parrish

When Mrs. Kona, a 2nd grade teacher at a public school in a small district in the Midwest, began planning for her academic year, she told me she wanted to better integrate content area subjects within her ELA planning in order to meet the CCSS’s expectation about increasing instruction and reading around nonfiction texts. Using her teaching philosophy around Project Based Learning, she wanted her students to learn about the genres and types of nonfiction from creating their own nonfiction picturebooks. Thus, over the course of 4-months, students selected a nonfiction topic on weather, to comply with the district’s science standards, and created their own nonfiction picturebooks on their chosen subtopic. At the end of the study, I asked Sally about her final picturebook product. “It’s awesome,” she said, and proceeded to tell me her book belonged in the school library because, “It is a…

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Put the kids in charge

Laura Bradley

There’s nothing quite like the intensity, the chaos, the one-crisis-after-another, the sorry-I-can’t-help-you-go-find-someone-who-can, the exhilaration, jubilation and exhaustion of the first day of production in a middle school broadcast media class.

My brand new group of 7th and 8th graders had met six times in the first couple weeks of school (90 minutes, every other day) and our audience was antsy for a show. Our news program delivers the daily announcements to the staff and students, and at the start of the school year there is a lot of information that students need.

KTV Sports/Weather Studio Adjusting the sports/weather camera and tele-prompter.

So after just six class periods of training 12- and 13-year-olds to write scripts, create graphics, film and edit video shorts, set up cameras and lights, read from (and pace) tele-prompters, load media onto a TriCaster, manage the audio, direct the anchors, and operate a video bus and TriCaster during filming (which…

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